by Ester Griffin-DeVita, Safe Harbor Community Counselor
My clients are amazing human beings. Truly, they are some of the bravest people I have ever had the fortune to meet, and it is such a great honor to be able to help them in their journey. For so many of them, they simply need just a solid touchstone in their life—a place of quiet within the chaos their abuser has whipped up around them, where they can rest and gather their thoughts and strength, and then make their move. The rate of positive change I see in my clients is often mind-boggling. I am reminded, again and again, that despite what their abusers have told them or what society may think, the “crazy” in their lives most certainly does NOT belong with them…they are not the “broken one” in their relationships. Sometimes, all that my job as a counselor entails is helping my clients see this reality for themselves. Once they do, it’s almost as if the shackles fall from their minds and hearts, and suddenly they are free and, most importantly, powerful.
Whenever I first meet with a new client, I often imagine that they are bringing into my office a big, heavy bag, filled with the chaos of their lives—like an old, overstuffed purse. During those first sessions, I start asking them to pull out the things that weigh heavy in their lives, and together we begin to examine each item. With some things, it’s easy to see that they serve no real purpose and can be easily disposed of, and oftentimes these include the focus and effort to determine the “whys” behind an abuser’s behavior. Once my clients identify that the motivation behind just about everything their abuser does is to obtain power and control over their lives, they can begin to see their abuser’s actions as just various snap-shots of a bigger picture—in other words, their “whys” are easily answered: power and control. Rather than being distracted by trying to understand each and every move their abuser makes, with the underlying question being an unspoken, “What do I need to do to make this relationship work?” my clients can begin to ask a different question instead: “What do I want for myself, now that I know I can’t make this relationship ‘work?’”
I’m working with a wonderful lady right now who embodies this as a perfect example. “Julia” was referred to me by the local victim advocate at the sheriff’s department after her husband had been arrested and charged with Criminal Domestic Violence. The abuse had been escalating for years, but this had been the first time he had threatened to use a weapon against her, and the move had been so scary for her that she no longer felt like she could pretend everything would just go back to normal. Julia had moved away from her hometown several years prior and had left all of her family behind, so the idea of leaving her home was not an easy one, and she wasn’t really sure what she wanted or needed to do next. Like so many abused women, Julia spent a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out the “whys” behind her husband’s abusive behaviors. She just couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around why anyone on earth would treat another human being this way, and this quest for answers kept her exhausted, frustrated, and overwhelmed.
Once Julia had the realization that she was not the one responsible for the chaos of her life, because what was “broken” lay inside her abuser and not her, she began to make plans. Freed from the weight of trying to figure out the “whys,” Julia suddenly had energy for other things. She researched housing within the local area and began to work out budget ideas on how much she would need to earn in order to live independently. She became familiar with local public transportation routes, so that she could get where she needed to go without having to rely on anyone for a ride. She started applying for full-time jobs and made a goal to fill out at least 3 applications every day. She spoke to a lawyer and found out information regarding her options for divorce and how much it would cost. She made contingency plans with her local friends, as well as her family back home, regarding the “what-ifs” if she was not able to get a job within her set time-frame. She began to move forward in her life, and once she did, her momentum picked up. As I write these words now, Julia has already accepted a part-time job and is currently at a job interview for a full-time position as well. Her goal is to be living on her own within the next month, and to begin divorce proceeding as soon as possible thereafter. I have no doubt that she’ll do it. Everything she needs to make her life what she wants is already within herself: courage, strength, tenacity, and hard work. Only THIS time, instead of spending it all on trying to make a relationship with an abuser work (a bottomless black hole), her focus is on where it should be: herself.
I’m so fortunate to play a small part in this amazing woman’s journey. If I ever start to lose faith in humanity, my clients quickly restore it for me. I am so grateful to be a part of the important work that Safe Harbor does for our incredible clients.