Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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How Do You Grieve When Abuse Masquerades As Love?

When love ends, we grieve. We grieve the passing of what could have been, should have been, might have been, if only.

We search for ways to give meaning to our pain, to explain the sometimes inexplicable causes leading to loves demise. Sometimes, we talk it out. We make arrangements on how to separate, how to divide love’s spoils, how to survive love’s loss. We draw up agreements, outline custody and visitation arrangements. We divvy up assets and liabilities, arrange for payment. We divorce and move on with our lives, sometimes poorer but always richer in experience.

When we have loved an abuser, love cannot die. Love never existed.

With an abuser, there was no mutual agreement to love honestly, truthfully, respectfully. There was only the abuser’s mask hiding his or her intent to deceive. There was only the lie posing as truth. Blinded by love, we could not see the difference.

In the lie we thought was love vanishing out the door, we hang our hopes on one more chance to say, ‘good-bye’. On one more time to see their face, hear their voice, be in the presence of the love we believed to be true.

In our grief we plead for one last time. We pray, he will return. We pray, he or she, the one we loved, will come back if only to give us a chance to secure the elusive closure our empty arms yearn for. We want to say good-bye on our terms. We want to have the last word, to make them hear us, see us, feel our pain, witness our anguish. We want to know they understand the harm their passing through our lives has caused. We want them to ‘see’ how much we love in the hopes that the one we loved, the one we believed to be true, will return. We want one more chance. One more good-bye.

And so we plead with time to give us this one last chance so that we can come to terms with their good-bye. So that we can steal the time to learn to grieve on our terms.

And that is the lie we tell time. Give us a chance and we will make them hear us, just this once, so we can grieve freely.

It never happens. It can’t.

Loving a lie is not possible.

With our empty arms and broken dreams, we must give into grief and mourn for the one who was lost. The woman who was abused. The one who was lost. The one who fell. The one who was betrayed. We must mourn for the one we must love the most. Ourselves.

Once upon a time I loved a man who was untrue. He never really existed, though I searched for him between the lines he spoke, seeking truth in all his lies. Between the pages of my journal where I wrote of love ever lasting and promises of happily-ever after. I searched in every nook and cranny of my mind, desperately trying to make real the unreal. To make sense of the nonsense that was his passing through my life. I searched and held onto the hope that the pain, the turmoil, the sorrow was all a lie and he would turn up and be true.

It never happened. It couldn’t.

He was the lie.

Instead of grieving ‘love gone wrong’ I had to learn to grieve the dream that could never be, the love that never was. I had to learn to grieve for the woman who lost herself in the arms of an abuser. To grieve for the pain she endured, the pain she caused. I grieved and cried and wished and hoped and prayed upon every star that the pain would cease, the tears would dry up and my heart would be healed. I prayed for the past to be erased. The lies to be vanished. The horror to be undone.

Nothing can undo the past. There is nothing that can be changed in yesterday.

Grieving a love that never was is part of the illusion of loving an abuser. We look for meaning in our memories and come up empty.

On the other side of grieving a lie is love.

Grieving for the woman who lost herself in the arms of an abuser, set me free to fall into the arms of love.

In grieving for all that was lost, all that was forgotten on the stormy waters of his lies, I embraced all that was possible when I set myself free to sail upon the sea of love that surrounds me, sustains me, lifts me up.

Love has no limits. Love knows no bounds. Love is my answer.

Stand in love. Grow in love. Be love.

In mourning for the one who lost herself in the arms of a man who was untrue, I found myself. I found myself and fell in love with all that I can be when I set myself free to live this one wild and precious life free to be all I am when I let go of grief and fall… in love.

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Awhile ago, I met a woman who pulled a piece of paper out of her wallet and showed me what it was.  It was the above piece which I wrote in 2008 and posted on my original blog, Recover Your Joy, 5 years after the abuser who was in my life was arrested. “Thank you for this,” she said. “You really helped me understand.”

As we near the end of Family Violence Prevention Month, I am sharing it in honour of those who struggle to escape, to those trying to make sense of abuse masquerading as love, to those who never found release, and those taking their first steps in freedom from abuse.

Abuse hurts. Stop it.


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Black to blue and fade – November is Family Violence Prevention Month

I am driving in my car towards downtown. Work. A family homeless shelter. A family housing agency.

My tires hiss along the pavement. November is unusually warm. What snow there was has disappeared.

I hear a line in a song, ‘from black to blue’. I do not know the song. I do not know the artist. I know the story.

An image flashes through my mind. Fast. Like a comet falling. A hand raised. A slap. A bruise. Sallow yellow. Just forming. Black to blue and fade. Back to black. Sallow yellow.

A woman. Black to blue and fade. Fading into sallow yellow. Fading into nothing.

A man. A woman. Anger. Flash. Black to blue and fade. Nothing.

It goes on. And on.

The cycle.

A man. A woman. Anger. Flash. Hand. Slap. Sallow yellow. Black to blue and fade. And nothing.

The woman falls. She rises up. Smiles. Cajoling. Encouraging.

Anger flashes.

The man rises up. Hand raised. Pain. Cry. Sallow yellow heating up to orange. Red. Black to blue and back again. Fade to black.

A siren.

Screaming.

A body. Lying. Cold. Still breathing.

She smiles through the pain. The ambulance jolts into gear. She is carried away. Away from black to blue.

He loves me, she says.

Love doesn’t hurt like this, someone answers in the darkness.

She cannot hear.

He didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident. She insists.

And their voices fade from black to blue into nothing.

She grows silent.

And goes back.

Not for more. Never for more.

He won’t do it again.

Never more.

He promised.

There’s always the promise of never again after black fades to blue to sallow yellow into nothing. Always the promise of never more fading away at the edge of happily ever after.

It is promise of what could be without black fading to blue to sallow yellow to nothing.

And the cycle turns and the pain continues and the fear rises and black to blue fades deeper and deeper into unending black. Deeper into that dark space where blackness lives in memory blocked of any colour beyond black to blue. Beyond that place where truth lies. Where life fades
from black to blue
to constant sallow yellow
rising once again
to red
black and blue
all over
before
she fades,
away
forever
into nothing.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

November is Family Violence Prevention month.

This piece wrote itself after hearing the line, “from black to blue” in a song playing on my car radio.

I share it today in honour of those who have/ have not/ cannot/ did not/ will never / get away / from black to blue.

Domestic violence is a family affair. We can all help end it. It begins with not staying silent. It begins with education. It begins with you and me.

Some Resources

Calgary Domestic Violence Collective

Family Violence Prevention Resources

Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters

YW Calgary

Calgary Counselling


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Why does he choose to hit her? #MyActionsMatters

It is a question almost always asked of a woman living in the perils of an abusive relationship. “Why does she stay?”

The question not often asked is, “Why does he choose to hit her?”

The first question suggests, in some way, that she has options, that she is in control of the situation.

For the woman, the question of ‘why does she stay’ is a reflection of our belief that she knows how to get out of the situation she’s in. That she feels in control and powerful enough to make a different choice. Yet, abuse, by its very nature, is designed to undermine, to tear away an individual’s sense of self-efficacy, to destroy their belief in their power to change what is happening in their life and the options they have to do so.

In not asking the question, “Why does he choose to hit her?” we are placing the responsibility for the abuse solely on the woman. We are suggesting the relationship and all that is happening in it are of her doing. He is just being who he is. He is just doing what he does.

In not asking the second question we make abuse a woman’s issue. Solely.

It’s not.

Yes, she knows abuse hurts. She knows it destroys self-esteem, drives you crazy with its crazy nonsense, its brutal reality, its ugly existence.

She knows abuse is wrong. So does he.

She knows he could kill her. So does he.

The responsibility for abuse is 100% the responsibility of the person choosing to use violence as a tool to get what they want, to control another through using their physical size and other measures such as control of money to exert power over another.

Why does she stay?

She stays because after years of living in the confusing, terrifying, reality-shifting, crazy-making world he creates with his abuse, she’s learned to take it, to not stand up to it but instead, to lie down to it. She’s learned to believe him when he says, she cannot leave, she’ll be nothing without him. She’ll have nothing without him. He’ll kill her if she leaves.

She’s believed everything else he’s told her. Why wouldn’t she believe he’d kill her if she left him?

Why does she stay?

She stays because of the children. Because she has no money and no control or access to their finances. She stays because he tells her to. Because she believes all the lies he’s told her about why it’s her fault, how she’s the bad one, she’s the crazy one, the one who doesn’t deserve anything other than what she’s getting.

She does not stay because he hits her or because she likes his abuse.

She stays because she believes no one can stop him. He’s told her that often enough. It must be true.

She stays because she not only feels worthless, undeserving, like he is all she deserves, she believes it. He’s told her so many times that she is worthless, a piece of garbage, stupid, ugly, and every other horrible word he can think that will make her believe it’s true. She does. Believe it.

The real questions, the ones we don’t ask, the ones we shy away from, the ones we don’t yell out and insist he answer?

Why does he do it?

Why does he lie and manipulate and scream and yell and hit and do everything he can to convince her she is unworthy of anything other than what he gives her?

Why does he choose to hit her?

 

________________________

This is a repost from August 17, 2015. I am honouring the 16 Days of Activism by making my voice and my actions matter in the vision to End Gender Based Violence. #MyVoiceMatters #MyActionsMatter @WomenCanada #EndViolence #GBV


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You Do Not Own Me

I wrote this poem last year after dinner with my eldest daughter in Vancouver. She had shared the details of an incident where some men had been cat-calling her as she walked by their construction site.

In our conversation, I shared with her the numerous times I had simply ‘walked on by’ or stood still while some man felt he had the right to overthrow decency with his innuendos and suggestions of sexual possibilities.

I remember when my daughters were little girls and some of the boys in their school (a private school btw) had started reaching up under girls skirts and pulling down their panties — My daughters refused to wear skirts. I refused to stay silent. I went to the school and spoke to the Administrator. After hearing my concerns she replied, “Boys will be boys.”

She got to hear my outrage.

Allowing statements like ‘boys will be boys’ to explain away bad behavior is how boys grow up to be men who think it’s okay to continue the behaviours that denigrate and objectify women — nobody ever taught them better.

Eventually, a group of us pulled our children from that school.

I was reminded of this poem after reading an article about Taylor Swift’s courage to speak out against a man who thought he had the right to treat her body as if he owned it.

She won the case. And my admiration along with the admiration of millions of young girls across the country.

We need to all stand up. To not stay silent. To not just keep walking on by.

Namaste.


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Just because it’s the oldest profession doesn’t make it right for anyone.

“To understand what prostitution’s really like, you need to go eyeball to eyeball with a John.”

I listened to the words spoken by a vice-sergeant in the police force I’d been working with for several months as I researched street teens and found myself nodding my head yes.

“Good idea.”

Which is how, a forty-something woman found herself standing in the night along a downtown street, trying to lure the men who drove slowly by in their cars to stop and negotiate sex-for-hire.

I had rules. At no time was I to get in the car with a man and if I felt in danger, I was to use the get-out-of-danger line the two cops who were watching over me had provided.

Easy. Peasy, I thought and headed out to the street one night, dressed in my fishnet stockings, short skirt and top specifically designed to reveal the most cleavage. I thought I would gain understanding of what it was like for the young, and not so young women, who stood out, night after night, trying to entice men to pay them to have sex with them.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I knew many of the other women lining the street. I’d chatted over coffee with most of them during the weeks leanding up to that night. They’d answered my questions with grace. They’d shared their stories and thoughts and ideas on life, children, helping one another, and of course, sex.

I had empathy, compassion, admiration for the girls. They were strong. Courageous. Funny. Kind.

I had way more judgements of the johns.

They were the predators. The men who preyed upon women, enticing them with money-for-sex while they relieved their tensions and sexual frustrations in cars parked in dark alleys and out-of-the-view-of-prying-eyes-corners of the city.

And then I went eyeball to eyeball with a john.

He was young. Good looking. Blonde. In his twenties. When his little blue car pulled to a stop in front of me I was scared. My mind went blank and I forgot every carefully coached word the vice cops and the girls had given me to help me through the night.

After a hasty, “Hi. You want to party?” as I approached the open window of his car, I immediately played my ‘get out of danger’ card ithout uttering another word. “There’s too many cops around out here. I’ll meet you down the back alley behind the hotel.”

I had borrowed a girlfriends fur coat for the night and was holding it tightly closed with one hand at my neck as I leaned into the open window.

As I stepped back and before he pulled away, he leaned over towards the window and said. “Hey. Maybe save you a walk for nothing. Let me see what you’ve got under your coat.”

Really?

I opened my coat and showed him my wares.

He nodded his head and pulled away.

I didn’t know if I should say thank you or F*u. I stepped back onto the curb and started to shake. My first encounter with a john and I send him away with alacrity.

I knew I couldn’t stay out and walked back to one of the unmarked police cars where Ron, my police guide and watchman for the night was howling with laughter.

“I wondered how long before you’d have to open your coat,” he said before adding. “Give it ten minutes. He’ll be back.”

And he was. A few minutes later, joining the stream of cars, circling the block, again and again, looking for just the right girl.

I lost my innocence that night. I lost my blindness. My ability to ignore what sex-for-hire does to the self-worth, heart and soul of everyone engaged in its dark underbelly.

When I stepped out onto the street that night I carried my judgements with me. I had no compassion, no sense of empathy, or even pity for the men called john who abused these young women and made them pay for their failings by getting them to do unspeakable acts just so they could feel better about their lives.

In one night I discovered all my thinking of them as perps, as evil, as scum could not change the fact, they were not there on the street because everything was great in their lives.

They were there because they too are broken, damaged, hurting.

Holding my judgements against them, holding my condemnation, my blaming and shaming does not change anything, other than leaving me standing in the darkness of my own mind.

I cannot change or heal what I do not acknowledge. Condemning the johns only made the night darker. No matter how much I wanted to hate the johns, to carry my condemnation into the night and not feel empathy for those who in my mind, were the cause of prostitution’s presence in our world, did not change the fact, they are there because they don’t know where else to go to relieve their pain.

It doesn’t make it ‘right’. It does make it easier to understand why we can’t just stand by, do nothing and use the excuse, “they’re not hurting anyone.”

Prostitution, say some, is the oldest profession.

Longevity does not make it right.

It does not make it safe.

And it doesn’t make it a career we want our daughters, and sons, to engage in.

Standing on the street that night, I came up against my own humanity, my frailty, and my judgements. Standing in the dark, I could see clearly that until we see all people through the light of compassion, we will continue to hurt one another to relieve our pain because our pain is even older than prostitution.

Namaste.


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There’s no ‘getting over’ a Psyhcopath

A woman I have never met writes me an email to tell me how she has just seen the documentary that was created about the journey I took through hell with a man whose lies and deceit almost killed me. It still occasionally appears on Discovery Channel and OWN and I always know when it’s been on. Someone will write to tell me they saw it. That they too have a story like mine.

Often, they will write of their misadventure and ask me, “How did you heal? How did you get over that?”

They will also, as this woman has, thank me for having had the courage to tell the story. To share it. “I don’t feel so alone,” she writes. “I am not crazy.”

It is one of the reasons I did the documentary. So that people know they are not alone. Not crazy. That there is hope, and life, after an encounter with a psychopath, or as I used to call it in the early days of my healing, a P-encounter.

Sometimes, the woman will tell me she is still in the relationship, or trying to break it off. Sometimes, it is a mother writing for her daughter’s sake, or a sister, pleading for understanding. Asking me to help them make sense of what is happening. Why won’t she leave? How do I save her?, they ask.

You must cut off all contact with the “P”. You cannot save anyone as long as the “P” is calling the shots. You are not powerful enough to combat the poison he feeds you, or the person you want to help, with every breath he takes and every word he speaks.

We must first stop the poison from entering before we can heal its effects.

There is no sense in encounters of the “P” kind. They are designed to drive the victim and those around them crazy.

“P” encounters are never about Love. They are always about Abuse.

P-encounters rob you of joy. Of your sense of worth, your self-esteem, your belief in yourself. They destroy hope. They tear apart lives, rip apart families and decimate relationships.

The damage is terminal if you stay  in the relationship. Your heart will wither within your body. It will become capable of pumping only enough blood to keep you alive. But moments of joy. Moments of bliss, of seeing the sunshine and feeling the warmth on your face, of feeling alive and free, those will be transitory, fleeting, brief.

When in a relationship with a “P” you will always be connected to the umbilical cord of his lies and deceit feeding you the poison that is cutting off your blood flow, your free-thinking, your heart. He needs to keep you connected in order for him to stay alive. He will do anything to not let you go.

Fear, manipulation, terror, deceit. These are all tools of the trade for a “P”. They have spent their lives perfecting their art. They are subject matter experts in human manipulation. (and yes, women can be P’s too).

And we, their prey, whether a man, woman or child, are simply a means of keeping their art alive.

How did I heal?

By naming what happened for what it is. Abuse. By stopping all contact, even in my mind, with the ‘memories’ of a lost love. It was never real. It was only the creation of his desire to catch me in the web of his lies.

How did I heal?

By taking one step after another, every single day, and reminding myself as each step took me away from those dark and violent days, that I was not healing from a love story gone wrong. I was healing from abuse.

How did I get over it?

I didn’t.

It was not something to get over. I wasn’t trying to climb over a fence dividing ‘those days’ from these days now. I was healing from the loss of joy, the ripping apart of all my relationships, the destruction of my dreams, my heart, my belief in my worth, my belief in magic and wonder and awe.

To heal from the loss, I had to reclaim what I had lost. And I couldn’t do it by getting ‘over him’. I had to do it by letting go of the idea of loving him and believing he was my soul mate, my perfect lover, the man of my dreams, my Prince Charming.

I had to stop all thoughts of loving him and the lies I told myself about how I had lost a beautiful love so that I could see myself without the poison of his lies holding me enthralled in the make-believe he’d created when that relationship first began.

I had to become fierce and tenacious and willing to feel the pain of the loss of myself so that I could fall in love with me. All of me. Beauty and the Beast. The abused woman. The woman who deserted her children. Who let go of her life to take that journey to happily ever after and became lost on the road to hell.

I had to fall in love with me, the woman who is caring, kind, sometimes funny (Ask my daughters. They will tell you being funny is not one of my strengths 🙂 ) Who believes in angels and sees fairies dancing on sunlit water and hears the wind whispering stories of far off places in seed pods dancing on the branches of a tree in springtime.

Who believes we are powerful beyond our wildest imaginings because, she knows with all her heart, we are magnificent human beings capable of creating a world of wonder where harmony, joy, peace and Love abounds.

That is the woman I have fallen in love with. And that is how I ‘got over’ the P-encounter.

Namaste.

 


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Addictions Treatment: Is it all about the money?

In his provocative and compelling TEDGlobal Talk on addictions, journalist Johann Hari says, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

Titled, “Everything you know about addictions is wrong” Hari suggests the research has it all wrong. That what we do to the addicts in our world is not working because we haven’t looked at the other ways that do work.He cites the case of Portugal which has de-criminalized all drugs from Marijuana to Heroin and is experiencing dramatic results as a case in point.

His talk is engaging, but it’s also depressing, writes Doug Chaudron, formerly of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and author of Theories on Alcoholism. In his response to Hari’s TED Talk at The Progressive Economics Forum, he writes that there is nothing new in what Hari is suggesting. The addictions recovery business has seen the research and known that there are alternatives that work better for decades.

” The depressing part is that the research (e.g., Alexander’s Rat Park) and the conceptual alternatives he discusses have been well known in the addictions business for decades.

…Equally, even more, depressing is that the concepts have not “penetrated” the addiction-treatment industry. For an equal number of decades, research has shown that: shorter treatment is as effective as, or more effective than, longer treatment; outpatient treatment is as effective as, or more effective than, inpatient treatment; treatment by modestly-trained counselors is as effective as, or more effective than, treatment by heavily-trained experts; and brief interventions are as effective as, or more effective than, extensive and intensive interventions. But the treatment industry continues to prescribe long-term, intensive, inpatient treatment delivered by highly-trained experts.”

Chaudron’s conclusion is as depressing as what he says about Hari’s talk.

It’s all about The Money.

Go figure.

A billion dollar recovery industry is all about the money.

We could do better. We choose not to because… money talks.

The voice of money is louder than the voice of 10% Albertans who live with an addiction.

The voice of money is louder than doing the best and right thing for those suffering from addictions. And while Hari has not discovered a new understanding of addiction and simply repackaged old information, the fact is, as Chaudron says,

“research also leads to the discovery that the less-effective forms of treatment involve the making of more MONEY by their providers than the proven alternatives. Surprise, surprise…”

Regardless, Hari’s TED talk is worth watching because in the end, it’s not about the addiction it’s about people, relationships and connections. It’s about our ability to be compassionate and our ability to LOVE.