So, Thursday afternoons I have my elective class, Working with Violence and Abuse. It’s as cheery as it sounds. But so important and every week I build more strength, validation, skills and passion for this area of work. I’ve been offered a placement in an agency that predominately works with women in crisis and I’m pretty sure I’m going to take it. It feels right- this is what I want to do, this is the kind of worker I want to develop into- but also very scary.
ANYWAY, the class is a three hour seminar in a dark, stuffy room and it can often feel like the air is so heavy, and the sadness and despair is so thick you could reach out and touch it. Most people, even just by thinking about the statistical esitimates of the incidence of sexual assault, family violence and child abuse, have had personal experiences of the stuff we cover in the classes. You can see the pain on faces, watch as people flinch at certain stories, hear an occasional gasp or muffled sob. These reactions are absolutely normal and warranted, but to have 60 people in one room all feeling them all at once- sometimes, we just have to break, breathe out and have a laugh.
Today, after two hours of class we were told it was time for a fun and light activity. We got told the ending of a story and we had to get into small groups to write the beginning. The story ends with ‘Peter and Mary are lying on the floor, both dead. The only other thing around them is broken glass and a pool of water.’ Given the past ten weeks of classes, many people said things like: ‘it must have been a homicide/ suicide’ or ‘there must have been a history of family violence’. Which is fair enough but also a really strong indicator of how blinkered (and burnt out with despair) workers can become. A colleague once said to me that after years of working in domestic violence services, she started to see every relationship and family as abusive and dysfunctional, even if they were perfectly fine, because her radar was always on the look out for abuse.
Desperately trying to get some lightness, my group said something along the lines of: Peter and Mary were killed by their ninja goldfish who wanted to escape the confines of his tank. After weeks of careful plotting, he jumped out, killed them with some serious fin-karate moves, and slipped away to freedom, leaving only scale prints as evidence. It’s totally impossible but we got a laugh out of it.
These classes- and the real situations that they are trying to prepare us to work in- do make me angry. They cause me to cry and feel helpless and want to punch something. Sometimes they trigger memories of personal stuff and I have to work really hard not to fall back into my own traumatic or violent experiences. But they also fire me up to be an advocate and a change maker, to be the kind of worker that I wish I’d had to support and empower me in the past. I look around the class and I see sixty people who are now more knowledgable about parts of society that many others don’t want to talk about. Not only are we informed, we are developing the skills needed to speak up and create change. We are sixty more people who won’t stay silent. We are people who will sit with survivors, believe them, validate their experiences, and respect them.
And if we need to occasionally make jokes about ninja goldfish to keep our sanity in check, to be the most effective supporters and advocates we can be? I think that’s just fine.