Last Tuesday morning I woke up and found myself in a state of reflection. And in that state, I thought about a few words by Anaïs Nin and how they have made a home in life at different points in time: “and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I take a Monday night community organizing class at Lehman College taught by a comrade of mine. The theme of last Monday’s class was gender roles and organizing. I had been looking forward to that class because it would force us to have an open discussion on patriarchy and how that manifests in our communities. During an interesting yet triggering class discussion about gender based violence, I found myself thinking about my own life experiences. For some reason, I did not think of the possibility of me being triggered and replaying certain painful scenes in my mind from that class topic. These scenes were from my own experiences with intimate partner violence a few years ago. And some of those very scenes still have the power to stir something inside of me, whether that is reliving that pain and shame or reflecting on how far I’ve come since then.
Quinten Walcott of CONNECT NYC, came to speak to our class about his organization and how it works to tackle the issue of gender based violence in our communities. CONNECT is an NYC-based organization that works to end violence against women in various ways, one of which is by working with men to encourage the transformation of abusers and those who watch silently into allies and activists who join the struggle of ending male violence against women. It was refreshing to learn that an organization like CONNECT exists in NYC but also to see black man standing in front of a class of men and women speaking about his male privilege, the system of patriarchy and the violence against women that comes from that system. In doing so he challenged us to think critically and inwardly. Because some of my peers in the class were men, I recognized the importance of them hearing other men speaking about these issues. While it is important for women of color to struggle against these issues, it is just as important for men of color to do so by teaching other men of color about how oppression works within this system and shows up in our communities. I believe both are necessary to affect the change we would like to see.
One of the things Quinten brought up was the concept of trauma. He gave several examples of trauma, such as the trauma Black people experience from racism, but one of the types of trauma that truly resonated with me was the trauma one goes through from being in an abusive relationship. And so I woke up Tuesday morning with that on my mind. I woke up thinking about how I’ve dealt with my own trauma of being in a long term abusive relationship and my healing process. What had that process looked like for me? How had I gone from being physically, emotionally and economically abused and broken down to becoming whole and happy?
Well, it was a difficult process. After getting to the point where I felt safe enough to walk away and never look back, I felt a sense of freedom coupled with some fear. Fear that he was watching me or that he might retaliate. Many of the streets I walked and places I passed had memories attached to them and I would have flashbacks that would shake me to tears. The domestic violence advertisements I saw on the NYC subways also triggered painful memories. At one point, the flashbacks were so frequent and vivid that I wondered if they would ever stop. At times, I would be around male friends and a slight hand gesture or movement from one of them would cause me to jump. Sooner or later I got to a place where I no longer blamed myself and was able to accept what I went through as a learning experience that I could and would rise from after some time. I was blessed to have the support of friends who were a small yet important part of the process. Most of the process took place within myself: building up my self-esteem, letting go of fear, focusing more on me and going through some internal transformations. Wanting to lose some of the weight I gained from college and the relationship, I signed up for a summer membership at a local gym and lost 16lbs. Having more freedom to do what I wanted, I purchased a plane ticket to head down to Texas to visit a good friend of mine and had a blast. I started doing things I couldn’t do before. I started embracing qualities that I resented before, like my emotionality. And there is no way to describe how wonderful that felt.
Fast-forward to more recent days and I see that healing and growth manifest in a few other ways. Having the courage to say that I am a survivor of domestic violence and talking about that has been a freeing experience. I did a little bit of that in a friend’s blog where he profiles college graduates and current students as a way of providing a resource to college bound and current college students. I also did that by finally telling my mother about it after years of keeping it from her. Recently I’ve started writing again. I’ve always loved poetry and wrote throughout my elementary and high school days. Some time during the relationship, I stopped writing although I never stopped loving to read books, going to poetry shows and enjoying the poetry of one of my best friends. Beginning to write again has been a process of reconnecting with self. Daring to become an activist and organizer around issues I care deeply, has also been a part of that process. I believe the activist in me wanted to come out years ago but was stifled and so finally breaking free and releasing myself from that tight bud felt natural and necessary.
Healing from the trauma of being in a domestic violence relationship has meant letting go, learning from that past hurt, loving me, trying new things and embracing growth with arms wide open. It has meant learning to ignore the misguided and hurtful words of those who tend to place the blame on the abused in intimate partner violence situations. It has meant accepting that once in a while something might trigger painful memories from those years but that is perfectly okay. It has meant walking down a path filled with some triumphs and some failures and learning to see the beauty in both of those. And most of all, it has meant freedom. The freedom to grow and bloom brazenly like a Haitian hibiscus flower in the countryside. And for that, I’m grateful.