This is my letter of excuse.

So things are about to become a bit crazy for me. I have a finite amount of time to pack the contents of my flat (most of which, to be honest, is books and notebooks) for a move to a rural area. I’m moving to the perfect cottage, the perfect commute from work and singing (thinking time, listening to music time, introvert time, much better than my current five-minute commute). It’s a nice, slightly-rough-round-the-edges country town and I’ll be surrounded by open spaces, grass planes, bushland, farming country – countryside I love. It will be quiet, a world away from my flat down the road from a pub, right in the heart of one of Newcastle’s inner suburbs. Even the sky feels higher, further away.

It’s perfect.

But between now and moving day, I have a ton of things to do, and a limited amount of time in which to do them, and most importantly, a limited amount of brain-power with which to achieve anything. So for the next two-ish weeks, I’m going to be trying very hard to keep my head where it needs to be – in work, both paid work, and the work of shifting my entire (admittedly small) household, without freaking out the cat.

Which probably means no blog for a while. And probably means not much writing for a while, and not much reading. Which is ok because I’ve got my eye on the prize, and because I can’t imagine actually writing anything worthwhile when most of my nuerons are taken up with questions of how many boxes to find, and whether to pack the wok just yet, and whether blankets should be used as padding or packed separately, and whether it’s worth keeping this thing that I haven’t used in the entire time I’ve been in my flat…

Good blog-fodder it ain’t.

It’s interesting for the cat, though.

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Real people, real people, and an unrelated challenge.

The last time I spoke about the distinction between me and “real people” (that is, people who haven’t lived through domestic violence) I got pretty soundly critiqued: in calling others “real people”, I was implying that my experience was somehow unreal, not grounded in reality. I was, I was told, denying my own experience.

I can see where the person was coming from, and it was said from such a place of respect and care that I had to take in on board. But (she says, justifying herself just a little bit) I’m not entirely sure that I agree. “Real” is a word, and yes, I agree that it comes with its own meaning and implications, and I agree that a person could quite easily read into it more than is there. But in making the distinction between me and real people, I’m not judging or disparaging myself; I’m not judging or disparaging them. I’m not making a comment on the nature of my experience, or the nature of theirs: it’s simply shorthand, easier than the more cumbersome term “those who haven’t been there”.

There is a distinction between me and those who haven’t been there (see what I did there?), and in engaging with people who are also survivors of violence, I value those points of connection – responses, sensitivities, dark humour. I value that sense of a shared story, a shared view of the world which is more dangerous – and yet more beautiful – than a lot of people realise. Sometimes, “me too” is the most powerful phrase we can hear.

I am a real person, and so are those people for whom violence is something that happens to other people.  The girl in the bank was a real person, and there was some comfort in her horror on my behalf, in her sense of compassion towards me. It’s nice to know that people care, that people are touched by a story that I take for granted.

I appreciate that.

~

On an unrelated note, apparently I’m being challenged on a post I wrote recently, about my Grandma (who is doing well – I don’t know that I’ve met a stronger, more profoundly faithful, more gracious person). Apparently she’s challenging my statement that she has six-hundred-odd teddy bears. I don’t know if she thinks I’ve over-quoted, or under-quoted, the actual number of bears. The next time I see her, I may well find myself counting noses…

A(n old) death threat, and being a real person.

I had to do some banking the other day, and in conversation with the lovely girl at the teller’s window, she informed me that I still had two joint accounts with my ex. Helpfully, she suggested that if I could arrange for him to meet me at the bank, the accounts could be closed and the contents divided between us. Eager to help, she mentioned a number of ways in which this issue could be dealt with, all of which informed my ex finding out my general location. She was so keen to help, that I had to tell her: sorry, it can’t happen for safety reasons. The last thing I heard from my ex was a death threat: I’m not keen to manufacture a situation in which there’s any chance that we might bump into each other.

I was fairly calm when I explained this, and I spoke quite lightly and made a joke out of it (there are instances of dark humour which real people simply don’t feel funny, which survivors of violence tend to appreciate) and I was struck by the look of horror on her face; horror, and such fear that I was compelled to reassure her that everything was ok, there’s no threat at the moment and certainly no concern for her. But she was pale, and I could see that I’d knocked her with a reality that, while I’m no longer particularly concerned about it (if it was going to happen, it would have), I have been told by numerous people I do need to take into account in my meanderings through the world.

There are things that I take for granted as a social worker – things that I see as part of my nine-to-five that a bank worker (although she’d handle things that would leave me for dead: I don’t do numbers) simply wouldn’t conceive of. But there are also things that I take for granted as a survivor of violence, of daily fear, of threats, of rape, that real people struggle to hear about. I’m getting used to that knowledge, and I’m becoming more seasoned in choosing what to say, and what to keep to myself, when I’m talking to a civilian. I’m having these jolts of someone else’s reaction – oops, shouldn’t have disclosed that – less frequently. But this was one of them.

Real people generally don’t come across death threats, and they probably wouldn’t make light of it if they did, for all there’s really no reason to take it seriously anymore. Real people feel sorry for those who have been through such things.

I’m not one of those people anymore, and while there’s often a sense of regret and resentment of that, there’s also a sense of acceptance. I’m stronger for what I’ve experienced, and I refused to be scared of what frightened that lovely girl behind the teller window, and I refuse to be bowed down by it.

For today, at least. But I’m getting stronger, and odds are, tomorrow will be a strong day as well.

Loss, and finding, of sanctity.

Intuition is a funny thing. I was asked by my sexual assault counsellor today to name, without thinking, what it was that my ex took from me in ten years of violence and abuse, and the thing that came to mind was this: sanctity.

Every being is holy; ever soul is sacred, created in the image of the Creator. Every creature – the cat on my lap as I type this, the spider I took outside in a water glass today, each human being with whom I share this planet – is a manifestation of the Divine. I am a manifestation of the Divine: my soul, like billions of other souls with whom I share life, is sacred. Sanctified.

If you deny the sanctity of something holy, though, if you deface it and sully it and treat it in ways which reject its divinity – well, mud sticks, and eventually that thing relinquishes its beauty, its being, its holiness. The divine becomes soiled and impure, and while the Creator never loses sight of the beauty of Its creations, the creations themselves can easily lose sight of the consecrated nature of their own being.

Ten years of abuse – of beatings, of fear, of rape; of hearing, day after day, of my own worthlessness – resulted in my forgetting the sacred nature of my own soul. I lost sight, in those years of darkness, of my own existence as a creature of the Creator, loved, a part of the unfolding of that very Creator in the universe. As well as innocence, and safety, and almost life itself, that’s what was taken from me: the knowledge of my own sanctity.

That’s changing now. Each step I take away from that darkness is a step towards strength; each decision I make in the still-new miracle of freedom is a re-assertion of my own worth, of the beauty of my soul, of my own right to existence and to the space I take up in the world. Every memory of the events of the last ten years which re-surfaces in my mind (and there are thousands) is an assertion of my right – as a creature of the Creator – to live in safety as the sacred creation I am.

I tried to think of some sharp, snappy ending to this blog, but I’m tired (I’m always tired after counselling appointments) and I can’t think of anything. Other than the prayer that the souls of all living beings – from human to cat to spider and everything in between – might held, in respect and worth, as the divine manifestations they are.

 

A random reflection on Milo.

Our stationery order arrived at work today, and for some reason it contained an enormous tin of Milo – it must have been at least five litres of the stuff. Which is funny, because there’s really only one person in the office who drinks Milo (and for the record, it is not me. I haven’t developed that particular addiction. Yet). But my colleague opened the lid of the tin, and I caught a sweet whiff of scent, and without warning I was transported back to just over a year and a half ago.

I escaped my ex very early on a Sunday morning and found myself meeting the technical definition of homelessness – not to mention the definition of survivor of domestic violence. Because it was so early, and I was concerned about waking people, I messaged the one friend I knew would be up at that time of the morning, and told her what I’d done. She phoned back immediately: “Get your butt here”. So I did. Shattered, shaken, numb with the magnitude of the step I’d just taken, I showed up at her house with a suitcase full of random stuff, a pink plastic folder full of music, the beginnings of a black eye, and George Arthur, who is a small, black rag-doll teddy bear – also a survivor of domestic violence.

I don’t remember much of that day, but I do remember how shocked and dazed I was, unable to focus on anything, unable to settle, unable to remain still and yet to anaesthetised to move. I didn’t know what I wanted or needed; my friend knew, and she swept me up in practical decisiveness and I didn’t have to make a single decision all day – I simply wasn’t capable of it. She also made me a Milo.

It’s one of the few things I remember with any sense of clarity from that day: she put the warm mug in my hand with the firm instruction to drink all of it (it did help – reality penetrated the opaque numbness, just slightly) – and it was the strongest Milo I’ve ever had in my life, easily several tablespoons’ worth of crunchy chocolate powder. My blood sugar levels are probably still elevated as a direct result of that one hot mug; but I can’t off-hand think of a single thing that would have been safer, more comforting, at that time.

I’m not a huge fan of Milo and I would only drink it if I was really, really desperate for a chocolate fix. But to me it will always smell of safety, of sanctuary and the incredulous blessing of friendship, and of the knowledge of the end of captivity, and freedom’s fragile beginnings.

Not bad for three tablespoons of crushed chocolatey sugar, really. Not bad at all.

Good enough.

We’ve done recruitment this week at work and I’ve spent a lot of time reading CVs, shortlisting, doing phone screening and then conducting interviews all day yesterday. Today was reference checks and ensuring that all my notes on the process are comprehensive, as well as catching up on all those normal tasks which I’ve neglected throughout this whole process. I’m tired and I’m struggling to think of anything remotely intelligent or worthwhile to write, but I feel guilty if I don’t write a blog on a blogging day (Friday, Saturday and Sunday have become non-blogging days; every other day carries an expectation, in my own mind at least, that I’ll write at least something on here).

Again, though, I keep being drawn back to my year of care – for those of you who don’t know, I’ve decided that 2014 is a year in which I will prioritise self-care, in all its forms. By and large, I’m doing a crappy job – I’m generally too busy to bother with much beyond the basics of self-care beyond the physical, and I often need a reminder to stop and reflect on my life, and why I make the choices I do.

So in this year of care, and after a week like this one (which isn’t quite over yet), and with someone who means the world to me lying in a hospital bed and a little bit of my consciousness and a lot of my love hovering over her, I’ve decided that part of self-care is not being hard on myself, and part of not being hard on myself is letting something be, not perfect, but good enough. Adequate. A reasonable attempt.

Like this blog post. A pretty uninspiring, utterly boring blog post (unless you want to know the specifics of the recruitment process – then, I guess, it’s slightly interesting) – but for tonight, it’s good enough.

Sometimes, good enough will do.

A slightly battered angel.

I’m not a big believer in angels – not when it comes to beautiful humans with fluffy, feathery wings and white dresses flapping around in insipid artwork, anyway. What I do believe in is angels as messangers of God. And I believe in saints – both living and dead – as a person who is holy. Someone touched by the light of the Light of the world, someone who brings that light to the world in all that they do, all that they are. There are very few of them around, and most of them aren’t dressed in fine liturgical clothing and lit from without by their status – most of them are quiet, unassuming, simple people lit from within, who don’t choose to be anything special, but can’t help being saints and angels, because that’s just what they are.

My grandma is one of those people: an angel, a saint. Someone who can’t help spreading the love of God, because that’s what she’s made of; she could not keep herself from spreading light wherever she is, any more than a flame could dim its vividness. This is a woman who, sitting vigil at the hospital bed of her gravely ill son, made friends with the woman visiting another patient on the ward, who can’t speak English, and who needed a friend. This is a woman who gives love to all who need it, regardless of any imposed sense of whether a person deserves it or not, because she that’s just what she does – in her actions, she upholds the sacred beauty of everyone she comes across, and people walk away from her feeling whole, in a way that only being afforded utter respect can do – a rarity for so many people. This is a woman who always had a tin of chocolates for when her grandchildren visited; who has six hundred-odd teddy bears (at last count) and still delights in the next one that comes along as a present, and who buys them from op shops because they look sad and need a good home.

Tonight my grandma is in hospital after a fall, and when I phoned her from the helplessness of a thousand kilometres away, her first response was to ask me how I am. I know that she will spread light and love and her own brand of quirky humour in the busy bleakness of a public hospital ward, because she can’t help it. Wherever she goes, she leaves things just a little bit better than she found them, just by who she is. Often, she leaves them a lot better.

The air is thick with prayers tonight.