Once upon a time... I thought domestic violence had not affected me personally. Though I was still in my teens, I had studied the statistics, written about the problem, and even attended "Take Back the Night" marches. But I did not know that I knew women who were being battered. Then, over the brief span of a few months, I found out that three of my women friends were in battering relationships. No one around us had suspected it until they finally spoke up and showed us the bruises.
Like so many instances, it had been totally hushed-up and hidden. The batterers were all guys whom I had perceived to be gentle, spiritual, hippie boys. My friends. I had no idea that battering could be happening in our progressive and allegedly "liberated" community. But it was.
If only speaking up about it was enough. As will happen in many situations, breaking the silence caused explosions and pulled more people into the formerly-hidden conflicts. We found ourselves drawing on skills we didn't know we possessed.
One case escalated to the point where I found myself bodily shoving a six-foot guy out the door, slamming and locking it, and threatening him with mace and a knife while he bellowed and threatened to break in through the window. We held an intense standoff for over an hour like this -- the batterer and I trading adrenaline-fueled threats, while my friend sat there shell-shocked, hiding out of his sight, frozen with fear. He finally got in his car and fled when he heard the sirens approaching.
When the police finally got there, they implored my friend to get a restraining order, press charges, and start a paper trail. She cried and said she'd think about it. I was amazed at how compassionate the cops were. I hadn't expected that, either.
The next morning began the stalking behaviour. The car always watching the house. The incessant phone calls.
That night's incident had started at The Party. I had just returned to my hometown after being away for a couple years, and a friend of mine and the guy she lived with were taking me to a party where I could re-connect with old friends. Later that evening, my friend pulled me aside and asked me if we could leave, and, well, could she stay over at my house tonight. I said sure, but I wanted to know why she sounded so scared. She told me her boyfriend had been yelling at her and throwing things at her and she was afraid to go home with him. He was jealous that she was talking to other people at the party. I asked if he'd had these sorts of outbursts before. She said he had. I asked if yelling and throwing things was "all" he had done. "Well..." she said in a small voice, eyes downcast, "sometimes he hits me."
That did it, as far as I was concerned. She wasn't going anywhere she didn't want to, and if she needed my help, I would do my best to help her. He was a big guy, but we had him outnumbered.
We reached my house, surrounded with a tangible fog of tension, anger, fear, and conflicting wills. She kept trying to quietly tell him she was staying at my house, but he kept saying no, pulling her close and mumbling to her in a low voice. Finally she told him she at least had to go into the house and get some of her stuff she had left there earlier. He said ok, but he came in with us.
The same weirdness prevailed once inside. He wouldn't leave without her. She wouldn't leave. Storm clouds gather... Finally I pulled her aside and asked, in a quiet but deadly serious voice, "You really want him to leave?" "yes." "You're sure?" "yes." "And you're scared of what he'll do to you if you go with him tonight?" "yes." Then she started to cry, "I'm sorry. I don't want to be trouble. Maybe I should just go with him. If I go with him maybe he'll calm down. He won't leave unless I go with him. How can we get him to leave? He isn't going to leave!" I could hear the panic and stoicism warring in her frightened whispers. I decided. I whispered back, looking in her eyes, "Allright. if you're really sure you want him gone." She looked scared but determined and nodded.
I headed over to the guy, a look of sadness and slight amusement on my face, as if I was feeling condescending towards my friend, and amused at her fear. He was growing impatient. I increased the look to one of sorrow and beckoned him away from my friend and, "coincidentally", over towards the door, confidentially-like, as if I now had to have a private chat with him, too. I tried to look defeated, impartial, bored and tired. I tried to project a vibe of "it'll be ok, I'm on your side, really, we can just talk this out," whilst making soothing sounds to that effect. (Never mind that we'd been trying to talk it out for what seemed like hours. We'd been at an impasse almost as soon as the discussion had started.) When we reached the doorway, I started to say something sympathetic to him... I wish I could remember what it was... but it seemed to relax him enough that he didn't realize how I was edging us farther into the open doorway and towards the front steps. Maybe he felt reassured that I was a bit farther out the door while he was still in the doorway, as if he had won. A subliminal hint that maybe I was the one leaving, and he could stay there with his girlfriend.
I saw my opening, and I took it. I pivoted quickly around him and threw all one hundred and fifteen pounds of my teenage girl self right at his center of gravity, sending him stumbling back, arms windmilling as he tried to keep from falling onto the concrete landing. I slammed the door and locked it in one motion (I'd practiced this door-locking move for years - sometimes paranoia pays off).
As soon as he regained his balance, he charged at the door. He grabbed and pulled just a split second after I slammed the deadbolt home. Then began the pounding and bellowing and threatening. Had he managed to break the glass in the door, he could have reached for the lock. That's where the knife came in. And the mace. And me growling, "Go for it, asshole! Just try it! Come on! I'll cut it off!" I was on a roll. I was very scared, yes, but making the adrenaline work for me. Actually, I was blasting so hard on the adrenaline-rush, I think I forgot about the fear. You just enter this altered space and run with it. Or perhaps it runs with you.
Well, you know what happened. The doorstop marathon standoff/horrorshow/shoutfest continued this way till the aforementioned nice cops turned up. After they left, I somehow managed to sleep, despite the adrenaline surging like high-octane fuel through my shaking body, on the floor next to the phone and weapons, ready in event of the psycho-boyfriend's return.
So then came the stalking. And somehow, it turned into a variation on the previous night's drama. Again we wound up at the "I'm sorry, it's all my fault, he'll leave you alone if I just go with him," stage. But this time, she left. Despite her fear of him, despite everything the cops, our friends, relatives and I said, she went back to him.
Maybe he seemed less scary to her in the light of day. Maybe she was scared he'd harm her cat if she didn't return to their apartment. I seem to recall that some of our friends offered to go there with her and help her move out, but she turned them down. I think her shame at precipitating such a scene pulled her back into the silence. Like so many battered women, she feared that the violence would just get worse if she tried to leave. As so often it does. All too frequently women wind up dead, whether they stay or leave.
Luckily, she got out alive. Eventually. The relationship faded on its own, or that's what she told me. I don't know what really happened. She went back into her silence. She seemed embarrassed about the whole thing and never spoke of it to me again.
Too many women stay in their shame and silence until it kills them. Or, rather, the silence allows their batterer to kill them. If you or someone you love is dealing with abuse, maybe some of these links can help.
If you feel that your batterer may escalate if you leave, which often happens, you need a safety plan, and a serious commitment to getting out and starting over. The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 can provide you with referrals for local shelters, referrals for counseling to help you make a plan, and help with legal issues such as protective orders and custody issues. If you know of a local Women's Center, they probably can also refer you to these resources. In an emergency, you can call 911 for physical help. And 411 (information) or 1-800-555-1212 (1-800 information) - operators are usually trained to give you referrals as well.
I've often wondered why my friend and I reacted so differently to this situation. Our upbringings had been very similiar. We had the same basic ancestry and class background, had played the same sports, even weathered the same sorts of mistreatment as children. Yet, when danger threatened, we both responded in a completely different manner. I believed I was worth fighting for, and I believed the safety of other women was worth fighting for as well. Somehow she hadn't internalized that knowledge.
Though at that point in my life I didn't identify as a Pagan, I did have a strong belief in the immortality of the soul. I believed that there are many things worse than death, and that death is just a doorway to a different life. Maybe it was my Ancestors looking out for me, or even acting through me - for I now know that this viewpoint was held by my Celtic forbears. It is this belief in immortality that made them such fearless fighters.
"Berserkers.... Very useful people. But you do have
to get them pointed the right way."*
I certainly can't claim to be fearless. My experience has been more of the "Red Mist!" variety. The Gaelic term is fearg - battle madness - and it's one of the three sacred modes of divine inspiration. I just know that when I get very angry, or when the "fight or flight" response kicks in, I've almost always found myself fighting. Often the experience has been of being up above my body, simply watching while I scream at someone or fight them off or do something ridiculously dangerous but frightfully necessary. And yes, sometimes you really do see red. Other times I've been strongly in my body for the whole experience, but there's still been the sense of no conscious choice - I reacted on instinct and seemed to be moved and fueled by something outside myself.
Instinct is the fire, training the form that brings
it to focus.*
Unless and until we wind up in a perilous situation, we can never really know what form our survival instincts will take. As a young girl, my father had taught me some basic self-defense, for which I will be eternally grateful. Thanks to this early training, I successfully fought off a number of attacks -- first on the brutal playgrounds of my youth, and later when acquaintances tried to rape me.
I had always wanted to study Karate, but, ironically, my parents wouldn't let me. I guess by the time I asked for formal training (around twelve) they were afraid I was already too butch. There were no other girls in the Karate classes in our small town, and they probably feared I'd be ostracized, beat up, or maybe made more aggressive by the experience. Like so many girls, gender-stereotypes and gender-panic - my parents' fear that I would be too far outside the gender norm - kept me from learning how to better defend myself.
A couple years after the standoff with the my friend's batterer, I finally took some self-defense classes with a women's martial arts collective. They put us through all kinds of attack situations, showing us ways to get out of holds and disable an attacker. We repeated these attacks over and over until the defensive responses became automatic.
At this time I also spent a lot of time on my own developing my magical self-defense abilities. And while I tried out the usual run of experiments - shielding myself from harmful energies, learning to be somewhat invisible in dangerous situations - I found that the physical self-defense was a necessary element of confidence-building that I wish the magical books would stress more often (as most authors, usually males, don't even mention it).
The Goddesses who were around me at that time were almost all warrior Goddesses. The type of protection they most often offered wasn't necessarily that of keeping danger away, but that of making me more aware of, and more capable of dealing with, danger when it arrived. I don't know if they put me in dangerous situations so They could act through me, though I sometimes suspected it. But it does seem that women who choose to work with a warrior Goddess (or, more genuinely in my opinion, women who are chosen by a warrior Goddess) are put into these situations time and time again.
I think I was put into those dangerous situations because I needed to find within me the self-confidence that comes from fighting back. And I was put into those dangerous situations simply because they are situations almost all women find themselves in at some point in their lives.
Take a self-defense class. Some women's groups offer them for free. Check out these links, or call your local women's center for referrals. One of these days your life, or the life of someone you love, will depend on your ability to assess danger and react swiftly and strongly. And today, right now, your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your ability to not walk around with the "Victim" light flashing on your forehead - these things already depend on it.
As a Celt, I believe that the Goddesses are proudest of us when we stand up for ourselves, when we defend our tribe and fight for what we hold sacred. May the Goddesses be proud of us. Now, and always.
"Berserkers..." quote from One King's Way by Harry Harrison; copyright ©1995 Harry Harrison and John Holm.
"Instinct..." quote from Tales of Subversive Magic copyright ©1992, 1998 Kathryn Theatana.
copyright ©1998 kathryn price theatana
all worldwide rights reserved. not to be reproduced without the express, written permission of the author.
warrior woman graphic courtesy of clipart castle
blue knotwork from rowan's icons (if memory serves...)