Several years ago I ended a very successful eight year old website called “Artemis: A Site for Survivors of Domestic Violence.” This creation of mine was a first foray onto the internet world, wanting to help others: educate, advocate, counsel, all while in the midst of obtaining my masters degree in counseling psychology.
This was the first website I could find to ever approach the subject of distinguishing between victims and survivors. Not about blame because I am a fan of Dr. Viktor Frankl and I understand the difference. It was merely about segregating two distinct types of clients who had unique needs and wants in life.
Survivors of domestic violence are those who have left the batterer or perpetrator and have begun to reclaim their power. Or have moved on in their lives. These women and men are people who are suffering from PTSD, not wanting to return and are in need of resources, counseling and mentors from their own community. We had over 100,000 visitors from around the world. I recall speaking to women from Australia, Beliz, China, UK, as well as people from around the U.S. We had a very lively message board which is still in existence on two websites in North Carolina and the UK.
The survivor is in the process of re-building their life after having lived through a horrible ordeal at the hands of someone who claimed to love them. Often a survivor is not only dealing with the pain of an ex-spouse/partner but child abuse as well. It is not unusual for a person who has been raised in a less than ideal environment to marry into one. It is also not unusual for someone who is experiencing the loss of a loved one to end up vulnerable and in the hands of a less than admirable person.
The survivor of domestic violence has come to a place where they have begun to take responsibility for the choice they have made and know they will not turn back. They are thinking about talking to a psychotherapist/counsellor, their career objectives, future for their family, geographic considerations (especially if need be for safety). Yet they also wanted to just share their stories online and tell us what they had learned and where they were in their lives “now” as a result of their awakening. The message board that we had and which continues to flourish was an uplifting place that continued to bring encouragement and growth to others. In a non-competitive way, people wanted to say they were able to do it too, just like “so and so,” who’s post motivated them to move on.
While I had to let the website go, it was mainly a choice of knowing that it was time for me to move on in my life and take this from another angle. I began working in this field and met with survivors in person. I am now operating privately as a therapist. Survivors of abuse will always be my most favorite type of clientele to deal with. These are people who want help and are eager to hear all that you have to offer them. They are like sponges who soak up the water that will nourish them. In Buddhist terms, since they have experienced tragedy they are able to now appreciate happiness more than ever.
The survivor of domestic violence is an unsung hero. We place so much attention on the victims and helping to free them (there is nothing wrong with this) but not much focus on the people who have walked away.
Some of us walked away on our own because at the time there was no such thing as the concept “domestic violence.” We were forced to let go of religion who would not listen and blamed, as well as parents who ridiculed, society who did not understand, attorneys, judges and police who were not well prepared. There are still people who think this way and survivors are still battling odds and taking great risks. Even though we now have a National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, does not mean the choice to leave and stay free is any easier.
Survivors are also dealing with the needed support of others because those who are parents still have to put up with the batterer. Restraining orders are obligatory because they look good in court but they don’t keep you safe. So we always explained that no matter what, you must have one for legal reasons, not for protection. Finding places to drop off kids for visits are important so that you can do so without bumping into the batterer. Back then we did not have social networking sites but now we do and so it is imperative that you “befriend” your children and keep an eye on the perpetrators conversations with the child. It is important that you keep your information PRIVATE so that the perpetrator can be banned from accessing your information. It is a very powerful feeling to BLOCK an ex-batterer.
The exciting part of our survivors network was hearing the stories of these people over the years. People wrote books, did lecture tours with police departments, opened non-profits, became social workers/psychotherapists, went back to college and realized dreams, found a truly loving and safe partner, or just continued to live in peace and be happy living on their own. These were people who at one point in their life either wished they were dead and/or were told they were useless, stupid, ugly, creatures who would “never amount to anything.” Now after climbing that mountain, they began to see that they had learned a great lesson in life and were put on this planet to make a difference in the world.