Friday, October 5, 2012

The Gift of Fear & Picture Perfect

I didn't want to read The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence a non-fiction book by Gavin de Becker. I'd seen it on many recommend lists, but honestly, the title REALLY put me off. The chapter descriptions certainly aren't warm and fuzzy, either: violence by a parent or intimate partner, violence in the workplace, celebrity stalkings... and I don't even like thinking about fear. Fear is one of those "bad" emotions we want to get away from, right?

I found, however, that reading it both eased my fears in many ways, and uncomfortably raised my awareness in many others. Yes, my relationship with my (then) boyfriend had deteriorated until it was far from good. Yes, he was jealous and possessive, owned a large stockpile of guns and ammo, and threatened to blow my brains out on more than one occasion, but that was a joke. Of course. A really bad one.

Interactions Fights between us could be highly emotionally charged, but were almost always verbal. He only hit me once - and raised his fist to hit me, another time. Both times, I "gave as good as I got," the first time clocking him right back, the second grabbing his raised arm and digging in my nails until he agreed to lower it.

I think it was that incident that really shocked me out of my complacency that I wasn't "really" in an abusive relationship. Because in the second case, I realized if somebody had heard us fighting and called the police, *I* would have been the person hauled off the jail - my nails had broken the surface of his skin in several places, and there wasn't a mark on me.

One of the myths about violence is that there's no way to predict it. 

It's true there is not (usually) a way to predict a specific violent incident at Tuesday at 4:00 p.m., but almost all violence:  violence by strangers; by a disgruntled employee in the workplace; and domestic violence by a partner; comes with many warning signs, which The Gift of Fear explains in great detail.

Here's some of the warning signs for an intimate relationship:
1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk
2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.
4) He is verbally abusive.
5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.
6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).
8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).
9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct ("That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy").
11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).
13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a "tight leash," requires her to account for her time.
15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like "together for life," "always," "no matter what."
17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.
21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.
22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.
23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history. He characterizes the violence of others as justified.
24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.
26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

Now, for me personally - I did not (usually) have feelings of #1 - immediate impending danger. But when I reviewed the list (30 separate items - I selected some of the ones that jumped out to me) there were way too many danger signals there for me to continue to disregard the real possibility that I would not survive the relationship.

I was fairly certain, that, when calm and sober, my (then) boyfriend would not shoot or try to physically harm me again. But "worked up"? And drunk? There were way too many nights where he became hammered, where he went from the "I love you, baby's" to the "I don't even like you and wish you would get the hell out of my life."

Finally, I did get the hell out. Obviously, I was able to do so safely, or I wouldn't be posting this blog.

Sometimes the first and only physical attack is the one that claims the life of the victim.

One very important thing that de Becker emphasizes, is that a restraining order will not magically protect you, and victims of domestic abuse are MOST at risk in the period when they are leaving or have just announced they are preparing to leave. Sometimes, a restraining order can actually make things worse. Police and social workers often recommend them as part of creating a paper trail, for court later on, but that's not much consolation to you if you are wounded or dead. It is, in fact, only a piece of paper, not a magic shield. It may help the police and others take your case seriously, but can also push an abuser over the edge. No one in a domestic violence situation can afford to relax her guard because she has a restraining order.

I highly recommend that all victims of domestic abuse (whether it's "serious" or not) to read this book, and work with a trained domestic violence organization to devise a "leaving strategy" that is safe for you. Screw "giving him another chance" or "being upfront that you're leaving, because that's only fair." You need to do whatever you need to do, to be safe. It may mean leaving in the middle of the night, or while he is at work, whatever. Trust your instincts.

You are not morally obligated to give a mad dog a(nother) chance to bite.

(Keep in mind, women can be and have been as violent and dangerous as men. Just ask Phil Hartman. De Becker  himself witnessed, as a child, his mother shooting his stepfather, but has chosen to write the book as though the average abuser is male and the victim is female.)

I also highly recommend this book to anyone in human resources, and to celebrities. It is not true that "nothing can be done" to identify and protect against about the dangerous disgruntled employee.  There are also techniques to defuse, or inflame celebrity stalkers. And to protect yourself against stranger rape or mugging.

Really, it's an excellent book for everyone to read. When I finally did pick up the book, with a grim, "taking my medicine" kind of attitude, I found it interesting, enlightening, a real page turner, and felt so much better once I had read it, about my situation and my life.

I knew I wanted to read some more Jodi Picoult, and when I saw several of her books at Costco, I picked this one, since the dress reminded me of a happy summer day, not for any deeper reason.

Picture Perfect is an older book (1995) and some of the details that worked then are dated now, Everyone would have a cellphone, for instance, making it much harder to disappear, and the airport scenes would be very different, post 9-11.

Nonetheless, the book blew me away. I was not expecting it to be a story about dysfunctional families, true love, and domestic violence (with a bit of native American mythos woven in as well).

Cassie Barrett begins the book with amnesia. (Yeah, I know, that premise has only been done about a billion times.) She is found and cared for by a native American LAPD cop, new to the force. As her memory begins to return, it turns out that her loving, doting husband is a big time movie star, who was out of the country on a shoot and didn't even realize she was missing.

Her memory begins to return in bits and pieces. We see her childhood, with an alcoholic mother and an enabling father. Her close friendship with Connor, a neighbor boy who might eventually have become a lover and a husband, if he had not been killed in a murder-suicide by his depressed father. We see her struggle to get acknowledgment and tenure as an anthropologist at UCLA, and then fate throws her into the path of movie star Alex Rivers.

We watch as Cassie remembers and replays her whirlwind romance with Alex, the deep emotional connection of two wounded souls. We see how much he loves her, how much he depends upon her, and she on him, how very happy they are together.  The happiness, the joy, the sense of belonging, of finally finding a kindred spirit, a soulmate, from two somewhat damaged people who have been alone in the world.

And then Cassie remembers that he hit her. 

That it happened not once, not twice, but countless times.

The first time it happened, she was in shock, and denial, and Alex was so sorry.  And things were better, were great, for a very long time after that.

If you have never been in a domestic violence situation - I'm happy for you (and perhaps a tiny bit jealous). But the reality is, many, many people have grown up in dysfunctional homes, so far away from normal we don't even know what normal tastes like.

Could you describe a taste to someone who'd never sampled that flavor? Fresh cut strawberries; chocolate gelato, garlic butter sauce? You could put a lot of words together, show pictures and videos of other people eating these foods, but there's really no way someone who has never tasted a strawberry, could understand the flavor without putting one in his/her mouth.

Picture Perfect gets the flavor (if, perhaps, not all the details) right. The overwhelming love, soul connection, followed by confusion, betrayal, pain. The difficulty and deep shame of allowing oneself to be abused. The leaving, the coming back, after he has "changed" and gotten help.

For a fictional book, it expresses the truth of the mixed emotions in a way that many more clinical non-fiction books can't quite detail. I highly recommend it if you are trying to understand why you, or anyone, stays with an abuser.

This month all the posts are on the subject of domestic abuse. 

Some by me, some by some wonderful guests.  Hang in there, they won't ALL be grim, because the reality is, men and women can be in a verbally or physically abusive relationship, leave it, and thrive.

Domestic Violence Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French

Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247

Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory

For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?.
If you'd like to share your own story, there's still time.
Guest post ideas & info here.

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