So a couple of posts back I had talked about what advocacy looked like, so I have more to say on that.
This series was sparked by an advocacy campaign that didn’t go very well – its intentions were certainly honorable but it was not well thought out and when questioned the creator became overwhelmed and vanished.
I know many people wondered how I, as a person heavily invested in advocacy for victims and survivors, could criticize any campaign and how could I not support any campaign that is designed to help?
Well, just as there is such a thing as cheap grace, there is also cheap advocacy. As an advocate I must constantly check my own personal ego at the door. Every blog post, every new follower, every Like or Share is not about me, not ever, it is and must always be about survivors. My mission as an advocate must always be about victims and survivors.
If I make advocacy about myself and my own credibility and my own credentials and my own fame or celebrity, then I have lost the cause.
There are many people who think certain stereotypes about advocacy. They see sign-carrying protestors (which happens often!) or they see an advocate at the hospital bedside of a recovering survivor (very, very honorable and important work), or they see someone manning the phones at crisis lines (also very important necessary work).
These types of advocates are the front lines of advocacy work and we must recognize that their work, over the months and years, their tireless efforts working directly with survivors under the umbrella of credible organizations have changed so many lives and have done so much incredible good work!!!!!! Our job is to support those organizations, encourage and promote, give financially when we can, and volunteer our time and resources as we are able.
I always thought in order to be an advocate that I had to do one of those types of jobs. I always thought I would end up staffing phone lines or assisting in domestic safe houses. My advocacy has been quite different, however.
Survivors themselves who wish to go on to advocate fill a most important role in advocacy. As a survivor, I am an advocate no matter where I go. I wear my advocate hat every day, in every office, store, church, or facility that I walk into.
One of the gifts (I use that term lightly) that survivorship brings is a heightened sense of hypervigilance. Living with an abuser who is often narcissistic and self-centered means that you never really know what kind of day you are going to have because you never know what is going to set them off. So you begin to identify the things that set them off. And then you begin to try to manipulate situations so the abuser does not become set off. I can’t tell you how many doctor bills I paid in secret so my abuser wouldn’t have a fit at the mail box. I learned to remember where he absent-mindedly placed his keys, so he wouldn’t tear every drawer apart looking for them.
But going through thirteen years of hypervigilance taught me a few things about the world around me and how very few people really understand abuse and patterns of human behavior that contribute to abuse. Even our language contributes to patterns of behavior that lead to abuse. There are many structures in our society that actually allow spouses to abuse their spouses and it is socially acceptable. Even the images that are portrayed in media and movies and the news support domestic violence.
These images, symbols, vernacular, jokes, portions of our culture that uphold patterns of violence scream to me. When we read Old Testament in seminary, my friend said to me, “Gosh, Theresa, those words just jump off the page at you. Where I skim right past them and don’t really grasp what is happening, you see it and you wrestle with it.” My friend didn’t know he was giving me a gift that day – the gift of recognizing that my hypervigilance was something important. Many would and continue to get upset at my gift, but it is a gift nonetheless and I must use it for the good of victims.
Many times my advocacy has nothing to do with victims at all, but rather consists of educating people that I communicate with on a daily basis. Most conversations I have are peppered with comments about injustice or social inequalities. Many friends and acquaintances don’t know really what to do with me when I gently let them know their joke was offensive to me. They get upset with me when I ask them to rephrase their statement in a way that does not offend half of the table. My advocacy happens in every day moments, in letting others know the subtle ways that we allow abuse to thrive through our culture, systems, culture, and ways of living.
Sometimes my advocacy does involve victims and survivors. Many times I have been pulled aside and have heard friends and acquaintances share their experiences with me. Many times I have prayed over the emails and the private messages that come my way throughout the week, typically as a result of my own speaking out and sharing my life story.
Other days I withdraw to practice advocacy for myself, to take time for self-care when the ache is too much to bear. When the sermon touched a nerve or hit too close for comfort, when a joke got a little too real, when my own reality is questioned or my own divorce is called a sin, I have to step away and nourish my own soul. I have to remind myself that my own experience, as the experience of millions of other survivors, is much bigger than an ideology or a “this is how it’s supposed to be.”
Survivors have learned first-hand that all the things they were taught should be, really aren’t. To be a survivor means nothing is as it appears – the smile on my abusers face was as fake as the watch he wore on his arm. The vows we made to love and honor each other only went so far as they were convenient for him. Love only meant what he could get out of it. Love, for him, was a tool to get what he wanted, and I was the closest pawn.
Every day I advocate for me. I advocate for the millions of women just like me, who fight every day to be stronger and quicker and better than the sum of those very bad experiences. And we are. We are the strongest and the quickest and the brightest. We are because we fought and we survived.