Friday, March 21, 2008

The Big Screw Up OR The End of Denial

All happy families resemble one another. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
- Leo Tolstoy
We’ve probably all heard that the Chinese sign for crisis is the same as opportunity. I don’t know if the part about that being a Chinese sign is true, but I do believe that crisis is a chance for change. It is life telling us – Hey – this ain’t working – you can’t force it – so here’s a chance to make it right.

In my job as a social worker at a criminal justice agency, we ask complainants in domestic violence cases to come talk to us. Most of the time, they say it didn’t happen, it was her fault, they were drunk, she is crazy, he was only defending himself, she made it up to because she was jealous, etc. Once in a while, her current story may be valid. Most of the time, she’s covering up for him – out of a combination of fear, love, shame, and hope.

Some people may get caught up in trying to “catch” her in the lie. That isn’t the point. I want to reach around the story and get to the emotions. The only way to do that is put my ego aside – it isn’t about me. It is about her – and her kids. I don’t know what she is facing. It isn’t my job and it isn’t even the point to “talk her into” pursuing charges. The prosecutor will evaluate the case based on the evidence and go from there.

My part is talking with her (or him as sometimes the case may be). Yeah, it totally sucks to be in this situation. I know you’re embarrassed to be here. I know you’re not like those other women in our waiting room. But, how can your life be better? Can I help you? You and your kids deserve to be in a home where you are safe. You deserve to be respected. You did the right thing by getting help. You’re not alone. I’m worried about you. There are people who can help you if you want.

I don’t mind confronting people if it is necessary – but with compassion. Recently, a mom dropped a protective order. Based on his previous violence, there is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to hurt her and her children. I told her I was very worried about them. Right now, we have him in jail – charged with some serious crimes. We intend to keep him there. I hope we can. Mom believes he “has changed.” She doesn’t have a lot of options, so she is picking the least resistant one – false hope. I’m not pretending all her options aren’t hard or dangerous. I know that often women like her are in more danger when they leave. So, the only thing to do now is try and keep him in custody as long as possible and to keep the door open for her. This crisis is a chance for her and her children’s safety – IF we all do the right thing.

Denial is a very effective coping mechanism – for a while. I’ve certainly used it. I’m sure we all have. The thing is, eventually, we might be trying to juggle too many balls. Eventually, we get one too many and they all crash. I once had a client tell me that her husband wasn’t serious about changing. She said, “He’s just shuckin’ and jivin’.” That really summed it up. He was just talking and pretending.

With crisis, comes shame, panic, fear and relief. We often don’t even realize how stressed we’ve been until we have to stop “shuckin’ and jivin’.” Life forces us to face hard realities. So, yes, with the big screw up, comes the end of denial and the chance to really fix things.

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