That is, it’s everything we’ve experienced, and how our minds react to what we experience now.
I believe that is what causes different people to react to the same experience differently. The combination of each person’s unique ‘biochemical difference engine’ (brain) and the experiences it has collected over time.
I’ve become convinced this is the reason that treating and resolving the most difficult and damaging kinds of life experiences is, well, pretty damn hard.
Severe trauma, deep grief, dissociating experiences, all the things originating from the exterior of the person that impacts the person is everyone’s go-to idea of what needs to be expressed, examined, emotionally responded to and finally ‘put in order’ in the person’s life. I agree, this is essential to treating and resolving whatever ‘disorder’ is standing in the way.
The next steps are a lot less clear and well defined, but seem (at least in my case) to be about taking the experiences from ‘disorder’ to ‘order’. I seem to do best with lots of my kind of meditation (letting my mind go wherever it wants to) along with letting someone else witness it with me. In my case, the witnesses are my therapist and, occasionally, my AA sponsor. It has been the only way I’ve found to pull the experiences out, tease them away from all the more routine and ‘normal’ parts of my life and try to find a place for them that doesn’t do any harm.
But when I do that, I still feel resistance to the ‘resolution’ part. That is, there are emotions that come up demanding that I not heal completely because that would silence justice. It says; ‘if you do this, there will be no justice, only “peace”’.
The angry part of me is still in love with the pain, because the pain feeds it. It says; ‘one day anger will bring you justice, which is better than peace… Peace is a lie if there’s no justice. It is only blindness’.
The rational part of me knows for sure that the first and last statements are false. Anger will not bring me justice. Not now, not ever. Peace is not blindness, it is the end of pain.
The middle statement, however, is a problem. Is peace, being an end to pain, also an untruth? Is it relief at the expense of truth? It begs this question, but only answers with ‘no, you can forgive and have peace, without forgetting’. There is a way to maintain a memory without the negative emotions that come with it. In theory. We believe. Because we have to. Because I have to.
Along with my individual therapy, my men’s group therapy and my participation in AA, I have been looking very hard at what the rest of the world has been up to regarding the mental and emotional condition of men…
What I’ve been finding is, well, kind of horrifying. Shelley and I have talked at some length about the state of the world in general, and the view of mental and emotional health for men and boys in the West (that is, the US, UK, western Europe, Australia, etc.).
I could site literally hundreds of links here demonstrating my point, but that would not be fair to me or you the reader. It is not my place to try to lead or guide your thoughts about this unless I am asked to do so.
But just for a peek into what terrifies me most about my ‘place’ as an ordinary single man with mental health issues, let me show you something I found a while back en-route to looking for other things…
This is the Abstract and Conclusion of a 40+ page paper published last year in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism by Jamie R. Abrams, currently an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law (Electronic copy of the full paper available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2790940 (Copyright © 2016 by Jamie R. Abrams):
The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence
Jamie R. Abrams†
This Article makes a feminist case for acknowledging women’s acts of violence as consistent with—not threatening to—the goals of the domestic violence movement and the feminist movement. It concludes that broadly understanding women’s use of strength, power, coercion, control, and violence, even illegitimate uses, can be framed consistent with feminist goals.
Beginning this conversation is a necessary—if uncomfortable—step to give movement to the movement to end gendered violence.
The domestic violence movement historically framed its work on a gender binary of men as potential perpetrators and women as potential victims. This binary was an essential starting point to defining and responding to domestic violence. The movement has since struggled to address women as perpetrators.
It has historically deployed a “strategy of containment” to respond to women as perpetrators. This strategy includes bringing male victims of domestic violence within existing services, monitoring exaggerations and misstatements about the extent of women’s violence, and noting the troublesome line between perpetrator/victim for women. This strategy achieved specific and important goals to domestic violence law reforms. These goals included retaining domestic violence’s central and iconic framing as a women’s issue, preserving critical funding sources and infrastructure to serve victims, and thwarting obstructionist political challenges largely waged by men’s rights groups.
While acknowledging that these goals were sound and central to the historic underpinnings of domestic violence law reforms, this Article considers whether the strategy of containment is too myopic and reactive to endure. It begins a discussion of whether moving beyond a strategy of containment might paradoxically advance the efficacy of both domestic violence law reforms and the feminist movement. It suggests that moving beyond the strategy of containment would strengthen the infrastructure and foundation of the domestic violence movement. It would move beyond the limited masculinist frame dominating domestic violence, beyond the pathologized and marginalized frame depicting women abusers, and toward a more inclusive movement. It further examines potential gains to the broader feminist movement, such as preserving the movement’s sustained legacy, diffusing gender stereotypes, righting skewed legal standards, and advancing women’s political and professional status.
Domestic violence is indeed gendered and complex. It is both individualized and systemic. It has critical shared underpinnings, yet it is different in every manifestation. It is time to consider whether it is too myopic to ignore female perpetrators. It is both “possible and politically necessary to acknowledge that some women use violence as a tactic in family conflict while also understanding that men tend to use violence more instrumentally to control women’s lives.”
There are real reasons to pause and ask whether the movement is stagnating in its efforts to end violence against women. It is time to selfassess critically the efficacy and trajectory of the movement. For decades, the movement has worked to train family court judges, lawyers, police, and advocates. Yet, the movement still faces incredible obstacles presented by hostile judges, uncooperative police, and a disbelieving public. Our modern approach has led to a high stakes game of “whack-a-mole” whereby advocates try to train new individuals, intervene where misunderstandings emerge, and responsively try to move relief measures forward. This may be an effective relief measure to making existing systems work. It may not, however, be an effective strategy to ending violence against women. Within our communities individually and our nation as a whole, vast structural changes have occurred to which the domestic violence movement might align and adapt and evolve. Are there ways, for example, to deliver services within the context of a “sharing economy” that might lift up communities and allow for more community-specific service provision. How do we move toward a stronger model of state accountability within communities? How do the goals of the domestic violence movement align with broader conversations about police and community relations? This conversation begins with moving beyond the “third rail” status of women’s acts of violence in feminism. Women’s violence has historically been marginalized and apologized in problematic ways. The feminist movement has a powerful role to play debunking stereotypes underlying gendered violence and gender equality and propelling the movement forward consistent with modern understandings of gender.
Now, you might wonder what all that has to do with my own personal journey toward healing, the anger that stands in the way, the fear of letting go of anger and resolving the despair that has so often lead me to suicidal thoughts and actions.
Well, I’ll tell ya. My life didn’t begin and end with the abuse I endured. A lot happened between then and now. Most of it happened in a vacuum of enforced ignorance and fear of rejection. A repeating cycle of effort, failure, temporary ‘success’, more failure and the shame and self-blame that comes with it.
Then one day it all came crashing down at once, and I just stopped caring at all… Drinking assisted in helping me decide to really, finally end my life. By drinking myself to death. I was a severe alcoholic, I knew how to drink and I knew that one could die of alcohol poisoning.
It didn’t work out that way. That is, I did NOT survive a suicide attempt, rather I failed to die successfully. It was from that point of view that I began the slow climb back to being alive. That is, NOT recovering, NOT healing, NOT becoming some kind of heroic figure that overcame the odds… Just someone who was doing more than just continuing to breathe, eat, sleep, etc. For the rest of it, I had to work. And I needed help. I returned to the fellowship and recovery program in Alcoholics Anonymous. My sponsor insisted that I get outside help for my trauma issues, as he’d never experienced them and hadn’t worked with anyone else who has. So I began therapy. What I call ‘God’, Shelley and my sponsor have brought me from there to here. I am now starting to live. This has taken over two years.
What I haven’t said here yet, nor have I discussed it in any detail with anyone else, is that before, during and as I ‘recovered’ I have also been looking around at how the world I live in sees me… I have looked hard. And from every angle I could find. I had an overwhelming desire to throw off that vacuum of ignorance about my ‘place’. That is, how I am seen.
I have read and otherwise consumed vast amounts of information about toxic masculinity. About patriarchal gender norms. About male oppression and power. About male privilege. About white male privilege. About white, male, cisgendered privilege. About how I was the very apex of the hierarchy in which I live. The top dog. The MAN. Me… If you knew me, you’d know precisely how ridiculous that is…
I have also consumed lots of information about misandry. About male disposability. About the apex fallacy surrounding patriarchy theory. That being a white, cisgendered straight dude somehow makes me equivalent to Donald Trump. I can assure you I am no Donald Trump. All I am in this context is a victim of childhood sexual abuse with the resulting trauma, lethally addicted to alcohol, a victim of the Duluth Model of domestic violence injustice and a ‘thrown away’ disposable man. Who has been disposed of. I’m not alone in this. There are many men like me.
The way I am perceived in my world is vile, it is sickening, it is profoundly unjust… And it is everywhere. It tempts me to scream at all of you: ‘Do you want me to stay alive? Then stop beating me up, and fix the world, or let me die!’ Or ‘Leave me the hell alone! Don’t talk to me, don’t engage with me, and don’t look at me. Just back off!’
But I don’t say these things… Sometimes I think them, but I don’t say them. I want to get well. I want to live. I’d even like to thrive someday. But I just can’t avoid seeing how the rest of you see me. I haven’t made ‘peace’ with that yet. I’m working on it. Really. Now, go back and reread the abstract and conclusion I quoted above. Then search for information about men’s mental health, male disposability, men’s issues and rights. Google, and Google Scholar are your friends.
When you look through this work, examine your thinking. Ask yourself why it is so hard to think of someone like me as a human being…