The Discipline of a Grateful Life

This week, I enjoyed reading Sam Gentoku McCree’s piece on Ten Steps to a Grateful Life.

Having a grateful life is a discipline.

photo 1It’s not difficult for my mood to tumble this time of year. It’s dark in Alaska for much of the day. My energy dips just as my work chaos soars. And then there are upcoming social functions associated with the holidays that I loathe given my crowd-averse nature.

But I’ve made a point of penciling in times of gratitude in my day to day life. I wake up ten minutes early each day to give thanks, and in doing so, realized how much I appreciate the surprise sources.

Case in point: I am naturally drawn to darker topics, so after much consideration, I decided to piece together the life and death of Muriel Pfeil, who died in 1976 in Anchorage. The story is everything I write about already: domestic violence, international child abduction, the works. The trouble is I don’t know her family or friends.

I got a couple of names through a friend of mine. Two lovely women who have been friends for sixty-plus years were gracious enough to take me to a Thanksgiving party hosted by the Alaskan Pioneers yesterday to do some digging around.

Yes, I actually signed up to hang out with a group of strangers and socialize.

Two hours later, I felt like a part of a great new supportive family. I’d been tentative when it began. ”I’m thinking about writing the story of…” but with the encouragement of my dear hostesses, I left with many new contacts and a greater conviction. I’m not thinking of writing the story of Muriel Pfeil. I am in the process of writing about Muriel Pfeil. And I so appreciate the support and enthusiasm of my new friends.

My daughters with cats
My daughters with cats

There are always the typical things I’m grateful for, like my wonderful daughters. They’re happy (mostly). They’re healthy. They’re working. I even managed to get one of them to move out of the house. I’m grateful for my kittens. My extended family and friends. My work. My health. My volunteer work.

But I’ve scaled back on some things and it’s given me time for a bit more rest, and for writing workshops and coaching. I have created space again.

Thanksgiving is here. What are you thankful for?

I’m always thankful to connect with you here.

PS– I learned that A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson is now available on Amazon. I’m pleased to have my essay  titled Healing included.

The conversation continues with the Ray Rice saga/Is it the perpetrator or the victim to blame for domestic violence?

What’s going on in your world?

I made an executive decision to cut back blogging to no less than twice monthly. Somewhere between work and home remodels, revision on an old project and the developing of a new one, I realized that something had to give.

NFL player Ray Rice

But in the past weeks, I couldn’t help but notice the conversations around me are again about domestic violence. With the Ray Rice and NFL controversy, it’s like the O.J. Simpson trial all over again.

In case you’re just now tuning in, the famous football player was arrested for beating his female partner, and was barely chastised by the NFL until the video of the assault was released. Now, the NFL is changing how their managing Ray Rice and other famous abusers. It’s the bad news/good news of what happens when a celebrity is involved in a social issue.

The bad news: Most of the people in my world are still focused on why Ray Rice’s girlfriend married him after he knocked the wind out of her rather than asking why a man would do that to the woman he loves. It’s  incredible that there’s a violent crime occurring to one in every three women worldwide, and we still have permission to blame the victims.

The good news is that the NFL is now doing damage control with a proactive way to deal with violence against women, expanding the role of  Jackson Katz, a violence prevention educator, who will use his curriculum to reach the new players which will trickle down to fans. “Millions of boys across the United States have big posters of football players on their wall,” says Katz. “You can bet that they know what’s going on here.”

Jackson Katz,
Jackson Katz,

So there is always hope. Jackson Katz has worked with the New England Patriot’s extensively, the one team I know of that has a demonstrated long-term commitment to end domestic violence. I know because in 1998, the New England Patriot’s honored me with their Regaining One’s Self-Esteem Award.  (Thanks, Patriots!)

In sweeter news, I loved reading about  one of my favorite blogger Alexis Grant’s method of finding her husband (below).

One night while I was feeling both frustrated (single at 30) and silly, I sent out this tweet:

Click on the  link to read more. It isn’t as risky as it sounds; Alexis met the man who was already in her circle of influence and knew some of her friends.

To see this image, enable images at the top of your email.It is possible for love and safety to meet.

Thanks for stopping by.

Twenty Years Later/The Messages that Survived Nicole Brown-Simpson

I can’t believe that  20 years have passed already.

There are important historical events that are forever etched in our brains. We remember where we were, and how they changed our world.

mmonFor me, I remember clearly when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon (1969).

When AIDS became a major health threat (1981).

And most of all, I remember when Nicole Brown-Simpson, former wife of sports star OJ Simpson, was found murdered on June 12, 1994.

At the time, I was working as a battered women’s advocate in Anchorage, Alaska. I worked in the same shelter I’d found refuge at with my little daughters four years earlier. I facilitated support groups for victims, helped them get restraining orders in court. The part of my job I loved best was giving community presentations about domestic violence.

Back then, no one wanted to talk about domestic violence.

nicole simpson's leg
nicole simpson’s leg

That all changed when Nicole Brown-Simpson was found butchered at her home in 1994. This, following a fifteen year-long abusive marriage that began when she was a pregnant teenager.

Why does a social issue need to happen to a famous person to become significant? Domestic violence was the leading cause of injury to women ages 15-44 back then, according to Surgeon General Koop, “more than rapes, muggings, and traffic accidents combined.”

And yet, it remained a dirty little secret.

The months and years following Nicole Brown Simpson’s death, phone lines were clogged at shelters all over the country.

“I’ve been pushed and slapped. Is this abuse?” Or, “My husband’s been threatening to kill me. What can I do? I have no money.”

And presentation requests? Through the roof. Grant money fell from the heavens, and soon, we expanded domestic violence programming to include hospital emergency response teams and a safe home program for Alaska Native women.

I would like to say that domestic violence advocates worked with the community to make lasting changes. I think it’s true. There was something that resonated about this beautiful and rich young mother of two who predicted her own murder, called the police repeatedly, and was slaughtered anyhow.

The messages we learned to tell our abused friends and loved ones?

You’re not alone

You deserve to be treated well.

It’s not your fault.

There are people and agencies that can help you.

We also learned what not to say.
You should leave.

Forgive him. He looks so sad.

What’s wrong with you?

History has taught that the most dangerous time in a violent relationship is just before or just after leaving it. So we advocates, we family members, we friends must remember to hold our tongues and keep our advice to ourselves.

Do you know someone who is being abused?

Tell them to call 1-800-799-SAFE.

The Truth About Leaving a Violent Relationship

Many months ago, the Anchorage Daily News reported a brutal stabbing.
Fortunately, the victim lived. Her story wasn’t so  unique. Her former boyfriend, who didn’t appear to harbor ill-will towards her about their break-up two months earlier, apparently did. He stabbed her nearly to death.
Reporter Casey Grove interviewed her days later, and asked the victim why she had been with a man with a checkered past.

Instantly, I was transported back to the 90’s. Back to a time when part of my job as a domestic violence advocate  was providing lectures and workshops for community panels, law enforcement, and other providers. Domestic violence was the new hot topic. It was just after the death of Nicole Brown Simpson, and suddenly, abuse in relationships was no longer a secret. What was on the minds of the audience? More often than not, it was Why Does She Stay?

The other part of my job as an advocate was to work with abuse victims. On any given day, I would see three to five women who had either just left the battered women’s shelter or had never been in it. Most appointments had been scheduled in advance, but sometimes women at wits-end simply walked in unannounced and needed to talk to someone. I loved being that someone. I got to listen to her tell her story, suspending the judgment or hope that a family member or friend might have about whether she should stay in or leave the relationship. I would ask questions meant to spur thought, and give general information about safety and emergency planning. I referred her to an information and support group that was attended by other victims of emotional, physical, and/ or sexual abuse. And week by week, she muscled-up emotionally by meeting with women in similar circumstances and hearing their stories of survival. She would learn to tell her own story. A year or two later, often that same woman who had timidly walked through the door now returned, transformed. She was making a life for herself without abuse, and proudly volunteered her skills or made a donation to the center. The bonus for me was obvious: I inhaled second-hand strength.

Some women left their abusers. Many of them went on to have fabulous lives afterwards, advancing their education, employment skills, or enjoying a loving relationship with a different partner.

For others, the consequences for leaving were tragic. They plunged into poverty. They were injured or killed. Or even worse, their children were put at risk.

I took the survivor’s stories to help with the community outreach.

The truth about leaving a violent relationship is it’s  no guarantee to safety or to happiness.

So maybe asking a different question makes sense.

Perhaps the reporter could have asked different questions. Why did this man stab a woman he once loved? Why do we focus on  domestic abuse victim’s choices for partners rather than the abusers actions? And how can we collectively work to end domestic violence in our world?

Love, Pistorius Style/The Pretty Faces Behind the Ugly Problem of Domestic Violence

With all the other things going on nationally, I had not paid attention to the Oscar Pistorius trial.

Honestly, I thought Pistorius was a political figure. And then I stayed home last weekend and caught up with the news.

What’s not fascinating about a tragic Valentine’s Day ending (in 2013) to a romance between a South African super-model and a super-athlete?

They were both beautiful, rich, and talented. She was a law graduate. He is a double-amputee sprint runner. Soon after they met, the couple appeared to have the world by the tail

Pistorius and Steenkamp -in the beginning
Pistorius and Steenkamp -in the beginning

Pistorius admits to shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early morning hours on Valentine’s Day, believing her to be an intruder. Given that the place he lives in South Africa is rife with break-ins, and given Pistorius documented history of anxiety about being victimized, I would have believed his alibi.

But there were too many things in their relationship that now point to something different.

The Pistorius/Steenkamp union had some classic markers of an abusive relationship.

Like many relationships that turn violent, theirs began with quick involvement.  They began dating one November. They were inseparable from the start.

Pistorius used tactics to control Steenkamp, and made frequent (and very public) negative comments about her. Her gum chewing. Her taste in music. Her efforts to learn accents for an acting role.

Oscar Pistorius demonstrated his jealousy frequently to Reeva Steenkamp, accusing her of flirting with other men, of not introducing him quickly enough to other men at events they attended. Witnesses say he called her incessantly from the beginning of their relationship.

Violence in a relationship nearly always follows one that began with quick involvement, is marked by control tactics, and has elements of jealousy.  It usually increases over time and does not escalate to physical violence until much later that the Pistorius/Steenkamp relationship.

Do you know someone who is a victim of domestic violence?  It’s important to connect her to resources. 1-800-799-SAFE is a great start.

Reeva Steenkamp met her handsome prince in November of 2012. Three short months later, she was dead.