As I've written about before, my mom is a breast cancer survivor, but due to the pinkification, sexification, and politicalization of breast cancer awareness raising, I'm not really keen writing about that topic. Besides, in the sea of pink this month, it can be easy for another incredibly important awareness campaign to be lost.
October is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is a cause which is very close to my heart.
As I've alluded to before, I grew up in a household where verbal/emotional abuse was commonplace. So commonplace that I didn't even understand the full magnitude of the situation, the scars I carry, and their effect on my life until much more recently.
Breast cancer--because it is made out to be all sexy--has actually achieved relative visibility in our society. I feel that most people know that you should perform routine breast self exams always and begin receiving regular mammograms at age 40. (And when people don't know this, I hope that the campaigns which educate them emphasize the person's life which is at stake and not "save the ta-tas" nonsense.)
But domestic violence and abuse, on the other hand, continue to be very invisible in our society. They're not so sexy as "I <3 boobies" so we're not talking about it. When it comes up, you'll still hear people saying things like, "Well what goes on in their marriage is none of my business!" I find the invisibility to be particularly true of emotional abuse which is often seen as "not real" because there is no physical damage.
Despite the invisibility, violence and abuse are extremely common, which illustrates just how important awareness raising is. Especially because the people who are often hurt the most are vulnerable populations like teens. I mean, when you are 13 and no one has ever talked to you about what a healthy relationship looks like, how are you supposed to know? You might mistake someone exercising control over you as love. "Knowing what's best for you" can sound a lot like love if you've never heard that healthy relationships aren't supposed to include control and/or manipulation (and you don't even know what manipulation feels like.)
Misty Clifton over at Shakesville has a great resource up right now which I suggest you check out. As she says,
Emotional Abuse It is real--not being hit or raped doesn't mean not being abused. Emotional abusers isolate their victims. Emotional abusers will use emotional blackmail, guilt, and shame to get victims to stay and may threaten suicide if they leave. They verbally assault with name-calling, mockery, public & private humiliation, and threats. They may expect their partners to ask their "permission" to do things. Emotional abusers can also be ones who constantly "know what's best" and blows up/rages if their partner doesn't submit to their "advice" (control). Economic abuse is a sub-category of emotional abuse: abusers use the finances to exert control over their partners.
It's still scary to admit that. Even thinking "I was abused" feels weird, but it's true.
Our cultural narratives state that families are supposed to be wonderful and give you all kinds of warm fuzzies and we're all supposed to put our families first. But for many of us, the reality of what occurs behind closed doors is frightening and damaging. And until you know that 1) it's not your fault 2) it shouldn't be happening 3) and you are not alone, it feels horribly embarrassing to even admit.
I mean--I'm several years into processing the realities of my childhood and I still feel very raw talking in these terms, but I think it's really important.
Anyway, my point is that as you buy a pink wristband or share some silly status on Facebook, stop for a moment and give National Domestic Violence Awareness Month some attention too. Share Clifton's piece above--you might educate someone into a "light bulb moment." Just understanding that the sadness and fear you live in isn't how it has to be can be an incredibly powerful moment for someone.