I have started back to work again after having taken an extended leave of absence. For those of you who are new to my posts, I am a Registered Nurse; I left my job in the summer of 2010 when my children and I entered a women’s shelter due to Domestic Violence. It’s been quite the road getting to this point but now I’m here and I have begun the transition back into a busy hospital environment. For all the changes that I have encountered (changes in practice, equipment, even in physical location) there has been one constant for the most part and that has been the people.
This morning I was heading back to my unit after getting a coffee and I bumped into a woman who I had always enjoyed working with, who is now in a different department.… a little more grey hair but that same infectious smile which stayed in place even as she shared the nightmare that she herself has gone through. I got the feeling that the smile was about the only thing holding the tears back because her eyes were the saddest I have ever seen.
One of the first things that this woman said to me was “Seeing you gives me hope, just when I think I can’t do it anymore, I see you and I know that you ‘did it’ and so can I”. She is referring to the fact that one of her children has been struggling with terrible mental health issues and that she sees a lot of it as stemming from the Domestic Violence that was in their home. She feels like she has lost hope of seeing her daughter ever get well, she feels ostracized by peers who she feels don’t want to get too close to her because she has struggled with Depression – she feels what a lot of women feel. I hadn’t realised that she had noticed that I had even left the hospital yet alone been interested enough to keep tabs on how I had been doing. But that’s it isn’t it? Sometimes all we have to go by is how other people have fared. Sometimes you need to know that you are NOT the only one going through this, that as simple a concept as that is, it truly is the difference between having hope for your future or feeling like giving up.
It’s amazing to me how many people have shared with me recently about either their own experiences with Domestic Violence or that experienced by friends or family members. But to a person they drop their voices and speak about it softly, I almost expect them to turn around and look behind them to make sure no one is listening. There is this persistent shame about talking about DV.
I remember that the week I entered the shelter, I had gone back to the unit that I worked in to pick up a pay-stub. I went into the lounge where everyone was sitting enjoying their lunch and I told them what had happened. I can still see the look on their faces: shock. I dropped that bomb and then walked away, mindful that I had somehow broken the code that has to do with things you just don’t discuss at work. I didn’t care, I really didn’t. I felt like shouting “LISTEN PEOPLE, THIS STUFF HAPPENS AND IT IS HAPPENING TO ME!” I was hurt and frightened and alone and I didn’t know anyone who could relate to what I was going through. Looking at all those shocked faces I felt like a complete stranger, I felt justified in further isolating myself and that’s just what I went on to do.
Never ever underestimate the power of sharing your struggles. Be mindful who you choose to share with but know that every time you do, you build and strengthen your community. We know that Domestic Violence is out there and research tells us that 1 in 4 women will have experienced it at some point in their lives. Not being ashamed to admit that we have had to deal with DV is in part saying that we are not ashamed of ourselves – if we are not ashamed of ourselves then we are empowered and you can’t be a victim if you are empowered. When you are not a victim you are a survivor and that's a very big difference indeed.by