Fully immersed in writing book No.3, here’s what I did from February to early June in between looking at old photos, reading old journals, scratching out timelines, writing chapters, half chapters, one liners that would eventually *be* chapters, editing, writing some more, deleting whole chunks of text, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing 😉 Grateful for each and every opportunity …
It was a looooooong semester!!
On Saturday, April 7, I spoke at the “Dress for What’s Next” event at the University at Buffalo School of Law. This free, all day event for survivors of domestic violence was put on by an all-volunteer team of UB Law School students. Daycare and lunch were provided for women and their children and there was even a therapy dog on site 🖤 Meditation and self-defense classes were offered, support and referral information was provided and there was even an opportunity for the ladies to do a little “gently used” clothes shopping👗👠👜 Impressive from beginning to end and I was absolutely honored to be asked to be a part of it!
If I could use only one word to describe this semester, it would be “busy”!
No matter how compassionate or understanding a person you think you are, at some point you’re going to be a little judge-y.
Everybody scoffs. Everybody – everybody – shakes their head and screws up their mouth and (in a moment of weakness) decides that the way that someone else is choosing to conduct themselves is wrong. We look at someone’s life or their current situation or their reaction to a rough patch and think, “I would never do that!” This is especially true of domestic violence. Comments like, “I would never let a man put his hands on me!” or “I would never put my children through that!” are incredibly common.
And so … maybe that’s actually the case. Maybe you wouldn’t. Maybe your reaction would be different than someone else’s. But then again, how can you be sure? The reality is that until you’re in a given situation, you really don’t know how you’d react.
Because I work with DV victims and survivors as well as those who serve them, I was honestly of the opinion that I (mostly) understood the overall plight of the battered woman. Fortunately for me, I live in a county where the local FCS (ours is Family & Children’s Service of Niagara) offers the In Her Shoes DV Awareness Program.
I initially registered to attend because while I’ve worked with Family & Children’s Service of Niagara in the past, I was recently made aware that their Director of Passage House, Larissa Bachman, is using Leaving Dorian as a supplemental read with their interns. It got me to thinking that while I know quite a bit about FCS, I know little about the inner workings of Passage House. I thought what a great opportunity to speak candidly with Larissa and her team and as a bonus maybe do a blog post about the In Her Shoes Program.
I was completely unprepared for the experience that followed.
Participants were brought into a mixed-use room where I’d worked previously, only this time instead of rows of chairs there were long tables with stacks of colorful note cards. Each table had a sign attached: “Social Services”, “Hospital”, “Employment”, etc. Attendees were then paired up and we were told to pick a person’s name from the starter table. After that the journey begins; you are to make choices for your person while reading their perspective (as well as their batterer’s perspective) from each side of the card.
Because I’m a survivor of DV and because I work with amazing DV professionals and ridiculously intelligent and well-read professors and because I, too, have chosen to be well-read on the topic, I walked into the exercise feeling confident that I could help my person to avoid the inevitable pitfalls. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be able to guide her into a healthy lifestyle well within the hour or so time frame we’d been given to complete the exercise.
Within minutes I realized that I was wrong.
There’s no way that you can prepare yourself to be given the opportunity to make every choice from beginning to end and still “fail”. There’s no way to prepare yourself to walk through nearly forty-five minutes with a person (yes, a person written on paper, but one that you slowly and inadvertently invest yourself in) just to get to the last card and have it say “Funeral Home”.
I couldn’t believe it. Tears started to well in my eyes. I stood there trying to figure it out; why was the end result so hard to take? I mean, I thought I had it. I thought I knew. I am the “Her” in “In Her Shoes”, after all! I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And even beyond my own experience – as an author who’s made myself extremely accessible on social media – I routinely hear the most sad, perplexing and gut wrenching stories from victims and survivors alike. I thought nothing could surprise or shock me. And yet, tears.
I was seriously under the weather and probably should have stayed home that day, so I immediately wanted to blame it on that; I simply wasn’t feeling well. But the young woman that I was paired with didn’t like the ending either. I said, “Let’s go back…” So we did. Our character was young; not even eighteen. We had her go home. And yet, three cards in, she was right back in a tough spot. I suggested we go back even further, maybe right back to the second card that we read.
I was shaken. That couldn’t be her ending. I refused to finish the exercise. I simply would not walk over to the wall marker that said “Funeral Home”. There was nothing but an empty table in front of it. No more cards. It was left empty for reflection, but I didn’t want to reflect. I dried my eyes as the group sat down for debriefing.
I was happy to find out that not every story ended as tragically as ours. Other groups did manage to successfully maneuver their people into new lives. It’s worth noting, though, that at times these groups had to make choices for their person that weren’t always in line with their real-life belief systems. Again, an incredibly important lesson: You cannot impose your value system on someone else. Hard to hear? Sometimes, yes. But a necessary message? Absolutely.
Of course Ms. Bachman and her team were excellent facilitators and I’d like to believe that every attendee walked out that afternoon with all of their questions answered and with a deeper appreciation of the level of strength, courage, creativity and (sometimes) blind faith that victims routinely have to possess in order to safely and successfully re-start their lives. I know that I did. It was a humbling experience that I will carry with me; one that will necessarily be reflected in every presentation and classroom discussion that I participate in from now on.
I’m incredibly proud to be able to say that Family & Children’s Service of Niagara is my hometown service provider and that the staff there is offering unique, high-quality community education programs like In Her Shoes. Programs like these (offered in house or off-site) are exactly what HR professionals are looking for when putting together sensitivity training for Staff Development Days. Their utilization can only heighten awareness and bring about much needed change in our thought processes (and eventually, our behavior toward) victims of domestic violence.
If you are in Western New York, you can contact FCS of Niagara to schedule an In Her Shoes program experience at http://www.niagarafamily.org or by phone: (716) 285-6984
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and is need of assistance, FCS of Niagara 24/7 Emergency Hotline is: (716) 299-0909
To purchase the In Her Shoes program please contact http://www.wscadv.org
Five schools, hundreds of students. I remember their faces and many of their names. More than once this semester I looked out at them looking back at me and thought, “This is crazy; how in the world did I get here?”
Well, I’m here primarily because while I thought that typing “The End” was the end, there’s a growing body of professors and helping professionals who have decided that Leaving Dorian is only a beginning.
When asked the first time if I would speak to a group of college students – as a sort of companion piece to the book – I was extremely hesitant. I didn’t think I had anything left to offer. I remember asking my husband, “I’ve already exposed my soul on paper; what else is there?” Turns out there are volumes that remain unwritten and there are students who are eager to read each and every page.
Because each class is learning about intimate partner violence from a different perspective, what I’ve set out to do is to become a living research project, of sorts. I encourage the students to poke around – to take a good look around my mind and heart and see for themselves what abuse looks like from the inside out. The goal is to see if they can connect the dots from my experience to what they’ve learned about in class.
The opportunity that I offer them isn’t an easy one; it takes real courage to look someone in the eye as you’re cutting them open, even when they’re the one who handed you the scalpel. But these young adults rise to the challenge; they take that scalpel and they cut and try and peel back the layers. They poke around and try and find the answers that they’ve read about but have not seen with their own eyes. Sometimes they find what they’re looking for easily and we build on their enthusiasm by cutting a little more, digging a little deeper. Other times I don’t have the answer; I don’t know exactly what they’re looking for (sometimes they don’t really know, either) and I ask them to try again. Cut again, I encourage them. Keep digging. Here, I’ll help you. They cut here and see what’s under there; they dig and I encourage them and their professors guide them and we, as a collective, try to extract the answers.
I’ve received stacks of glowing student evaluations this semester, most of which describe me as “brave”, “courageous” and “inspirational”. It’s heartening to know that the students view me in this way, but I have to admit that I would describe them in exactly those same terms; studying to be a helping professional isn’t for the faint of heart.
Fall semester 2016 was fantastic and I’m looking forward to revisiting new students in these courses again during the Fall of 2017!
“I have been talking to my class as well as to folks who attended your evening presentation. Everyone has shared thoughts that contained words like ‘amazing’, ‘incredible’ and ‘powerful’. It is clear to me that your visit made an important contribution to their learning.” – Dr. James Sutton, Professor of Sociology, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
“I really appreciated how you were able to talk about such difficult material in an honest and down-to-earth manner. The Skype session with you was clearly the stand-out class period of the semester. It’s certainly not every day that college students can speak directly to the author of one of their reading assignments! You both reinforced and enhanced our collective understanding of the dynamics involved with intimate partner violence. We admire and respect you greatly.” – Dr. Angie Moe, Professor of Sociology, Western Michigan University
“I assigned ‘Leaving Dorian’ to my graduate level Domestic Violence course. From the very start, my students were enthralled and invested in her story. This was not only apparent in our class discussions, but also when Linda visited my class as a guest speaker; the three-hour time frame for the one-day per week course seemed to pass within minutes rather than hours, as we sat in a circle informally discussing her book. Linda’s visit was invaluable, not only to my students, but also to me. So much of what Linda shared in her visit with students aligned with my course material. Linda’s name frequently arose in classes after her visit, as many of the students (as well as myself) referenced Linda in subsequent classes. The ability to use examples from Linda’s book and her class visit was incredibly beneficial when teaching challenging concepts and driving home important points. Also, I find it important to note that at the end of the semester, when I asked for informal feedback on the course, every one of my students mentioned that Linda’s book and her visit were “absolute musts” for my future classes. Without a doubt, I firmly believe Linda positively impacted my students’ understanding of domestic violence, and cannot wait to have her visit Niagara University in future semesters!” – Dr. Dana Radatz, Professor of Criminology, Niagara University
From Student Evaluations Administered After Presentations:
The one thing I found most helpful about this presentation was: “The openness of the conversation. We were allowed to ask whatever questions we were wondering.” – “How honest and understanding she was.” – “The statistics she gave were eye-opening and I really loved that she gave out packets of data, as well. She made her story so open and honest to us; it made it so real and incredibly motivating.” – “It was more of a discussion and not a strict lecture. She was very personable, funny and friendly.” – “The open discussion format. I liked the different directions that the presentation went in due to our ability to ask questions continuously.” – “Her candor and honesty about a very difficult topic.” – “How open and honest she encouraged us to be.”
Other comments: “I love your style of presentation. Amazing experience!” – “I really enjoyed your presentation and conversation we had!” – “I think your current role in the world is very important. Everyone needs to hear your story and other stories like it so we may be one step closer to implementing change.” – “I am so very thankful for Linda Dynel and strong individuals like herself who so bravely share their stories to educate and help complete strangers. It is because of people like her that brings bursts of light to those who feel they are alone in the dark.” – “Emotional and wonderful experience. Painful but cathartic.” – “So awesome! This book should be required by all colleges for their students to read!” – “This was an amazing presentation and I felt like it improved me as a person and as a social worker.”