Crazy love

This morning I have no voice.  I lost it over night to a cold
that has grabbed my throat and will not let me speak.  I put it down at a physical level to
ill health but at an emotional level to a talk I gave on Thursday
afternoon to a small group of academics.  
My talk went down like a sack of potatoes, at least it did as far as I
could see and I’ve been feeling sick, bad and voiceless ever since.
What did I do wrong I keep asking
myself?  I don’t think it was the
delivery.  I usually speak well
enough.  I have a clear voice.  Was it the content, one of those
situations where people do not know how to respond because I somehow wrapped it
all up and left no room for further discussion? 
The topic was not the easiest:
sexual domestic violence  and
feminism.  Perhaps I should not
have expected more from an unsuspecting audience. 
I threw a little theory at them and
one woman described it as a summary. 
Another said she agreed with all I had said and there was nothing more
to say.
I find I am re-thinking the whole
domestic violence thing.  The reign
of terror under which I lived as a child and for which I then held my father
responsible – his alcoholism and abused childhood – is shifting. 
I listened to another of those TedX talks in which Lesley Morgan Steiner tells the story of how she met and married
a man when she was 22 and of how this man was kindness personified when they
first dated.  Right up until a few
days before they married he did not threaten or abuse her. 
She married him and stayed with him
in part because she believed that underneath it all he was a good and troubled
man and that it was her job to help him. 
She stayed with him because over time he had made decisions to move away
from family and friends into a more isolated part of the world and she had gone
along because she thought it would be good for him.  
You do these things, she thought then.  You make sacrifices for your loved one
even if it goes against your own wishes and needs. Crazy love.
My mother agreed to come to
Australia on my father’s urging and my mother has described a similar pattern,
only now do I recognise more clearly the degree to which she became trapped in
an impossible marriage and could not get out. 
I recognise that statistics are
unreliable but it surprises me to read that people who get out of abusive
relationships such as Morgan Steiner describes – a man who pulled her by the
hair across a room, bashed her against the wall, and repeatedly threatened her
with a gun – are in serious danger.  
Seventy percent of such people, mainly women, will die at the hands of the
partner they are trying to escape. 
It is the most critical phase of such a relationship because the one
deserted will feel he/she has nothing to lose.
I’m troubled by the degree to which
Steiner describes her ex husband’s behaviour as pre-meditated.  He had sought to isolate her, Steiner
says, almost as if he were grooming her for abuse, but I expect the pattern
might seem like that in retrospect.  
Here again is another person who himself had been abused.  And although not all people who have
been abused go on to become abusers, some do, and I suspect much of what they
have learned at the hands of their abusive parents, or step parents, or whoever
it was who treated them so cruelly, they might well inflict the same on their
own loved ones.
My mother’s mantra, ‘ he loves most
those he hurts the most’, never made sense to me when I was young.  It does now.  Not that I condone it but I recognise that when someone has
been damaged they have almost no other way of dealing with their internal
trauma than to project it out and inflict it on those most vulnerable and
closest to them, their spouses, their children. 
Mostly this sort of violence occurs
by men towards women, but there are also men who get into abusive relationships
with women who have themselves been abused.  It’s not exclusively a woman’s club but it is a club of
those abused and abusers and the only way to help, as Steiner says, is to talk
about it. 
Steiner escaped her relationship
after she told others about it, her family, her neighbours, her friends.  Anyone who would listen.  
Funny that I should feel so locked
inside the bubble of my own childhood memories today, unable to get out of it after I
gave my talk last week, because I fear I may have unwittingly inflicted
something on my audience for which they were unprepared and rather than abuse me
back – they were not cruel – they froze me out with silence, not entirely perhaps but
polite and distant enough for me to feel like an outsider who has since lost
her voice. 

9 thoughts on “Crazy love”

  1. I think you are overcomplicating the response to your talk. Some of the best blog posts I have ever read are so good that there is simply nothing to say except a pointless, yes, or I agree, or great work. A lecture or talk might be so challenging, provocative or just something you agree with, that it takes time to digest and think about.

    You are biased by your childhood experiences. Nothing wrong with that.

  2. I think Andrew has a point here. When I hand my wife something new to read I’m generally hovering in the background waiting to pounce as soon as she’s finished it: “Well?” It’s really not fair but it’s hard not to do. The nice thing about blogs is that I can—and do—take time to think about my response and I choose my words carefully. I imagine it’s what most people want, a considered response rather than a kneejerk reaction although I can see why people might regard the latter as more honest. Ken Armstrong and I’ve talked about this before. Quite often he doesn’t respond to my comments on his blog and his reason is that, as far as he’s concerned, there’s nothing more to say and he doesn’t want to take away from my considered response. He is, however, forgetting the insecure wee boy inside me who needs that pat on the back still. I know when I hand Carrie a piece of writing whether it’s good or not. I’ve been writing long enough that I don’t need anyone’s approval but I like it. Not everything has to be about satisfying needs; needs are very basic. You’re a grown woman and it’s not as if you stood up in front of that group without being well-prepared. That said it is the done thing to express appreciation for the speaker’s efforts once they’re done. I’ve given plenty of talks to groups both big and small and some passed with little or no comment and that was fine but when I did do something a bit risky it was always nice if someone acknowledged the fact and let me know they’d got it. It’s like book reviews. I’ve never really had a bad review but the ones that matter to me are the ones where I can tell that the reviewer got me.

    Normalcy is a concept I struggle with. It’s one of those words we chuck about with abandon and yet most of us really have no idea what ‘normal’ is. For most of us our norms are simply what we’re used to: normalcy = familiarity. As Vladimir says, “habit is a great deadener” Because I don’t behave like my father I often feel as if I’m acting abnormally, that I’m putting on a front and trying to be something I’m not. I had hoped that after all these years I would’ve become my own man but for a short man he casts a long shadow. He never beat us or his wife. He smacked his kids but not very often and only when we deserved it and even that died out as we got older; I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time my dad raised his hand to me but it’ll be over forty years ago and closer to fifty most likely since I was never a particularly bad boy growing up. I think I only smacked my daughter a couple of times in her life.

    I’m not comfortable with physical violence. We Scots can be an aggressive lot but even when I got into fights at school I never set out to injure my opponent, simply to stop him hurting me. I was always a big lad so I never fought anyone who was much of a challenge to me in fact the first boy who picked a fight with me had polio for Christ’s sake. Seriously how do you fight a kid a foot shorter than you with leg braces? The thing is I do have a temper but, and my brother is the same, I prefer to get out of the way of trouble when I feel that way rather than go looking for a fight. I don’t even like rowing and although Carrie and I have had our disagreements we’ve never actually rowed over anything. Most things don’t matter to me—I couldn’t care less most of the time what colour the walls are or how you arrange the furniture—but the odd time I do dig my heels in and Carrie sees whatever it is matters to me I usually get my way. It’s only fair. Fortunately the older we get the less either of us care about trivia like this.

    I don’t understand wife beaters and I really don’t understand wives who stay with men who mistreat them and I really, really don’t understand wives women who leave a man who beats them only to take up with another man who does much the same. I guess I don’t understand people that much but I’ve never pretended to.

  3. I do understand that your weakened physical self was further weakened by the talk and lack of support in the way of further questions. I have a BA in Women's Studies. I understand why women stay, why your voice is so important. Your physical voice has been lost, I think, in the ongoing mental drama of abuse. I, too, am apt to be ill after discussing abuse. It is very late, so maybe I am not explaining well what I am thinking and feeling.

    Men use very good reasons to isolate women. Mine did.

  4. If your speech was anything like this post, I don't see why it wouldn't have gone over well. Like your other commentators said, maybe it's just the subject matter. Domestic violence isn't something you're going to clap and yell "Bravo!" no matter how much you liked a speech.

  5. I’d be just like your audience. I so enjoyed reading this “Crazy Love”, and taking in and thinking about it. Yet I don’t know what to ask, what to add, just like your audience.

  6. Dear Elisabeth, you have touched tremendous point for me, losing my voice or having it damaged is one of my greatest fears since I am a teacher! I am still reading your post…and I see it contains, as ever in your blog, fundamental issues.
    I wanted to let you know that I keep reading it.

    All my best.

  7. Dear Elisabeth, I suffered a lot because of my father's attitude even if he not an alcoholic, but he was so almost perpetually full of wrath, creating a costant atmosphere of tension and uneasiness…it oozed actually down the walls of the house…

  8. Andrew, Jim, Practical parsimony, Kirk, Anthony, Davide and others, I need to explain my absence from commenting on this blog site.

    I want to acknowledge my appreciation for everyone’s comments here. Slowly I have found it increasingly difficult to keep my mind attuned to the blog world and to keep up with my other writing.

    Something had to give and therefore although I will continue to post weekly on my blog in so far as I am able and will appreciate each and every comment anyone makes – except for the spam – I cannot do each comment justice with an individualised response.

    But please know how much I value these comments. Without them I could just as well imagine I was speaking in to the ether. Which is in fact why I first started responding to blog comments in the first instance, namely to enable a conversation, but these days it's getting too tricky to keep it up.

    So please know you’re always welcome and recognise again how much I relish the sound of your voices.

    Thanks, Andrew, Jim, Practical parsimony, Kirk, Anthony, Davide and others.

  9. I have just finished reading your memoir 'In my father's house' in The Griffith Review & thought I should say well done for putting into discourse something rarely spoken of & difficult to say. A father's sexed violence towards his daughter/s is rarely the subject of a critical analysis. It is incredibly brave & important to speak of. Usually the topic of men's violence towards women & children faces heavy resistance that discursively erases the evasive existence of this social problem (with a string of 'but' statements or personal character attacks) so silence from your audience may reflect a shift in stubborn cultural beliefs. You may have caused new thought yet to be deciphered…

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