Making Sense From Senseless Violence
I was born in California and had I grown up there, I’m certain my life would have turned out quite different. For one thing, I’d be a surfer. A water baby at heart, you couldn’t keep me away from the Pacific Ocean if I had grown up in the Bay Area where I was born.
Of course, I didn’t grow up on the West Coast. I grew up in Appalachia, spending most of my years far away from the ocean, in wild and wonderful Preston County, West Virginia. I spent another portion of those years in Berkeley County, over in the Eastern Panhandle. These three places: San Jose, Independence and Martinsburg, are as different as night and day. And yet they share some similarities, such as domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction.
These deadly problems are not isolated to these areas; they are social ills that happen the world over. Which means that whatever works for one one problem in one geographical area, should work in another. The presentation of the solution might be different, but the underlying rationale stays the same.
Here’s my rationale for wanting to hold workshops to empower women, to help them regain their sense of self-esteem, reclaim their self-confidence and revel in their God-given talents: If women can do this, and I believe they can, because I did, then nothing is beyond their limit. Be it landing a job, learning a foreign language, obtaining a master’s degree or running for President.
But before they can do those things, they must first escape the abuse. Whether it’s abuse they no longer endure, but which follows them around like their shadow, and which stems from childhood molestation or parental neglect; or whether it’s abuse they’re still subjected to, that they must face every day when they wake up, and fear every night when they fall asleep.
The men who killed Shannon Stafford, Lori Dodson and Leslie Layman have their own demons to deal with. (At least in the case of Stafford and Layman, since Dodson’s killer committed suicide.) And I have some ideas about what can work for them, to help them change. At their very core, you see, they’re not that much different from the women they batter: they’re dying from emotional starvation and insufficient self-worth, because their own childhoods were marred. Abused boys become abused men; abused girls choose these very men, who then abuse the women as they were themselves abused. It’s a vicious cycle.
I was invited to join the ABIP board in March, after speaking about escaping my past abuse at their annual conference. If you listen to these people talk about how they work with batterers, you learn two things pretty quick: 1) The facilitators (composed of a man and a woman, who model a healthy relationship for the men in their group) truly believe these men can change and, 2) They believe that what’s needed for an abusive man to change is for him to be shown compassion and empathy—not disdain and disrespect that then fuels his rage.
Another vicious cycle, for how can a woman respect a man who beats her, verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically? I have some ideas about that, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, I want to focus on the women, because there will be cases where her abuser won’t get help, won’t see the need to change, and who may ultimately kill her. So she has to be prepared, in case this happens and she wants, or needs, to leave.
For the past year, I’ve been traveling all over the place, as much as I can, to give away books to battered women’s shelters, to social service agencies, to hospitals, to schools and to women themselves. (Anyone who believes this is self-serving please think again; there is no way I can possibly recoup all of the time, energy and money I’ve spent on these excursions. That will take many, many years, and thousands of sales.) Using every spare penny from my unemployment, and then some, I did this because of what readers were telling me.
“I feel like you read my mind . . . like you know what I went through . . . like we could be sisters, our stories are so similar.”
“I think this book belongs in every school in the country, and every counselor’s office and every shelter.”
“This should be mandatory reading for every girl and she should have to read it twice—once when she enters high school and again when she leaves.”
That’s just a few of the thoughts readers have shared with me. There are many more. But they convinced me that my story of survival and empowerment carries enough weight that other people somehow see themselves in it. They see what is possible, in their own lives, and the lives of their daughters, and sisters, and girlfriends.
That’s why I went beyond just writing a book, a story about my journey, and why I created an organization that can help educate people in such a way they can either not become victims in the first place, or they can escape abuse, if they’re stuck in such an environment. The Silent No More Foundation will allow me to continue educating people about abuse, and there’s no better place to start than at home. In Preston County.
It’s exhilarating to see so many people who want to stand up and speak out for the three women whose own voices have been silenced. I invite you to break your own silence by helping me make these workshops a reality. Together, we can make not just a dent in the problem, but a real difference.
Please join me next Thursday, May 24, at 6 p.m. at the Preston County Hospice building, (located on the hill in the old Arthurdale Inn), where Eleanor Roosevelt lived during her own efforts to empower Prestonians. We can limit our discussion to your ideas for the workshops, or we can expand to other ideas about how to do what tomorrow’s Charleston Gazette will say is necessary, if we really want to get serious about changing our own little piece of the world.
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Daleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Berry has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment, and wrote about Postmaster Engle in her book. She’s an award-winning author, editor and journalist who speaks at conferences around the country. Berry was one of two keynote speakers addressing a national audience at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs on March 1, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. She recently spoke to social workers from all over the country at the “Hope for the Future: Ending Domestic Violence in Families” conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”
If you want to read 30 other five-star reviews, check out this title on Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel. For a mock up of the SOS t-shirt readers are demanding, check out Berry’s Facebook page.