Twenty-two of us (twenty-one women and one man) just spent the weekend together at a healing retreat for women who are coming out of an abusive relationship. The retreat was called “The Life That Awaits You.” Some of the women had been out of the relationship for years. Others had ended the relationship only a few months ago. And a few participants were still living with the abusive man in the same house, although their relationships were over. Most of the women knew their relationships were over for good, while others were still holding a place inside of themselves for the possibility that the man would decide to take his behavior seriously and start working to change.
A few women felt that their circumstances were so different that perhaps they didn’t entirely belong at a retreat for survivors of abuse by an intimate partner. I won’t describe the differences, since someone might recognize their stories if I gave details. But what matters is that the group reached out and made each woman feel welcome, and by the end everyone knew they had a place with us.
This morning I feel the glow around me of all the love, courage, and outrage that poured out of the women over the course of the weekend. Women are beautiful. The human spirit is beautiful. The abuser tries so hard to destroy the woman’s spirit; in a way that is his central goal. But during these days women were able to look into each other’s eyes and see that the abusers had not succeeded. Despite extreme cruelty and degradation, these men had not been able to make women lose their fight, their belief in themselves, their fierce loyalty to their children. Yes, he had done incredible harm, harm that will take years to heal, but he had not squelched the flame, and it was rapidly gathering warmth and heat and roaring back up into a huge fire.
I am so fortunate as a man to get the opportunity to be in the presence of these brave, kind women as they tell the truth of what was done to them and move towards the light. It is such a great honor for me. They give every bit as much to me as I give to them, though they sometimes find that hard to believe; years of invalidation have planted the idea inside them that their love and their example and their brilliant insights just couldn’t be as powerful and significant as what comes from the leader of the retreat. But I am walking around today so strengthened in my own life, so reinforced for dealing with my own challenges, so fortified in overcoming my own fears and sadnesses, from what I watched happen over these days and soaked up from it.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the women who came to the weekend. And beyond that, I want to say to all women who are fighting to get free from male violence and intimidation, and who are setting their sights on healing: the whole world owes gratitude to you, because your fight for freedom is helping all of us gain our own freedom.
[Written September 20, 2010]