By Elizabeth Schön Vainer Director, Journey to Safety
It’s that time of year. The summer days are falling quickly into the distant past and New England fall is upon us. My dahlias are soaking up every last bit of sun and warmth to ensure their blooms open before the early frost, and I know which sections of maple trees in my neighborhood will change color first, beginning in one spot and gradually enveloping the whole tree and eventually the whole neighborhood.
It also is the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Days. Gathering during these holidays is a bit like watching the ways leaves change. As each person arrives, the space gradually fills with color and intention as we individually and collectively reflect on our actions from the past year. We acknowledge that we may have caused harm, made mistakes, and not done enough to stop suffering or injustice. As we do the work to make things right with others and ourselves, we welcome the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and do better in the new year.
These days of reflection also make me think about the many survivors of domestic or dating abuse whose partner or ex-partner will never acknowledge the pain they caused, apologize, or genuinely ask for forgiveness. Whether the abuse is physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual, the damage has a deep and lasting impact.
In thinking about the countless stories I have heard in my role as the director of Journey to Safety, the JF&CS response to domestic and dating abuse, it has been my experience that abusive individuals rarely genuinely apologize. They often see themselves as victims, blaming their partner for their own abusive behavior. They also tend to feel entitled, citing a litany of reasons that justify (in their minds) their words and actions. Certainly when the abusive person is truly remorseful, meaningful change can happen. Too often, though, the abusive person’s empty apologies are just another form of manipulation intended to deter their partner from leaving.
Today I’m thinking of one person in particular whose husband spent their entire life savings without her knowledge. While the bruises from his physical abuse have healed, the stress of finding herself unexpectedly penniless and carrying enormous debt remains ever present. That person did not find any sort of justice in the courtroom, nor did she ever receive an apology or acknowledgement that she and her children had been deeply and irrevocably harmed by his actions.
So how is a person who has been repeatedly harmed by their partner supposed to approach Yom Kippur? There likely is no real apology coming their way. There often is no real recognition from anywhere or anyone of the deep and lasting impact of months or years of physical, emotional, and financial harm.
Everyone’s path is different. Some people use this time of reflection to focus less on what they can’t change – the apology they will not get -- and more on what they can control. There is nothing that can excuse, justify, or undo the harm that has been done, but for some survivors of abuse, the start of a new year might be a moment to imagine something new for themselves as well. If you have experienced harm from a current or ex-partner and are thinking about what you want to be different, know that Journey to Safety and other local domestic abuse programs are a free and confidential resource to support you.
The whole community also has a role to play in creating change and encouraging new beginnings. If you have someone in your life who is or has been mistreated by an intimate partner, you can make sure to let that person know that you see them, hear them, and believe them. You can acknowledge and validate the pain and loss they have experienced and the profound unfairness of their situation. You can remember that healing takes time and assure them that you will support them in whatever ways they determine are best for them.
Even if you don’t have someone in your life (that you know of) to reach out to, you can still help create change by finding ways to let survivors of abuse know that help and support are available.
Like the many leaves that are about to paint my neighborhood with incredible color, together we make up a beautiful and vibrant village. Standing together at the brink of this new year, my hope for all of us is that we are each able to choose our own paths forward freely and that we are able to both give support to -- and find support from -- each other along the way.
The entire Journey to Safety staff joins me in wishing all of you a beautiful, happy, healthy, new year!
If you would like more information about how Journey to Safety might support you in any way (including thinking about how to best support someone you care about), please call (781) 647-5327 x1213 or email email@example.com. If you would like to speak with someone immediately, you can also call SafeLinkat (877) 785-2020 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233. Both services are open 24/7 and also offer an online chat option.