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Breaking Free From Domestic Violence
by Pam Peterson
Looking back on the years I lived lost in the maze of domestic
violence, my big question is not why I have come to understand myself
much better now, but rather how. Tattered pieces of that answer I
sometimes find in the faces of similarly tormented women with whom I
work today. Studying their eyes, I can remember the constant fear, the
nonstop adrenalin rush, and the false sense of strength I tried so hard
to carry into the outside world with me each day.
Eventually, after several years, I found my way out. I cannot
emphasize enough my verb choice here _ found. No other word will do.
Living under the physical and psychological threat of domestic abuse is
like living in a weird and wild amusement park ride that never stops at
the gate to let you off. On the good days, in the honeymoon stage, you
can feel so great, and then the fear begins again, often escalating to
terror. F***ing b***h! You pretend you don't hear it. Stupid c**t! You
hope the kids are asleep. Then you get up in the morning, make coffee,
and hope he's in a better mood. You wake the kids, try to convince them
everything is wonderful as you quake inside, and the crazy ride starts
all over again.
The ride sometimes ends in a hospital visit, sometimes in an
arrest, and more often than we wish to believe, at the morgue. But it
can also end in a blessed, if often painful, awareness. A man who
abuses a woman has a problem. She has two: him and the fact that she
tolerates it. Only when a woman can own her part in a painful and
destructive relationship can she find her way out.
As I struggled to find my way out of abuse and into a home of my own, the Intensive Journal
process became a centering place for me. The exercises guided me one
step at a time along the path I needed to travel. I used the Intensive Journal method regularly and also worked for a few
months with a trusted therapist. When I was ready to make the
transition to a home of my own, I asked for help from a shelter system
where my kids and I lived for a week until I could find the place where
I would begin my life as a single mom. It was my work in the Intensive Journal program that played a crucial role in
helping me to plan the changes. Without the method, I might never have
found my truth, or the courage to speak and live my belief that every
one of us on this planet has worth, and deserves respect, and has the
right to find peace at home.
When we regularly work in the Intensive Journal
workbook, we move from one section to the next with ease and
understanding and let ourselves be taken deeper and deeper to
accomplish our soul work. The method helped me to understand the
conflicts, themes and patterns I played out over and over again, no
matter how much I hurt, or how crazy my life became.
At the beginning of a workshop, we identify a period in our
lives we are working with or through. At my first workshop, it was easy
to look back about two years and see the period of time I would
explore, a time of loneliness, depression, and psychological warfare.
It began on a winter afternoon in a grocery store aisle, when my
husband rammed a grocery cart at my legs. This public display of rage
terrified me. I did not at the time say much, which became a deeply
entrenched pattern for me. I was voiceless then. At the workshop, as
soon as I identified that period of time, a wave of awareness washed
through me, and I felt a surge of strength. I realized for the first
time in a long while that I had not always felt so sad and afraid and
weak. There was another woman inside me, waiting to stand up and fight
Imagery can be a powerful part of the Intensive Journal
process, and for me it was a driving force. The first image I had for
this period was of a beautiful, wild stallion lying wounded on a beach,
as the waves softly washed around it. I understood, in a deep place
inside me, the stallion's pain, and I began to cry. As I cried, the
image of the stallion stayed clearly before me. Later in the workshop,
I dialogued with it and let it offer advice. Though it may sound
foolish to some, my healing began the moment the stallion let me know
it would not die there at the water's edge. It would heal and gather
strength, and race on. With my many tears that night, I too began to
heal and gather strength.
The facilitator at the workshop did not intervene as I cried,
but rather let me know with her gentle demeanor, eye contact, and
invitations to share after certain exercises, that she was there as a
witness to my inner work. I strongly believe one of the reasons the Intensive Journal method can be so effective with abuse
victims is that there is no fixing, no rescuing, and no fast solution.
To break the pattern, the work must be done deep in the bedrock of a
woman's soul. Quick fixes can leave victims even more at risk as they
yo-yo in and out of relationships that destroy both them and their
Like any other woman living with verbal violence and threats of physical abuse, I had much inner work to do. My
Intensive Journal workbook became the place where I began to see
clearly the fear and pain I was living with each day, and where I could
ask myself the hard questions of Why? and How did I get here? without
worrying about being judged. The workbook was an honest friend, bearing
witness to my pain. I could not lie to myself in the work, nor did I
want to lie any more, not to myself or anyone else. The more I wrote
and worked with the method, the stronger I felt.
The Intensive Journal method helped me realize that
my pattern of accepting rough treatment in order to belong somewhere
started young. As a child I never felt pretty enough or good enough,
so, at sixteen, when I grew into a perfect size seven figure, I began
to use it to prove, especially to myself, that I was good enough.
Though I was very bright, I stopped using my head or voice about this
time, and began swaying my hips to the music, swinging from man to man,
in sort of a sexual trapeze act. I meant to be a flower child, a sexy
love child, but really I felt small and sad, and just wanted to belong
somewhere. That deep aching need led me into an early and rough
marriage with an equally needy man who was repeating the pattern he
witnessed in his home as a young child. As I began to understand and
heal my deep feelings of worthlessness and shame, I began to see
clearly I needed to be out of my marriage. But it took a while for me
to figure things out. It seemed too big a leap.
Sometime later, in a very powerful exercise, I came to hear a
very scared voice inside me, desperately afraid of being poor and being
laughed at again, and of making her kids go through the pain of being
from a broken home. That part of me was once again filled with shame.
By dialoguing in my Intensive Journal workbook, I was able to comfort that scared
woman inside me and help her understand the pain was too great, that
change needed to happen. During this time, doing this work, I no longer
needed to blame my husband so much. I saw he was deeply hurting and in
need of help that I could not possibly give him. I began to just take
care of myself and stop trying to make him and our marriage better. A
couple months later I was living in a place of my own, with so much
healing work ahead.
It is many years later now and I feel very blessed. Through my continual work in the
Intensive Journal program, I learned how to set boundaries in
relationships, how to find my truth, and then speak it and live it.
True peace came to live in my home and my heart.
As an educator for 22 years, I know that I have modeled for my
students how to live as a strong, compassionate, and autonomous woman,
both with a partner and as a single woman. In the last six years,
running a program for at risk youth and their families, I have had the
chance _ and I cherish it _ to help other women face patterns of
victimization and choose to break the chain of violence in their
For the rest of my life, I will turn to the Intensive Journal method with all my questions, problems, and forks in the road _ whether under gray skies or blue. The
Intensive Journal method is for me a mix of all that is best
about therapy and meditation and language of the soul. I encourage any
person searching for their truth, and certainly any woman living in
fear, to experience the Intensive Journal method.
"Intensive Journal" is a registered trademark of Jon Progoff and licensed to
Dialogue House. © Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission of the author.