Guest blog by Kara, a counsellor in Klinic’s Evolve Program
My name is Kara, and I have been a counsellor in Klinic’s Evolve Program for the past 10 years. I was recently asked about how I have been impacted by my work as a domestic violence counsellor. I respectfully submit the following thoughts.
Being asked what I do for work is a question I find myself bracing against. There are a few typical reactions to my reply that I am a domestic violence counsellor and I would prefer to avoid most of them. Being asked how I “do that work?” feels like I am being asked “how can you work with those assholes?” That reaction leaves me feeling like I need to defend and protect men who have behaved abusively and hurt other people, including their children; men who are trying desperately hard to make positive changes in their lives. Which, in turn, leaves me feeling like I am not honouring the experience of those very individuals who have been hurt. Another typical reaction is the permission that the other person gives themselves to tell me about their relationship history, which is a level of disclosure that I have not agreed to in the moment. I often feel trapped in these situations and at the same time, that I have to validate their experience, as I feel that I may be viewed as the public representative of men who have behaved abusively and am obligated to listen. The other common reaction is “Oh, I could never do work like that? How do you do that? I could never do that!” which feels like I have chosen some shockingly awful way to spend the majority of my life.
The truth is, I don’t know exactly how I do it. And my job has come with personal costs. I don’t share much of my experience with my teenage children over dinner when we talk together about how our day went. I keep much of my day private due to the limitations of confidentiality and because people don’t really want to hear about shame and harm and fear and abuse. Because of this my daughter has commented that she feels like she doesn’t know me very well and that leaves me feeling very sad, and alone. I prickle when I hear an aggressive tone of voice standing in line waiting for a cashier, the bus, or food in a restaurant. It seems like my ears are tuned in to hostility. My mother has commented that because of my work I can take offence to a sloppily worded request. She says that I have become “sensitive” and implies with her tone that this sensitivity is not attractive. Then there are days when I am confronted with the reality that I am more bothered and dismayed about violence than the man sitting in my office who is actually being violent. I am, on occasion, choked with judgement and have to fight with myself to find curiosity. Finding curiosity makes space for possibility, but sometimes finding it exacts a price on my spirit.
The truth is, I don’t know exactly how I do it. And my job has come with many personal rewards. I sometimes wonder if I get more out of men’s group than the men do who are in it. I have been facilitating men’s group for ten years, weekly sessions. I always tell the men in the room that it is “my group also”, meaning that I have an equal place in the conversation. As such, I have an equal responsibility to try, to the best of my ability, to live my life in the same way I suggest they consider living theirs. When I have taken a risk to be vulnerable in my personal relationships, to say something with assertiveness and not hide behind sarcasm or a passive-aggressive comment: that has happened because of men’s group. When I set a boundary, make a limit, or negotiate what I can contribute for a family gathering; again: men’s group. Apologize for hurtful behaviour? Men’s group. When I start my day with a meditation, when I lace my shoes for an early morning run, when I pack a healthy lunch, those can all be traced back to men’s group. The very fulfilling parts of my life can be linked to what I’ve learned in men’s group.
The humbling part of being in men’s group includes acknowledging my context. I do not struggle with marginalization, addictions, mental health, the trauma of residential schools, learning disabilities, racism, poverty, toxic work environments, childhood abuse, unsafe neighbours, chronic pain, confusion and bewilderment. My childhood was safe and my parents wanted me to be born. And yet, despite the privilege, resources and support that I have, I have to acknowledge how hard it is for me to make “good choices”, how challenging it is to be consistently kind and fair and respectful. My role models, my encouragers, tend to be those very men who have caused much harm and suffering in their own selves, and the selves of the people they love. And yet, despite the at times heartbreaking challenges of their personal biographies, and the larger context in which men live their lives, they are painstakingly striving to be kind and fair and respectful.
November is Domestic Violence Awareness Month; a good place to start learning about this is http://www.whiteribbon.ca/.