Monday, June 7, 2010

You Are Not A Failure

Marketing a domestic violence agency is hard because people don't want to be depressed all of the time. People want to give their time and their donations to a cause that is hopeful. They want to make things better. They want to see success.

But "success" and "failure" are subjective. Is a woman a failure if she returns to an abusive partner? Even when so many of the cards are stacked against her?

We'll be honest. It's tempting to gloss things over. It's tempting to make it sound easy to rebuild your life in 90 days in a strange place that you share with many other families. If we make it sound easy, our program looks successful. And if our program looks successful, you'll give us more money that we can use to help more women. But if we do lie, if we do make it seem easy, what happens when it isn't?

Even if we raise $10,000 more dollars that we can use to pay rent, or utilities, or childcare costs for survivors of domestic violence, how does it feel to them when everyone assumes it was easy for them to pick up and start over? And how does it feel when you're at day 75 in your 90-day stay and it hasn't been easy, and you haven't found a job, and people are wondering what is wrong with you that you're still living with your children in a shelter? How do we convince those with power that we need more funding for childcare subsidies, more affordable housing, second chances at jobs, second chances at bank accounts, and work that pays a living wage when we've told them that starting over is a snap?

So we don't lie. But we also can't spend all of our time laying out the myriad of ways that women are told every day that they can't make it on their own. It's not uplifting to acknowledge the hundreds of times each day a battered woman staying in a shelter probably thinks about going back to her partner if that partner can put food on the table for her children. When her food stamp application is rejected, when the doctor won't take Medicaid, when her phone gets cut off, when the judge won't grant her restraining order, when she gets turned down for the 92nd job, when her mom blames her for her marriage falling apart, when it's raining while she's waiting for the bus, when her pastor says God hates divorce, when her baby just won't stop crying, when her children want to see their dad, and when the bruises heal and she can almost forget for a moment what it was really like at home, she thinks about going back. For most people, going back doesn't count as a success.

If she gives in, does that make all of us failures? No. A thousand times no. Because the next time she leaves, she knows that WRC will welcome her back, no questions asked. And the next time she leaves, she knows what she is facing. She knows how hard it will be and she knows that all of that hardship is better than what she is leaving. She is running from something, but this time she knows where she is running to.

So we're going to tell you about it. We're going to walk that tightrope between uplifting and depressing with honesty and integrity. Because if we make it seem easy, it makes it harder for her. So we're willing to do the hard work. We're willing to raise money for a cause that can sometimes seem hopeless. We're willing to look foundation representatives in the eye and say, yes, sometimes the women go back. And we won't keep stats about a "95% success rate!" because we refuse to call any women failures. We'll do this hard work so that it's a little easier for her. We'll do this hard work so that, when she makes it, she gets the applause that she deserves.

1 comment:

Finding my path said...

Yes it is hard to leave and no a woman is not a failure because she returns. As the article says, the next time her path will be clearer and she will be fortified with support. The "success" is that she knows that help is there when she is ready.

When I left I had no plan, I just knew I had to leave. I was blessed because I had family support and fanicial support. I am now reaching out to other women by volunteering for the WRC and talking about the fight against domestic volence to all.

Yes, success is subjective and cannot be measured by a generic standard. A woman who decides to leave or stays until their path is clear is successful. She knows what is best for herself at the moment.