This afternoon I had the joy of spending time with a former seminary classmate and his daughter over a cup of coffee. One of the largest struggles I have had to face while in recovery from both alcoholism and domestic violence has been the message that was handed to me by both my culture and my partner.
My culture taught me from an early age that alcoholics looked a certain way and were untrustworthy. I was not told that they had a disease with real physical roots. I was told that alcoholics drank out of paper bags under bridges or in book clubs depending on how much money was in their bank account. I was never given the perspective that an alcoholic was someone who could recover with support, care, and love. When I realized I had a problem with alcohol, I immediately was ashamed of who I was as a person despite the fact that I am a human being with a disease that was quite treatable and was not a one-way ticket to a lifestyle under a bridge.
My partner taught me through her actions and words that I wasn’t worthy of any better treatment than how society treated alcoholics. I was told multiple times that I was not good enough, was worthless, was inadequate, and told me, “God must love you because nobody else does.” Even though she is gone, I can still hear the exact inflection of and scorn in her voice as she cast such judgments over me and my value.
Do you know what my friend from seminary told me today? When my partner left, there was joyful cheering (along with the tears on the other end of the state). To be clear, they didn’t cheer because I was hurt. They were thankful that I was free from a sick and desperate situation that they saw coming years before I began to recognize what was happening. They believed in me, cared about me, and he went out of the way with his daughter to come and see me because I matter to them, which they did with the full and enthusiastic support of his wife (who is also my friend).
I often forget the simple truths my friend reminded me of this afternoon. I didn’t lose value because I became sick: I became a person in need of healing and support. I didn’t lose value because someone tore me to shreds: I just needed to look for value in people who believed in me, cared for me, and loved me as a friend and person. Now that the shackles are breaking, I can choose to keep investing in healthy relationships even as I continue to seek my freedom from the person who tore me down.
It is easy to forget how much we matter, especially if we are recovering from domestic abuse or an addiction. It is easy to forget that there may be people who love us and support us in spite of what others have said about us or done to us. Yes, God loves us: there may be people who love us as well.
If you’re recovering from abuse or addiction, may I invite you to believe that you have value? Although it is close to the end, may I suggest that a good thing to remember during National Suicide Prevention Week (which is also part of National Suicide Prevention Month, which is halfway to completion) is that you have value? As much as the tagline this month is about Domestic Violence, allow me to point out that in the United States you can dial 988 to reach someone who can support you if you are feeling suicidal. No matter what others may have told you, your life matters and I hope you stick around.
October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.