On Abuse and Healing

One of the joys of my work with Friends Journal is the opportunity to travel among Friends. Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one of our prize-winning authors in person at an interest group I was facilitating. She was as engaging in person as on paper, and I was struck that she resonated with a comment I’d made about an article on domestic violence we planned to publish. She inquired if we would be interested in another piece on the same topic. Of course, I said yes. And that is how we came to receive "Violence and Light" by Lisa Sinnett (p.8), a poetic and beautifully written description of her journey from a world full of abuse to self-love and forgiveness. The first article that had prompted my comment, written by a seasoned Friend about her anguish over her daughter’s involvement in an abusive marriage, wisely raises the question of what we Friends are doing about this painful subject, particularly when it strikes close to home. "That summer at our yearly meeting, there was a called meeting one afternoon for those who had experience with abuse. . . .The spacious room was filled. . . .The immensity of this previously hidden topic was evident. . . .I thought we must do more, we must learn, we must help each other. But that was the only meeting I have ever heard of on the topic." ("The Echoing of Abuse" p.6). It is not unusual for Friends to focus outwardly, with heartfelt desire to mend what is wrong with the world. Yet, those who are familiar with healing will know that it is the wounded healers—the individuals who have faced and dealt with their own demons and injuries—who are often most effective in helping others. Do we Friends shy away from seeing those things that need to be addressed in our own homes and meetings? Can we find ways to help each other respond to deeply troubling dysfunctions in our midst?

This past summer I was blessed to travel to two yearly meetings. At one of them, an ad hoc group met twice for a discussion of a minute on the use of drugs and alcohol. Perhaps 20 people quietly gathered to share from the silence about their own experiences. Some wished not to be ostracized for their decision to use substances; others spoke about the alienation they felt when peers chose to "improve" upon experiences that were already fulfilling and fun by pressuring others to use substances. A person recovering from alcohol abuse spoke movingly about the utter need for safe environments in which to be with others. And another person stated the obvious—why should we even have such a discussion when we know that this is illegal? The pain shared by older people who had seen lives destroyed by substance abuse was palpable. A number of people were concerned about the apparent hypocrisy of older Friends who use alcohol telling younger Friends not to use either alcohol or drugs. Yet, it was a conversation only, not a business meeting, not a forum for the whole yearly meeting.

These two topics—substance abuse and domestic violence—are married to each other in manifold ways. We are living in a culture of violence and addiction, if not to substances, then to other mirages, such as consuming so that we can achieve the "ideal" lifestyle (yes, even a "green" one), or extreme overwork, so that we can "save" others.

What might be done about this, Friends? Can we find safe ways to open these alarming topics up for each other? Can we provide a community of tender support and love for those among us who are suffering? Can we truly refrain from judging each other? It is encouraging that many Friends gatherings offer 12-step meetings for Friends who are attending. But what about those who feel too much shame to appear at those meetings? What about those who feel too isolated in their suffering to realize that there are others who can offer comfort and relief? What about those whose issue is not addressed by those meetings? And what about those who stand by helplessly while loved ones succumb to domestic violence and/or substance abuse? How can we heal our hidden wounds so that we might be of help to others?