It was during the interview the news came out. The agency needed to hire a therapist to run a handful of court mandated counseling groups. This much I knew, and even those two words – court mandated – piqued my most ambivalent self. One group was a DUI group and another was for parenting. I then learned the final group I’d need to commit to in order to be hired was a domestic violence group for male offenders.
Offenders. Perpetrators. Batterers. Wife beaters.
Was I interested, they asked. Tension could’ve cracked my face like ice dropped into warm water, and still I heard a resounding “Yes” dribble from the corner of my mouth. Fake it till you make it, I thought, though the wiser part of me felt it fair to admit to some degree of uncertainty about working with offenders. The interviewers were validating and encouraging. Soon I found myself preparing for my first domestic violence group, preparing to face my fears.
I’d worked with victims before, though we – the people who choose to bear witness to humanity’s dark alleys – prefer to use the word “survivor.” I’d heard the stories, stories I couldn’t share with anyone; not just for confidentiality sake, but for the reality that most who exist outside of this world rather prefer it this way. They might dip their big toe in to test the temperature, only to find it too cold or hot.
I’d seen the stories. My mother and I after the divorce, suddenly on our own. My mother, her fear, her need for someone to take care of her. Sam, who took us in, but not without a price. We lived in a roach infested one room studio, four of us with a curtain separating the adults from the kids. I heard everything, and felt guilty on those nights when it got to be too much, when we fled in the dead of night to the familiarity of the motel with the crescent shaped pool. Guilty, because despite everything I wanted to go back. We always went back. Until one day we didn’t.
Now I was to provide counseling and support to the Sam’s of the Bay Area. I was afraid, and it was this group of men who taught me to look at my own fears, my own assumptions, my own attachment to victimhood. They uttered words of asses and sages. They blamed everyone else and owned up to their misgivings. They felt justified and remorseful. They felt powerful and wounded. They hated women and loved women. They couldn’t bear intimacy and dreamt of closeness. They were lost and found.
I believe we all walk a fine line between victim and perpetrator, that the capacity for either is in each of us. I also believe we each walk a path, and each is a learning path if we recognize and intend it to be. Salvation is this learning, which is empowerment. This I believe.