I worked with this lady once who was in an abusive relationship and it took a really long time before she was able to safely leave. There were a lot of logistical problems to sort through. Things like how he had control of her email and cell phone and he would respond on her behalf and monitor all communication. Things like how he had taken control of her bank account without her consent and took every penny she had, not allowing her access to any money at all. Things like every asset, every car, the house, every little thing was in his name so that she wouldn’t own anything and as such was broke with nothing and no way to support herself and her babies if she tried to leave.
Those are the practical types of problems but there’s also the ongoing, every-day types of comments. Things like ‘you’re worthless’, ‘you’re stupid’, ‘you’re ugly’, ‘you’re fat’, ‘who do you think you’re fooling anyways’, ‘your friends don’t really like you, they’re just putting up with you or they feel sorry for you’, ‘your family doesn’t really love you’ or ‘they like me better than you’. On and on and on. Every day. Every chance, every opportunity. Practical stuff aside, this type of ongoing ‘you’re no good and can’t do anything right’ type of comments worm their way into your brain and sap all your motivation to get the heck out.
Because you think you’re worthless after a while. You think you’re stupid. You think you don’t know anything. You think you caused the abuse and you earned it. You think you can’t do it because you’re told you can’t. All the time.
So this lady made it out anyway. As many do. I remember her telling me once, long after she had left, that the most helpful thing, the piece that allowed her to move on with her life and feel like she could do it and that she wasn’t the awful bump on the log he said she was, was physical exercise.
She did go to counseling, she did try accessing victim support types of agencies, she did use art related activities and tried all kinds of things but for her, it was going to a martial arts class, twice a week and training with a group of strangers. This was something that didn’t come as part or parcel of any support services or programming. It was just something offered at a nearby community centre that she could get to. She said, they didn’t know about the abuse and just treated her like a normal person. They were nice to her and she could see that she was likable to others and capable of holding her own as she eventually gained some strength and some skill. This was her empowerment.
We often forget the value of physical wellness for victims and survivors. We forget that our thoughts and emotions are closely tied to our physical health. We forget that one piece of us never functions without impacting the other pieces and that they’re all connected. We forget that physical and sexual abuse impacts how we feel about our bodies long after the bruises are healed. Healing has been so focused on counseling (which is important) when it should be focused on every aspect of your life.
Fast forward a whole bunch of years and I’m driving with a human trafficking survivor. We’re discussing what happens next. She got out of that world and she had overcome some pretty big hurdles to stay out and now we were looking at treatment and healing and whatever other opportunity. We had managed to tap into a local organization that literally had every opportunity available to her. Yoga, she says. I really want to do something like go to yoga.
She could have anything right then to start her healing path and she picked a membership to a local community gym where she could work out independently or join a class (including yoga). Something not on anyone’s radar and not part of the services and programming that’s out there for healing. And it should be.
This February we are participating in a human trafficking event. We are going to have the privilege to hang out with a celebrity trainer (meaning, she’s the private trainer to famous celebrities in Hollywood). She has created a human trafficking program for girls in India aged 8 to 18 to help contribute to their healing and provide a career path for some. She was traveling in India and had the opportunity to visit a safe house where women who were rescued from human trafficking were living. Girls who had been sold, kidnapped or born into this world and were now out, trying to rebuild their lives. She got involved with putting together some physical wellness and fitness based programming for the women and the results were astounding.
Five of the women who started with her training course (designed specifically for women to become fitness trainers) have now passed their exams. At least one of them is going on to teach others what she has learned.
Physical wellness can often lead to a sense of strength (both physical and internal) and accomplishment. It can be the key to empowerment and healing for many.
For more information on our upcoming event, please visit 3-2-1 Empower