Monday, October 26, 2009

Finding a New Street

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson

1) I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

3) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in . . . it's a habit.
My eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

4) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5) I walk down another street.

In a simple and stark way, this poem captures the reality of women and men who find themselves in abusive relationships. Unfortunately, for many of these survivors, abuse and violence are patterns in their lives that are set up very early. Since childhood, they have found themselves falling into that hole of pain and isolation again and again. They are resilient, and able to clamber out of it – and yet they keep walking down that same sidewalk and encountering that same hole.

Many of the men and women we work with at Renewal House grow increasingly frustrated by this pattern. Recently, one of our former residents arrived at our shelter office with bruises on her body and a black eye. She had just come from the hospital following a terrible attack by her girlfriend. She came to us because she said she could think of no other place to go for support. As she sat and talked with us, I felt helpless. How could we help this woman? What do we do for her? Is she going to be safe and ok to go home to the scene of the attack?

She said to us through her tears, “I don’t understand why this happens to me over and over and over again? How does it happen?”

And the words that came to me were, “Because you weren’t done yet.”

She looked at me and said, “But Susan, this is a new girlfriend – not the old one.”

And I said, “I know, but there is a pattern set inside of you that you are trying desperately to break – and for some reason you haven’t been able to break it yet. It’s not your fault, and soon you will find a better path to walk for yourself and no one will be able to hurt you anymore.”

The poem at the beginning of today’s blog was on my mind when I had this conversation with the former resident. The imagery of falling into the same hole over and over again struck me as an experience parallel to hers. The holes of life will continue to try to suck us in, but we get smarter and smarter through every fall. We can learn how to walk around these holes. It just takes practice. And I believe we all need a community that supports and believes in the possibility of navigating the tricky terrain of life until we can find a new street. I hope Renewal House can continue to serve as that beloved community for the women and men who come to us for refuge.

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