One of the first things I noticed when I started my journey as a domestic violence awareness advocate was the immediate and warm connection between victims and other victims, and victims with survivors. I have never shared so many hugs and tears in my life as I have since I’ve become an advocate. Why is this? I believe it has something with the depth of “knowledge” and how that knowledge is obtained.
First there’s book knowledge. When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated with the sky. I loved astrology, studied the constellations, and clouds and storms. I read everything I could get my hands on. I had some knowledge about those things, but aside from getting wet when it rained and feeling the sun on my skin, I didn’t have lasting, personal experience with the sky. I learned a lot, was familiar with the subject, enjoyed studying about it. I got excited every time a rocket would launch from Cape Canaveral. I read all about weightlessness and how being in space affected the astronauts’ bodies. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon in 1969, I was just a child, but it was the most exciting thing that had happened in my short life! It was still book knowledge…facts, figures and images placed in my head. I would never shoot into the sky on a rocket or walk on the moon.
Then there’s applied knowledge. Cooking is a very good example of applied knowledge. I read a quote somewhere that anyone can follow a recipe. That’s not being a good cook, it’s simply following instructions. Cooking is applying knowledge that you learned…book knowledge…and using it to create wonderful original dishes. Knowing how lumps of butter in your dough will melt in the oven and create pockets of light, flakey goodness in your bread leads you to the action of cutting the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter, not working the dough so much that the butter gets incorporated too finely. If you know the science behind your ingredients, you can apply that knowledge to create delicious meals.
And then there’s experienced knowledge. This is the knowledge that you gained by living, breathing, sweating, suffering, through an experience so that you know it inside and out. It’s the knowledge of the experience you share with a stranger while sitting on a bench watching your kids on a Tilt-A-Whirl, comparing notes about how you threw up after getting off of that same ride when you were a kid. It’s the bonding conversation you have on the plane with the woman trying to keep her baby quiet, because you had to travel with an infant a few years before. It’s the instant bond you create as you sit in the waiting room of the Hospice, talking in hushed tones to the stranger whose father is in the room beside your mother, both of them slowly dying.
This is the knowledge you carry with you in the deepest part of your body. It’s the memory of how it felt when your husband held your hand for the first time and how the same man, as your abuser, used those same hands to strangle you.
And it’s that knowledge that bonds you with other victims and survivors. No one knows what you’ve gone through like another victim or survivor. Cancer survivors, car crash survivors, stroke survivors, earthquake and tornado survivors…when you have experienced a traumatic event you can relate much easier with others who have gone through the same thing.
That’s the beauty of support groups. You don’t need to explain yourself. All the others in the room know, because they’ve been there. Your story may differ in the details, but the feelings are shared. It’s the same experienced knowledge. I know how you feel, had the same experiences, felt the same feelings. It’s when you can say, truly, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there.”
After every talk I give about domestic violence, I love to mingle with the audience and to share experiences. Other victims and survivors open up and share their stories. We laugh and cry and hug and form an immediate bond. Why? Because we have connected with our shared knowledge…not book knowledge, and not even applied book knowledge, but through our experiences. We know exactly how others feel. The feelings of loneliness, betrayal, depression, self-doubt are part of us, part of the person we have become because of the trauma we have experienced. But sharing those feelings with others helps lessen the load. It helps gain perspective and you realize if others have gone through this and are not only surviving, but thriving, perhaps you can too! And by sharing your story and “knowledge” you, in turn, will be helping others to gain perspective and give them hope and encouragement to press on. One of the most powerful ways of healing is to reach out to others who are hurting.
If you are interested in sharing your “experienced knowledge” to help others or if you need the support of others, please contact me. All my contact information is on my website. I’d love to hear from you!