"Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn't you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are." ~ Rachel Naomi Remen
Today I have a very special guest here (she's from Wisconsin – we could be neighbors…), discussing a topic that is all too often shoved under the covers. Please help me welcome Maggie, who has created a wonderful resource for anyone out there suffering from the horrors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape.
Maggie has a personal blog, Okay, Fine, Dammit, that she has had for some time. About a year ago, after writing a local piece on domestic violence, Maggie felt the deeper need for creating a place where people could share their own personal stories – and to bring some peace and healing in the process. From that, she created the Violence Unsilenced website.
Violence Unsilenced (VU) is that place where people can share, in their own words – from their personal experiences from domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape. Please note: reading the VU site can be emotionally challenging and all the stories are very real. It's in these stories, though, that the violence, pain, and suffering can find some possibility of healing. It's also a place where each of us, through the voices of those who have been there, can more deeply see how heinous these acts are. And in that, perhaps we can all take a few more steps towards a healing and meaningful compassion for all our brothers and sisters in this world.
Please read along, as Maggie shares a more in depth look at who she is and what she has created.
1. What led to the creation of the Violence Unsilenced website?
Back in 2008, I wrote an article profiling seven domestic violence survivors for a city magazine – and the experience changed me. Then one night, right around that same time my article ran, there was a domestic violence death in my community. In a fit of sadness, I vented on my personal blog (Okay, Fine, Dammit) – and the response was very intense. There were clearly a lot of people impacted by abuse. On top of that, I knew how cathartic the magazine experience had been for the survivors I profiled, and decided I wanted to keep that momentum going. I was well aware by then in the power of the blogging community, and I had a lot of confidence in my fellow bloggers. I knew we could do this together. In writing the article I learned that one in four women will be a victim of abuse in her lifetime. I thought about how small each of our blogging communities can be, and how well we think we know each other. The assumptions we make, the things we don't see. I thought, why don't we show the blogosphere just how prolific and encompassing abuse is?
From the very start, VU was a collaborative process. My blog readers contributed their input, their stories, helped choose the name, and helped spread the word – so much so that on the very first day VU went live, there were several thousand visitors. That was over a year ago, and I believe it's still a very collective effort. I’ve said this before, but I hope when people think of VU, they don't think of me – they think of the survivors and the supporters. It's a good day when I overhear someone talk about the "people over at VU," rather than the "person."
Lance's Commentary: Maggie, I find much hope in what you have created. And for me, personally, I really believe it touches upon love and compassion…in the hearing of these stories.
I think about that figure, 1 in 4 women will be the victim of abuse. And as I think of the women I know in my life, I really hope that it's way off (although reality tells me it's probably not). Proof of that made it's appearance just yesterday – as I read the words of a blogger friend, Jill (who gave permission to link to this – thank you, Jill) who just happened to share her own story of sexual assault on her site. Jill – know that I see you as a brave and courageous soul.
2. Maggie, I look at what you have created, and find such great hope in the message that you are creating. As this has evolved over the last year, what has this whole project meant to you?
Even though I knew there were a lot of people with these types of stories, I was still shocked by the sheer volume of responses. I’ve had a 4-6 month wait list from day one, and here it is a year later with no signs of slowing down. So many stories waiting to be told… it’s both terribly sad, and incredibly hopeful. I am bowled over every day, both by the strength of the survivors and the compassion of the readers. I feel blessed that I get to watch this humanity in action right here on my screen.
Lance's Commentary: Your community is such a supportive one, and what a gift that is to everyone.
3. Tell us about these shared stories that you post – and have they touched you personally?
To be honest, it’s very difficult to be regularly exposed to so much trauma and suffering. I admit I have had to learn to limit my time with the project, and to take care of myself emotionally. But yes, every single one of them touches me personally, because these are not just auto-posted—there is a process I go through with each survivor to make sure he/she is absolutely certain he/she wants to be published, and is accordingly supported and aware of the risks. Afterward, I feel very bonded to each survivor. It’s a very personal and humbling experience, and it happens twice a week. Ultimately, despite the sad content of the posts, it’s always a positive thing for me. Speaking the truth out loud seems to make these survivors even stronger, and I get to bear witness to that miracle—which makes me a better person, I believe. I can’t even remember my life before VU.
Lance's Commentary: As sad as it can be to read these stories, I also find much hope in the sharing of them. I very much get a sense that there is a healing in the sharing. I also believe that I, myself, feel an even deeper level of compassion for the world around me after reading a story on VU. So, as difficult as these stories are – the public sharing of them really is so good for everyone.
4. Tell us one unexpected thing that has happened since creating Violence Unsilenced.
I didn’t know that it would be so widely and unconditionally supported. I thought it might be a project inside my reading circle, but I didn’t expect the wide-reaching, consistent promotion that so many people (like you, for instance) feel compelled to do. I am so grateful to you, and to all of them. We are seriously doing this together.
Lance's Commentary: Maggie, know that I believe that you have created a wonderful gift in VU, and it's an honor to have you here.
5. Outside of VU, what’s a typical day for Maggie look like?
My daughters are 10 and five, so they go off to school now. I have a writing studio I rent to do my work, which is freelance writing—I write magazine articles for a living. My family and my personal time are the most important things to me, so I build my schedule around that. I do quite a lot of running around, but ultimately my favorite thing is to hold very still as often as I possibly can.
Lance's Commentary: I'm guessing that guy in the picture with you is the guy you call husband! And it sounds like you have a wonderful family life – savor all the moments! And in that stillness, much clarity….
6. Anything new you have coming up?
I’m speaking at BlogHer ’10 in New York City this year, on a panel about utilizing community for change. I'll also be speaking at the Type A Mom conference (Asheville, NC) in September. I really feel deeply that there’s a lot of power out there in the blogosphere to be harnessed for good, and I’m also very reverent of writing. I think something is lost in the chaos of the social ladder-climbing, popularity, and promotion in abundance in blogging today. It’s so different from the way it was when I first got started, and though there have been very positive changes, it can also be very discouraging. There’s a whole lot of little-known blogs out there where incredibly good writing is going down, and I guess I’d love for people to widen their viewfinders a bit.
Lance's Commentary: Your message is such an important one – so that's great about you getting out there and spreading the word. You will touch many more lives, in amazing ways, and
7. Deep down, what makes you uniquely “you”?
This is probably a very tough question for anyone to answer about him/herself. I don’t know what makes me me, but I know what I value most in the people I care about—integrity and compassion. I may fall down a lot, but I try to emulate those traits as much as I can. I also love how different we all are, and personally I’m glad we’re not all trying to be like each other.
Lance's Commentary: I fall down a lot too. And perhaps that is all part of the journey we are each on. There will be moments when we are making great strides, and then others where we slip and fall. And in those moments when we fall, the beautiful part is that we CAN get back up. And that's not any more evident than in the VU website, and the people who share so openly their stories. And in that unsilencing of the violence….they can get back up. And perhaps we can get back up, too….touched by compassion and love.
Closing Comments: Maggie, it is an honor to have you here and sharing a bit more in-depth look at what Violence Unsilenced is all about and what is has come to mean to you. I know you don't feel like this is just you out there creating this. I still want you to know, though, that you shine your amazing and beautiful light into our world…and that does make it a better place. You have given survivors of some really bad things a place to safely share and move further down that path of healing. What a wonderful gift you are!
Thank you, once again, for being here.
You can keep up with Maggie by visiting the Violence Unsilenced site or her personal blog, Okay, Fine, Dammit. Keep up with her on Twitter, @maggiedammit .
Note that I have also added a badge to my sidebar in support of what Maggie is doing. If you are interested in joining in support of this, you can Take the Pledge right here.