Not his fault (entirely).

Everyone has a story.

When I first started considering the new job at Polaris, I spent hours and days and weeks learning about the organization, its history, its mission, and its values. One of the organizational values is non-violence and respect, which seems pretty straightforward and self-explanatory. But when I read the description, it really struck a chord with me.

Here’s the detailed explanation from the website:

Polaris strives to encourage the practice of non-violence among our staff and volunteers, not only because we believe it is right, but also because we believe it is most effective. The practice of non-violence requires us to first ask how we can be better or help others be better, rather than destructively criticize or support the disempowerment of others or other organizations. It is the ethic that helps protect movements from destructive internal politics and in-fighting, while encouraging self-improvement as organizations, and mutual constructive support and collaboration.

The practice of non-violence reminds us that even those who commit the most heinous acts are human beings, and should be understood and cared about even as their behaviors are condemned and their ability to cause further suffering is curtailed. Humanization of all parties leads to a more realistic understanding of the motivations and experiences underlying the behaviors, and facilitates more effective and comprehensive solutions.

Non-violence as a personal practice among staff and volunteers helps transform the self-defensive reaction to being attacked or criticized into an attitude of love, appreciation, and groundedness. This practice supports growth and openness and helps protect against the risk of burn-out.

The most important part of this value of nonviolence/respect, I think, is that it serves to remind us that we’re all human. Even those who commit the most heinous acts. Even people who enslave and traffic others. Even people who abuse, rape, and kill.

The Ray Rices and the Chris Browns and even the Peter Bronkemas of the world have their stories, too.

I think it’s necessary to follow up my last post, as it was originally written about a year ago, with a more thoughtful look at the situation, not just from the perspective of a domestic violence survivor but as a fellow human being.

I’ll start by saying that I don’t blame myself for the abuse. I don’t believe in victim-blaming, but I also think that demonizing someone isn’t an effective way to understand their motives and the causes of their actions and thereby fix greater problems like the worldwide epidemic of violence against women.

Because it is an epidemic. You can blame the individual only so much before you recognize that misogyny is ingrained in and reinforced by our culture — and by cultures across the globe.

I don’t mean to say that individuals shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions, but I think we need to look harder at the ways that we’re holding people accountable and we need to do more about the systemic problems that cause people to behave the way that they do, particularly when the behavior is aggressive or violent. We need to look more closely at cultural problems like racism and sexism. We need to consider mental illness, and we need to consider addiction. We need to remember that mental illness and addiction are sicknesses and not shameful personality traits. We need to think about the way we treat both sicknesses and the accessibility of those treatments.

So, here we’ve got these guys, and they objectify women, and they seek to control women, and they abuse women. What do we do about it? Sometimes we strike back; that’s never a good idea. Sometimes we send them to jail, but “prison magnifies these kinds of sexist attitudes and can intensify acts of gendered violence.”

We need to tackle the problem at its core. We need to fix the culture. Where to begin? One idea is to crack down on gender-segregated settings like football teams and fraternities in which misogynistic beliefs are tolerated and reinforced.

My ex was hazed in his college fraternity. When I first met him, he would regularly recite chants from his fraternity days. Usually — well, always — it was completely out of context and totally confusing. It was like he’d been reprogrammed or brainwashed.

Add his addiction to the mix, and you had a recipe for disaster.

Here’s this guy who had no control – his brain was wired to make him feel dependent upon alcohol; he had misogynistic views drilled into him; even after multiple arrests and car accidents, he couldn’t stop drinking; even after multiple failed relationships, he couldn’t stop abusing the women he loved. And suddenly it’s not “What a terrible, cruel, abusive monster.” Suddenly he’s not just the villain; he’s a victim himself.

It’s not easy to remember to humanize people who commit cruelty. If all the problems in the world were black and white – villain vs. hero(ine) – we could just lock up the bad guys and wash our hands clean. Identifying the cultural, social, and systemic factors driving some people to behave violently is essential to tackling the problem at its core…and it requires a lot more work.

#WhyIStayed

I never thought I’d end up in an abusive relationship.

I’m too strong. I’m too independent. I’m not like other girls who fall apart when their lovers leave. If a man ever laid a hand on me, I wouldn’t give it a second thought: I’d just leave.

Or so I thought.

In reality, it’s not that simple. An abuser gains emotional and even financial control over you, often before s/he ever uses physical force. It’s like you’re under a spell, and it starts to feel like there’s no way out.

282226_10150883762477997_571687862_nI thought I had met Prince Charming. He took me out to my favorite restaurants and often bought me flowers. He knew I wanted to move to DC, so he flew out to find us an apartment while I stayed in LA and finished finals. He knew I loved Hawaii, so he took me to Maui for my birthday. He knew I wanted a new camera for work, so he did some research and bought me a fancy DSLR.

He gave me everything I wanted and more.

So when he got drunk and spit on me and told me that I was nothing, I thought, “That’s strange, but he’s never like that when he’s sober.”

And when he hit me in the face, right at the airport, right in front of the police who then handcuffed him before I explained that it was just an accident, I thought, “That’s strange, but he’d never do something like that if he were sober.”

I didn’t see that he was testing me, seeing how much I could take before he pushed a little further.

I bragged about him to all my friends. I bragged about the trips we’d take, the jewelry he’d buy, the flowers he’d bring to my door or even send to my office. I bragged because I thought, “Well, he’s Prince Charming — at least when he’s sober.” I thought I was so lucky.

We referred to his addiction as “the alcohol thing” — the minor setback that kept us from having the perfect relationship.

I urged him to go to AA; he went. I urged him to see a substance abuse counselor; he scheduled weekly appointments. I thought that if I could somehow cure the alcoholism then I could have my Prince Charming. “He’s trying his best!” I’d say, and I believed it because he was going out of his way to show me that he was ready to change.

But he wasn’t going to change.

I went to Al Anon meetings to support him. I bought books and watched videos about coping with someone else’s alcoholism. I thought we were in it together. But he wasn’t going to stop drinking. He wasn’t even trying. He was only doing everything that he had to do to manipulate me into believing things were going to get better, to manipulate me into staying with him.

I tried to leave; he was persistent. I’d get worn out, and I’d give in.

I was so delusional about the abuse, blaming it on his alcoholism, that I got to the point at which he’d scream at me in the middle of the night and tell me, “You’re a weak piece of shit!” and I’d respond with something like “Your alcoholism has gotten so bad that you’re starting to act drunk when you’re sober!”

After I threw him out of our apartment, he didn’t want me to get a roommate. “I can just continue to pay half the rent, and when we work things out, I’ll move back in.” I said no, but I let him keep paying some of the bills. One of them was my phone bill.

That’s when I had to get used to him snatching my phone away from me at a moment’s notice. “This is my phone,” he’d say. “I bought the phone, and I pay the bill.”

It’s the little things that he’d do that seemed so kind, so generous, so thoughtful — those were the little ways he was taking control. But you don’t see it happening.

While we were living apart, we had a few months without an incident of physical violence. There were still drunken episodes and cruel words; there were still nights that he’d show up at my apartment in the middle of the night, drunkenly banging on the door until I gave in; but there was no more wrestling with an angry drunk, and there was no more trying to hold the bedroom door shut while he pushed his way in. So, in a way, I thought things were better.

And when he got an apartment 700 feet from my job, timed perfectly with the end of my lease, I was half scared and half flattered. He wanted me to move in. He made me a key that had a floral pattern he knew I’d love. The commute would’ve been unbeatable. He even got a second litterbox for my cat, so she’d feel at home there, too.

But when he drunkenly took me by the throat, choked me, and threw me across the room, I had second thoughts. I brought all of my things back home. The next day, he took me out to breakfast and bought me flowers. I forgave him. I brought my things back. With all that I’d already allowed him to put me through, I thought I’d never leave.

He went out drinking again that night. My bruises ached for days. The police had told me before, “It’s only going to get worse.” I always believed I could make it better.

Staying in my abusive relationship wasn’t about being weak; it was about being strong. It was about saving someone’s life. I didn’t want to leave the relationship; I just wanted the abuse to stop. But I finally realized that he was going to kill me one day, and I couldn’t save his life in exchange for my own.

Little Guy’s first vacation

I am pretty much the luckiest lady in the whole wide world. Here’s a snapshot of my amazing week:

 

IMG_1210

IMG_1284

Max testing the [ocean] waters

IMG_4611

Make way for ducklings!

IMG_1337

Blueberry beer at the Cheers bar

IMG_1330

…where everybody knows your name.

IMG_4588

IMG_1366

Max’s first swing ride!

IMG_1368

It wasn’t until I saw this picture that I realized he’s pretty much eating the monkey bars.

I was a little worried about traveling with Max for the first time, but it was just perfect. We brought tons of books and toys, and I packed waaaay more than we needed (especially since we were showered with gifts in every place we went). Most importantly, though, vacationing with a new human is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience — if only because it gave me a renewed appreciation for little things I might’ve taken for granted before. It was so amazing to see him experience sand for the first time and splash in the ocean for the first time and enjoy his first ride in a swing.

What a perfect week. What a perfect little guy. What a perfect life I lead.

I am so ridiculously lucky.

One delicious salad, juicy pork chops, and everything else that came up.

I wanted to write this one down quickly because tonight’s dinner was borderline one of the best meals I’ve ever made. So here goes:

Fig and Goat Cheese Salad

There’s probably a better way to do this, but I just spotted figs at Trader Joe’s today, grabbed some goat cheese, and otherwise just used ingredients already in my kitchen, so hopefully over the next week or so I’ll update this recipe.

Ingredients

Black figs
Goat cheese
Spinach
Raspberry Vinaigrette

Directions

1. Wash spinach.
2. Slice the figs in halves (or even quarters).
3. Pour fig quarters and sprinkle goat cheese over spinach.
4. Top with raspberry vinaigrette.

Yeah, I’ll keep thinking about that one. But the real masterpiece was this epic, juicy pork chop recipe.

Epic, Juicy Pork Chops

10365732_10152278302127997_302988230325923401_nIngredients

Pork chops
Vinegar
Olive Oil
Adobo seasoning
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Cumin
Thyme
Black pepper

Directions

1. Coat the pork chops in vinegar, and then olive oil.
2. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, and adobo seasoning.
3. Leave to go to Trader Joe’s and pick up the rest of the ingredients as well as some more groceries (i.e. figs).
4. Catch up with an old friend, go to Starbucks, eat a sandwich, try the free samples at TJ’s (mmm sangria!), wait in line, bond with another mom, give someone else the evil eye for touching your baby’s foot without your permission, check out…
5. Come back 2-3 (maybe 4?) hours later, and add cumin, thyme, salt and pepper.
6. Try to cook quinoa as a side dish. Burn it. Give up.
7. Put oil on a saucepan, and read “How Much I Love You” to your baby.
8. Cook pork chops in saucepan for, I dunno, maybe 10 minutes per side? Take it off when it looks cooked.
9. Bite into the most amazing juicy pork chop you’ve ever tasted.

Sorry that my recipe doesn’t include any measurements. It’s just as much as you want; I have no idea how much I used.

This is my friend, @ruthsjkang.

ruthsjkangs tumblr

Every few months, I stalk the hell out of her and find new things to love about her. I find new evidence that she’s one of the most amazing, thoughtful, kind, beautiful human beings who has ever come into my life. Things like this blog post — which brightened my day and touched my heart…and says so much more about her than it does about me.

Ruth is someone who’s endlessly positive. She sees the good in everyone, and she shines a light on your goodness and inspires you to be better — to live up to the wonderful person she seems to think you are. She’s hilarious. She’s beautiful. She spends a questionable amount of time with her sassy elderly neighbor. I also happen to know that she really, really likes Dental Plus Tarzana. (This girl’s so good she makes you want to see a dentist while you’re on vacation; she’ll even help you get a great deal.) She’s just a wonderful human being.

When she first came to the Coalition, we were all blown away by this smiley and cheerful badass fundraiser. It broke Kerry’s heart when she told him she was only available in the evenings, and shortly after she made staff, we lost her to the dark side of the force — the door team. I was fortunate enough to see her out and about on a few special occasions that usually involved tacos, nachos, or dance floors. And every time I got to introduce one of my friends to her, I was so excited because this girl THIS GIRL is the real deal. She’s someone I admire so much for her relentless positivity and her kind, loving, beautiful spirit. Everyone should have someone like Ruth Kang in their lives. Everyone should be more like Ruth Kang.

You’re amazing, Ruth. I’m so happy to know you.

Keep the change.

I have no comfort zone.

Sometimes people tell me that I’m bold for always taking such huge leaps so fearlessly. It’s easy for me to leave behind everything I know to move to a place that I’ve never even visited. It’s easy for me to start a new life today that’s completely different from what my life looked like yesterday. It was sort of easy for me to, well, have a baby and adjust to motherhood.

Enormous life changes don’t frighten me. I love change. It’s getting comfortable that’s tough for me. I have fears about feeling a false sense of security; it makes it easy for me to start new things but hard for me to stay the course.

It’s odd. There are some things that I do repetitively — almost compulsively. If I eat at Rustik Tavern on a Saturday morning then I start to crave it every Saturday morning (and, okay, Sunday, too). If I eat a chicken caesar wrap for lunch one day then I’ll want the same thing for lunch again the next day and the day after that and so on. If I find a song I really like then I make a playlist with just that song playing over and over and over again, and I listen to that playlist day after day after day.

But every now and then, I need everything to change.

When I can’t change everything as quickly as I want, I try to make changes in the areas of my life that I can control. For example, I spontaneously cut my hair again.

Photo on 8-6-14 at 6.01 PM

I also bought a new dress that looks exactly like every other dress I own. Because some things never change.

My addiction to change makes parenting really fun and interesting. Every month, Max is like a completely different person with a brand new set of needs and interests — and so much for me to learn. You perfect your swaddle, and suddenly your baby is too big for swaddling. You finally learn to attach the car seat to the stroller, and then he doesn’t need to sit in the car seat anymore. Everything is in constant flux. He’s always hitting new milestones, and I’m constantly adjusting and readjusting to help him continue to grow and thrive.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative thing that I don’t have a comfort zone — or, maybe more accurately, that my comfort zone is everything new and different. It’s actually helped me in a lot of ways. I’m so happy that I was able to fearlessly move to LA and that I had a ton of amazing experiences that then led me to start my career and life here in DC. I just want to achieve a better balance, mostly so I can provide a structured, stable home life for my son. I don’t want to pick up and move him around every few years. I think my compulsive behaviors show that there’s some part of me that craves stability — and just wants things to stay the same. But I’m afraid of achieving that kind of stability in areas of my life that are more important than food and playlists…because what if it all falls apart?

I’m embracing another huge life change right now, and it’s exciting and new and wonderful in so many ways — but I think that the best thing about it is that it’ll give me both the stability AND change that I want over the next few years. I’m creating a new home, in a way, in a place where I can grow.

My latest addiction?