The Lost Art of Compassion

My heart hangs low in my chest today. Eight people were killed by firing squad in Indonesia this morning as an attempted deterrent to drug smugglers everywhere. Eight people faced their killers, all of whom denied the offer of a hood. It is said they died with dignity, as dignified as being shot whilst tied to a plank can surely be.

I had a scathing post ready, full of zingers and well-crafted literary comebacks. I can’t do it now. My lowly opinion is nothing compared to the agony the families of these prisoners must be experiencing.

I have deliberately refrained from engaging in any online debate over the Bali Nine ringleaders and their fates. This is partly because up until recently I didn’t actually know a hell of a lot about it, and partly because I was afraid I’d end up getting into an argument with a friend or acquaintance which would eventually culminate in me losing respect for them and their opinion. But mainly, it’s because I can’t hide my disgust for the “average” Australian sitting in their comfortable suburban armchairs, yelling “kill the bastards” at their television. It hurts me how easily we can separate ourselves from others, how cozily we pass judgement, how ruthless we are in our dismissal of others’ pain, just because they broke the law. Just because they made a mistake. Who here on this planet has never made a mistake? I just wonder how gung-ho these armchair executioners would be if these men were their own family.

Yes, these people broke the law in a country that upholds the death penalty. Yes, they did the crime therefore they should do the time. I’m not arguing against Indonesia’s laws although I vehemently disagree with them. What hurts my heart is the callous indifference to the fact that these men are now dead. Dead by the hands of other men. Up until their execution I heard people give me all sorts of reasons why the Indonesian government should “kill the bastards”, including that the heroin they were trafficking would have claimed lives here in Australia. Okay, fair enough. But it didn’t. No lives were lost at the hands of Andrew Chan or Myuran Sukumaran with that heroin. (And please don’t lecture me on how heroin destroys lives, I know more about that than I care to. Even after my experience watching a loved one mess herself up with that drug, I still wouldn’t want anyone else’s death to be a payment for her life.) When discussing it with a friend few months ago, she told me she had no sympathy for Chan and Sukumaran because, irrespective of her own feelings about the death penalty, they broke the law. Pure and simple. I then said to her, “can you imagine what it would be like knowing you’re going to be shot in the heart by twelve faceless people?” She said she didn’t want to think about that. That made her feel horrible.

Yeah. Me too.

Truthfully? I don’t know what I want to say, other than I’m grieving for those men’s families. I grieve for those men who were by all accounts successfully rehabilitated and who took ownership of their crimes. I grieve for those countries who utilise state-sanctioned murder as a punishment, and I grieve for those who have died for their crimes in those countries. I grieve for those people who separate themselves from their compassion and empathy because it’s easy to do so from the safety of their own home. I grieve for those who are victims of crime and are still hurting so much that they feel someone else’s death will lessen that pain.

Sometimes people do stupid things for stupid reasons. They still do not deserve to die. To quote Professor Jeffrey Fagan who appeared as an expert witness for Chan and Sukumaran in 2007: “Executions serve only to satisfy the urge for vengeance. Any retributive value is short-lived, lasting only until the next crime.”*

That’s all I have to say.

*Quote from Fact check: No proof the death penalty prevents crime, published on 2 March 2015 on abc.net.au

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Love Isn’t Enough

Trigger warning: contains references to drug use, violence, abuse and rape.

I remember the first time it happened. We were in St Kilda East, opposite the cemetery. Stupid idea for two energetically sensitive people to live opposite a massive cemetery, but there you go. We were breaking up for the second time. I had confronted her about her return to drug use, and by confront I mean scream “fucking junkie” in her face. She punched me in the mouth, held me down on the bed and raised her fist to punch me again. She called me a dumb fuck, ugly bitch. I muttered for her to get out of my house. She did. I cried. I went in to work at the parlour the next night, my lip swollen and a blood blister forming. The girls took care of me, but all I wanted was her.

I begged her to come back. She did eight months later. By this time I had spent a few months living in a factory cultivating an amphetamine habit that I didn’t have to pay for, I had worked in Sydney for the first time and been anally raped by a client whilst there, and had been homeless for a while, bouncing from couch to couch. I had finally found a little flat to call home in St Kilda, and she came back. And then she left. And then she came back. Even when she was with someone else, she came back. This was to be the final two years of our relationship, this push me/pull you bullshit.

The second time it happened was at the flat. I had found needles and poorly written love notes from another woman. I confronted her again, this time adding “whore” to the well-versed “fucking junkie” routine. I slapped her because she called me stupid. She doesn’t remember this, but I do because she fractured my nose in retaliation. She slept in my bed that night, while I lay on the couch, sobbing. She was gone in the morning.

I punched the wall next to her head once because she stole my entire $700 pay packet to score some heroin. Then I took her to a Buddhist temple to be cleansed. She thought I was taking her somewhere to kill her. I guess she didn’t know how much I loved her, that regardless of how many fantasies I had of beating her up and throwing her off the balcony, I could never harm her. Love does that.

The last time was the last time anyone ever laid a hand on me again. I forget now what the argument was about. Probably drugs, again. I goaded her, that I remember. I pushed her hard with my words until she snapped. She held a knife to my throat and tried to smash my head through the kitchen window. Fuck, she was strong. I have strength, yes, but she was propelled by something more forceful. I couldn’t push her away. She suddenly let me go, grabbed her things, and stumbled out the door. I didn’t see her again for years.

I grieved for her for a long time. I thought she was The One for me because I felt so strongly for her. I didn’t realise until years later that the physical stuff was not the only abuse we heaped on each other. She lied to me constantly, about stuff that she didn’t even have to lie about. I called her names to hurt her because I couldn’t touch her. She stole money and jewellery from me. I read her private phone messages. She took drugs and worked at the parlour one New Year’s Eve instead of spending it with me, so I cheated on her with another woman – I was free to sleep with whatever man I wanted to, but I broke our one rule in spite. She shot up anything she could get her hands on. I cut myself. She’d proposition men for drugs. I laid on my back for her habit. We played stupid games with each other, her using, me enabling until we burnt ourselves out. We were like a supernova that imploded into a black hole.

The funny thing is, we loved each other fiercely. That’s probably why we lasted for five years all up. She still says that I was the perfect girlfriend. I beg to differ, but I loved her, there was no doubt about that. Sometimes, though, love isn’t enough. We were bad for each other. She lost herself in drugs and I lost myself in her. While we were together, terrible things happened to us and we weren’t in the frame of mind to get help. Our network was sex workers, brothel managers and drug addicts – people who had their own stories and horrors to contend with. We removed ourselves from our respective families because toxic relationships tend to make their inhabitants do that. Oh, there was love. In retrospect though, looking back years later, it is so clear that it wasn’t enough.

Ten years later, we’ve reconnected and we’re friends. Good friends. Some people raise their eyebrows at this. I guess I wanted her friendship because I refused to be the victim and I refused to make her the perpetrator. I’ve told very few people the particulars of this story because I still refuse to be the victim in this. I spent a lot of my life victimising myself because of the things that happened to me at the hands of others. I needed to, and identifying as a victim of abuse is very important for the healing process to begin. But by the time she and I were finished I was done with it, I was done with being the person bad things happened to. Therefore, I think, I was able to forgive. She and I have talked and talked and cried and talked about that time. She has apologised again and again, still does, to such an extent where I have to tell her to stop because she doesn’t need to anymore. I can see by simply spending time with her that she’s a completely different person now, as am I. I said my sorries to her too, as one thing this relationship taught me is that things are rarely one-sided.

I’ve suffered abuse. At the hands of my mother, at the hands of a child molester, at the hands of a few rapists, and at the hands of a lover. It does not define me, but I know more of this subject than I care to. No one can tell me otherwise.

If you know more of abuse than you’d care to, please get help. Talk to someone. Recovery is not about being angry at the person who hurt you (although that helps for a short time), it’s about finding a way to move on with love for yourself. Talk therapy helped me immensely. Maybe it can help you too.

This post is dedicated to this year’s Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, whose strength, resilience and bravery is an inspiration to many.

CASA
Support for victims of rape and sexual assault

http://www.casa.org.au

Family Drug Support
For families and loved ones of those with addictions

http://www.fds.org.au

ASCA
For adults surviving child abuse

http://www.asca.org.au

Victim Support Australia
Help for victims of crime

http://www.victimsupport.org.au

Child Wise
Help for victims of child sexual abuse

http://www.childwise.org.au

Domestic Violence Resource Centre
A very helpful site for those experiencing domestic violence, also caters to LGBTIQ

http://www.dvrcv.org.au/support-services/national-services

1800RESPECT
https://www.1800respect.org.au

Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association
Although there is no over-reaching national association, this page has links to other organisations that offer support and help to current and ex-sex workers. (Based in NSW)

http://www.scarletalliance.org.au

Relationship Status

How many chances is too many? How many times can one turn the other cheek? They say a leopard never changes its spots, but considering I’ve changed mine a number of times (stripes are slimming) I would assume others can too.

About ten years ago, I was in a relationship with a heroin addict that lasted for approximately 5 years. I did not take heroin – hated it, in fact – but this did not stop me from loving her. I went back to her time and time again, forgave her every transgression, cried and ranted and raved at her, but I had faith that my continued love and support would eventually make her see the light.

She did see the light, but not because of me. She saw it because she wanted to. All I succeeded in doing was laying myself open for punishment. I kept smacking my head against the proverbial wall whilst wondering why I had a headache. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, because it made it very clear to me that I have no responsibility for saving anyone else. In the process of “saving” her, I damned myself. Again, not a bad thing to experience, but one would think I would learn not to do it again.

I did do it again, not to the same extreme, but I totally did it. I must admit, I am now aware that I have a habit of throwing myself in front of the metaphorical bus for love. My tactic for keeping a relationship going is to keep giving, even when I have been sucked dry and am lying in a puddle of my own delicious tears, a desiccated, useless husk. ‘This person treats me like shit even though I am giving as much love as I can to them. I know! I’ll give more!’

Now that’s smart.

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When I was a teenager, I read this book, Women Who Love Too Much, because “if being in love means being in pain, you need to read this book!” (I was a teenager. Everything is painful. Duh.) It talked about co-dependence, addiction to relationships, giving up your own life for the sake of your partner’s, making the other person the centre of your universe, all the stuff that makes me want to regurgitate my cookies. But, when I think about it, I know that I put up with a hell of a lot of bad behaviour from a partner because I tell myself I like to be understanding and supportive, that I accept their foibles and faults, and ultimately I expect to be given the same in return. Unfortunately, compassion, understanding, and empathy are sometimes taken advantage of and seen as an excuse to continue the behaviour. Enabling, if you will. ‘She’s so understanding and forgiving. That means I can do it again and she’ll just keep forgiving me!! Hooray!’

Yeah, hoo frickin’ ray.

So yes, I forgive and I support and I understand that other person and that other person says all these lovely things about me being lovely and then goes away and ignores me and forgets that I exist and I’m left feeling like the idiot with egg on her face and a big sign saying KICK ME on her back. I don’t believe I’m crap at relationships. A failed relationship does not a failure of a person make, but I see now how so goddamned hard it is to get it right! You have to choose the right person, first of all, which is not as easy as it sounds. And really, I don’t think any of us can control who we fall in love with, so that point is moot. You have to be comfortable and in love with yourself before you can be in love with someone else as well, and who’s got that down pat? Then you have to be sexually compatible with the other person (which is soooooo very important to me) which is sometimes difficult because so many people have such hang ups about sex. Then you have to have a relationship agreement as to whether you’re monogamous, polyamorous, open, closed, etc etc. Then there’s being at the same place in life for marriage and babies (if you want that), or mortgages and holidays (if you want that), or living in India for a year, or even just living in the same house! It’s insane, and it can’t be planned, and it can’t be figured out because nothing about love is logical and relationships are confusing and nobody knows the right way to do it!!

And yet, human beings fall in and out of love, get married, get divorced, have flings, become fuck buddies, post “it’s complicated” statuses all the time. And a few of them actually get it right, whatever it is, even if only for a short time. So, I’m holding out hope that if I ever do end up spending a significant amount of time with someone who is worthy of all that love I seem to keep excreting all over everything, that I get it right. Even if only for a short time. ‘Cause right now, it all seems a little too hard.