On Thursday, June 11, 2009, I had the distinct honor of attending one of Imani Evans' Women Healing Women, Inc. workshops. I love her slogan "Healing Women's Lives...One Heart At A Time." To attend one of Imani's sessions is to participate actively in healing women, starting with one's self if you are a woman. And if you are male, and blessed to be sitting in her restorative meetings, you, too, will experience the soul-stirring essence of self healing. In the session I attended, men were well represented in the presence of Sir Jesse and Elder Tony Jones.
"Love doesn't hurt" resonated throughout the discussion with participants reacting to a recent Internet article of a young, lesbian, Statesboro couple dying in what police described as a murder/suicide. One of the women transported her mother-in-law to a safe place outside of the home, (the couple had married in Canada) and returned to shoot her wife in a downstairs bathroom before going upstairs to kill herself in her bedroom. The couple was said to have had a history of fighting and arguments.
A noted therapist and the Executive Director of Women Healing Women, Inc., Imani Evans clearly defined domestic violence, also called "intimate partner abuse" or "battering" or "wife-beating" as "physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse that takes place in the context of an intimate relationship, including marriage." This type of assault is one of the most common forms of gender-based violence, Evans said, and is marked by long-term patterns of abusive behavior and control.
Around the long conference table of women, I saw and felt and heard how the issue hit home with us. Stories, intimate and heavy, found their way to the middle of the table, where we considered them solemnly and thoughtfully. In the telling, somehow we realized how therapeutic testimony was, how the honoring of one's truth liberates.
Additionally, Imani provided us with a working definition of sexual violence, which referred to sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given (rape, sexual molestation, and fondling). Some instances of sexual violence did not include physical contact. These were noted as sexual harassment, threats, intimidation, peeping, and taking nude photos.
When our conversation marshaled the issue of emotional abuse, the discussion took on a second wind, exemplifying an electric life of its own. We provided examples of 10 major components of this type of abuse, which was defined as "any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal or physical assaults." Our stories and testimonies flew like missiles out of a canon. Under the intensity of our words, the air grew thicker, our voices more excited, with the more talkative members of the group laying burdens down easily, articulately. Others, more tacit, related with nods and knowing eyes. Together, we bounded and became one in experience and healing. If the story proved emotionally difficult to retell, quietly, the group sent the speaker love, and the testimony came forward and took shape before us.
Below are the 10 examples of emotional abuse we discussed. I include them to permit you to reflect on your own experiences, being no one is exempt.
Domination: The need to be in charge and control.
Verbal assaults: A set of behaviors that involves berating, belittling, criticizing, threatening, etc.
Abusive expectations: Placing unreasonable demands on you...never satisfied.
Emotional blackmail: Consciously or unconsciously coerces another into doing what she wants by playing into your fear or guilt or compassion.
Unpredictable responses: Drastic mood swings or sudden emotional outbursts for no apparent reason.
Constant criticism: Unrelentingly critical or always finds fault.
Character assassination: Blows your mistakes out of proportion or gossips about your past failures.
Gaslighting: "Jodi mind tricks"
Constant chaos: Characterized by continual upheavals or discord.
Sexual harassment: Unwelcomed sexual advances.
At the culmination of the session, we engaged in Imani's "Shame/Guilt" releasing ritual that required us to write anything that we were ashamed of and felt guilt about on a half sheet of paper. Then we folded the sheet and placed it in a glass bowl. On other occasions, Imani burned the paper. But for us, she and Erica Clark, her lovely Program Intern, ripped the papers into tiny pieces. Watching them, I wondered if the ritual would end there, but Imani led us in a valuable generation of ideas of things that we could do, individually and collectively, to bring about love and self healing in our communities.
Finally, I participate in one of the most self-affirming parts of the session.
Imani divided us into groups of three. One person volunteered to listen, the other two speak. In the toss up, I was a speaker, which was pristinely perfect for me as I have always enjoyed speaking, outside of the times I silenced myself in the dance of anger with others.
I joined my fellow speaker, Pamela, in whispering self affirming, loving thoughts into Pastor Marisa's ears. I loved the experience but wondered if the Pastor could clearly focus on running thoughts filling her ears simultaneously. After 10 minutes or less, we stopped and the Pastor looked into my eyes and thanked me, adding, "You can understand exactly what both people are saying!" I had to experience such a phenom for myself, so I asked Imani if we might do it for a third time.
And when I did, I was awed. Clearly hearing and understanding both whisperers, I felt a rush of love, as if I were strapped into a Six Flags ride, with a burst of wind breezing by my ears. My fingers gripped the edge of the conference table, and I animatedly painted my experience as best my words could color the group's consciousness. Needless to say, I shall long remember the instant high of Pamela and Pastor Marisa's loving impressions of me.
To witness the phenomenal Imani Evans at work, please contact her at Imani@Miracles2day.com, www.WomenHealingWomen, Inc. and www.Surviving2thriveing.org.
Wherever you are, Imani says, you are not alone. You can always receive help, even if you think your world is orbiting too importantly to slow for three-hours of baptism.
Ooooh but when I stopped my merry-go-round, my soul impersonated Jackie Gleason of the Honeymooners when he crooned, "How SWEET it IS!"
In truth, I'd read Imani's e-mail announcing the gala. I noted it on my calendar with only the time, location and a reminder to myself to go hear, speak and blog. Fine so far, except as the days ticked away, I forget what the calendar note denoted.
I second-guessed myself, making 1,000 excuses why I shouldn't go. But my soul nudged me, sweetly guided me, silencing my no's and pulling me from wrong turns on Austin Avenue and vehicle blues with my son having asked to use mine hours before the workshop started. All over again, I learned that what is for you is for you and all that happens to you is for your Higher Good.
I blessed it all. Even the young woman across the table from me who said she had never had a positive relationship with a man for years. Then, miraculously, it was her blessing to be paired with the magnanimous Elder Tony Jones for the self-affirmation activity. Elder whispered in her ear, an ear that hadn't often known a man's close proximity. She was altered before our eyes in Love's aura, and I was forever changed under the same refrain, thanking the Divine for Imani and the lovely souls who shared the healing experience with me.
And so it is....
The Golden Goddess