A group of people hugging

When it Comes to Domestic Abuse, Be an Upstander, Not a Bystander

Blog Brigade is supporting the Department of Defense’s 2021 Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign with this important reminder that preventing domestic abuse is a shared community responsibility. The military community respects, supports and defends victims of domestic abuse. Please read our post below on how you can help.

You don’t have to live in an abusive household to have a story about domestic abuse. After all, one in four women and one in 10 men in the U.S. report being directly impacted by their experiences with relationship abuse. It seems nearly everyone has a story about a time at a restaurant, the grocery store or even a school drop-off when they heard or saw something that just seemed “off.” Maybe you heard someone speak to their significant other with hostility or disrespect; maybe body language made us take a second look, or maybe there was even a glimpse of physical abuse.

Granted, a one-time encounter with a seemingly off situation is tough to judge, but with the stay-at-home orders, social distancing, reopening of businesses, schools and limited day care facilities, as well as new rounds of quarantines during 2020 and 2021, we may not even have that one chance to see a telltale sign of domestic abuse. Navigating relationship safety during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic can present different challenges for each person’s unique situation. Someone experiencing abuse within the walls of their home doesn’t feel comfort from the overused phrases of “safe at home” or “We’re all in this together.”

Tune in

We all have off days. We argue. We shoulder stress, these past two years especially. Higher stress, more time at home, and fewer in-person encounters with potential advocates sets a scary scene for someone at risk for or already enduring domestic abuse.

In the military community, we all have a duty to recognize the difference between couples who can’t seem to communicate and often disagree, and relationships in which one partner seems to always have the upper hand, belittle the other or act with aggression.

Circles are small now, and interactions — both social and professional — are limited. Tuning in to little signs of domestic abuse is arguably more important than ever before. Maybe you begin seeing vague social media posts that make you worry about a friend or neighbor. Maybe a friend opens up to you. Or, as the fishbowl of base living often allows, you may still be able to hear and see signs of abuse next door firsthand.

Consider the following warning signs from the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

  • Their partner puts them down in front of other people
  • They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
  • They make excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive
  • They have unexplained marks or injuries
  • They’ve stopped connecting with friends and family
  • They are depressed or anxious

If you know the person well, you are likely to pick up on sudden personality changes, even with added distance between you.

How can I be an upstander without making the situation worse or risking my own safety?

If you have reason to fear for the immediate safety of yourself or someone you know, call 911 or base law enforcement.

If you know the victim — if it’s your friend, neighbor or colleague — it’s OK to ask the obvious question. “Do you feel safe at home?” It’s OK to be concerned, and you can show your support by:

  • Talking about the Family Advocacy Program, doing your best to remove the stigma and assure them that FAP can be a resource for their safety, and the safety of any children in the home.
  • Telling your friend to keep records of harmful or threatening actions including texts, emails and social media posts. These things can be useful in identifying patterns of behavior to create a safety plan, or down the line as evidence for law enforcement, if the abuse is severe and an unrestricted report is made.
  • Offering to keep copies of these records where they will not be found by the alleged abuser. Even if you can’t meet in person for this handoff, you can designate a safe drop-off spot.
  • Encouraging them to practice safe browsing when searching for resources and support, especially with increased activities online through remote work and school.

For situations that are concerning but not emergencies, you can share available resources and support. If someone you care about is experiencing domestic abuse, it can be difficult to know what to do. Your instinct may be to try and “save” them from their relationship or convince them to leave the person who is harming them.

The key thing to remember is that your job as an upstander is to support the choices of the victim — not to make decisions based on what you would do yourself. Domestic abuse is about power and control, so one of the best ways you can help a person in an abusive relationship is to consider how you might empower them to choose for themselves what is best for their safety and healing.

On base, your best bet is the Family Advocacy Program. Save the number in your phone for a quick reference. Off base, victims (or loved ones concerned for a victim’s safety) can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or chat with someone online. The hotline can refer you or the victim to resources outside the gate, including legal assistance and emergency and transitional housing options.

If you’re ever in doubt, think, “If I was in their shoes, what kind of support would I want someone to give to me?” Assure your friend, or anyone you know who may be experiencing domestic abuse, that they are not alone — that the military community has their back.

You can call Military OneSource at any time to get advice on how to connect to your local FAP and locate your Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate, or speak with a non-medical counselor for help navigating what can be a stressful but critical time as a friend, family member or loved one of somebody who is in a domestic abuse situation.

A hand is seen typing on a laptop. A sticky note on the laptop reads “Support a click away…”

Resources For a Well-Balanced Life

In this day and age, we are always looking outward to find someone else’s new idea for what a well-balanced life looks like. Our society is almost obsessed with this idea of finding balance while trying to manage everything in our lives perfectly. There’s a reason there are entire industries now dedicated to well-balanced lives; we’re living at a fast pace and need support. And in military life, we are blessed with so many free resources. I find myself seeking more solace and rest. If you feel like me, I hope you will enjoy a few of these free resources I have discovered that are available to us! Learning to cope with the pressure and stresses of everyday life will give you the space you need to recharge. Let’s dive into some resources available for a well-balanced life.

  • Community. If we don’t agree on anything else about the pandemic, I think we can all agree after living through quarantine, we were not meant to live alone. We were made to live within communities. As military spouses, we learn quickly that moving to a new place means starting over. The people you are around and meet in any duty station can make or break your experience there. So, it is important to seek a positive community for yourself. A great way to do that is through community outreach. No matter which post you live on, there are a range of community events happening. Neighbors are always a great starting place for finding new friends too.
  • Hobbies. Find an outlet. Giving yourself one thing to really look forward to and seek out can pour so much perspective into your life. Sometimes we forget about pursuing something we love simply because we’re spending our time taking care of everyone else. When we give ourselves outlets, I believe we reap the benefits. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of spouses start their own hobby groups. Dinner parties, knitting circles, book clubs and gardening are a few I have seen at different duty stations. Find something you love and pursue it! Sometimes you find your community by doing this, too!
  • Support. We all need it, whether we are public about it or not. And there are so many wonderful support resources on duty stations and online. Military OneSource has a host of online support available. There are free counselors that are available for a range of topics, like new parent support resources, health and wellness coaching, mood trackers and relationship support. All of the free resources that we qualify for are underutilized. I encourage you to do your own research into whatever resources are important to you, and I bet you will be amazed at the number of free resources available.
  • Self-Care. Taking care of your mental, emotional and physical needs is the most important part of a well-balanced life. Utilizing resources when you need them can be harder than it sounds, particularly for military spouses who are so used to being independent. But reaching out for support in whatever area you need will make you stronger. Take time to self-evaluate what you need. Along with the emotional and mental support that has already been mentioned, there are also nutritionists available on post to speak to, and there are always group workout sessions at gyms around post. Taking time for yourself can make you a better, stronger person when it comes time to show up for everyone else, so make it a priority to take care of yourself.

In conclusion, we are all pursuing balance in life. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone, but I do hope these resources can aid you in yours. Remember, we’re all in this together and none of us have it all figured out yet. So, find the resources that will help you get where you want to go, and then spread the word!

1. A female child and a male child are seen pointing at the camera. In the background, an American flag flies.

Passing Our 9/11 Stories on to the Next Generation

Aside from never knowing the screech of a dial-up internet connection, there is one fundamental difference between our generation and our children’s: Sept. 11, 2001. The only way I know how to describe that difference is: those of us who saw the planes strike the towers in real time have an involuntary rise of goosebumps at the mention of that date.

In my nearly 11 years of parenting, I’ve found the hardest part of the entire gig to be something that was never mentioned to me — striking the delicate balance between sheltering and educating our children. I see definite appeal to leaving the veil of innocence undisturbed as long as the world allows, but I’m reminded how early our generation saw just what complex evils the world was capable of, and I think we turned out all right. Further, our parents’ generation saw hate manifest in the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and lost friends in Vietnam. Further still, our grandparents — affectionately known as the Greatest Generation — overcame the Great Depression and World War II before the end of their 20s. So, while it’s true that tragedy hardens a person, over time that experience can transform into something profound — something worth passing on to the next generation so that the lessons learned and the legacy of the American spirit lives on.

They won’t ask

I saw my grandparents nearly every day of my life until about the age of 18 when one thinks she’s outgrown hanging out with her grandparents all the time. My grandpa, a retired Navy master chief, enlisted in the Navy during WWII before age 18 because he was so compelled to stand up for his country. He had an incredible and interesting career that I unfortunately learned in detail through secondhand stories after he died in 2018. I always wondered what war was like for him, even as a little girl, but my oddly mature emotional intelligence kept me from ever asking him questions outright. I didn’t want to ask a stupid question or make him talk about something that would make him sad. If I could have a day back, I think I’d just sit and listen to his stories — all of them.

Rest assured, our kids will get the gist of 9/11 as a couple pages near the end of their history books, but history textbooks aren’t widely known for being compelling reads. We know firsthand the emotions of that day and we can tell the story in a way a couple of pages never could. When the time is right, tell your story of where you were, how you felt, what happened in the days that followed. You are not only your kids’ favorite story teller, but you’ll give them a safe place to feel and ask questions.

Let it evolve

I’ve learned not to force heavy discussions, not just about 9/11. Sometimes it’s enough just to mention the date, or the Twin Towers, or the Pentagon when we drive by it. I might get follow-up questions like, “Was 9/11 the one with the planes?” or “What happened there, again?”

While we could never forget, 9/11 is as ancient history to our kids as the moon landing or the discovery of America. All of it happened before their time. I remember early in elementary school struggling to remember which World War included the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I obviously know the difference now, but there is such a vast timeline to get up to speed on, so it’s only natural to mix up facts and dates until you know better.

How often you talk about it will depend on your family and your children’s ages. It may be a daily fixture in your life geographically, physically or emotionally — you may have lost a loved one that day, you may have lost a loved one in the 20 years of combat in Afghanistan. For other families, it may be enough to discuss it over dinner each anniversary or during social studies homework when it’s on the lesson plan.

2.	A from-behind view of a female child and a male child, looking through slats in a fence.

Experience it together

I’ve found the most success in passing on the stories my husband and I have from 9/11 and the years that followed through videos, newspaper clippings I saved and “field trips.” On Sept. 11, 2020, my kids came home from school, (having discussed the events of the day 19 years earlier in class), asking questions and asking to see news clips. Ever the American history enthusiast, I remember putting dinner on hold to rewatch that infamous building strike with my kids. They sat in awe, much the way I remember sitting at the age of 17.

For the first time, they asked questions about who did that, why someone would do that, if people died, and — this one got me — if Dad had to fight those bad guys, all of which I answered truthfully.

They were too young to remember stopping in Shanksville, Pennsylvania years ago on our move to California, but we walked that field together. Soon we’ll walk them by the Pentagon Memorial, and this December, we plan to show them the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. I know more questions will come, and we’ll answer them, in hopes that they grow up with a more 3D understanding of that day that came before their time, but in so many ways has shaped the world they were born into.

Watch the ripple

An oddly beautiful side effect of tragedy is the sudden bond between people who experience it together. I’ve seen this occur in our squadron family, and I saw it happen the night of Sept. 11, 2001. For a moment, however brief, we were Americans, just Americans.

I become increasingly frustrated watching the news cycle the farther we march from that day. Inevitably, that grip of the post-tragedy bond loosens. Life carries on and ushers in fresh perspectives who weren’t there when “it” happened — whatever it may be. It’s an important part of moving forward, but let us never forget that it is possible to move forward with a healthy understanding of where we came from, what we’ve pulled ourselves out of, and the stories from the past that shaped our present.

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