I was reflecting on my association with Restorative Justice, and personal growth in general, and a constant jumped out at me; vulnerability.
If I am interested in changing myself, proclamations and statements of truth are one thing, prospects for actually changing, something else. It is being open to those places where I harbor pain that offer the promise of transformation, an inherently spiritual event. Quick fixes can be offered; just say no; get over it; time to move on, and on and on… All these types of instant focus changing affirmations have their moments of validity. They have a point that might be valuable to consider in entrenched negative moments, but they cannot be randomly dispensed as answers to individual processes that are at times, in nuanced and specific ways, as different as each individual.
So real heart to heart conversations require something more personal than lecturing, moralizing, and obvious good advice giving; they require me to show where I came from to know a better, more responsible way to be with others. If I am offering insight into my way of handling issues without resorting to abuse, my why and how must have real life in them.
I, as a volunteer intending to be of service to growth in an others self understanding, must revisit my own arrow wounds and how they were removed and healed. For this reason, being involved with Restorative Justice can become a way to discover prescient connections to those who were strangers before meeting, but become as members of the same human family when open hearts meet.
Where is the pain coming from? Is it from a place deep in the past now camouflaged in individual rituals and self medicating patterns of mechanisms like denial and avoidance instituted for safety reasons? Just telling me to get over my sense of abandonment in some current situation, may have little influence if I am operating on a now systemic identity infused perception that I am unlovable and somehow worthy of abandonment. That self image would border on a now near cosmological imperative that seems relevant in my life that says my life is troubled. Someone else might well benefit from a wake up call to “get over” something, but for others, the underlying pain must be uncovered or in some other way transcended. (Metaphorically; removing and breaking those old arrows.)
For those who do not have an inner institution of dysfunction operating in some area, those who do not “get over it” can be assumed to be suffering from superficial inadequacies that may seem obviously self defeating and worthy of a quick exit. Why don’t you take my advice? I have learned to get over things easily. Just move on and don’t look back! It can seem frustrating that someone just does not “do it”, or refused to “get it”. Quit the apparent excuse or obfuscation and just act. They may not perceive the real addictive attachment to the psychological prejudice of a life disturbed by pain in more endemic ways.
I mentioned spiritual transformation, because the sense of a new identity can allow completely new behavior to manifest out of what seems to be natural health and healing. If past pain is somehow spiritually forgiven by insight into the fallible nature of those who may have played a part in establishing ones reactive environment, a new way of being can emerge seemingly instantly out of nowhere. A powerful inner presence can cast the insecurity out. A kind of getting over it occurs, but not because one is told to do so to move on, but one recognizes what being healthy is, and that that is what I should be, and so it is done. What is right rules, from this point of a newly opened dimensional understanding of the nature of life.
I had stopped smoking and alcohol use on my own over the years, learning of failure, with its illusory successes, and then the final success. The success occurred with a spiritual victory over my own ego. Repetitive and ever disappointing failures were met with a personal ultimatum to myself, with the resulting message to my body and history that I was not taking defeat as an option. I exorcised my excuses, not by ordinary will power, that had failed. I appealed to the spirit of the one that I am. (If not known, we each have a whole one within, above our conventionalized self.) In so doing, I discovered what was needed to transcend the pain that ruled my behavior.
Pain, along with its addictive self medication temptations, were no longer to determine my behavior. I was not submitting to the rule of pain. I was standing up to it and instructing it to submit to my intention, period. End of story. I assume that this is what the “Higher Power” said to be focused on in 12 Step programs is generally about; an inner surrender to a connection to the Perfect.
This strength I found right there inside myself, came at the expense of years of ever reminding defeat. These defeats created a kind of negative bank account in my ego. The me I was discovering along failures path, was eventually seen to be a self betrayal; I was actually allowing the pain given to me by sources in childhood to continue to rule and ruin my life. This is where the fact became clear; my own heart and mind were undermining me by seemingly always accepting defeat and submission to what were outer substances used to self medicate that very pain. Defeat is surrender to dysfunction, while victory is surrendering to the higher power of truth faced heart on.
Not being able to control addictions became the object that stood in the way of the success of who I am. Now, armed with the evidence of failure and the ways and means of addiction, I could consciously override their control with my own intention. Not the addictive substances “will”, but rather the intention of accepting no substitutes for facing reality head on. I consider this approach to overcoming chronic defeat or repetitive undermining behavior as a spiritual position. I often ask, when I am told someone is getting over an addiction; if their life has changed in some other ways. The spiritual position comes with a newly known power that allows victory to spread to other areas in ones life as well. I often look for other healthful signs to give me indication that this spiritual victory has occurred, and not one so often more transitory and situation dependent.
This brings me to the Restorative Justice reflection I started with. In a meeting with families traumatized by abuse of some kind, what can I offer? The old dysfunction oriented model says; your have been bad so now you get punished. It quite ignores the family, whether the family can be made wholesome again, and so restore the love across the family. Whether the love that presumably created the family is still truly viable can be assessed. How children have been impacted by domination behavior is critically important. In short; the whole health of the family and community are ignored in the punitive model for some ideology of lone individual bad, equals punishment.
Ignoring the rest of the family and community health, is left hanging to all of our peril. Evidence indicates a likely continuation of the destructive pattern modeling to the children. Remember; most abusers were themselves abused. We are talking of reality here, and not ideological temptation offered to a culture to fix things by the illusion that punishment is true learning or understanding. It comes down to what creative justice is; is it abandoning individuals to punishment, while essentially ignoring the needs of the family and community, or is it working with willing offenders to address the why to their dysfunctional behavior, while seeing what restoration to the family and community can happen?
As it so happens to be; recidivism is dramatically decreased in Restorative Justice paradigms, saving families and communities from self perpetuating harm. The family comes to learn much more about the nature of the offenders hurt and prior inability to cope in non abusive ways. Families that are willing, are put light years ahead of where they would have been if just left as collateral damage to dysfunction and a dysfunction based punitive paradigm.
Those like me who volunteer to go on a half year to full year weekly connection to these families are given the opportunity to be vulnerable to where I grew up along the way. I get to be in a process of revelation with a family of unknowns who become friends. And these friends get to see how someone not being paid, someone with no obvious thing to gain is wiling to devote time to the faith I have in them. That is a powerful position to be in. I get to experience others growth into a more empowered self, where self respect nurtures interpersonal respect, and it, a more fulfilled revelation of life that spreads from our words and deeds into the world.
Those arrows are pulled through and devoured by the fire of love that Life provides those who stand up to harm by insisting on healing. Hearts are given a chance to heal, a burden unreachable, its weight seemingly on every moment, is cast off, and all, simply by caring to put love ahead of loss.