Online Training Lesson #3: Skip’s Story
Stories of Hope and Inspiration After Violence
Interpersonally warm and comfortable with conversation, Skip tells us about his life working in maintenance and grounds care on a large university campus, a job he has held for almost 20 years.
Skip grew up in a middle class home: his father was a science professor at a large state university; his mom was in the performing arts. As a result of extensive childhood travel and social capital that was acquired from his parents, Skip was more adept than many of his peers in the batterer intervention program in articulating his views.
Unlike many others, however, Skip’s memories of his youth are predominately pleasant ones. He lived abroad on three separate occasions when his father was on sabbatical and, as a result, Skip’s world was much larger than many of the other men we interviewed.
Yet, underneath the surface, there was anger. As a teenager, he got into minor scuffles at school. At home, his sister had some health problems, and when Skip felt deprived of the attention he sought, he would act up. By 13, he was drinking to excess, and as a young teen, he was involved in several break and enter charges in an attempt to sustain his drinking habit.
By the time he was 20, Skip was addicted to alcohol. “I have been all kinds of drinker, I have been a binge drinker, a daily drinker, maintenance drinker, workaholic function with a job while drinking, and just getting plowed every night and making it to work in the mornings…”
Once Skip became a father, he tried to reduce his drinking. I think I got more responsible when I had children. Yet both Skip and his ex-wife did lots of drugs and consumed large quantities of alcohol. They were both on a downward spiral.
But Skip does not blame his violence on alcohol use. I mentioned to my sponsor that a lot of times when I got violent, I wasn’t on alcohol or anything but he said, “Well you probably had it in your bloodstream…” This explanation seemed to satisfy Skip’s desire to understand his own actions.
Through AA and other supports, Skip has remained clean and sober for an extended period of time. He attributes the changes in his life to spiritual renewal. I depend on God.
Skip has a new partner and a new attitude.
His relationship with his children—now grown—has remained positive. But when they were younger, they frequently sought respite at their grandparents when things got heated at home.
Skip credits the batterer intervention program for helping him own what he has done. We discuss what it’s like when men first enter the program: there’s a time when you can’t differentiate the true from the false… Men in group talk about feeling victimized. Yeah, so being the victim, I think is one thing maybe you hear a lot.
For men found guilty by the criminal justice system of victimizing an intimate partner, this personal account of victimization may be a little difficult to understand. Yet, when they first enter any program—and especially a mandated one—most of the men are defensive, unsure what to expect, angered at having been ordered to come, feeling sorry for themselves.
Skip claims that the two batterer intervention programs he has been a part of worked together like two sides of the same coin, in other words, a good combination of resources. As he tells the story, it sounds more like the good-cop/bad-cop scenario.
At the faith-based program, Skip feels there is less talk of forced separation, court orders, restraining orders and other demands of the criminal justice system. Here there is more of an emphasis on learning—to act in caring ways, to alter your behaviour, to think before you act, to change your way of thinking.
Yet, many men are not ready for this type of intervention until they have been forced by the criminal justice system to understand fully the consequences of what they have done to others, the harm they have caused.
The faith-based program was like a breath of fresh air for Skip. He was challenged to try to understand his life, his actions and his past. Why did he behave the way he did? What caused him to resort to violence? He would be invited to begin a process of change.
It doesn’t take long for Skip to begin to see things in a new way.
My life has already improved you know…like I said, I never thought that I would strike a woman…So like with me, the whole relationship with [ex’s name] before we got married and there was the honeymoon and the courting and just all the excitement…then responsibility for the kids…me reacting the way I did…it was a process that was building up because I was angry and I would wreck a door, hit a window, break a stereo, something like that and I always thought, well at least I am just breaking things….but somewhere along the line I crossed over and it was just like I don’t give a crap.
At this point, things began to unravel in Skip’s life in a big way. At the time, he felt like he was out of control. But through his participation in an intervention group, he realized that control was exactly was he was attempting to establish.
And I didn’t care that law enforcement was involved or whatever the consequences were, it didn’t matter because right at that particular time, I was just out of it. They say out of control, but [group facilitator] says no, you weren’t out of control, you were in control because you were trying to control the situation.
At the close of our interview with Skip, he muses about his new life and new situation. I just know that…you move closer to God, God moves closer to you and more will be revealed. The message is upbeat: Skip’s firm handshake and smile offer reinforcement.
Almost five months later, we interview Skip again. His upbeat attitude remains: I gave my fiancée an engagement ring on Christmas Day…we picked a date…
Then he moves on to the present: we went and saw a finance person yesterday, sort of to talk about retirement, financial planning. Skip wants us to know that these proactive strategies of advice-seeking are the result of his new way of doing things. This is not how he acted in his first marriage. He wants us to understand that he has grown as a person, that he has incorporated some of the principles he has learned in group.
So we talk more about the group and its impact upon him…I mean you know we are learning the reasons why we behaved the way we did and, of course, on a Christian base that we can use Biblical, use Scriptures…Here is more of an enlightenment or working on growing…
Skip has finished his 52 week program here, but he misses it.
He gives us an update on his one-day-at-a-time journey. Three years and two months, a little bit more, he says with a broad smile. But the struggle—real struggle—continues.
He talks about the overlay of drugs, alcohol and domestic violence. I think it’s a component…I don’t believe at all that it’s the reason for [it], it’s just the fuel on the fire…it’s the beliefs…what your belief system is…I believe you…change your belief system and other things change along the way.
So what are some of the pieces of the puzzle to understand Skip’s altered thinking and altered behaviour? When he speaks of the intervention group, Skip muses, I mean everytime I was here, I was here to learn. Personal motivation is a central piece.
Accountability—that is regular and ongoing—is another. I have a therapist and he was asking me, “Well what do you do with [new girlfriend] when you guys have some disagreement or something?”
Talking is hard work—even for someone who is comfortable with words. Group intervention, psychotherapy, church and family living are all encouraging Skip to speak.
So what helped Skip to change? The criminal justice system, the batterers intervention group, AA, the reconnection with his faith, the support of his childhood family, a new relationship, his kids, and the ongoing support of a private therapist were all central pieces in supporting Skip’s motivation to change, one-day-at-a-time. Important too were others with whom he had regular contact, like his co-workers and supervisor, and a religious congregation.
His parents and children noticed small changes in Skip’s life and encouraged him in his hard work to stay clean, sober and non-abusive. As Skip made gains in his own life, he was able to share those in contexts where he could encourage others—such as AA meetings and through group check-in at the batterers intervention program.
Reconnecting with the faith of his grandmother, which he made his own during a short period of his adolescence, enabled Skip to have another language for his new start. Regular attendance at a church reinforced this new beginning. While he never became particularly active, he says I get to service on Sunday.
Skip has been able to stay focused on the goals others have helped him to claim as his own. It is hard work. It is ongoing. Gains made can be so easily lost. Ultimately, Skip is accountable to himself, to God, to those who have assisted him along the way, and to a loosely coordinated community response team that believes violence has no place in family life.
Questions to Consider:
- What are Skip’s greatest needs at this time in his life?
- What might a local congregation offer to a man in Skip’s situation?
- How does faith and faith-based connections weave throughout Skip’s life?
- If you were the minister of the church Skip now attends, how would you understand pastoral care for this man and his family?