What is it like to be an advocate?
Every person is an advocate for something or someone. A good cause. Their children. Themselves. A higher paycheck. More coffee breaks at work. As for me, I am an advocate for survivors of domestic violence. In my years of working with Care Lodge, I have learned some of the “tools” needed to carry with me as I serve this group of individuals:
1. Stepping outside of myself. We as humans each have unique experience that no one else will ever fully understand. This fact hit me as I first began to hear the heart-wrenching stories of the individuals that pass through our doors...feeling as if I will never be able to relate to their deep hurts. It has given me confidence to know that I do not need to have lived a certain experience in order to provide support and to help someone feel and become safe. I have learned that I must step outside of my own experiences and listen intently to the unique needs of the person in front of me. This requires the releasing of “Well, I would have done…” or “I would have felt so…”, and to embrace the person as they are.
2. The heart of a fighter. Most parents will willingly “fight” for the needs of their children whether its to put food on the table, get appropriate accommodations in school for their learning style, or to do everything necessary to make sure they are safe. They do this, because in a lot of situations, who else will? In the midst of leaving the home of one of my clients, the question struck me: What if I am truly the only trustworthy person in her life? For this person that has endured unimaginable trauma and unfair disadvantages, am I the only person in her world that is fighting for them? If this is true, then I want to work as diligently as possible in order to ensure that they are afforded every opportunity for growth and healing.
3. Love. “If I give all I possess to the poor and give my body over to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I have nothing” (1 Corinthians 13: 3). To daily advocate for survivors and to walk alongside those whom trauma has touched demands an outpouring of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. If an advocate is not sustained by a heart of love and compassion, their cup will quickly run empty. If my “cup” is feeling dry, that’s a signal to me that I might need to get filled. This comes with reminding myself of why I serve in the first place, spending personal time with people who love me, and identifying any “lies” that may have crept their way into my heart. If my heart is not full of love, then the clients I serve will receive an overflow of something else.
I believe that I will always be an advocate in some way; because, despite that it will never be an “easy job,” it’s actually a privilege to support a person in their most vulnerable, distressing moments.