When someone offers to share with you about their experience of abuse, it’s like they’re standing in the middle of a trashed room, furniture smashed, paint peeling everywhere, shit smeared on the walls.
They open the door and now they’re standing there waiting.
You, the listener, have several options.
You can run the other way thinking, “I don’t want to know about that room. Never saw it. Nope. Never did.”
You could hang out out in the doorway and act as if the room is fine. Start some small talk and ask where they got the furniture (that lies in a heap). You might comment that the curtains are beautiful (even though they’re covered in stains and ripped halfway off).
You can peek in, poke your head in, comment on how messy it is, wish them luck, talk about that time when you too had a messy room or what they might do, ask whether they’re going to donate the broken furniture, and maybe even recommend a cleaning service.
You might start asking why they keep their room like this. “Talk about messy,” you say, “You should really do a better job. I bet you actually made this mess just to get attention.” You think about the clean room you have at home and how messy rooms like this are usually the person’s fault. I mean, even if someone broke in and trashed it, they should have cleaned it by now. Goodness gracious.
You might waltz in and start picking up chairs, grabbing cleaning supplies, telling them what to do next. Grab that, trash that, rest, you sit down, I’ve got this. Now you scrub that. What’s that smell? I can’t believe what happened here. Shame. Darn shame. There. I’m a good friend for cleaning this all up for them, they should be thankful.
You could treat the open door as a sacred invitation into the pain and mess the survivor thought, maybe just maybe, you might sit in with them.
You enter quietly. Carefully. You wait. Ask what you can touch. You sit down with them in the middle of chaos and gently take their offered hand.