Anissa Ljanta reviews the new book on abuse, masculinity and change from Christchurch barber Mataio (Matt) Brown and his wife Sarah Brown.
I grew up in Samoa and South Auckland. A daughter of a long line of sensitive alcoholics. Two of my classmates had their bruised father’s fingers in their flesh. I was just growing breasts when we took in a teenage girl in need of a sexual abuse shelter.
She is Not Your Rehab is a global business movement that started from Matt and Sarah Brown’s hair salon in Christchurch. Their mission is to create communities free from violence by influencing the culture around domestic violence and unhealthy ideals of masculinity. I have followed their work for years. I was always going to applaud their book.
So, disclaimer: I wanted to love it. I’m also a recovering literary snob and a connoisseur of self-help books, so when I agreed to review the book it was with trepidation. I dreaded thinking it was badly written, preachy or preachy. I was worried that this would either offer prescriptive and Instagrammable fixes to the trauma or trigger it. It was none of the first.
Rising between the poignant stories of things no child should ever know is hope and a customizable roadmap to a better place.
There is a catch. The Path Through is the emotional equivalent of an extreme ninja obstacle course that I once saw on American television. Healing is messy. She is Not Your Rehab, the book, confronts.
Don’t think it’s fair for men. It’s a book with something for everyone. Abuse occurs in all wealth brackets and in all professions. It’s in all the suburbs. Brought to life those who wear suits and hoodies, Docs and barefoot. I have lived next door twice. You probably have too.
I was hanging out for the review copy that The Spinoff had popped up in the post. But one day I found the empty mailbag in the bush near the mailbox. Of all the ironic things: someone stole Matt and Sarah Brown’s book. I had to resort to reading the PDF, not the same experience as holding the book in my hands, but I still cried.
I suggest not to read it in busy four days like I did. The equivalent of one year of free therapy is indicated there. Rushing could be bad for your sanity. As Matt says, there is no quick fix.
It was a little perverse to read something written by a man, for men. Matt citing all of my leading thinkers and writers has helped me, starting with Brene Brown (whom Matt calls his white mom, given they have the same last name) and following with bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Gabor Mate, Rumi, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Matt’s name is on the cover and the book is written with his voice. Sarah, Matt’s wife, is a co-author and her presence is strong. Against stiff competition, she won my award for best one-liner. “You can’t put the icing on some bullshit and call it a cupcake.” My kind of woman.
She was against gems.
The cycles repeat themselves until a person has the courage to say, “This shit stops with me.”
Someone can hear you but disagree with you.
Hurt people hurt people.
There is no monastery like a marriage.
Wise. Yet these two keep it real.
One of the chapters deals with forgiveness, but not with the calming variety. Matt talks about the complex and messy forgiveness that does not tolerate abuse but allows a person to move on. Not forgiving allows the abuser to still have power over you, years later. A survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, I know that.
OHowever, late at night in a supermarket in New Jersey, I was shopping with my hairdresser boyfriend. I was 22 years old. We had met hiking in Greece and had crossed the ocean to be with him. Let’s call him Sammy Johns. He was gentle and kind and we were beautiful lovers. Sammy and I had just moved into an apartment in Haut Mont Clair. We were living the dream. Until 10:35 p.m. that night when Sammy blew up and threw our cart over the supermarket shelves only to crash into the next aisle.
I remember shaking at his words, the suspension of the noise as the cart flew, and the way my body felt distant. I remember standing there in shock watching him storm off. I remember the store manager running up and saying, “Ma’am, ma’am, are you hurt? Did he hurt you? Ma’am, we called the police.
I remember thinking how strange it was to be called “madam” at 22 years old. I remember the tears and the apologies and his promises to never do it again.
Two weeks later, I barricaded myself in our bathroom while it was raging. Crammed into the small space under the sink, desperately hoping the door would hold, wondering how the hell I got into this situation. I don’t remember what the triggers were, and it didn’t matter, it was always something small.
I left Sammy after the curl up in the bathroom episode. It turned out that he had grown up with his father’s violence and had said honestly, really, that he didn’t know it was wrong. It was a revelation.
At least the extreme physical threat of violence was a clear line. The emotional and financial abuse later in my life was more insidious.
I have become a statistic.
Aotearoa has extremely bad domestic violence statistics. Some of the worst. Matt goes on page 204: “One in three women has experienced physical and / or sexual violence between intimate partners in her lifetime. This statistic rises to 55% if you factor in emotional or psychological abuse. ”
Numbers are cold, sterile things. If you take a step back and imagine the vivid stories of those affected and the necessary healing from such trauma, these statistics come to life in a shameful, astonishing way.
I never understood why the word “healing” has such a woo-woo stigma attached to it. Healing is not the hour of burning incense in a white robe. This shit is tough.
Matt dispels the hazy unicorn healing stereotype in this book. It goes full disclosure. Without taboo. He talks about abuse in his family, his porn addiction – where and why it started and how it’s possible to get out of it and why you should – he presents us with a feminist unboxing of the words of his beloved Tupac , feeling suicidal and sharing the hard work of her recovery.
I want to send a protective cotton shield to wrap Matt and Sarah as this book heads out into the world. Damn, these two are brave. The scene in his and Sarah’s bedroom where Matt shares his struggle around physical intimacy and how love won almost broke me.
I started out thinking that the book She is Not Your Rehab was for men stuck in perpetuating cycles of domestic violence or recovering from childhood trauma, which it is, but it is to me. halfway appeared that it was also a manual for healthy relationships and family life. Everything, and I mean everything, that I’ve heard from women about that frustrates them in relationships is covered.
Here’s what Matt had to say about his experiences with babysitting, learning, cooking and cleaning during Aotearoa’s Great Covid Lockdown. “That’s when I think I really grasped the breadth of the role that, for generations, has been seen as ‘secondary’ or ‘subordinate’ or – for some – as ‘perpetual vacation’. In fact, it is unpaid, full-time, no days off work, where you are responsible for the well-being and survival of those in your care, but where this relationship is not reciprocal. Any relationship where you keep giving with very little receiving will have a high potential for exhaustion.
He goes on to explain the emotional work (always be my heart) and then comes out with this line: “For those Brothers who think that their full time job entitles them to a free pass in the house, I invite you to think again.” In my world, it’s sexy talk.
Judgment-free and spoken from the trenches of manhood by a man who has done, and continues to do, the healing work alongside his stunning partner, enforcing healthy boundaries, She is Not Your Rehab is an invitation to heal. Really live, accept the opportunity to co-create a relationship, and be there for your children.
The relationships in the book are all heterosexual, and while I know the value and importance of representation (I’m queer, that goes with the territory), it’s also clear to me that this book is exactly what it is. takes to reach those who need it most. Love is love. Take just what you need. I did. I hope the person who stole my copy from the mailbox will read it and do the same.
She Is Not Your Rehab: One Man’s Journey to Healing and the Global Anti-Violence Movement He Inspired, by Matt Brown with Sarah Brown (Penguin, $ 35) is available at Unity Books Auckland and Wellington.
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