How Zombies Could Save Your Life

Sometime last year I received a flurry of Facebook posts flagging me as a top pick for my friends’ “Zombie Apocalyspe” Teams.  It seems my reputation for resourcefulness and roach-like adaptability was upping my social capital should our city ever succumb to famished and marauding hoards of the walking dead.Image of a zombie with only its deadened fingers and eyes visible, as it peers over the top of a book.

I actually took a Facebook Quiz and learned that I rated a high chance of surviving a Zombie outbreak and that I would likely be called upon to reestablish human civilization in the aftermath.

Some months later I stumbled upon a short news report that the Center for Disease Control had published a guide for “Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness”.  http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/  I loved the twist…if you are prepared to survive Zombie Apocalypse, you’ll fare well during an Avian Flu pandemic, or an earthquake, or a 100 year flood…you get the idea.

Then, “The Walking Dead” hit AMC and I managed to watch a few episodes, though I spent most of my time with my eyes closed. The more I thought about Zombies, and Zombie apocalypses and Zombie Preparedness, the more I noticed what a team project surviving is.  To make it, even the most ‘rugged individual’ needs help.  Folks figure out quick that they must have each others’ backs, bring all their talents to the table and commit to the incredibly arduous, all-consuming, nerve-wracking task of surviving. And the more I thought of surviving, the more I thought about domestic violence.

The thing is, while Zombie pop culture can be hella fun, it turns out that the culture of violence in our day to day lives is a complete buzz-kill.

It’s fun to talk about Zombies and it’s fun to think about who would be on my Zombie team (we’d need a McGyver-type and a Dr Quinn Medicine Woman and someone funny to break the tension…) and to plan our thrilling escapes and feats of daring do.  But, while most of my friends are inclined to believe I would kick-ass during a Zombie invasion, and many have a hunch that “Get to Connie’s house” would be their first impulse when the Zombie’s start down their street, we all know that none of that careful speculation (or sassy use of terms like “kick-ass”) matters.  Because Zombies  aren’t real.  There will never be a Zombie Apocalypse.

0% of the population has been attacked by a Zombie.

But, 30% of the population has been attacked by a lover.

Violence in folks own homes at the hands of people they love is real.  And, even though it’s a lot harder to talk about than Zombies, surviving it requires real friends showing up with real, fierce, useful skills. Because friends help friends survive.

I have spent a lot of time in the last decade talking with anti-violence workers and policy makers and queer people about the fact that friends & family are the first people survivors turn to for help.  More than police (10%), or medical doctors (11%), or therapists (14%), or victim advocates (1%), survivors first disclose an assault to a friend or family member (64%).   Survivors rated victim advocates as the most helpful, law enforcement as shockingly unhelpful and friends and family somewhere in the middle.  Which is just about where friends and family rate themselves.

We have a general sense of what we’d do if we were up against the Zombies: we’d pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.  But, we can rest assured that we will never be put to that test.  On the other hand, we will all know folks at some point who are surviving abusive partners, or who are hurting their family members.  Still, most of us report that while we want to help a friend survive domestic violence, we just aren’t sure what to do.

But, there is so much we can do.  We can pick up the phone and call our friend and say, “I saw some marks on your arm, and if you ever want to talk about it, I am ready to listen.”  We can go to our son’s house and say, “I see you are struggling with your divorce.  I know it can be sad and scary and feel out of control.  I love you and care about you.  And, I’m taking the guns out of your house and storing them back at mine.  We can talk anytime you want, and I’ll have your guns waiting for you when things settle down.”  We can bone up on our listening skills and practice being supportive without “blaming the victim”.  We can check our assumptions and get humble.  We can share some of the struggles we are facing in our own life and ask for help.  We can prepare.

The natural impulse of survivors—to reach out to friends and family—can be more helpful.  And when it is, how many survivors could find real options sooner?  How many people who perpetuate violence could make the choice to change their behavior?  How much isolation, fear, pain and suffering could be averted?

That’s what this campaign is all about.

Donate to the National Friends & Family Domestic Violence Action Campaign and help us educate friends and family to better respond and reduce harm.