Saturday, February 23, 2008

Secrets and Rationalizations

When I was a young woman, I married a man who I loved, a man who had already started out our relationship rationalizing that if he hit me with an open-hand it wasn’t as bad as if he hit me with a fist. I married this man, who asked me to keep his rationalization a secret, and with no understanding that this secret formed our intimate connection.

No one in their right mind would have looked at me and thought this is the picture of a statistic, an abused woman, caught in a cycle of domestic violence. Practically the only person who knew that I was abused was my abuser. It took me 20 years to acknowledge the very basics of the relationship I was in. It took me 20 years to look at the limitations this relationship demanded of me and break out of that container.

I want to explore those limitations as a belief system I had, and really as an integral part of what I believe now. Without that abusive cycle, I would not be the woman that I am today. I am not grateful for the abuse, but I am grateful that I survived and became strong enough in myself to leave it behind. What being abused forced in me was a deep exploration of faith and peace. To understand that at first I fought back, and in the middle I surrendered in prayer, and in the end I walked away, is to see the evolution of my soul.

Certainly, I had a choice year after year, but until I left, I was not ready to leave. What must be understood is that physical abuse was only part of the abuse. The cycle of violence was the true abuse. It must have been an addiction of sorts to go through periods of relative happiness and peace, to experience the stress of a build up to the inevitable aggression and then to be the victim of some atrocious behavior, like having my head slammed repeatedly on the floor, and then almost immediately returning to a state of calm.

I believed for many years that I could change the man I loved by changing myself, by accommodating his choices, by becoming invisible, by viewing the abuse as a challenge to evolve. I believed that I could become so peaceful that he would lose interest in abusing me. But, of course, my happiness triggered his anger as much as my distress because it really had nothing to do with me at all.

It was only when I realized that his behavior had no relationship to me that I recognized that no progress in my life could be permanent or whole if I stayed. I would be abused whether I behaved like a two year old, or whether I was an angel in our relationship. I also realized that staying with him was preventing him from taking responsibility for his own behavior. If I consistently let him behave poorly and he suffered no consequence except my distress, and that consequence didn’t seem to register as important to him, then how could he learn that he was being criminal in the way he treated me?

I, of course, resisted this realization for as long as I could because we have two children, because I was in a habit of being in the relationship. Because I survived for so long, I supposed that this was all I could expect of my life. It finally took becoming aware of my own pain, and the pain of my children to find the courage to leave. I can only explain it this way – as long as I was invested in the layers of rationalization, I could only experience the pain in a feeling of resentment and anger. That allowed me to stay for 20 years, but when I really felt the pain, when I allowed myself to really feel the shock of being slammed against the wall, of being called hideous names, of being told who and what I was by someone who abused me, only then was I able to know that this behavior was wrong and there was no rational excuse for it. I couldn’t live with it anymore and I left. Now, I only have this vague shadow of abuse when I have to arrange parenting time or cross paths with mutual acquaintances in the town in which we both live.

I believe violence in the world is a macrocosm of this domestic violence microcosm. We, the abusers, rationalize our behavior. We, the abused, fight back, or believe we can stop being a target if only we can become invisible enough, or we pray for deliverance. We live with cycles of peace, stress, aggression, peace and we disallow our pain and suffering and replace them with anger and desire for revenge, or acceptance that being picked on is our lot in life, all in order to retain the status quo. As long as we remain comfortable with the secret of our true pain, the cycle will continue. Eventually, though, we’ll allow ourselves to see how we’ve hurt another and we’ll have to reconcile ourselves with our role. Eventually, we’ll allow ourselves to lick our wounds and turn our backs on our abuser. The walls will stand for a long time. The consequences will be met out.

Forgiveness is the only hope left to us when the violence has played out. It is harder work, perhaps, and that is why we avoid it. To forgive myself for allowing these things to go on for so many years is my hardest task right now. Forgiving the man I loved for something he still cannot acknowledge is still easier for me. I realize it is self-abuse not to forgive myself, but that reconciliation is my challenge of the moment. A wise friend told me that forgiveness keeps the heart alive. We must forgive, but we must never forget. I must never forget my own self-betrayal, though I must forgive it.

This I believe…that a life is a container within which is held the Universe. This is the kosmicegg that the Greeks thought was the alphabet. It is the article through which all can be expressed. We fight against being limited by our lives, but that limitation is exactly what creates the challenges and opportunities we need to evolve, to progress.

Friday, February 22, 2008

It's Okay. I'm Okay.

What a horrible thing it was when "It's okay," became a part of the human lexicon. It doesn't actually mean anything. We think it means that whatever is going on is copescetic, but if you really pay attention you'll notice that you use this phrase when everything is not quite right and you don't know how to respond properly. "It's okay" or "I'm okay" is like a signal to me that I am out of sync, out of time, feeling rushed to express an opinion.

How are you? I'm okay. Okay. Not great. Not bad. Not anything describable and so I refuse to share even a spec of truth about myself.

Most of the time these days I am so not okay that I find myself saying "I'm okay," almost all the time. It is a deflective comment to make the question go away, and I can see it is unsatisfactory, and some people don't get the hint and insist on pressing further. "No really, I'm okay."

It's not anything I can speak to if I say, "I'm okay." I know that I'm being slippery. I know in a sense I'm lying.

I mean I am doing well on many levels. Last year I was living out of my suitcase in the spare room at my Dad's house with both of my kids, and driving through the worst winter I can remember to get them 30 miles away to school. I was working freelance and thinking that surely it would get better, but it got much much worst until it got better. So, now I can say I am better than I was a year ago. I have a home, and I'm making almost enough money regularly to pay for my very most basic needs. I have a dog. I have my kids half of the time.

Last year I had a weird boyfriend, who was so sweet, but then would just not show up until he finally called me and said, "Darling, I don't want my problems to become your problems." and then completely disappeared. Completely. This year I have a boyfriend who lives 1/4 of a world away, who I can count on absolutely to show up when he says he will show up, but who can only show up every month or six weeks and the rest of the time is only reachable by phone or email, and not even that reliably. I have hopes for this one, but I refuse to sink into the fantasy that our lives will finally come together...until they finally come together.

This year I am a work-aholic. I am so afraid not to work hard that I cannot even take three hours, when I'm not sleeping, from email, from my responsibilities. I don't dance much. I am not experiencing much beyond the overwhelming sense that I am responsible for turning my life around, taking care of my kids, taking care of the long-term prospects for my parents, taking care of creating a real, stable and secure existence once and for all. I cannot see anything else. I have tunnel vision about these topics. I don't see tango dancing as an option anymore.

Yet, I have to say I know that without tango dancing I'm a less wonderful person. I enjoy my life less. I have less hope for some relief from the pressing questions about my okayness. If I were tango dancing, I could say firmly, "I'm still dancing."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

This is my new dog, Lucille. She is a princess of light, just as her name so aptly declares. She fooled me at the shelter into thinking she was a mellow pooch, but it turned out she had a really bad case of kennel cough. Now, that she's feeling much better it seems she is but a mischievious, lively puppy who is eager to get her mistress moving a lot more than her mistress had planned. Ah well. She'll have benefits for me that I hadn't predicted...
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