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.

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