My Trusty Steed

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Standing in the rubble of my former life, I knew I would need direction and a plan. I suppose it was part persistent hyper-vigilance and part need for a logical strategy so I would not get lost in a sea of emotion.  I decided to make promises to myself to ensure I would stay true to my beliefs as I charted my way to into battle.  Some of these were based on finding the person I lost while others were clearly a way to ensure I did not become something I did not appreciate or value and yet others were just reminders to stay strong and do what would need to be done. Have they served me well? I suppose there is still time to tell.

The emotional abuse created a challenge for me to live true to myself while being protective. When we reached a point in the cycle somewhere between the destructive behavior and the indignant self-serving apology was the guilt where he would lash out the worst. This always included some sort of blame and the argument always included the statement “Get off your moral high horse”. As if thinking excessive drinking and a violent outburst or draining the family savings on a week-long bender or any of his deleterious actions were morally or ethically acceptable. At one point, I decided it was probably best to stay mounted upon my dapple-grey stallion than to stand in the gutter and sling muck. It has been quite useful. I have regularly called upon that image in times to humorously remind myself of how to protect my dignity and morality; do what I believe is right.

I made the following list of promises to myself.dapple-grey

  • I will remain ethical and graceful.
  • I will be compassionate.
  • I will not act out of spite, hatred or anger.
  • I will do what is best to protect my children; emotionally, spirituality, physically and financially.
  • I will not compromise my morals or self-respect for any reason; ultimately, I am the person who looks in that mirror.
  • I will work to tear down my walls of isolation but will allow myself to use the rubble to create gardens of beauty to replace the pain.
  • I will forgive myself.
  • I will only engage in supportive relationships that help me become the best version of myself.
  • I will laugh aloud daily, deep soulful laughs.
  • I will not be involved in relationships, which lack respect.
  • Regain my inner peace.
  • I will cultivate deep meaningful relationships with those in my life.
  • I will remember my commitment of always focus on the good.
  • I will find my joy.

These have sufficed, serving me well during the disaster and the years beyond. I have moments of great joy and happiness. I have wonderful supportive friends in my life and I can say I have not done anything I will regret. While it has not been easy and I am aware the path is steep and will be rocky at times, I hold fast to my trusty steed and the list of promises.

“Character is much easier kept than recovered.”

~Thomas Paine

The Eye of the Beholder

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder yet should it be? Do we afford others too much control over our view of self? Why do so many women struggle with their personal beauty? Why are women so judgmental of each other and why do we let others have such an impact? The media is another issue entirely! How did I let the person who was closest to me have such a negative impact on my own perception?

Last week I had a conversation with a friend about the Facebook challenge; a person challenges you to post five pictures where you think you are beautiful.  I have known her for years and she is an inspiration to me, smart, wise, an engage loving mother and wife who faces life with a happiness and joy to which I aspire. She is beautiful but she struggled with the challenge.  The week prior with another friend I discussed  how she let her discomfort with certain body parts impact her choice of clothing. Another friend and I discussed her hesitancy with presenting information to her peers because they will be judging her and throughout the conversation arrived at her discomfort with others gauging her worth based upon her appearance. As I reflected on these discussions many of the standard questions surfaced.   Why does the media have such an impact with words live reduce, minimize, hide? Is this why women try to take up so little space in the world? Why do I not even consider how others think of me, physically yet struggle with my own perception of my physical self? How can I offer reassurance to others but lack the comfort in my own life?

I need to share that I believe with all of my heart and soul that you should cherish what you are blessed with and not try to refine it into something you want it to be.  So looking back, I am still shocked that I found myself in a relationship where my former spouse spent the majority of the marriage by trying to mold me into what he wanted.  While very subtle in the initial stages, he worked diligently to make me into the person he wished he had with very overt actions.  It took years for me to realize I was striving to please him and as soon as I attained his wants, it was on to a new desire.  It took many more years for me to learn this was not about me and who I was, but clearly about him. Trying to force a square peg into a round hole repeatedly does cause some dings and damage that is irreparable.  Although I know this, I still find myself not considering myself in a manner others’ may. I do not often think of myself in physically attractive manner.

Finding myself contemplating relationships I became harshly aware that others judge us initially based on their own interests.  I am aware that physical attraction is an instinct. I believe the importance of platonic attraction far exceed the initial attraction of physical desire.  Standing in this new phase of life, I found myself considering my worth.  I am an intelligent accomplished woman. I have seen my IQ and have no doubt my ability to achieve anything academically. I have wonderful friendships and the capacity to love unconditionally and deeply.  I have affected the lives of many people throughout my career and knowing I was able to help them achieve their own success.  My body has created three lives and continues to nurture them, it has created art, and offers compassion at time of need. I have offered comfort to those in need and fed those hungry. I have shared moments of joy and happiness while laughing deeply and openly. I have moments of intimacy and passion. All of those have helped me become who I am and I am happy with all I have offered to the world.

Beauty is not in the face;  beauty is a light in the heart.

~Khalil Gibran

 

Below are sites that discuss the topic.

http://stylelikeu.com/the-whats-underneath-project-2/part-1/#!bnNPPk  is a project that discusses how one’s style is on the inside. A very touching series of videos.

 

http://www.upworthy.com/2-people-described-the-same-person-to-a-forensic-artist-and-this-is-what-happene  is a wonderful video that can demonstrate how we perceive ourselves and a reminder of what others may be seeing.

 

 

 

A Drowning Lifeguard

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It is funny how distance affords one perspective.  I look back at the marriage, the cyclic behavior of the relationship and am shocked at what I tolerated and endured.  Married in my early twenties, quickly starting a family; life was happening as I was trying to understand the daily interactions. I am aware I am loyal to a fault, wanting to fix what is broken which is part of the responsibility I bear.

I am a mathematician by trade with the heart of a romantic artist; a lethal combination of the excessive ability to love openly and unconditionally while possessing a mind which needs logical structure.  He was suave, a bit worldlier than I with confidence and poise years of military discipline refines. I had no idea he suffered from PTSD which he managed by a cycle of self-destructive behavior, self-medication with drugs and alcohol, guilt, self-loathing, anger and outburst only to begin the cycle again. At the point he left the military, there was little support or even acknowledgement for PTSD.  We dated for a year prior to getting married and it was somewhere between a whirlwind and hurricane. He knew the right things to say and was very protective, which I later understood as possessive. Through the next few years I experienced each phase of the cycle without ever fully having the time to recover enough to understand what just happened before we were in the next incident.

Standing on this side of my life, I can clearly identify what occurred and all the signs were now classic. Look at any website on domestic abuse and it is like a checklist of the first decade of my marriage.  Through many of his eruptions he shared some of the stories he hid during the early years,  clearly the burden he carried that prevented him from engaging in a loving relationship.   He lost many friends and worked hard to alienate me from the few I had. Being one to want to fix things I fought for health, working with fervor and futility to save someone who did not realize they needed saving nor had any interest in accepting help.

I have had many people ask why I stayed for so long. There were many reasons all of which I could justify at the time. The long and short of it was I said vows and would not violate those early and as time continued, the insidious behavior became so pervasive I transitioned into survival mode.  I have had this conversation with a few intimate friends where the conclusion is all the same; those who are in a position to protect us become casualties from time to time. If one considers a lifeguard who dies saving a drowning victim. I worked diligently to save my drowning swimmer. There were times he appeared to want to be saved and when I would get close, we were both pulled underwater, creating a fine balance between coming up gasping for air and reaching back to pull him to safety.  At what point does one call it and walk away or fight with determination to save the drowning person at all cost.

“ All I’ve ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.”

-Leonard Cohen

Forgiveness at Sunrise

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I have had some recent conversations about anger and hatred. The crux of all of all those discussions have centered on the question; “How can you forgive him for all he did to you?”  Now keep in mind very few people who know the extent of what “he did to you”.   The gist of their question lies squarely upon how I define forgiveness and shared responsibility. How do I define forgiveness? How can I not be filled with anger and hatred?

I suppose I should start with my understanding of forgiveness. In my opinion, there are a few different types of forgiveness, which are very situational.  My evolution of forgiveness has progressed throughout my life beginning with my childhood where as with many children, I was told to apologize for a childhood indiscretion and/or accept an apology thus learning to give and receive an indignant apology.  Progressing into adulthood, I learned there are acts that appear to be unforgivable resulting in changes to both relationships and attitude.  In adulthood, I experienced circumstances where I was facing the forgiveness dilemma.  Through these, I learned many things, about myself, about others, the fact it is all right to not accept an apology and how to forgive people and actions, which were deemed unforgivable on some scales.

Through my continual spiritual journey, I have always been intrigued with the concept of forgiveness. While this is my interpretation of faith-based views, it is extremely brief! I could probably write another blog entirely on the topic.   My early Sunday school teachings revolved around forgiving others so I could be forgiven and the interdependent relationship of repentance and forgiveness but lacked teachings of how to forgive the non-repentant.   While I understood the mandate of forgiveness, it was much later in life that I understood the concept of unconditional absolution without any repentance or accountability of the violator.  The Buddhist view of forgiveness and its ties to compassion spoke the loudest to me at a point when benevolence was needed.  The focus is as a means to peace and harmony and the lack of forgiveness is characterized by feelings of resentment, which cause us suffering. Buddhism encourages one to look within one self to find the emotions, which are allowing the unforgiving attitude to persist. The teaching of compassion toward those who harmed us is a foundational teaching.   Intrigued by the Day of Atonement in Judaism I discovered that the forgiveness can only come from the one offended and if it is withheld, the moral burden shift upon the withholder.  The concept of forgiveness is also woven throughout all the other major world religions. It is the cultural ideologies on recovery in the form, to heal you must forgive which adds an additional burden of guilt to the injured.

My greatest struggle with forgiveness was the role of apology. Through this struggle, I arrived at the epiphany that there is not one levels not single blanket application that suits all situations.  Absolution is the easiest level of forgiveness; a situation where the offender is truly remorseful and offers a sincere apology at which point you afford them total exoneration for the offense returning to a state prior to the occurrence. This is also the level of sympathy that occurs with children or the unknowing, who do not have the ability to understand the violation but can learn of indiscretions and remorse.   What occurs when the apology lacks sincerity, is indignant, or even self-serving?  What does one do when there is no apology or even a belief in the justification of the violation?

We have all experienced an insincere apology even possibly where one places the blame elsewhere yet we are willing to work on reconciliation. This situation would be a forgive but not forget situation. This type of forgiveness allows the parties to work to recovery.  This allows the offended to protect themselves and offering hope of the violation never occurring again or creating a structure to buffer against this misdeed. I have offered amnesty of this nature in many social or work relationships where the interaction needs to continue and hostility would create a toxic cycle that would cause greater damage. I have also refused to accept an apology under the premise that the behavior has occurred multiple times in the past and time will determine the sincerity of the apology.

For so many others, and me the great challenge lies when there is no apology for the transgression. While this can be difficult when the violator is no longer available to be remorseful through distance or death it is even more challenging when the perpetrator  sees no fault in their actions.  This is what I face. There is no acknowledgement of the infidelity or the emotionally abusive behavior. As part of the cyclic behavior, there were apologies interspersed with blame but there has never been a sincere acknowledgement of the damage caused. Therein lays the questions I keep being asked? How can I not hate him? Why am I not angry with him? How can I just get on with it?  This is where my understanding of the third and most challenging type of forgiveness intersected with the dysfunction of my former marriage. This type of forgiveness does not condone the behavior but is in fact a release. It involves forgiving me for accepting the behavior and releasing my anger and resentment.  It is only about my choice to define my life by my actions and choices not by those of the offender. I spent so much time sorting through the emotional rubble to find what I needed to carry forward and sitting the rest down because the burden which I had borne long enough and could no longer carry.  To release the debt does not mean I condone the behavior or relinquish his accountability it means I chose live with happiness in my heat, to focus on my peace free from resentment and hatred, and to embrace life on my terms not another’s.

One morning at sunrise standing at the edge of the ocean, I decided it was time.  There had been so much contemplation of how to forgive, when to let go of the resentment as I let the waves wash over me I released it, allowing the water to wash away my guilt, hatred, hostility. As my tears washed away in the Atlantic I knew it was the right choice, I feel free. The depth of the peace I felt was indescribable. The lightness of my new step was immeasurable. I made the right choice for me. As I walked up the beach, I turned to see the sun rising on a new day and a new self.

WP_000345“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

 

Reality and Regret

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When it clearly ended, no more picking up the pieces and getting out the crazy glue I had some harsh realizations.  I suppose I knew it would never last very early in the marriage, probably about the time my first child was born but I worked hard to keep things together, or so I thought and he enjoyed all the benefits he gained.  I find it interesting that I had already grieved the loss of my marriage prior to it ending but discovered myself facing some surprising emotions.

The first and most obvious response was I acknowledged all the things I had lost for my children. I had spent over a decade and a half of my life struggling to create a loving nurturing home where my children had emotional, physical and financial stability. I strove for the dream of a white picket fence with a Cleaver like existence. Although I was perfectly aware that June did not work full time outside the home (at times additional part time jobs) as well as maintaining  the responsibilities of the house nor did Ward suffer from addiction issues and undiagnosed PTSD which was handled by a cycle of self-medicating  with alcohol and/or drugs, aggressive outbursts, anxiety, and guilt. I began to grieve for the potential my children lost, that they are now a product of a broken and their worldview is forever changed. I think that is the guilt of any divorced parent.  I take comfort in the fact I was able to shield them from many of the ugly things that occurred within their home. While they know the unconditional love and acceptance a parent has for a child, I regret the fact they may not know what love between two adults looks like. I hope they are able to navigate the water of romance to find safe harbor with another who loves them deeply and fully without condition; that makes them the best version of themselves and is their soft place to land when they need a reprieve from the world. I hope they find the joy of the love they never saw between their parents.  I am grateful I have children that are strong-willed, filled with empathy and compassion and the capacity to love deeply.

I was astonished to find myself considering the possibility of all the things I had denied myself.  I am a woman of my word and I took vows, I was faithful both physically and emotionally and intended that little saying until death….and now that had changed. I spent years longing to be supported and encouraged, to share my fears and joys with someone and not have it become ammunition for a later confrontation, to enjoy the physical proximity of another human, a loving embrace.  At one point I found myself be averse to hugs or spending any quality time with friends because if one small window into my life was revealed I was afraid I could no longer hold it together.  Now I had nothing to maintain and the option to have the things I had denied myself, although justified, were now a possibility.

The most challenging reality for me to process what was being told to me by different people over the first few days after the separation; I was a victim of domestic violence.  I knew that the behaviors exhibited in my marriage were not always healthy yet I could easily rationalize them away. He is reacting like he did in the military; he hit the wall and not me; he was angry when he said those things.  The morning of the last incident, he was so enraged the police were called which resulted in them giving me a phone number to a local domestic hotline. When canceling a meeting with the marriage counselor/mediator, who was going to help me learn what to share our struggles with the children, again I was told very much the same thing. I was also advised by an attorney to file a restraining order and seek assistance from another organization focusing on women of domestic abuse.  I could not process the fact I was a victim! Clearly they were mistaken he never beat me.  I indignantly acknowledged that yes, he was highly aggressive at times and of course there were time he was physically intimidating.  Well come to think of it he was emotionally abusive and at time alienated me from my friends.  As they worked through a list of questions I was overwhelmed;  I was a victim. I was a highly educated woman with a career. I volunteered for programs that helped victims and their families. I worked with girls to empower them to have a voice and here I was not even noticing I was in the throes of the same thing I had deplored. How could this be? Why had I allowed myself to be treated in such a manner?  Living in a perpetual cycle of He loves me, he loves me not clouded my perspective. When one strives for emotional survival it is challenging to analyze your reality.  Having perspective from that situation, I can clearly see that yes, in fact they were correct.   I am continually amazed as how my hindsight is 20/20.

Below are two very interesting talks on domestic violence; one on why victims do not leave to which I can relate and the other on how me can impact what is so regularly view as a woman’s issue.

http://www.ted.com/talks/leslie_morgan_steiner_why_domestic_violence_victims_don_t_leave

http://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

A New Endeavor

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So I have a friend to thank for this! One evening when we were discussing our pasts they suggested I start a blog. While I understand the therapeutic benefits of journaling and have written on and off for years, I never considered my experiences could help another.  Being there to help others within my circle is one of my foundational beliefs; having given and received it at crucial times I know the true value.  I suppose my hesitancy is multi-fold being mostly based inherent need for privacy for a variety of reasons.  We shall see where this portion of my journey leads….

To understand the journey to return to my self would begin with a bit of history.  I began the journey re-embrace my beliefs at a point when I openly acknowledged the destructive behavior of my spouse of many years. Much of my early steps were transitioning from a reactive environment and was very much subconscious. Only on retrospective evaluation did I realize my mind and soul were seeking to heal themselves and I was just along for the ride.  I was married to someone who for all my efforts was unable to accept unconditional love.  I suppose I could begin to toss out labels but  I am not sure of the benefit of unprofessional diagnosis after the fact . There were tendencies of sociopathic behavior clearly a result of his previous experiences he was very self-loathsome. There was extreme destructive behavior to anyone who was open to receive it including himself. While standing in the midst of such conduct it is difficult to assimilate it non the less understand the root causes or the implications.

My marriage of almost 17 years ended in one final destructive moment of hatred and rage in a very volatile incident.   I had grieved for many things up to that point and since. I will share my journey through the grief and how I found my inner peace, happiness, and my self.

 “The only journey is the journey within.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke