I have come to a point where I find myself living what I have told others for years, be your real true authentic self without apology. Having lived in an environment where anything would and typically did become fodder for the fire of whatever was the frenzy at the moment. For years I found myself apologizing for how I felt as is my emotions were wrong. I would try to justify my beliefs. I had defended my desires. After years of concessions, I began to subconsciously hide myself as if leaving things buried in some same place was any resolution. Throughout this time, I spoke my voice to others outside my personal life regularly reminding them that they should never apologize for who they are. To speak their truth without apology for they had value and an apology would negate their worth.
I now find myself able to openly share myself, to be compassionate and loving without fear of future retribution. I am able to fully embrace the things I love, a hot cup of coffee on a crisp morning, hearing the owls at dusk, watching sunrise is as refreshing as afternoon rain on a hot summer day. I have conversations about topics I would have been previously hesitant to breach; those dialogues are without fear of ridicule. I find that I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and have only found myself supported, encouraged and fully embraced in return.
I know I am blessed to be surrounded by people that love and encourage my authentic self! I can only hope I can offer such a gift in return.
“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”
― Steve Marabol
I awoke this morning to overwhelming fear and panic; I had dreamed my ex was coming for me because I was being everything he loathed, independent, successful and most of all happy. Those dreams are rare and I understand the psychology behind having them yet it makes it any easier to be thrust back into a moment of intense, overwhelming terror although it is years later, years of being safe. This is the second one in three days, which exacerbates the panic and anxiety, nor does it help with the ability to this rationally to overcome.
I clearly understand the first dream is a direct result of watching a video, the one from Upworthy with Keira Knightley being beaten by her partner. I was shocked by what I saw which was the intent of the movie, to have one consider the impact of domestic violence. I wandered off to bed because I have to arise early and deliver a child to college. I dreamed my ex was coming for me. In the dream, he had called and explained what I had done wrong and I could tell he was extremely agitated, that state where I knew there was no de-escalation and I was in for a long rough ride. In a panicked start I got up and took inventory of my surroundings; the doors were all locked, the house and its occupants were peacefully asleep. I wish that antique softball bat at my bedside offered me a more secure feeling. As I continually worked through my distress, I came to realize one of my worst fears. I was sending my daughter off into the world, what if she found a man just as I had. What if I had not taught her to value herself, to love and care for herself so she could fully understand the gift of unconditional love? What is she found a someone who was far worse than what I had endured, what if I had not given her the strength to know when to walk away?
This morning I again woke up very distressed by a dream. I understand what would have triggered my subconscious to so vividly try to process. In my dream I was at some sort of event, a party of sorts I was responsible for in some way, as if I were throwing it. Many of the people were strangers to me but there were faces I recognized within the crowd, people who had been in our lives, friends, presumably old flings of his, former acquaintances. Everyone sitting in an outdoor area enjoying their evening and he walked in coming directly at me and I could feel his anger and hatred as soon as I made eye contact. I awoke.
“I have had dreams, and I’ve had nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.”
― Jonas Salk
I chose to not include the link to the Upworthy video. While I grasp the importance to educate people on the pervasive and destructive nature of domestic violence I do not think this video will serve that purpose here. A victim know what it feels like to be demeaned, belittled or struck by the person with whom they share the greatest level of intimacy and the perpetrator will not see it and say wow, maybe I need to stop.
Quite some time after the last incident, where the police were called, where I was threatened and scared in a way which no person should ever feel within their home, a safe haven from the world, I found myself facing an opportunity to say my peace and release the weight of the final bit of baggage. My ex-husband was picking up the children when he sent them to the car because he wanted to talk. I felt an instant overwhelming sense of anxiety, fear and foreboding. This is the first time I have been alone in his presence since the final explosion. While we had met in public or within the security of my attorney’s office and he had even had a police escort to remove some of his possessions from my home, I had not found myself unprotected facing a situation, which could result in any outcome. Living with someone who has PTSD and goes through the cycle one becomes hyper vigilant. While I was unable to avoid the outbursts and had no control over it, I became very good at prognostication. Having been outside of that environment I no longer had an understanding his current emotional state and was also forced back into the fear I had lived with for so many years. I found myself almost overcome with fear.
He wanted to say me “You know, I don’t hate you” as if it were some way of offloading a bit of guilt. As if it were to say ALL I did was not a result of my hatred for you, as if he were expecting me to take responsibility for the infidelity, physical and emotional abuse. It seemed as if the statement was a self-serving act to again have some sort of control over a situation,in this case my life, in which he was no longer involved. I was utterly shocked. How does one respond to that? Was he really standing on my front porch expecting me to say that’s ok, no worries, or feel free to not be accountable for all of your actions. At that moment I was faced with how I would respond. All the thoughts of how I may have caused the relationship issues, of my accountability and interactions in the situation, of the importance of forgiveness had actually culminated into this? That was not even an apology. I noticed I was also assessing my physical safety if I did choose to respond. At that moment, almost an imperceptible split second I decided I should respond with all I had which were the facts.
I had the courage to say, “While you may not hate me, you have never loved me. You did not once treat me as if I were a person you valued or respected.” For I had learned many years ago that the opposite of love is not hate it is apathy. He had spent our entire marriage on the spectrum between hatred and apathy. At that moment I realized there would never be an apology, never an acknowledgement of the destructive behavior yet I no longer needed one either. I was at peace in that moment.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict – alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
It is better to give than to receive is a quote I encountered as a child; I find it is something I have carried within my heart. Giving takes many forms from helping those less fortunate to giving to those with which we have the closest most intimate relationships. I think the capacity to give of ourselves selflessly and wholly is somewhat a reflection of our ability to love in the same manner. Sharing that portion of myself with others is a direct extension of how I care for them. To share a smile is an exchange of a piece of my joy, to cook for those I love is a way to share not only nourishment but a bit of love and comfort, to give a gift or piece of my artwork it to share a memory and to give a compliment is to share the support and appreciation I have for the person. Giving is an essential part of who I am yet I am not sure why I am so challenged to receive. Why when the tables are turned, do I need to consciously remember to accept with the same openness?
I have always had difficulty accepting compliments. I had always thought this was partially because I was always encouraged to push myself. My mother wanted to raise strong independent women who could be self-sufficient. She afforded us praise when we achieved but always expected us to do our best. I thought my reception of a compliment; “thank you but….” was a direct result of that perpetual encouragement to be better. I have been quite surprised to find that many, many women have the same response. It seems that it is easier to minimize the compliment, almost dismiss it than it is to accept it and acknowledge the truth of the praise. I consciously work to say thank you and accept how others see me.
The greatest challenge for me comes from accepting other forms of giving. I am fully aware of the reasons why. My prior relationship had a component of power and control within it where gifts were given with ulterior motive and need was considered weakness. Anything accepted became fodder for a fire or explosion at a future date. I am aware I cannot assess the world based on the actions of one person.
I am learning to accept gifts with the same selflessness with which they are given. I work to practice gracious gratitude every day. There have been numerous time over the past few years where I realized that the love and support I had put into the world was serendipitously being returned to me. A friend arrived once with dinner at a point when I was very low. It was three meals and a bag of cookies which were delivered with the statement “Food is love and you are loved”. I have fed so many people in the same manner but never fully grasped the impact of my actions until that moment. Not only did that physically nourish me, but also fed my spirit and reminded me of the importance of kindness.
Last night a friend offered assistance to which I am grateful they took the time after a long day at work to share their knowledge to take care of something, which saved me both time and money. Not until I was driving home did I realize the gift went beyond what was fixed, this was the first time I accepted help without being guarded, without doubting the motive; I trusted in the sincerity of the offer. Driving home I found myself a bit teary eyed because I was given a gift so much greater than their time and support. Thank you for strengthening my trust by the selfless sincerity of your gifts.
“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa
I am blessed with so many very wonderful friends. They are loving and supportive while adding such perspective to my life. Last night I had dinner with two girlfriends who both have their own personal story of surviving domestic violence. I was asked, “How do I feel about my time navigating alone? Having the freedom to make my choices for myself?” At first, I was unsure of how to respond.
I explained I felt comfortable with navigating my path alone and have been for quite some time, many years for a matter of fact. I am financially secure, with a good job and the understanding of how most things in my life function so I can maintain and repair as needed. I explained I am lucky to be able to manage the household financially and physically. I did explain that it was nice to be able to make decisions without have the open defiance I had dealt with for so many years. I went on to explain that it is nice to know that there was no longer someone actively working to undermine my success. I am very relieved to no longer be hyper-vigilant; I have returned to living mindfully enjoying as many moment as possible.
I could openly talk about how there were times I miss having someone to share my fear with although I have never had that so maybe I was idealizing it. I have never had that “soft place to land”. I do not know what it is like to have the person who has chosen to “love you for better or worse, in sickness….” to hold out a hand to help you up when you stumble. I am aware that I have taken care of myself, solely for more than a quarter century. Saying that aloud makes me feel a bit old and exhausted. I am so fortunate to have friends who have supported me along my recent journey.
After everyone said their goodnights, I considered some of our conversation and came to the realization that not once was I asked why I stayed. Why I made the choices I did including standing firmly in a home, where I was resented and hated more than I would have ever been loved. That question tends to blame the victim. There is a shame that I fight when others ask that question. I have struggled with being a survivor of domestic violence at times finding myself in a battle between shame and guilt. Guilt are the feelings that result when your reality do not align with what you want or believe. Guilt is where one acknowledges their mistakes focusing on their action or relationship to the situation. Guilt affords us a way to learn and release the burden. Shame is when one blames oneself for the situation we choose to internalize and carry the burden. While I take full responsibility , I am embarrassed by my choices, I chose to stay in a situation that was not healthy for me, for choosing to not love myself enough to remove myself from that situation. I am riddled with guilt over this but I cannot feel ashamed. If I were ashamed, I would internalize his actions and accept all responsibility for the abuse. I would openly acknowledge I have learned nothing from this experience, which is not true. I would blame myself, which would greatly affect my self-worth. Processing the guilt and learning to forgive myself has allowed me to heal.
The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.
-Hubert H. Humphrey
Having lived in the land of shifting expectations, I am able to grasp the impacts on both the acquiescent and the entitled. Having survived a home where PTSD created a hyper-vigilance within me; I was perpetually planning, always looking forward and not embracing the moment thus, I am continually evaluating how I live and interact with those around me. I believe it is essential to live mindfully, to value every breath and embrace all it has to offer. I am not naïve enough to think that there are not challenges. Human nature causes us to understands and assimilate our experiences based on our past. Also I am not saying one should not have boundaries. Having been through a relationship that was riddled with emotional abuse and physical intimidation I actually have a list of experiences and behaviors I will not tolerate. Yet I arrive at this point, considering what I believe to be the foundation of relationships, familial, social, or romantic.
Having a recent conversation on a friend and her disappointment with a colleague I was surprised the number of times I heard “… but I expected”. Another similar situation with a friend talking about her significant other and the recent challenges they face “…he didn’t” and “… I expected him to…”. This creates pitfalls and ensures frustrations. Were the expectations communicated? Did you share your frustration? What accountability do you have in the situation? Are the typical responses yet I am not sure I agree. This too made me consider what I think of relationships. What is my view of those interactions?
I believe a relationship, be it friendship or otherwise is a gift! It is something for me to embrace and appreciate. A person has allowed me to share their life and I should not impose ideals on those interactions. Focusing on those expectations will set me up for sorrow. I will either laboriously attempt to make the relationship fit those ideals or will find myself in a perpetual cycle of hope and disappointment.
I deeply believe love is about what I give; “I love you” and it should be offered without condition. I would be truly blessed if I can find that same unconditional offering in return. I suppose this all comes down to where my focus lies; I choose that to be what I can give. I think the ability to give fully and to offer unconditional are some of the greatest qualities I can share. I cannot say that it is easy at times the prospect is scary but desire to live in the light of joy and happiness outweighs that fear!
“Happiness is living without expectations. “
– Peter Cajander