I married young, too young and too naive to truly understand. I am still not sure if I will ever know if the man who I married was making conscious choices to manipulate and isolate or if everything that followed was a result of his struggles with PTSD and substance abuse. While I suppose that is irrelevant, the fallout from all of that was a burden I carried for many years. For the greater part of the first decade of my marriage, I worked to reconcile the behavior of which I had never seen. I learned to understand the signs of an impending incident, diffuse situations, and recover from the damage but most of all I learned to be guarded, to protect myself and find my own worth independent of others actions. When one’s self-loathing rears its evil head as an assault on your value it can be a challenge to overcome those battle wounds. Being constantly reminded of how one does not measure up, you begin to assess your own self-worth through another’s eyes. Years later I still tend to still avoid looking at myself in certain ways, not even considering aspects of myself because I know there exists an eroded sense of worth tied to something where there should be no need to assess a value.
While I struggled through those times I developed a few things; some strong walls to protect myself, a very strong aversion to vulnerability and an understanding of the true meaning of love. We as all animals learn through conditioning, when you step on the cat’s tail enough, she learns to keep it tucked in and protected. I learn to live protected, never sharing my feeling, fears, thoughts, opinions and dreams. There were a very few number of people I would share those with and that didn’t include anyone in my home. While a survival mechanism, it is not skill I want to carry forward in my life. I do want to carry with me the lessons I learned on the value of unconditional love even though they were learned through conditions and expectations. It is essential to offer love and acceptance without presumption, expectation or condition. Love is not about what one gains but solely about what one can give. I am able to love my children as such and while there are rules to follow, they are loved wholly, irrelevant of those standards of performance. My small circle of siblings and friends are also loved regardless of their opinions or actions. The foundation of respect and an understanding our imperfections makes us perfect allows that unconditional acceptance to flourish. All of those opportunities are a blessing.
I understand I no longer lived fully encompassed in those fortress like walls I had constructed but I should share my feelings, both of joy and fear. While I do have moments of self-doubt, I am continually reassured that taking those risks and being vulnerable are worth so much more that the risk I perceived they have. I think the largest shift in my perspective was when I realized I am rarely afraid of being hurt, no longer so I concern myself with that pain that can come from the actions and intentions of others. My concerns are now only based in my impact on others. What if I cannot remove enough of the fortress to be as open and loving as needed? What if I cannot offer the right type of support? Those moments of self-doubt arise from time to time. I chose to face those fears and work to overcome them by persisting down my path, focusing on my personal growth, what I can give with and open heart filled with love all based on a foundation of honesty and respect.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis