I do not always get the subtleties in interactions albeit I have tried to learn, spending hours studying people’s conversations and correspondence and still miss the fact that a question is so much more that what is asked. I tend to default to the literal, know it’s the safe response, divulging the minimum which can be a result of spending years living guarded as much as it is the foundation of my thinking, logic. I find the concept of questioning in and of itself intriguing. For instance asking the right question can answer more that is intended. The fact that some questions should never be asked, for instance “Why didn’t you just leave?”. Questions can also assist with someone telling their story and must be asked.
I find the frankness of some conversations liberating but carried away from one something to mull over. Someone very close to me said, it would have been so much easier for you to know if he had just hit you outright. Although true and something I had thought to myself before it intrigued me that someone else had the audacity to say it. That resounded in my thoughts for quite some time. As I considered the implication of overt violence and the choice I may have been forced to make, I connected the statement to a conversation I had a long time ago. I was ask “Did he ever hit you?”
Here in lie some of the subtleties I miss. I took that literally. He never raised his fist to punch me, nor did I receive a sharp slap yet his hands did leave marks. I suppose the question was framed to understand the fact if I had lived in a home filled with anger and at time violence yet I missed the mark. I have always grappled with the fact I am a “survivor” of domestic abuse. Did the semantics of my response allow me to sidestep the pain and humiliations that I associate with that title? Did it allow me to divert the guilt and shame I feel from persisting in a relationship where I was not valued? Would I answer it differently, although without ease, now?
I also realize the statement about being struck was not for me to contemplate. She said it because she was trying to assimilate the situation, to understand why I had stayed. She was saying it for herself and was seeking validation, as if I were suppose to say, yes if it were clearly black and white, there would have been no question. We all know that the world is just delineated shades of darkness with the occasional blessing of light. Nothing is black or white.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire
Living with “what if’s” is such a waste of time and energy. While we can look back, we can only impact our lives in the present and continue to move forward. I had to explain this again recently to someone who continues to reconcile the facts of my past of which they are aware. If I left the first time anger and threats drove a friend from my life, I would have never married; the first time shame was used as a mean to control me, I would not have my eldest child; the first time I felt fear to my core I would have left while pregnant with my daughter ; the first time shame and humiliation revealed my intimate relation was dysfunctional and without choice, I would have had only one child; the first time an injury was blamed on my actions I would only have two children; the first time my financial stability was undermined I would have not had the wherewithal to stand on my own two feet and provide for my children; the time I chose to return after I had a plan to leave, I would have my advanced degree and tenure and not my third child, the first time I rationalized the facts of infidelity away, the first time I made an excuse for his behavior, the first time I realized I was loathed by the person who vowed to love me for better or worse, the first time he said he was not a bad husband because he did not beat me….. The list can be quite extensive. Through the explanation this week, I also had an old friend surface, the one driven from my life with the first act of anger, to touch base as done from time to time, so again I was facing a part of my past that I have worked to reconcile.
Living with ex post facto decision making can undermine my peace and keep me from moving forward yet I do believe we should learn from experiences. I am grappling with the fact that apparently there is something I need to learn from the continual surfacing of these items but cannot find the meaning. Am I needing to acknowledge the fact there is no control over my life? Am I to be learning from a single event? What meaning am I overlooking?
“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein
As with everything in life, strength is in a limited supply. We each possess only a small amount that must be treasured and reserved until its use is necessary. A life lived with extreme hyper-vigilance is exhausting at best. When one uses shame as a means of control, the victim learns to protect themselves in a way that is not common, what one thinks as being strong was merely a façade of protection. Add to it that the fact that weakness would become ammunition, finding fault became the standard, and sharing fears, concerns or hopes never occurred, living guarded in one’s own “sanctuary” is really not a life. Being vulnerable was not acceptable, an imperfection that could not be tolerated.
For almost two decades, I lived without a support structure, with no soft place to land. I learned to manage things on my own, at times with great opposition. Because of my life, I learned to keep my circle of friend very close, privacy offered me a sense of stability. As a result, my friends are close, are genuine and authentic in deed with our relationship being based on respect and support. We have grown through many laughs and tears. I am not sure they are aware of the fact but I have learned a bit about vulnerability from them although I still have moments where I find the need to default to guarding myself.
Now I am faced with a blessing that extends beyond words. Although I still have fleeting moments of fear when faced with vulnerability I continually find myself growing from those moment. Where respect and honor which fosters courage and strength; I no longer feel the susceptibility I once did. Those moments where I would have once retreated into a place of security have been replaced with a resolute openness that is met with a listening ear and an open heart. Where judgment and shame once built a barrier to my world, now there is compassion, empathy, encouragement and trustworthiness which has created beauty. Where my fears, concerns or even hopes would have once been dismissed, devalued, or even disgraced, there is now a source of support and encouragement which feeds my strength to continue. Words cannot express the depth of my gratitude for such grace.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu