So in my last therapy session I was confronted by an interesting disparity which was framed in a question. I was sharing an incident that had occurred in a public place which lead the discussion back to PTSD and how that will continue to impact my life at a variety of levels and coping mechanisms. I get the logic of the healing, knowing that I need to practice my mindfulness exercises and be cognizant of my thoughts and situations. Although this is challenging to process, to say I am a survivor and as a result have my own challenges, that is not really the disparate thoughts that were a shock. We were discussing the fact I had a confrontation with my ex earlier in the week and how I handled it.
I was picking up my youngest and he held his hand in “that” position, the one where I know he is plotting his approach into an attack. While I am typically at an elevated level of awareness in that situation, I saw that and was at a ten and then he said, “I don’t want to start and argument but….” and I realized what was about to occur. I closed the car door so my child would not hear how I was going to be spoken to, squared my feet and made a choice to speak take control of the conversation. I calmly but firmly said, “ When you predicate a conversation with I do not want to argue clearly shows that is your intention, what do you want to say?” At my core, I was scared, shaken by my courage and the potential fallout. I saw control shift, I saw his battle plan fall apart. I climbed into the car and drove away all the while I was falling apart inside. The therapist asked how or why I had found my voice with him. Even through the years of trying to end my marriage I never quite spoke my words with confidence and never assertiveness.
At that moment I realized that for years, I had evaluated every situation as a risk assessment, how can I interact, how safe is it if I respond this way or that. My upbringing was with a mother who pushed me to achieve, to fight for what I wanted to earn and to advocate for what I needed which was what I would often do with the outside world but in my own home that part of myself was lost in battle. I was a walking example of dissonance, for in public and in my work life I often navigated with what others perceived as confidence, and while there may have been fear of reprisal I often chose to stand up for myself and what was right, usually when risk was minimal. I have spent my lifetime playing the risk/danger game, at least until about a year ago when I started learning to trust, when I stopped assessing the risk within certain relationships. I had often kept relationships at arm’s length, never allowing intimacy in any form as a way to buffer and need to explain my private life. My siblings and those few friends I have had for decades had no idea which is common in any type of any abusive relationship. It took a few years in my marriage to learn that my reactions could fuel the situation or at the very least provide dangerous ammunition for me to be more damaged. As a result of that, I had kept many of my concerns, emotions, and fears to myself, tucking them into neat packages and hidden deep in my heart. I could easily take a stand outside my home but in what was to be the most important relationship I was cornered and not permitted to be myself functioning in survival mode. Therein lies the disparity, I put on my mask of bravery and faced the world only to know I had no strength or courage at home.
As I walked from the office I was asking myself why I had been essentially two different people existing in the same body? I do understand the survival tactics. I thought of the day I learned to take my stand and the support I received from those in my small circle of friends. One day the ex arrived on my porch to collect the children only to announce, “You know I do not hate you.” Having spent hours trying to understand the manipulative and abusive behavior, feeling like my entire life had been a lie I could not hold my tongue. Although I had tried to set boundaries and stand up for myself for some years especially after I had been through therapy and learned of co-dependence and addiction, this is the first time I recall speaking my voice with strength and determination, “You may not hate me but you have never loved me.” I closed the door, locking the deadbolt and crumbled in the floor in flood of fear and tears. The day I found my voice was the beginning of courage to stand my ground.
My circle of friends would listen and at times note that current behavior was not appropriate. I have a very dear friend who encouraged me more than once to fight back, he reminded me of the importance to make my stand and enforce my boundaries. The subsequent encouragement had helped me finish reconciling the disparate voices into one. I was also thinking of the sad fact I learned to control my reactions, my startle reflex was often hidden, all of my survival techniques have been both a benefit and curse; for in interactions with others, calm composed responses are reassuring but I still tucked my pain away. I am just learning to be vulnerable with intimate relationships, trusting in the kindness of another, that same dear friend. I had worked diligently to face my fear so shift from being guarded to be open and trust, I understood why I struggle with trust and vulnerability yet I had never acknowledged the extent of the disparity of my voice prior to that moment. While there are still moments of fear and anxiety I will never again lose the strength to speak my truth.
“Take a stand and speak your truth. Realize you are worthy of being loved and don’t let anyone treat you less than..”
~ Melanie Koulouris