Monday, April 13, 2015

Who Gets to Control Me?

For the majority of my life I have ceded control of my life, including decisions, beliefs, values, and morals to others in an attempt to gain approval.  I first wanted God's approval and was taught that the only way to get that was through works, holiness and perpetual repentance.  The theology I was raised in taught that while I might live a life of holiness (without which no one can see God), if in a moment of weakness I sinned and God returned before I had repented, I would not be taken in the rapture.  God was a tyrant who was mercurial and not to be trusted.

The family I was raised in was incredibly dysfunctional, and still is.  I was taught that the only way to have my needs met was to go along with whatever dictate the family issued.  Someone was always "in" in the family and and someone was always "out."  You never knew when your status could change from favored one to disfavored one and you never knew why the status changed.  It just did.  My family still insists that I live by the rules and roles they have established for me--after 58 years nothing has changed.  But I have.

The churches I attended have provided the same message--you can't lead even though God has gifted you with leadership capabilities because we don't believe it is scriptural.  You can't wear makeup or cut your hair or wear pants because we have determined that it is not within the standard of holiness, as we define it.  You must submit to you husband in everything because he is your spiritual head--it doesn't matter that he is a child molester and has turned to child pornography for sexual gratification.  Just go home and keep him happy.  Don't think for yourself and for goodness sake, don't make decisions for yourself!  You are a woman, a weaker vessel and it is because of you that sin entered the world.

I married a man who, though I thought he was prince charming, turned out to be a very very sick man.  I sensed from the very early days of our marriage that something had changed--that he didn't fully accept me or maybe even love me.  So I made vows to make myself into just the kind of person he wanted.  He didn't like country music, neither did I (but I really did enjoy some of it).  He didn't like sports, neither did I. He didn't trust personality profiles or psychological testing, then neither did I.  Always wanting to please and always knowing that I never measured up.

And then in a horrible traumatic way, I learned what it would take to please him.  And were it possible for me to do or be what he desired, I would refuse.  I simply could not/would not become a child again.

A number of months ago I wrote about the most horrible but best Christmas gift I ever received.  I didn't know it then but it was my Emancipation Proclamation and Declaration of Independence wrapped messily in one announcement.  He no longer wanted to be married to me; we made the decision to divorce.

For three years, I have struggled to survive and to recover from a lifetime of appeasement and approval-seeking.  For three years I have worked hard to identify those areas of my life that created vulnerabilities and made me willing to sacrifice myself on the altar of another's desires and preferences.  I have learned that I made those sacrifices in order to try to control something that I did not cause and could not cure.  I have learned that I ceded my personal power to another, that I gave myself away--that I betrayed and abandoned my inner child, that young bride and now a middle-aged woman.  I did this to me.  This is my sickness.

So in the quest to rediscover or maybe discover for the first time this self that I had so abandoned, I made the decision to date and recently accepted a wonderful man's proposal of marriage.  It is a decision that has been met with incredible resistance, anger and rejection by some in my family.  And the choice is offered to me again--acquiesce or be rejected and/or abandoned.  Change course or we will offer you the gift of the silent treatment.  Go back to the way you've always been, stay in the role we know you for or I/we cannot/will not accept you.

This time the answer is a resounding NO!"  I will not abandon myself again for the sake of another, no matter how much I love that person.  I shouldn't be asked to.  It should not be a requirement of love given or received.  My responsibility now is what it always has been--take care of me.  It is sad that it has taken me over five decades to figure this out.  But I've learned this important lesson and my vow to myself is to never cede power over me to another.  I am the only one who gets to control me.  In reverence and submission to my PapaGod, it is my job to make decisions for myself.  It is a sacred duty that I owe myself and I am determined to fulfill it at last.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Words to the Broken Woman that was Me

I recently read the heart wrenching words of yet another woman betrayed by her pedophile partner.  Her shock, dismay and fear resonated deeply within my heart--how well I remember those days--days when fear of the future overwhelmed any sense of hope that my children and I could possibly emerge from the nightmare that had suddenly enfolded us.  Words of comfort sprang into my mind--I wanted so much to communicate hope and healing to yet another broken woman whose life, marriage and world had just exploded.  I wanted to tell her what I needed to hear when I sat in my own grief and anguish and yet I know that she cannot hear words of comfort just yet.  For now, she simply needs to cry and she needs individuals who will create and hold space for her to do just that.

So allow me to talk for a bit to that wounded woman who was me just three short years ago.  Here is what I want her to know; these are the concepts I have learned by living them.  This is an assurance that I can offer from the perspective of distance, time and healing.  This is my letter to my own self and to all women who discover that their lives are not what they believed them to be.

Dearest Broken Woman,

I see you sitting in the ash heap of what once looked like a beautiful life.  You are devastated by a betrayal of incredible proportion and you fear what is yet to come.  You sift through the soot and debris looking for something that remains--some remnant of the life you once knew.  The intensity of your aloneness is profound; you feel like a pariah, a leper, an untouchable.  You are raw from the pain and your eyes have shed more tears than you thought was humanly possible.  You long for human comfort and compassion but unfortunately have learned already that few are able to be present in the way that you need them to be.  I am so sorry, so very sorry.

I want you to know that this is not the end of your story or your defining moment.  You will survive this because you are far stronger than you ever imagined.  This devastation is not the final chapter of your life; there is more, so much more--and it will be good.  You will laugh again and experience joy and maybe even love.  You cannot imagine that at this moment but it is true.  You have a future and a hope and your needs will be provided for.  I cannot tell you how but I know from experience that they will be.  And though you feel completely alone, you are being held close by the God who collects your tears and saves them in His bottle.  He has not abandoned or rejected you; this did not catch Him by surprise.

Please hear me when I say this:  you did not cause this, you could not control it and you certainly cannot cure it.  Maybe you've tried (assuming you knew what your partner was up to).  Whether you knew or not, you certainly tried to maintain a good relationship with him, working hard to keep him interested and connected with you and your relationship.  But this is bigger than you and you bear no responsibility for the crimes he has committed.  Repeat that to yourself again and again until it begins to sink into your heart.  You did not do this and you certainly do not deserve it.  This happened to you; you did not do it.

You grieve for your children.  Whether they were victims of his perpetrating behavior or not, they have suffered a grievous loss--a loss of innocence, trust and a parent who may have been a good father to them.  But your children are stronger than you think and they are incredibly resilient.  They are suffering and their lives will never be the same but living in truth always trumps living inside of a falsehood, even a pretty one.  As difficult as this time is for them, they are learning important truths about their father--truths that with love and support may empower them to make different choices in life.

My dearest sister, please don't give up.  It may seem easier to just end it but don't add that to the burden your children must bear.  You will see better days; the memory of this pain will never go away completely but the intensity of it will diminish.  Don't opt for a permanent solution to a temporary problem--choose to embrace life, even the pain it brings because in the end, life is good.  This devastation will be redeemed and one day you will look back on this incredibly painful time as a necessary and good thing.

Hang on!  Reach out to at least one trusted person when you need to; don't be afraid to tell your story again and again and again and again--as long as it takes to digest what just happened to you.  Give yourself space and time to heal and don't be afraid to feel the pain when it comes.  Know that grief is much like the waves crashing on the shore--it comes in quickly and envelops one in pain, confusion and despair.  But just as sure as it came in, it will recede again.  Take a deep breath and plunge into it because that is the path to healing.

You are not alone--there are many of us--far too many to count.  You are not alone and you will survive.  I promise that you will.

Your sister,