Looking In From the Outside

It probably would have been nothing to anyone else. Just words, sounds…something somebody else was involved in and had no personal bearing whatsoever.

But not for me.

For me, it was a return to a past I’ve tried hard to put behind me; a return to feelings, thoughts and experiences that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy; a return to thoughts about myself that I have fought tooth and nail to destroy.

And all I did was walk outside my door.

On a recent, hot summer night I walked to my car to go to the grocery store and I’d heard it.

The shouts.

The cries and whimpers.

The undeniable sound of someone being hit and someone else pursuing them

I was paralyzed.

Do I do something for this person I don’t know?

I heard my mind tell me to get involved but my heart to stay away. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just a quick argument and it will end.

And yet, an hour later, when I’d returned from the store, it was still going on

I felt my mind shutting down, trying to create the safe space in which I had lived for so long in preparation for the battle to come to me.

It was probably the wrong decision, but I turned away. I went inside and tried to pretend I hadn’t heard what I did or at least convince myself it was nothing. I told nobody and worked with every ounce of strength in me to pretend that the evening was normal and for all intents and purposes it was.

Except that my whole body shook and I couldn’t sleep that night. I started blankly at the television hoping a silly comedy would take me someplace else. When that didn’t happen, I picked up my book – the one place I could always escape when I was young, but even that failed to help turn off the echoes I my head. No, I couldn’t hear the fight anymore, but that didn’t mean anything. In my mind, I was right back where I had been so many times before.

The next morning brought bright sunshine and no sign of any damage. Anyone else would never have known there had been shouts, screams, and beatings going on and I was able to start moving toward believing it was a one time thing.

But then I came home from work only to be confronted by the same sounds only louder, more aggressive this time. I couldn’t turn away; I couldn’t pretend it was nothing because in that moment, I was the neighbor across the street from my mothers house growing up; I was that person walking along the canal that turned a blind eye to the screams and cries I heard because it wasn’t my business.

I couldn’t do it.

The police were called.

But for me, the drama  wasn’t over.

You see, I have moved back to the neighborhood where a majority of the abuse in my life occurred and while I have been able to move past those things through the years, being confronted by those unforgettable sounds in the same place opened a window to look at those same actions from a new perspective.

I had hoped that, were I to be given a chance to do this in my adulthood, I would have been more successful in seeing things more objectively but, at least on these evenings, this was not the case.

As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, watching the police talk to the couple to decide what needed to be done, I felt connected to the abused person. On the one hand, I could feel the sense of relief knowing she had the opportunity to get away and find someplace safe, But on the other hand, I felt the sense of fear this woman may be feeling about the potential repercussions she would face when they returned to the home, which she most certainly would.

I also felt unsubstantiated fear for myself. Would the abuser know that it was me that put these things in motion? Would he come after me next? I suddenly saw myself walking the way I did in my childhood – head down, eyes seeing only the concrete in hopes that I could make myself as inconspicuous as possible.

Over the course of several days, in many ways I returned to who I was as an abused child. The sense of shame for who I was, the things I have done and have been done to me, and the way those things have undeniably altered who I am was almost unbearable. I felt myself retreating even further, rebuilding walls I had worked so hard to tear down.

The thing is, I know that I am safe. My neighborhood has no power over me and being there has, as I’ve said before, brought some level of healing to old wounds. But being able to see these actions from the outside also opened my eyes to how what these things may have looked like to the neighbors that surrounded me as a child.

Were they equally horrified or did they pretend not to hear?

Did they cry for me or assume it was nothing?

I sincerely hope that they were not as affected as I was – that they were not thrown into a tail spin that affected work, personal relationships and sleep just because they heard violent argument after violent argument.

But I also cannot help but wonder for the millionth time in my life why they didn’t do anything to help. There were no knocks on the door from kind neighbors or police; there were no teachers reaching out to social services nor were there friends’ parents reaching out to offer support or refuge.

And it made me hurt all over again.

To feel alone and worthless.

Now before you go getting all up in arms about the fact that God was there and He is the reason I survived, believe me, I am aware. I know for a fact that He is the reason I have been able to become the woman I am; that I was able to live and not become a lifelong victim and for this I am more grateful than I can express.

But even with this knowledge, I can say for certainty that have no desire to look in from the outside at any more of the experiences that created me. Some things are best left unexamined from that perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

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Loving at a Distance

wills20picI guess I should have seen it coming.

Actually, I guess I did but it still was a bit of a shock.

I was written out of the will.

Yep, It was official. I was being cut out of someone’s life in one of the most official ways possible.

What had I done to warrant such an action?

In plain and simple terms, I had stood up for myself. I decided I could no longer pretend everything was ok and that I could continue to have or work toward the relationship this person, my stepfather, desired.

I know that makes me sound particularly cold particularly since my mother died a few years ago and he is now alone. It was that very thing that encouraged me to maintain a relationship with him for the past 4 years.

It was easier before when having a relationship at a distance. The occasional call to Illinois to offer support and an ear wasn’t a huge sacrifice and I could feel like despite our history, that I was honoring my mother in some way by making sure he was being taken care of.. Sure, the calls had their challenges as well – the demands became bigger over time, the push for visits more frequent – but the distance kept things manageable. In October that all changed.

3150376-quotes-about-feeling-hurt-insideNow this man returned to my (and his) home state after a 30 year absence, my buffer zone evaporated and so did my ability to offer support at a distance.

At a distance, I didn’t have to see this man who had abused me, belittled me, and nearly killed me face to face. I could see him as a sad, lonely and struggling elderly person who just wanted to be a part of my life. But having him just a few miles away brought back memories and feelings I thought I had long since cut away from my heart and mind.

I found myself fearing to be in the same room with him for any length of time; becoming anxious every time the phone rang in fear that it may be him and then it was, being gripped with fear because of what he may say or want from me.

And I hated these feelings.

I hated the sense of weakness and powerlessness I felt and was angered by how these feelings not only made me feel like less of a person, but less of a Christian.

How could I as a Christian turn my back on someone in need – someone who was otherwise almost completely alone in this world because of the choices he had made when he was an active alcoholic? How could I purposefully choose to walk away from someone who was trying to show people he was no longer the person they remembered?

Over the past several weeks, I came to realize that even though he was not actively drinking, the person he had been in my memory was still very much a part of who he still is. While he offered an apology, he never actually took responsibility for actions he either remembered or were told to him. And much as I desired to be that amazing person that could be there for my “enemy” on a daily basis,  I understood I had to take a stand and choose my emotional and spiritual health over that of my stepfathers.2100300694-feeling-powerless-and-not-acting-is-like-being-hungry-and-choosing-not-to-eat-naoshad-pochkhanawala

But to say this was a difficult choice is akin to saying that climbing a 14-er here in Colorado is an afternoon stroll.

I wanted to believe that having forgiven my stepfather and mother for the things they had done to me in the past created a new starting place in my heart where I could see them as new beings, free from the pain of my past. For months, I heard the echoes of sermons from my past telling me that Jesus forgives more than we ever could and I am to be like Jesus. Sermons which reminded me that we are called to turn the other cheek when wronged and to go further than even our enemies require of us. If I am going to be a true Christian, am I not called to welcome this person back into my life and allow Jesus to tend to the hurt that comes as a result?

In a word, no.

Jesus doesn’t call us to martyr ourselves in His name any more than He calls us to go lay down on the nearest train tracks to test whether or not He’ll stop the speeding train from running us over. Neither of these things are acts of a loving God.

What Jesus and God do call us to do is to love others. Not just love the people we want to love or that are easy to love, but to love. Period. That in and of itself is the sacrifice God calls each of us to make and it is enough. It’s our humanity that makes us feel the need to do something other than love. We are action oriented. We feel like we have to make grand gestures to prove we have forgiven and moved on but God knows our hearts. If we forgive and choose to love, we are doing God’s will every single time.

I will admit that this piece is unbelievably hard. I want God to allow me to seek revenge for the ways in which I was wronged. I want to others to be able to punish those who wronged them and to feel awesome after we’ve achieved our revenge. But the thing is, as humans, we want to more. We aren’t capable of extending only the perfect amount of retribution for a wrongdoing because our emotions get in the way. We escalate and then the next guy escalates and soon we’re cutting off legs for trespassing. That’s exactly why in Exodus God tells the people we may only seek an eye for an eye. God knows that we are incapable of providing exact judgment that when Jesus came, He removed us from the equation entirely.

God knows exactly how much each of us have been wronged and how much we have wronged others. He alone knows the path we each must walk to rectify our wrongdoings. He will never and has never stopped loving us when we were wronged nor when we were wronging others and He calls us to love in that same selfless way.

And believe it or not, it was this selfless love that allowed me to make the chofind-your-wayice that I did in regards to my stepfather.

What I have come to understand is that proximity does not equal love. I have the right to protect myself emotionally, physically and spiritually. God wants us all to be safe and to make wise decisions in regards to our life. Doing so doesn’t make me less of a person or less of a Christian. To be the Christian woman God calls me to be means loving despite the pain but when necessary loving at a distance; to offer forgiveness, let go of the anger that tethers us to our pain, choose love as the proper replacement of that anger and then walk away…in love.

 

A Different Type of Independence

635954034872811688592040105_heart-rate-monitorI was 10 years old the first time someone saved my life.

My parents had recently divorced, my brother was no longer living with my mom and I and when he visited, the encounters were filled with anger and drunkenness from my mother’s side and anger and fear from my brother and my side (at least, I assume he was at least a little bit scared, but maybe I have projected that onto him all these years since).

My mom and I had moved to a new house where I was the new kid in school. I was awkward and shy, didn’t know anyone and had no idea how to fit in.

I needed an escape.

The small round tablets tasted sweet on my tongue as I swallowed handful after handful, waiting for the ache in my heart to disappear.

Like many young people who attempt suicide, death wasn’t really a concept I fully grasped and therefore not really what I wanted. I just wanted the soul-sucking ache in my heart to stop for just a little while.

I awoke under huge, glaring lights with what appeared to be dozens of people surrounding me, but it was likely only 3 or 4. I had overdosed and had fallen into a coma. I was in the hospital having undergone stomach pumping and a spinal tap. I was pelted with questions from every direction.

Why did I take the pills?

Had my brother made me take them?

What were they?

Where did I get them?

I did my best to answer all of the questions but trying to put my brokenness into words at the ripe old age of 10 was more than I knew how to do. I yearned for someone to see past the action itself and try to understand the aching of my heart; to see me and try to help.

Two people did.

Or maybe it was just one but he dragged his partner along.

I wish I remembered their names, but it, along with many other tidbits of my life has fallen away. But I do know that they were the drivers of the ambulance that carried me from one hospital to another (and suffered a kick to the groin in thanks for giving me a spinal tap). lifebuzz-8f27ab3a564f399b93978d77f25fef10-limit_2000

They came to visit me several times while I recovered in the hospital and somehow with their presence in my room, I felt they understood and my heart broke when they came to say their last goodbye.

I was 15 when I was saved once again.

I had been at rehearsal for a play – my first.

We had worked endlessly to perfect a dance number for the opening of Carnival and I was finally dropped off at home around midnight.

I recall clearly that the person who dropped me off told me she didn’t want to leave me at my house; that something was wrong. It was no secret that things at my house were often sketchy, but this was different. The entire look of the house was dark, foreboding.

I got out of the car telling my friend she could leave. Whatever was going to happen needed to happen.

Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure that my answer would have been the same.

The normal drunkenness which typically met me when I returned brought with it more violence this night than it ever had before. Had the chair I sat in not broken, I likely would not have survived the events that transpired.

Two days later, after telling my high school boyfriend of the terrible events, he and a dozen or so of his closest friends piled into 6 cars to drive me to my mother’s house and move me out.

To say I was terrified would be an understatement of tremendous proportion. I knew the potential violence that awaited me and warned every person that offered to help. I gave them strict orders to run if I said to and to not look back.

They got me out.

The move and the days that followed were so tremendously traumatic, I honestly do not know if I ever thanked the people who I believe helped to save my life that night.

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I was 39 the last time I was saved.

My marriage had ended and, as I’ve said before, I had nothing. A very loving and generous couple from the church with which I sang offered me their pool house to live in while I got my feet on the ground. Their kindness was a salve to my wounded heart and mind. I know that I was likely not the best tenant they had ever had and I am certain that I have never fully expressed my thanks in way that would let them know how truly grateful I am for their assistance.

All of these people – those that I knew and those I didn’t – sacrificially gave me something that nobody else could offer.

They gave me independence.

Independence from fear, from abuse, from homelessness and starvation.

Each and every one of them has a piece of my heart that will never be replaced by another. They were all physical representations of God’s love for me at those specific times and there is no way I can ever possibly repay them, so instead I choose to take this moment to express my gratitude.

Thank you for your sacrifices – monetary and otherwis – which you freely gave with no expectation of return.

For those known and unknown,thank you for believing I was worth saving and for working so hard to do so. Because you believed in me, I was able to believe a little bit as well.

Most of all, thank you for hearing that voice of God inside your hearts and heeding it so I could grow to become the person I am today. I realize I am far from “finished”, but your gifts were and continue to be blessings I carry forward with every opportunity.

I pray that as we enter into this celebration of the liberty of our country each of you know that I would gladly light up the sky with fireworks if it would give you a glimpse into my overflowing heart. Since I cannot do that, please think of me when you see those beautiful sparks fly and know that each and every one of them represents just a piece of the gratitude that I have for each of you.

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