recovering from abuse

Celebrating singleness

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Today is February 14th, the dreaded Valentine’s Day.

Not many people really enjoy this holiday (if they were being totally honest). And if you are trying to recover from an abusive relationship, it can be painful and depressing.

While many single women might be feeling lonely or forgotten, desiring some male attention, I am celebrating singleness.

Singleness to me means:

  1. Independence
  2. Self-determination
  3. Focus on self-care
  4. Healthy selfishness
  5. Choices
  6. Freedom

I grew up watching Hollywood’s version of the male/female relationship, one in which a female waits for a male to find her desirable so that he will choose her. Validation always came from a male, and was something which women needed in order to feel valuable. This is the perfect set-up for an abusive marriage.

Desirable women were portrayed as glamorous, sexy, and alluring. Marriageable women were portrayed as quiet, demur, and subject to the wishes of fathers and suitors. Women were presented as virginal, sluts, or eccentric.

But let no one misunderstand: the independent ones usually ended up alone.

Now 56 years old, I feel that I am much wiser, and, at the least, much more discriminating. I critically evaluate attitudes and cultural norms found in entertainment. I have worked to discard many of the values that I picked up from such influences.

On this Valentine’s Day I can declare that I am happily, almost giddily delighted to find myself single and alone (relationship-wise — I have a house filled with male offspring).

I am not mourning the loss of my marriage (anymore). I am not feeling sad and alone (anymore). I am not beating myself up because my marriage failed (anymore). And, most of all, I am not feeling abandoned, discarded, rejected or unloved (anymore).

I enjoy my own company and thinking my own thoughts.

On this Valentine’s Day 2017, I am celebrating my freedom to choose where I go and what I do. Instead of this being a holiday that focuses on romantic love, for me it is more of an independence day.

I think I’ll buy myself some flowers. Daisies, I think!

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Vulnerability

Leaving class yesterday, I found myself in a conversation with a fellow student, one that is older than me even. During class discussion on the mythology of the family, the mother and the father, I had disclosed something personal to make a point.

It is interesting how some men, and occasionally women, feel that a personal disclosure is an invitation to freely give advice, copious amounts of advice. Although I enjoyed the conversation because it was a personal connection with another human being that went beyond the superficial, I also walked away with a sense of dissatisfaction. Something was amiss.

It took a night’s sleep to identify the source of this feeling: there was a tone of patriarchy in every comment he made about my life. Allow me to explain.

I had disclosed that when I separated from my husband (instigated by me, by the way), I was suddenly faced with an identity crisis. I had been a wife for over 20 years. Suddenly, I was not that person anymore. If I wasn’t a wife, then who was I?

This fellow student (an older black man) and I talked about our educational dreams where I disclosed my desire to graduate from a Texas university, hopefully one located in Austin (my favorite city in the whole world).

I know that in his misguided way he was trying to be supportive. But it went way beyond that when he started delving into my personal attitudes and dreams. I hadn’t invited him in. In analyzing the conversation, I believe that some sense of patriarchal protectiveness, me being the weaker female sex, had kicked in at some point.

Vulnerability will send signals to some people that we, as women, need to be rescued, protected, and guided if we are to find our way in whatever new world we find ourselves. It is no mistake that I spent a full year pretty much locked up in my house after my second, permanent separation from my husband. I felt that no one in my life was safe to be around while I figured out who I was and what I was going to do.

I was so raw, so vulnerable that any voice, no matter how well-intentioned, could assert itself into my vulnerable, very susceptible self, and I would have been powerless to resist. The only way I could survive with my self intact was to limit outside voices.

I was grieving, mourning the loss of an identity that I had built over a 20-year period. That self was dead. That was the day that I began to build my new, independent, determined self.

A year ago, an interaction such as yesterday’s might have set me back quite a bit, leaving me to sift through the words of another to find out which were true and which were not. In the past, I had been so vulnerable that I might have considered his advice as one that should be given great consideration.

The bottom line is that this man is not my friend. He is a fellow student in a class that I am taking. We had one conversation. He had some interesting points. Because I am very polite, I didn’t just blow this guy off and tell him he was full of shit. I just don’t do that (though I probably should more often).

When rebuilding a life after abuse or a serious life change, women must be careful which voices they give credence. It is okay to listen, but we must guard against well-meaning advice that is no more than that: casual advice.

If the voices are too many or too loud, it might be necessary to pull back and shut them out for a time so that that tiny inner voice can begin to speak. As mine did, it might start out as the softest of whispers. Until it is louder, shutting out the noise of others may be necessary.

Had I been able to find one that I could connect with (I tried), a therapist would have been an amazing tool during this stage of reconstruction, or redefinition. [After taking Psychology my first semester, I realized that I had needed a psychologist that used the humanistic approach.]

I am still finding my way. I do not feel that my future is determined yet. Why would I think that? Who can ever really say what the future holds? I know what I dream of doing. I know what I think I want. But I am on a journey, not on a particular road to a set destination.

So, how I get where I am going, if I even go there, is kind of up in the air.

Today I celebrate the fact that my voice is no longer a soft whisper; it is strong!

Earning the right to be heard — controlling interactions

I had a situation last fall with one of my sons where another family got involved.  They handled the whole situation badly — in other words, in their eyes, I was not necessary to its resolution even though I was the parent.  One of the parents hung up on me after we spoke (we were fine while she did all of the talking, but after I started speaking up it all went downhill), neither would then return my calls, and I was treated with general disrespect and rudeness.  This is a Christian family. I have news for you: Christians are just as messed up, if not more messed up, than non-Christians (oh wait, you already knew this).

I received a very, very long letter from one of these people today.  Here’s the thing:  I read the first sentence and stopped.  It was not, “I’m really sorry for being rude and disrespectful to you.” So I folded the letter and put it back in its envelope and stuffed it in my book bag (I was in my mythology classroom waiting for class to begin).  I didn’t give it another thought until I was driving home.  Remember, I do a lot of thinking in the car.  I thought and I thought.  I came to a conclusion:

I do not owe this person a moment of my time.   I do not owe her a hearing.  She still has never asked me for any input on the situation, over and over again contradicted my own knowledge of facts on some continuing issues (this is one reason I am considering a career in the law — like attorney law, not cop), and has not shown any remorse for her behavior after five months.  Why, oh why would she write me a letter?  I haven’t read it, so I don’t know.  She has not earned the right to be heard by me.

Yep, I made a decision.  I might read this letter someday, but right now I do not have the emotional energy to deal with her.  I do not owe her a hearing.  I owe her absolutely nothing and that is what she is getting.

I decide who gets a little bit of my very small, sometimes very fragile emotional reserves.  That is a part of my power, and I am holding onto it while I grow a little more powerful, a little stronger, a little less fragile.

She has not earned the right to be heard by me at all.  Not at all.

P.S. A year ago I would have read the letter right there before class began, let it suck me in, upset me, and dominate me.  I am learning more and more about boundaries.  I feel like this is a big deal for me.

P.S.S. I have decided that Americans are extremely rude (yes, I am an American so I can say this).  Oh, that pride.