I have been quiet on here. My mind has been busy, though.
There’s a sign in the ladies restroom where I work. . .it looks like it’s older than I am, but unfortunately it is probably still relevant. It’s a sign for a number to call for help with domestic abuse.
Somehow, my first thought is always horror and revulsion. How could women every find themselves in these relationships? How do you let someone beat you up—emotionally, physically, mentally? How can someone have so little self-respect that they believe it when someone who is so clearly abusive tells them that it’s their fault? It seems so nonsensical, so absurd, so—so unreal.
Yet time and again I find myself in situations where, upon finally being able to disengage myself, I find myself thinking that it is only by the grace of God that I am spared. Not with personal relationships, but the same sorts of absurdities that, in retrospect, make me wonder—how did I ever let this happen? Why did I let myself become deluded like this? And, more frighteningly, how could this ever be prevented from happening again, why I didn’t notice it happening in the first place?
I think it must begin with one’s general outlook on life—and what one can expect out of life. Believing that life is pre-disposed to being unpleasant, and that one’s response is to bare up with it as best as possible, also predisposes one to lack of action. It will be, and there is nothing that can be done about it but baring with it. So when warning signs start showing up, and things are less than ideal—rather than resisting it or trying to change it, there is instead the attitude of “Oh, well, you knew it couldn’t be perfect.”
Do I think it could be perfect? No. Do I think it would ever be less than a continual battle? Probably not. But I understand more now about “not giving the devil a toe-hold.” You accept the minor crimes as a reality of an imperfect world, but there is no clear, hard line between black and white. And so it slides and slides and slides, and every day you are just accepting one minor thing on top of one minor thing, until one day you realize you have swallowed an elephant. A herd of elephants. One bite at a time.
Who wants to be that inflexible, rigid person that makes everything more complicated than it has to be, by saying “no. no. no.” to the minor wrongs? When the minor wrongs seem so very, very necessary to the greater good, when they seem to be the only way to keep things rolling along? Especially when those wrongs are locally acceptable.
From the attitude of accepting wrongs comes its natural product: believing you are powerless to change it. You recognize now that the wrongs are out of control and beyond any grey area, but now you struggle to find any reason to speak. No one would listen. No one would change. Everyone would be mad at you. It wouldn’t accomplish anything. If you refused to continue on as things had been, everyone would just think you were being petty and uncooperative, because for goodness sake, you’re only just now complaining about things? You’ve been going along all this time, and suddenly something is different?
Let’s say that you do find the strength to raise a fuss. And you get all this lip-service that these are problems that need to be taken care of and changed. . .but nothing changes. They agreed with you, they try to be nice to you, but nothing is changing. Further attempts to bring issues up result in being “impossible to please.”
This leads to a diminished sense of worth. You have been pandered to and dismissed. Your concerns aren’t worth being addressed. Your contributions are sidelined. Everyone and everything is more important than you. Your concerns are just one more aggravating problem to be gotten rid of; you are just one more problem to bother important people who are more busy with important things.
Maybe now one would like to talk to others about it, but somehow the oppression brings silence. This was my own fault. I should have said ‘no’ sooner. I did things I shouldn’t have done. If I talk about it with people outside of the situation, I will only bring trouble on myself and everyone else. And this is also coupled with another thought—it isn’t any better anywhere else. It’s not like things would change if I left. This is ‘normal’. Everyone else is going through things like this. It’s really not that bad, is it? I’m just not used to this.
What this leads to is giving up. On everything. Including yourself. There is no point in fighting, no point in trying. You run like an automaton, resigned to life being as it Is.
I got to the automaton stage at school. Getting up only because the alarm went off. Going into school just because my ride was waiting for me. Sitting in the library, just staring out the window. Going to class because it was time, but not hearing any of my instructors. Just Being, because life Was.
One morning, something in me snapped. Giving Up reached critical mass, as I Gave Up on the institution I’d allowed to bring me to that place. I stopped making any pretense of studying, and hummed favorite songs while I took tests. I didn’t write the assigned papers; I wrote whatever I wanted, and turned them in, knowing the teacher wasn’t going to look at them anyway. I still have no idea how I passed with straight A’s, I really do not. And I was still burnt out, still in desperate need of recovery. But I’d been freed from the orbit of school, and they couldn’t take me down any more.
Resolved this wouldn’t happen again, I went to work. But I still missed the warning signs, still allowed the toehold. I didn’t make it to Giving Up, this time. I got angry at Impossible to Please. I knew there were massive, ever-growing problems, and the problems weren’t me. If they weren’t going to address them, that was fine, but then they weren’t going to have me, either.
A little sooner. A little faster. A little less damaged, but still in severe need of rehabilitation. But still so wide of the mark. Still finding myself asking myself—where did I go wrong? What should I have done differently? When is enough, enough? What is just part of the reality of the concessions of life, and what is allowing abuse?
I can’t claim to have the answers. But here I am, again. And I feel as incredulous with myself as I do with the poster hanging in the restroom. Really? Really? You couldn’t see that coming, you couldn’t stand up for yourself?
I could swear that next time I would recognize the signs. Next time I would say “no.” Next time I would put my foot down. But if I look back over everything I have written, it starts even before that. I saw the signs even this time; I accepted them. Why?
I already went in, believing it was not going to be okay and that was acceptable. I already agreed I was going to allow things to be done that I was not going to approve of. I already agreed that it was normal for things to be wrong—normal, and not something to be fought against. I was doomed from the start, because I agreed that being doomed was something to expect, and something to live with.
Can I wish away that mindset? No. But there are other things that I’m finding, things that feed into this mindset. Like its close cousin, “Life Isn’t Supposed to Be Fun; It’s Work, and You Need To Be RESPONSIBLE.” Who said life isn’t supposed to be fun? The most drearing, drudging tasks are only salvaged by having fun—with the people you’re with, with your mindset toward them. There’s no fun in slaughtering chickens, but when you have to do it, there’s no point in adding “being miserable” into a duty of the job.
Not only maybe are you allowed to have fun, but maybe you are supposed to have fun. I have long lamented about how my creativity is being so stifled by all my responsibleness. In a rare, clear moment, I suddenly thought, “I wonder which delights God more, to see me laboring to be responsible or watching me delight in the creativity He gave me?”
It was such a clear cut answer that I felt embarrassed and even ashamed. Trying so hard to “be good” and missing out on the good gifts He gave, resolutely facing the other direction. Spending money on responsible things was ‘good’—spending money on creative things was a frivolous waste, things not really needed. Why? Who decreed the one thing having more merit than the other? Who implied it was frivolous or unimportant? Who said to accept the mindset that one was just going to have to get used to not having the time to do the things one enjoys?
Ashamed, and even a little angry. And asking myself again and again. How did I let myself get here? How do I get out of here? How do I keep from winding up back here?
Pieces and fragments of answers swirl around in my head, sometimes sticking together and sometimes falling apart. Sometimes I blast my answers with accusations of ‘wishful thinking’ and ‘ambitious dreaming.’ But underneath it all, I do know something. The greatest difference between most people is not their haves or have nots. . .it’s their priorities. It is their approaches to life. It is, if you will, their philosophies about life and about their role in their life.
I have seen people who have done things I have only dreamed about, and when I go and do the research of how they managed to have such a thing, I find it is mostly by pig-headed determination. Of persistence and perseverance, and simply refusing to accept the alternatives. Of not being so focused on all that could go wrong, and not even of clinging to One Way for it to Go Right. Of being okay with Learning instead of Accomplishing, of Journeying instead of Arriving, and for being okay with Saying Oops and Changing Your Mind (I don’t mean being wishy-washy and unable to stand up for anything; I mean being honest about the fact you don’t know everything and accepting of the goodness of learning).
I also find that that only thing I will have this whole life is—me. Me and God, but God will also out last this life, too. But if Me and God are the only things I will consistently have for my whole life, then I guess Me and God ought to be on the top of the priorities, namely, it is right and good that I am sitting here working out my thoughts about life and God instead of writing that 2 page essay that’s due tonight. Not “excusable.” Not “understandable.” Not “something I could get away with.” But rather the right thing, the very thing that I should be doing. That I would be falling short of my duty if I were to be writing my school essay instead of my Me and God essay. That school is subservient to Me and God, not something that has a right to sideline Me and God until it has been properly dealt with.
If one can really accept that we are here to Learn, not to Accomplish—well, that has implications, too. If you are setting out to Accomplish, you need answers. You had better have answers. You will fail if you don’t have answers and if you don’t have plans and if things don’t go the way they should. But if you are here to Learn, if it really is a Journey—does it really matter? Go where you’re sent. Keep your priorities straight. Wait to see what will happen. You don’t have to have answers, no matter how many people are asking you for them; you’re here to find answers, not to declare what they are before they arrive.
We say these things, and maybe we admire from a distance the people who seem to be able to do these things. But if it were so easy, if it were so natural, if it were so obvious, if it were so smooth—there would be no need to speak it. There would be no need to admonish it or insist it. There would be no need for the poster hanging on the wall.
Twice I have fallen; twice I have gotten back up. But now I am eyeing the future warily. We’re not going there again, I say, but my echo taunts me.