“You just don’t know looking at a person what their story is.” PianoGirl
Through openly sharing my story, I have had the privilege to meet some amazing women, and hear their stories. Most have been silent for many years. What a precious honor to be the one who is trusted to listen and record them. Through them I have learned more about myself and more about my own inner strength.
The woman I have quoted, a stunningly beautiful black American woman whose path I would not have ordinarily crossed, shared her strength with me through this statement: “Women are lionesses; powerful. We give life and we turn around and feed life. How are we not awesome? I really believe that. Every women is just amazing. I feel this connection because you are a woman and I am a woman.”
As I read this now I wonder how it is our connection is made solid by the very bond of the abuse we experienced? We, these powerful women, at the height of our struggle commonly, yet silently and unknowingly bonded by our powerlessness. How are we transformed from strong, resourceful, dynamic women by our abusers? Is it the very essence of who we are, the spunky fight in us that our abusers seek to break down like a drill sergeant takes away the will of his troops and rebuilds them to take orders only from him? Is it our very strength that is so threatening?
In Not To People Like Us Dr. Susan Weitzman puts forth many of us share a common vision of what marriage should be. We combine a Cinderella/Prince Charming-he is my knight in shining armor like hope at a time when many of us are vulnerable, perhaps experiencing an emotional stress or loss when we met our abuser. We unwittingly set the relationship dynamics when our abusers test the water initially and are rewarded with our continued loyalty.
I believe it is how we view the relationship and marriage as an entity separate and outside ourselves. I wanted to be married and I wanted to be a wife. That I was doing it with someone who treated me like an emotional punching bag was what had to be done to achieve that. I wanted my relationship/marriage to work. I am resourceful and smart and get things done. I don’t fail. I could MAKE it work. I saw my parent’s marriage worked, and my dear friend’s marriages worked. I would watch them. I would watch my neighbors walking sometimes in the evening, holding hands, and laughing. I’d think THAT is what I want! That is it! What I didn’t understand is it wasn’t THAT, it was THEM. It is the individuals who make ‘that’, not the ‘marriage/relationship’.
So here we are, these very strong, independent, willful, dynamic women and we are used to getting things done, making things happen in our lives. Somewhere when that first line is crossed and an unconscious permission is granted, we are no longer attuned to what is within our power, and what we cannot change. If we find ourselves questioning is it abusive behavior, it probably is. Healthy relationships don’t elicit this uncertainty.
It took my ‘relationship’ with a bachelor, never married yet emotionally aware, to truly understand, finally, albeit a little late in the game, we can’t make other people think the way we do. Treat us the way we treat them or how we would like to be treated. Want what we want. Think what we think. Feel what we feel. Sometimes we simply have to reassess how the relationship works, perhaps adjust our thinking, our course, to meet the other person where they are. Sometimes we need to try to understand where they are coming from and where they are. In abusive relationships we lose sight of who and where we are. We can bail. We can maintain the relationship without holding onto the outcome, but accept that risk is an outcome like mine, or we can build other healthy relationships so that the outcome of that one relationship isn’t so important. If we look at the ‘us’ and where we fit in the relationship, rather than the relationship itself, we can reclaim ourselves, and our voices.
But we can’t MAKE things work without a fully willing partner. We have to seek partners who get it. Get us. Partners who want what we are, have, offer, think, feel. We have to let go of hopes and dreams and maybes. At any given moment, we have to be here now because this is our reality of where we actually are. Not what might be tomorrow, not the early years, but truly assess where we are right now and make our decisions on the truth of our own story.