Society

How about a little empathy and compassion for our new FLOTUS?

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Melania. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know her name or her relationship to our new POTUS until his campaign and new presidency. I am certainly NOT a supporter of the man who is now our 45th President.

I made the decision to share a link on Facebook to, what turned out to be, a controversial article regarding Melania Trump. The article contained few facts, was based on reported hearsay, and definitely slanted to garner sympathy for Melania. Apparently, the content is not to be trusted as factual or believable, since it is an article from the New York Post.

Typically, many of the things that I share hardly generate much response, other than by a select few of my actual friends who intentionally seek out what I’ve posted. This particular article, and my shared response to it, garnered some intensely negative reactions, as well as a couple of sympathetic ones. While I genuinely appreciated the sympathetic ones, it was the negative ones which, understandably, caught my attention and pushed my internal buttons. These comments triggered something in me which feels like a form of defensiveness, both on Melania’s behalf and my own.

She is not fit to be a. First Lady

My issues are with the glaring hypocrisy from the right. They called Michelle Obama things like “an ape in heels” and criticized her for showing her arms, but accept with open arms a woman who was a sex worker and compare her to Jackie O. They cheer on the immigration ban, while celebrating a woman who was an undocumented immigrant working in the US. My issues aren’t with her, they’re with the people who are celebrating her as some goddess while ignoring their own hypocrisy.

Do people really believe everything they read? Especially in The New York Post? . . . Fact check people.

I’ll address the last comment, first. Guilty as charged. I often forget to fact check articles I share . . . which is one reason I’ve really stopped sharing most articles. I’ve stopped reading most of them, too. I honestly don’t know which news outlet is trustworthy or not. Based on my limited college education, I’m aware that almost all reporting is slanted, whether intentionally or not.

As human beings, we are truly incapable of being completely objective and without idealogical motivation in everything we do. That’s just a simple fact of life. With the internet and the overwhelming influence of social media in our post-millenial lives, this is more true than ever before. I suspect that very little of what is reported as soon as the information is available has been completely fact checked by those who report it or express their opinions about what the information means. Ours is a generation both more sophisticated and naive than any before, in my opinion.

Now, onto what this is really about for me, going deeper than the sound bite and looking for the humanity we all share. In my case, I’m going to openly admit that the filters which I read the article through are deeply personal and rooted in my own history, as well as the knowledge I have acquired regarding mental health, domestic violence, and women’s roles in our society and others. What follows is merely my personal conjecture and hypothesis.

First, let’s examine the publicly displayed character and attitudes of Melania’s husband. He has shown himself to be a person who does what he wants without the consent or feedback of women. He has displayed distinctly misogynstic views and has been proven guilty of demeaning, dismissive, and verbally abusive behavior toward women. He has shown himself to be someone who revels in his personal power and is not hesitant to use that power to achieve his own desires and agendas. If he has zero qualms about presenting this as his public character and identity, is it beyond the realm of probability that he exercises these same traits and characteristics in his private life?

Now, let’s briefly look at what we know of Melania’s personal history. Her country of origin, Slovenia, was under communist Yugoslavian rule until 1991. Melania was born in 1970. She came to the US as a model in 1996. Based on what little I know of Eastern European societal norms, it is likely that she grew up in a supremely male-dominated society, where women probably had little power and influence. At 16, she began a modeling career. The modeling industry, like the movie and music industries, has a well-known history of being both male-dominated and exploitative of the “talent.”

My conjecture is that Melania was preconditioned to have a more submissive role in relationship to men who have positions of authority and power. It has been documented that, initially, she refused to be in relationship to Donald Trump. It was six years before they were engaged to be married. Is it possible that a man of his wealth, power, and position pursued her, unrelentingly, until she succumbed to the pressure of being aged out of her industry, partially due to his influence? Is it conceivable that he would use his role as her husband and his influence in our society, based on his celebrity, wealth, and power to dominate her in the context of their marriage?

Sexual dominance, financial control, isolation, and psychological manipulation are often tools used to perpetuate control over those experiencing domestic violence. Is it too far from the realm of possiblity to consider that this may be a factor in Melania’s life?

Regarding her history as a sex-worker and illegal immigrant. The actual facts we know to be true are that, in her job as a model, she posed nude for GQ. How many models are used in publications and advertisements as sexual objects? As a model, she was likely employed through agencies and represented by agents who had significant control and say over which jobs she took. While she was guilty of working illegally under a B1/B2 visa, that designation is for both those on temporary business and those who are tourists. As a model in our country on that type of visa, it is possible that those who arranged for her visa and business in our country misled her and that she believed that the work she did was permissible?

In terms of how she is viewed and spoken of by Trump supporters, is she personally responsible and accountable for their vociferous villification of Michelle Obama, their iconization of her, and their evident hypocrisy between those two stances? Is it fair to criticize her for either their behaviors or her husband’s? Is it acceptable to shame her, for any of these reasons? Is it compassionate or kind to publicly assasinate her character based on how we feel about her husband?  Do any of us have the right to pass judgment on her for our idealogical mores and values which she has not met?

We had eight years with Michelle Obama as our FLOTUS. She is a strong, powerful, independent woman in a mutually supportive personal and political relationship with her husband. She exercised her power and influence in visibly constructive and ethical ways. A significant number of us dearly miss her and her husband. Melania is not Michelle. Donald is not Obama. I don’t see how we can justifiably find fault with her for not being Michelle, when it is clear that she is a completely different person, with a completely different history, in a completly different relationship with her husband.

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An open letter from a fat woman

Dear Everyone (including fellow fat people),

I realized something yesterday. I don’t enjoy being asked if I’ve lost weight or gotten smaller. This question is usually asked by those who are slender, generally healthy-looking, and physically fit. However, others who are also overweight will ask the same question. Often this question is accompanied by facial expressions and asked in a tone of voice which indicate the person is issuing a compliment and an encouragement. For those who are aware of the mental/emotional health issues I deal with, this question is followed up with, “You look happy, like you’re doing good/better.” It occurred to me that I feel neither encouraged or complimented most of the time. In fact, part of me feels frustrated and defeated, less than.

I had two people who I know love me and care about my well-being ask me at two different times yesterday if I had lost weight. Last weekend a third person asked the same and two weekends ago, someone asked me if I had gotten smaller. Four different people over a two-week period of time, all of whom hadn’t seen me in a month or more, asked me if I had lost weight. Each time, I felt obligated to say, “Thank you.” However, because I’m almost compulsively honest, I followed that up with, “No, I think I got smaller but then got bigger again,” because I know how the mental health disorders I experience have manifested in the past three months, as stressors in my life have multiplied, almost exponentially, and that I’ve been abusing myself with food. I know how my body feels, how clothing feels on my body, and how body has changed shape again in response to the binge eating and unhealthy food choices I’ve been struggling with.

Why not just accept the compliment and keep the rest to myself? It’s dishonest. I feel like I need to be truthful with myself and with others. If I were to say, “Thank you,” and move on, then, part of me would believe the lie that I’m doing better than I am and that the issues I’m having around food aren’t “that serious” or of concern. In the world of addiction and recovery, that’s part of the slippery slope of denial and it’s dangerous on many levels: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

For me, being fat is an outward sign of my food addiction and binge eating disorder. It is a sign that the depression aspect of the Bipolar II Disorder and the anxiety part of the PTSD are in more control than my rational self and spiritual being. If I accept the compliment and move on, then, I experience a sense of shame about these things, because I’m keeping them hidden from people I care about and who I know care about me. They need to know that I’m not okay. I’m not doing better, and that I still need them to be aware that I need them to see the truth that I’m not well and need their continued awareness that I’m still at risk.

This compliment is also an unconscious form of fat-shaming. It sends the message that I’m more acceptable if my physical appearance fits into an idealized shape more like theirs. These same people wouldn’t express their concern for my mental or physical health by asking me outright, “Have you gained weight. Are you doing okay? Is there something going on?” That question doesn’t get asked because it’s considered rude to comment on someone’s obvious weight gain. Why is it rude? It’s rude because gaining weight is often accompanied by a sense of shame, a sense of failure, and we are conditioned to avoid pointing out people’s shameful things in public ways . . . unless we’re doing an intervention, we’re assholes, or we’re talking about celebrities and other public figures.

Complimenting a fat person for losing weight sends the message that you believe they are less acceptable when they look more fat and that looking less fat makes them more acceptable. It reinforces the belief that no one wants to see a fat body, therefore, as long as I’m fat, no one wants to see me, because they won’t see me, they’ll just see my fatness.

In some ways, being fat and trying to lose weight is like being poor and trying to get rich. Society sends the message that being fat isn’t acceptable. You can exercise it away, you can eat it away, you can choose whether to be fat or to be thin. To some degree, those are true statements. Society sends the message that being poor isn’t acceptable. Get a job. Get an education. Get a career. Save money. Set a budget and stick to it. These things are also true, in certain ways. Yet, none of these things acknowledge very real barriers and systemic forces which exist and make those things more than challenging for people experiencing obesity or poverty.

Root causes of obesity go beyond eating too much of the wrong food and being physically inactive. I can’t tell you how many thin people I know who eat junk food all day long and live primarily sedentary lives. As a matter of fact, I lived with one for 18 years. There are genetics, mental health issues, ingrained generational patterns of lifestyle, physical health conditions, financial capacity, and life obligations which all factor into whether a person is fat or not.

Root causes of poverty are equally complex. I know people who work multiple jobs, don’t spend their money unwisely, shop with thrift, and work to save their pennies, but who remain poor. It takes money to make money. In order for someone to get an education that, MIGHT, lead to a good paying position, on a high earning career track, there has to be enough money to pay for the right education, often at the “right” educational institution. There has to be enough money to keep the bills and basic necessities, such as housing and food, stable. There has to be enough money to pay for the supplemental educational tools. In order to save money, the student repayment debt, as well as the costs of housing, food, transportation, clothing, and health insurance cannot meet or exceed net earned income. There has to be enough time and peace to allow for homework to be focused on and done well.

The correlation between poverty and obesity is also a real thing. If you experience poverty, then your ability to afford the healthiest foods is compromised. Your access to those foods is compromised if you are reliant on public transportation because you can’t afford a vehicle. The time you have available to prepare home cooked meals is limited. If you live in poverty, you typically are either living with a lot of other people in a small space or may not have a home at all, so buying in bulk and storing food is not possible. If you are a parent of young children, living in poverty, you can’t afford to pay for childcare while you go exercise. Being able to afford a gym membership is out of the question and the money required in order to pay for supportive footwear for walking, jogging, or running is needed to pay a bill or buy school clothes for the kids.

I experience poverty, as well as mental and physical health issues which are all interconnected with the fact that I am morbidly obese. I’m working on all of those things and I have a lot of things going on in my life which demand my time and attention. I don’t enjoy being fat. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally painful. I don’t enjoy being poor. It’s also a painful experience. I am doing what I can, as I can, to work on both of those things, but, I don’t know that I will ever be able to do enough to change either of those conditions in order to be acceptable enough.

So, please remember, complimenting someone who may look like they have lost weight, but you may not know if they’ve been working to do so, is not necessarily a compliment. Even then, compliment something other than their loss of fatness. Compliment their clothes. Acknowledge that they are exuding a sense of self-satisfaction and happiness. Or just tell them how happy you are to see them and spend time with them, without commenting on their appearance at all.

Sincerely,
A Fat Woman

Soundbites and Summaries; There’s more to it than that

I’m really bothered by our need to make decisions about our beliefs, values, and opinions of others based on highlights, soundbites, and OpEd summaries.

For example, Richard Sherman’s post game “rant” and the subsequent outpouring of negative response, probably by many who, like me, didn’t know his history and seldom watch football except in moments when we can’t avoid it. Initially, I had zero opinion on Sherman and his rant one way or the other. I happened to be with someone who was watching the game when the interview occurred and witnessed what took place. I can tell you what didn’t happen. He didn’t curse or use foul, vulgar language. He did thump his chest and announce his skill, talent, and accomplishment. He did call out an opposing player for having said something, those of us in the national audience had not been privy to. He did make one denigrating statement about that player, but he brought it back around to what he was able to do, not about what his opinion of that player was.

Since then I have read a few articles and posts and watched a video about Richard Sherman and who he is outside of that soundbite moment.

Here’s my conclusion: He is a young man who has a strong intellect and a strong drive and determination to succeed with the integrity and discipline to put in the necessary work and effort to make that success possible. He was blessed to grow up with both parents who taught, through example, determination, hard work, and civic responsiblity in an area typically equated with it’s high crime/gang/drug activity. Excitement, adrenaline, and the surge of fan support combined in the moment to override his rational mind to weigh and measure his response and, perhaps, his reaction was more intense than the reporter was expecting and not as polished and polite as many would like. So what? He was not abusive, vulgar, obscene, violent, or incorrectly vain in his assessment of his skill.

There are a lot of opinions as to why he’s being vilified. Opinions which may or may not have a basis in truth and may be illuminating the fact that we’re not too many steps away from where we once were as a country regarding racism and human rights.

While that may be part of it, I think there’s more to it than that.

We Americans value our comfort and convenience. We claim to be hard workers and get upset when jobs are shipped overseas to lower-wage workers. However, many of us also look down our noses at taking minimum wage jobs that are menial and dirty or jobs that tend to subject us to less than humane treatment by those to whom we are providing a service.

We want to cheer a team that makes us feel good about ourselves. I think that the soundbite of someone who was announcing his self-confidence and accomplishment while speaking against someone who had made a detracting comment or two, while being overcome with the emotion, made us uncomfortable because there is no way he was able to be where he was, having accomplished what he did, without doing the hard work and experiencing the inconvenience of having to choose the things that would support his successes over being comfortable in his life. Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe we just like to have our opinions and judgments fed to us in the most digestible ways possible without having to study and learn for ourselves. For example, today I came across a post from The Naked Pastor. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this image and it hasn’t sat well with me, not because I disagree with the sentiment, but because I think it is an oversimplification and can easily be used as a misrepresentation of the most important message in history.

The Gospel in layman’s terms: Don’t be a dick

There is actually a story in the New Testament where a man who has been identified as the “Rich, Young, Ruler” comes up to Jesus and asks what good must be done to inherit eternal life. Somebody thought the story was important enough that three different versions of it were included in three different places: Matthew 19Mark 10, and Luke 18. Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that first century Jews did not believe in the concept of eternal life as it is taught by today’s evangelical church.

Here’s the conversation:

Rich Young Ruler: How do I live a fulfilling life?

Jesus: Follow the commandments: Don’t lie about other people, don’t cheat on your wife, don’t steal, don’t murder, and honor your parents.

Rich Young Ruler: I already follow those rules. What else?

Jesus: Sell your things and give to the poor, then come live the life of service I live, doing good for others, and trusting God to provide for your needs through the generosity of people who love Him.

Throughout the New Testament the message is that it is pretty impossible for us human beings to love ourselves and each other without truly understanding and receiving God’s love for us.

So, the above illustration could be captioned:

Man: Jesus, please . . . in layman’s terms?

Jesus: I love you man! Now, share that love with others.

“Don’t be a dick,” is a good start, but there’s more to it than that. Something I hope that more people will learn to apply when faced with the option and choice to publicly attack someone on the basis of a soundbite.

On NOT Being a Creepy Stalker Mom

I may have mentioned on several occasions that I’m a bit of a tv hound. During depressed period or times when I’m in a fibro-flare, often the two coincide, playing on each other, or days when I’m so sick with the flu I can’t sit upright, I may watch an entire season of say, Desperate Housewives or Warehouse 13. Don’t judge, the psyche needs what it needs, when it needs it. I don’t have a Netflix account, but what I do have is On Demand and a DVR to record shows. On Demand shows are often programmed to where the fast forward feature has been disabled to prevent viewers from bypassing the commercials, but DVR? Now that is the ideal for those who want to control if they watch a commercial or not.

I don’t generally mind the commercials. I tune them out and do something else for the three to five minutes it takes to get through seven to ten commercials. Sometimes, I’m even captivated by the humor and inanity of some commercials, especially the ones which use incredibly talented actors in interesting ways: an Allstate commercial with Dennis Haysbert’s voice coming out of the mouth of a woman, James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell performing Jenna’s Facebook Friend Request, Samuel L. Jackson espousing the benefits of the Capitol One Quicksilver Credit Card. However, some commercials just weird me out.

Like what I call the “Old Spice Creepy Stalker Mom” commercial.

I posted my response to this commercial on facebook the other day and my new friend, Janice, from crazygoodparent.com, shared how she completely understood the message behind this commercial from her own personal experience.

The thing is, I get it too. All too well. Having a 27 year old son whom I’m so estranged from that he decided to get legally adopted, as an adult, by another family in order to change his name, effectively cutting all legal ties to me, before he got married and started his new life was kind of the ultimate “cutting the apron strings” experience.

He approached me in April 2012 to inform me that he and the other family were investigating and contemplating taking this step. I understood it then and I knew that while part of the underlying motivation may have been to hurt me the way I’d hurt him over the years, that the true motivation had very little to do with me, my wants, my needs, my desires, or my feelings. His decision and theirs was about them, their relationship, the love and care they have for each other, the sense of belonging and family they experienced with each other, the sense of love, safety, and acceptance that he was finally able to receive and internalize because of the relationship he has with them. Things which I have never experienced in my own life as a child or adult and things I didn’t know how to provide for him.

I was happy for him that he finally had that.

I was heartbroken for me that I hadn’t been able to give that to him myself. However, I was also proud of myself for having done what I could to facilitate and encourage that relationship between him and them, so that when he needed it most and I was least capable of being that parent for him, that he got to experience that kind of unconditional and redemptive love.

I told him that he would always be my son and I would always love him and that I was going to do my best to heal and grow so that when he was ready to have a relationship with me, I would be ready and available to be in relationship with him in those ways.

In the almost two years since that conversation, we have had several periods where he has chosen not to have anything to do with me. Throughout it all, we’ve had several stilted phone conversations and guarded, cautious face to face encounters. We’ve also had moments when there was acceptance, love, forgiveness, and happiness between us. Each time one of the latter moments happened, my inner being was flying high in exultation and hope that this would be the breakthrough moment that restored our relationship. Without fail, those moments were soon followed by the periods of rejection and avoidance.

Those periods of rejection and avoidance are the periods when I feel an itching desire to become the creepy stalker mom of my nearly 30 year old son. I get it. I really do.

Here’s the thing: My validation, purpose, and sense of self is not the responsibility or purpose of my son or my other children. It is not his/their job or responsibility to fill my life with meaning by including and inviting me into their lives. Even if everything was perfect between us and we didn’t have the history we have, the child is now an adult, with a wife, a job, a faith community, friends, and new family members which have nothing to do with me or my life. He does not define me or my life and I do not define him or his.

This Old Spice commercial is about enmeshment and the emotional and psychological immaturity of a mother who does not know who she is without the context of her son being the center of her life and her world who craves and needs him to make her the center of his world. It’s an exaggerated and distorted picture of the dysfunction of a woman who believes her only identity and purpose is to mother her son.

Genesis 2:24

24 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. ~ Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

As moms our jobs are to figure out who we are as individual people so we can help our children figure out who they are as individual people, in order to prepare and equip them to leave us behind and create their own lives and relationships.

Role Models and Changing Perceptions

Having grown up, essentially growing myself up, dissociated and disconnected emotionally from my mother, peers, and experiencing no sense of family or community, having role models has always been a bit of a hit or miss challenge for me.

My earliest role models were found in the books I read. I remember knowing that I was reading on fifth grade level in third grade because I was reading through The Waltons series of books. Now, I only recall what those books were about because of the television series, which can still be seen in syndication on feel good, vintage cable/satellite television channels. This series and others in the same genre, like the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, where the authors were fictionalizing real life and telling stories of kids who were experiencing life in a slower paced, less industrialized, time of community, family, and positive character, taught me life and people were not always what my experiences seemed to be teaching me.

As I grew older and my reality got more and more difficult to cope with, I got into the childhood mystery series starting with Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. I loved the Bobbsey Twins stories. Child characters who were mostly left to their own devices, using their intellect to solve problems, figure out how to overcome threats, reveal truth, and bring justice to unjust circumstances became my obsessions.

As an adolescent girl in the 1980’s I fell under the influence and sway of pulp romance books. Dreaming of exotic locales by women who were caught in traditional roles and traditional thinking, but trying to discover who they were and wanted to be, swept up in the worlds and actions of the men whose lives, passions, and wills seemed to overpower their own. Often, these books became physical weight to carry in my little white wicker purse and use as a weapon to lash out and punish the haters, teasers, and bullies who enjoyed getting me discombobulated and emotionally off balance.

I escaped to the library and discovered the fantasy worlds of Xanth and Pern as created and described by Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffery. I immersed myself in Arthurian legend and alternative worlds melding magic and science, spiritual and secular philosophies. The characters I was drawn to and learning from were those who were coping with the displacement and confusion of not fitting into worlds they were thrust into but didn’t feel part of and/or living in worlds suddenly full of danger and conflict from things previously unknown or relegated to myth and make believe.

By the time I was a young adult, parenting my son from mid-late adolescence, I started identifying and connecting with people who had what I wanted and appeared to have overcome dire and drastic life circumstances, trauma, and drama of their own. Seeking people who I could meet and interact with in person, within my community through church, college, and community services.

Twenty years later, I’m still learning from everyday role models I meet and interact with, here online in the blogging community: writers, mothers, fathers, mental health professionals, persons experiencing mental health challenges, victims, survivors, and thrivers. Pastors, teachers, coaches, trainers. People who are in recovery and those seeking recovery.

Yesterday, I met a woman I am seeking a mentoring relationship with, because she is doing what I want to do. She is functioning and operating as an advocate and guide for people who have experienced abuse to help them move through the lifelong impacts and consequences of having experienced those things, to find their voice and move into growing intentional and authentic lives based in their own value and identity. She is doing this after having gone through her own experiences of trauma and brokenness, from a life of childhood trauma to professional success, to personal breakdown. She has what I want and she is freely and willingly giving of herself to help me, and others, build and grow into that place inside of myself and for my life.

Her name is Davonna Livingston. She is the founder of Changing Perceptions and author of Voices Behind The Razorwire: From Victims to Survivors, Stories of Healing & Hope.

In the meeting she and I had yesterday, she shared something with me I didn’t know about myself. She had spoken of how she had connected with the various subjects in her book, through seeing herself reflected in their eyes and recognizing the shared connections between her and them. She shared how these women who were convicted criminals, often serving life sentences, had become her lifeline and support network while she was working through her healing and recovery process. I noted what an empowering thing that had to have been for them considering the “class” differences between her professional and educational status and upper/middle-class standing being connected and relating to these women as personal peers. Toward the end of the meeting, I asked what she had seen in my eyes.

She told me that she had seen sadness and a sense of being lost, during the moments  when I was sharing my origins story. Then, she told me that changed and shifted to excitement and hope, that my entire demeanor had shifted and changed when I began talking about what I’ve already been doing, including starting and writing this blog.

This is the role model who is building into my life now, in the midst of many other role models who are showing and sharing their lives, their stories, and their courage every day in the forums we are connected with each other in online and in social media, as well as in the seats around me at weekly church meetings, group discussions, public transit, and walking down the street.

For more discussion on Role Models and the Molding of Personality, check out The Seekers Dungeon.

B4Peace 2014: Living in the presence of an attitude of gratitude

Last year I participated in the Bloggers for Peace movement and I am doing so again this year. Kozo’s Monthly Peace Challenge for January 2014 is about The Neuroscience of Peace. In his post, he shared this quote:

Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny. ~ Mahatma Ghandi

It reminded me of this passage from the Bible:

Romans 5: 1-5 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) ~ 1 So, since we have come to be considered righteous by God because of our trust, let us continue to have shalom [peace] with God through our Lord, Yeshua the Messiah. 2 Also through him and on the ground of our trust, we have gained access to this grace in which we stand; so let us boast about the hope of experiencing God’s glory. 3 But not only that, let us also boast in our troubles; because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope; 5 and this hope does not let us down, because God’s love for us has already been poured out in our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh [Holy Spirit] who has been given to us.

To my way of thinking, bringing peace into the world outside of me, requires that I develop a peaceful character inside of my self, which infiltrates all aspects of my life. For me, peace comes from trusting God and choosing to think, act, and speak on the basis of that trust that God loves people and is in the business of reconciliation and restoration of relationships between people and Himself, each other, and within themselves.

All the conflict and less than peaceful interactions in this world stem from people not being at peace within themselves and not being able to accept and trust that ways and experiences other than their own are as valid as theirs.

We also tend to believe that pain and suffering shouldn’t happen to us and that if it does happen, someone should be held responsible and accountable to make reparations for the pain and suffering we have experienced and been subjected to.

Here’s the this about that: pain and suffering are part and parcel of living life in a world full of people who have experienced pain and suffering. I’ve seen the statement: “Pain happens, suffering is optional.” At first I thought it was kind of a callous statement. Then I thought it was overly simplistic.

Now, I’m coming to understand how profound it really and truly is.

Suffering is a choice we make, whether we realize it or not. When painful, negative, disappointing things happen in our lives and we are affected, we can get stuck in the emotional and mental point of impact, reliving the loss moment after moment, creating our own sense of suffering. We often carry that into our next set of experiences with an expectation of more suffering, and unintentionally create the attitude and atmosphere which brings that expectation into fruition. This is neuroscience at work.

I’m done suffering. I’m done taking my suffering out on those around me by being anxious, stressed, angry, bitter, resentful, and expecting bad things to continue happening. I don’t want to do it anymore. That means I have to retrain my brain to think differently and react differently to the things which happen in my life, most of which I have little or no control over, specifically how other people think, speak, act, and how they interact with me.

So, that means, doing something different than what I’ve habitually done in the past.

Back in December 2013, I shared about developing an attitude of gratitude and exchanging complaint for appreciation. My goal in 2014 is to make this my new default response to trouble, affliction, and painful circumstances. Any time I find myself in a negative frame of mind or overwhelmed with unmanageable emotion, I will recite and repeat these declarations of gratitude, and apply them in context of the circumstances, thoughts, and feelings I am experiencing. This is my plan for bringing more peace into the world in 2014.

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Let’s talk about Domestic Violence

I have stated previously that what I have experienced with Keith was not Domestic Violence.

Many have and do consider that a statement of denial. To a certain extent, that would be an accurate assessment. It is difficult to see oneself as a victim when you’ve been in the position of being the one to deal with the difficulties and dysfunctions of life, which I have, and still be standing, walking, talking, breathing and still fighting to be and do better.

It’s a difficult and painful admission to make that someone whose heart, effort, and intent has been to do and be good, someone whom you’ve invested your heart, energy, hopes, and dreams into, is too broken, wounded, and damaged for your love and effort to heal. It’s hard to see and accept that the wounded brokenness you see so clearly in that person, which resonates so deeply inside of your own wounded brokenness, is incapable of seeing and accepting responsibility for his own healing process.

When your identity becomes so very wrapped up in being the strong one who doesn’t give up, who keeps fighting through, who won’t abandon another the way you’ve been abandoned, then each and every time their pain and dysfunction batters against your inner damage and you break down and do the very thing you swore never to do – abandon them – the guilt, the shame, the criticism of your inner self, joins with the other’s voice, compelling you to go back.

When you look around and see doubt, confusion, and condemnation on the faces of the people in your church, your place of employment, your children’s school, and in the community at large, there doesn’t seem to be a safe place to talk honestly about what is happening inside of your life, your relationship, or your head.

Add into the mix the knowledge and experience of social stigma associated with mental health disorders and illnesses, which have been lifelong companions for you and are likely factoring and unidentified in the person you love, whose love you believe in, and it seems like there is no safe choice.

As a society, we blame spouses and domestic partners for how they are treated by their significant others. We criticize, we shame, we blame, we judge, and become emotionally and verbally abusive to the ones who “choose” to stay in these kinds of relationships.

Then, we wonder why others, or we ourselves, stay.

“Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”

Domestic Violence isn’t necessarily what I thought it was. My perception and experience did not match what everyone was telling me it was. My participation in the continuation and perpetuation of the cycle was not a willful and conscious decision to be a victim and choose a man over my children, although that is what they experienced and perceived.

We have both been drowning people reaching and grasping onto one another in our efforts to keep breathing and keep our heads above water. People who are drowning need trained, educated, healthy, attentive, and aware people who know how to keep themselves and the drowning person safe while getting them from the deep and dangerous waters to the shore.

I’m filled with remorse at the knowledge and understanding that, while I’ve been drowning for the entirety of my children’s lives, I have pulled them in and almost drowned them with me.

I’m finally learning and recognizing some truths so many have judged and deemed I had no excuse for not seeing and knowing previously.

To those persons I would say that a drowning person will not reach out to the circling shark for help.