Monday, May 17, 2010

The Yellow Wood

Often, I find myself presented with a choice that doesn't seem to make much difference either way. I think perhaps the most often encountered choice of this kind is whether or not to be offended by something someone does or does not do. I have ample opportunity in my life to think ill of certain individuals. But I have found, as time goes on, that if I think of people as if they care, as if they have good intentions at heart, I feel lighter and happier in life. It doesn't change them often; chances are good that they will remain as rude and self-absorbed as ever, but to me, it makes all the difference.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

~Robert Frost

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's Not You, It's Me

I have found myself carefully picking my way across the battleground of what I believe. On the one side is what I know in my heart to be true, on the other is what the evidence demonstrates is true. Before I became a survivor of emotional abuse, I thought, like many, that recipients of abuse were weak. I think sometimes I still feel that way, deep underneath the things I have learned from councilors and books. I have been working for a long time on faith: on evidence of things I can't otherwise sense.

Neither of my two councilors used the word "abuse" at first. It wasn't until I read a book called "But He Never Hit Me" that I began the emotional metamorphosis necessary for me to label what had been happening to me. There is still a part of me that feels faintly ludicrous when I say it. So I still, from time to time, think about what got me into that situation . . . and how I can avoid it happening again. Statistics are not on my side. (But the Lord is!)

This story could almost be mine, except I was blessed to get out of it sooner. Unfortunately, I still deal with the effects within myself and my children on a weekly basis. (At least it isn't daily any longer.) I can't imagine where I would have ended up if the Lord had not blessed me to escape now.

One of the most consistent threads through all levels and types of abuse is the recipient's need for three things. As the story above says,
"Individuals caught in abusive situations are seeking three primary things: a voice, a sense of value, and validation. While our voice may be most easily found, our sense of value must be most consciously fought for, and vindication, we must understand, may never be forthcoming."
One thing I have found is that no one can validate my choices. Though it helps, it is all too easy to counter-argue. The sense of value must be built grain by grain, through building a thorough and real understanding of God and how He sees me. A lack of this sense of intrinsic value is what led me to becoming a recipient of abuse. I thought I had to prove my worth.

As for the voice, well, here I am. I will not be silenced any longer.

Part of the reason most recipients of abuse have difficulty escaping is because it is impossible to avoid the truth. As the woman in the above story relates, "[He] may have been abusive, but I enabled his destructive behavior." There is a feeling of guilt that is impossible to describe. Hope that things will change wraps you in chains, binding you to the "relationship". As she said, "Instead of living in reality, I held out for hope . . . ." Hope that there is some power, some magic combination of actions that will make the lie of happiness he gave in the beginning become true.

Part of the difficulty is reconciling the reality of abuse with the gospel. The scriptures teach us to turn the other cheek, to give the cloak with the coat, to walk the extra mile. They teach faith, hope, charity: the exact things an abuser uses to entice and entrap. He uses them deliberately, whether consciously or not.

How does a person who believes in those things reconcile them with the evidence that they do not work, that they, in fact, make things worse?

There is a message of submission in the scriptures, particularly in the New Testament, which seems to advocate utter inactivity when it comes to those who would harm you. The Old Testament teaches the opposite: to be the aggressor when the Lord commands it. So where is the balance?

That is where the Book of Mormon completes scripture. The truth is that both the Old and New Testaments are right. The point is not violence or lack of violence, it is following God's will. And, at certain times and places, it is appropriate to defend and, rarely, even take the fight to the aggressor. It is up to us to not use "God's Will" to justify actions that are anything but.

So how does this apply to abuse? One thing I have noticed, as I've gone back and read these scriptural teachings, is that they apply to enemies, not to family or friends. They are not applied to those who are held close to your heart.

Only the Spirit can truly teach each recipient of abuse when the time is right. Those who love someone who is a recipient of abuse must realize that leaving immediately is not always the best answer. It is wise to be careful when making the decision.

To those who wonder if they are a recipient of abuse, there is something important to understand about the psyche of an abuser. He "will do anything to keep you, but nothing to take care of you." He is a psychological stalker, all the more dreadful because he is someone you ought to be able to love and trust. Like the trapped unicorns in the Last Unicorn, you, the recipient of abuse, must discover that what traps you is not the Red Bull, it is not the covenants you have made nor the expectations of those around you, nor is it Haggard: it is you and your fears. You do not understand yourself, that you are strong and beautiful and free by definition.

Like many true stalkers, the abuser's purpose is to destroy you. He did not find you because you were weak, he found you because you are strong. You possess qualities that he, himself, desires. Somehow in his twisted mental outlook, he longs for what you have and believes that if he can own you, he can own the strength he sees in you. He finds, over time, that he can't own it. And when he realizes this, he tries to destroy it. Just like Haggard, he doesn't realize that he destroys the very thing he values when he tries to bottle it, and that he can never possess what makes you beautiful by trying to trap it.

There is one major difference between you, the recipient of abuse, and the one who abuses. You approach life with the feeling that it is somehow you, that you can somehow change to control the world around you. He does the opposite, he will grab anything he can affix blame to. He knows he has no control, and he is afraid. He believes that everyone around him has power he does not. If he can't blame you, he will blame psychological illness that he needs medication for (and the nature of the "illness" often changes over time), or some physical problem: no sleep, constant pain or other ailment. Perhaps he will blame his childhood (and it was terrible), or some vast current misunderstanding that made him act the way he did. He will always say, "It's not me, it's ________," because he can't afford to face the truth.

It is him. He is the captain of his ship. No one can grab the helm but him. He must realize that, and most importantly YOU must realize that.
"The ideal victim is a conscientious person with a natural tendency to blame herself." Stalking the Soul, Marie-France Hirigoyan
A recipient of abuse must find a way to say, "Yes, I have my problems. But "it" is not me. It's you."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Poverty, Charity

There was a time not long ago that because of a couple of months of bills that I had thought were paid but were not, and the immediate loss of half of the family's income, I had to make use of the Bishop's Storehouse in order to feed my daughter and my pregnant self. It was humiliating. When I filled out the sheet, I put the bare minimum I needed to get by, with help from the little food storage I had left. My bishop added more to the sheet before he signed it and gave it back to me.

Getting the food was an experience I don't ever care to repeat. I went into what looked very much like a grocery store, checked in at the desk, and filled my cart with the amount I needed, my Scandinavian skin burning the entire time. The workers there were gentle with me. I think they must have seen how uncomfortable I was.

I packed the hamburger, sausage, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, flour, cheese, apples, bananas and oranges into the trunk of my car. I still remember every item. I felt an odd, pointed mix of shame and gratitude. When you get food from the storehouse, they offer to let you work there to pay it back, as much as it can be paid back. I knew that my work there would have to be done in the far future because, as a newly single working mother, barely out of the first trimester and still suffering from constant "morning" sickness, I had as many balls in the air as I could juggle. Rather more, actually, but I didn't want to look too closely at that for fear I'd drop the ones I had.

I stretched the two weeks of food out with some small purchases ($10 or $15/week!) of my own to last a month. By then, I received some unforeseen help, and gotten my feet under me again. Things were tight, but they were not imminent-starvation tight.

As I said, I hope to never have to do that again, to never have to be at a point where I have to worry about how to feed my children.

However, I now have a great deal more compassion for people on the street than I once did. It doesn't seem to matter to me any more whether they spend the money I give them on booze or on food. What matters is that I give. And when I don't have money to give them, I can at least look them in the eyes and smile. I can always give them respect. Even if they squandered their means foolishly, I can still empathize with where they are now. I only wish I could help them all.

Perhaps this is the beginning of charity. I don't think we can know God until we understand charity. Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe my experience, however difficult at the time, was more humbling than humiliating.
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Moroni 7:47-48

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