there is always memory. I have had my whole world turned upside down in a wonder way as I have taken on a project that is allowing my to absorb several other things (Grace Independent, Holistic-e-care and so on) into an environment that exists primarily off line. Hence, my lack of posting, tweeting or being on the radio of late. It is an amazing gift when you work so hard on something, by yourself usually, to be asked to be a part of a vehicle that has other people involved.
But there is a condition to accepting that gift. When you start these projects that mean so much to you and then they take on a life of their own and lead to opportunities there is a moment when you must choose – will you cling to what it is you created, or will you recognize that the opportunity presented is in keeping with the original idea – just in a different form?
One not only has to learn when to walk away from something that is not working, but also when to turn in a slightly different direction while still on the same path.
It is something we must learn to do in all aspects of our lives.
A few days ago, the webmistress of womansmojorisings (http://womansmojorisings.com) forwarded me a link to an MSNBC story about the “growing” trend of women who are returning to take care of their ill and dying ex-husbands. Many of these women went through bitter divorces, were cheated on, so on and so forth. A study found that the majority of the woman felt that doing this, returning to care for someone who hurt and betrayed them so badly, was something they felt needed to be done in order to spare their children the burden of having to manage the situation and also, navigate the unreconciled relationship between their father and mother. Many women also stated that it was a way of finding closure, of freeing themselves from bitterness and hate that lingered from the end of the relationship. You can read the story at:
She sent me this link, asking me to write a commentary on it because of the recent posts I have been doing about the nature of predator and prey. Her concern was that other women, woman who had been prey in a relationship that had ended, would feel socially judged should they not choose to return to take care of someone who may have been abusive to them in a relationship. Rightly, so, she noted the slant of the article that is common on MSNBC features, which presents this trend as a growing presence in society and one that is healthful and healing.
I was mulling over what I was going to write and then had two conversations with two very different women today that clarified my thinking.
The first conversation occurred early in the morning, when I met a woman I did not know. During the course of our conversation, she suddenly unburdened herself to me about a dilemma she was going through, something that quite often happens when you talk with a stranger. She was in a state of absolute paralysis because she knew that she was in a toxic relationship – the other person was completely controlling and demeaning – but she felt like she would be taking the easy way out by leaving – even though she knew her life would be so much better if she did – but that she kept hearing and reading about how what was wrong with relationships today was that people abandon them when they get difficult rather than stay and work on the communication – so she was staying and trying to work on the relationship even though she knew she would be so much better off out of the relationship and could see how much harm the relationship was causing her – but she wouldn’t leave because, as she kept repeating the words, “That would be the easy way out.”
She and I sat for a while and talked through how you could begin to recognize a relationship that was troubled and could be worked on and what a toxic relationship was. She carried an enormous burden of guilt towards the person she was with over some ways she had behaved and was having a hard time separating out what was appropriate in making an amends for that and what was a masochistic desire to stay and continue to be punished.
The second conversation I had occurred in the afternoon was with the English author Tabitha King; she was interviewing me for her forthcoming book about transformational grief. Over the hour and a half that we talked (laughing that on both sides of the Atlantic we each had cats that were desperately jealous we were on the phone and messing with us) we started to talk about the emotional vocabulary of our different cultures. The UK (and European) perception of Americans is that all we do is talk about our feelings and yet we are completely unaware of what we feel. I agreed, in the 70s and on, emotional openness became a part of our cultural currency – we decide how trustworthy a person is by how much they are willing to share with us without regard as to whether or not that type of sharing is appropriate to the relationship or violates boundaries. We have become so hep on “sharing” that, partially as a natural defense of the psyche, we have become emotionally distant from the words. We can say them but often, there is little but superficial feeling attached to them – which is were the rise of the illusive “getting to know someone” has come from. We have lost the ability to communicate our emotions because the carelessness with which we have come to reveal our emotions as a social commodity, as proof of who and what kind of person we are in public means that we have dramatically lessened our ability to express the depth of our emotions with our words.
Add into the mix the culture of the quick fix and America is an emotional mess. From our “7-days to a New You” or “30-days to Change” or the cultish beliefs that things happen because we were not thinking the right thing, believing the right thing, believing the right way or striking the right yoga pose – we have become a nation of people that are out of touch with our feelings. Therapy 101 in the States focuses mostly on teaching people on how to recognize what they are feeling by finding it in their physical reactions (for example: shoulders becoming tense when feeling fearful).
And now, as the MSNBC article would lead you to believe, there is a way – a formula – a step – a process that women will allow women to guarantee their emotional recovery from one of the most deeply wounding relationship experiences – the divorce.
Tabitha and I compared notes and on both sides of the ocean, there is a general impatience with people who are hurt and grieving. The desire is for them to “get over it quickly” and bounce back whole, happy and better for the experience.
But the reality is that different people get over things at different paces and the “look” of what “getting over” something is different as well. One of the things that is not often communicated to those who are suffering is that you don’t “get over” something once and go on. The idea of there being a total process of closure is nonsense. As you continue through life, hopefully you grow and understand more about yourself. This leads to revisiting things that one has “closure” on and can open old wounds in new ways. This is natural. It is a part of a growing psyche.
Hardly a person gets through their life without at least one of their relationships (intimate, family, friend) going wrong for a variety of reasons. We all share that experience. Part of it comes from the process of learning what it means to have a healthy and helpful relationship – one makes mistakes along the way. There are disappointments, sometimes pain, and too often damage and abuse.
Some relationships may be returned to in a new form – such as these women did in returning to care for their former husbands. For some relationships, such a return is not possible and each woman (or man, the road goes both ways) has the right and the permission to decide for themselves whether it would be healthful to them to extend themselves in such a situation. The idea of “self-sacrifice” has become deeply corrupted in our modern society. The act of self-sacrifice that is without any ulterior motive – whether it is toward another person or an answer to an interior motive (ie proving to oneself that one is kind) is rare. Yet we have come to demand it of everyone, as if there was something morally wrong with a person if they were not willing to sacrifice their health and well-being for another.
Sometimes the most self-less thing a person can do is recognize that they are not the ones who should take on the role they have been asked to take on. Knowing one’s boundaries and limits are necessary in all relationships, whatever form they may be in. Learning to recognize that your boundaries and limits change constantly is also important. Accepting that sometimes you are the person who cannot be there to help someone is important. If you don’t accept that and move into a role with someone you formerly had a closeness and trust with, you risk harm to both of you because often, rather than form a new relationship both will fall back into the old patterns.
There is no simple answer to how one heals the pain and grief of relationships that have disintegrated. The best thing we can do is begin to pay attention to our language, to work at regaining an emotional vocabulary that allows us to communicate what we are feeling and to become willing to be silent and without answers or explanations when we have none. Watch for words that are without meaning – like “closure.” Closure is a term that is so undefined that if you find yourself using it, stop. Ask yourself what it is that you really mean. Speak in sentences.
We are transitioning into a new era where the age of those who are falling ill or becoming terminally ill is becoming younger. We are more likely, each one of us, to encounter a choice like the one these women have in our lifetime before we are elderly. With all the economic and health insurance woes more and more people will be at home needing care and unable to avoid professional help.
Allow yourself room to breathe and come to your own decisions. Two women in an article do not a movement make, and if you have read this blog long enough you know that “studies” are usually comprised of very, very miniscule amounts of people. Don’t let the media, who thrives on placing the weight of “doing right and sacrificing” on women confuse your perceptions. From the endless messages about the shame and embarrassment of menstruation, to the relationship-breaking responsibility of getting whites white enough the messages we receive as women in the media are based in guilt and irrational manipulations. Read with caution, take with a grain of salt and remember that the only person who can truly judge your choices and motivations – is you. And that you are never the same person today as you were before.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.