EJ’s primary care physician sent him to a specialist who can remove the splinter from his hand so he can have his MRI. We met with the specialist early Wednesday afternoon. I was surprised that he is a plastic surgeon. I had expected someone like the hand surgeon I went to last year.
There was a possibility that the splinter could have been removed in the surgeon’s office. However, the x-rays showed that it was very deep in his hand so it will require surgery. It is scheduled for this coming Monday. The surgeon used a marker to draw on EJ’s hand to show how he will cut into his hand, pull back the skin, and probe for the tiny splinter. The surgeon said that there is a risk that the nerve in his hand could be damaged, but doctors always list the risks, and this surgeon has many, many awards. I tried to distract myself from listening too closely since I have a tendency to faint in medical situations. Yuck.
Thursday EJ has a pre-op appointment with his primary care physician. I’ve never had to have one, but it appears to be normal in the area where we now live. Afterwards, we plan to stop at EJ’s company…the company…where he used to work…to drop off his uniforms and do some paperwork.
I always feel shocked, overwhelmed, and anxious when I’m first hit with a difficult situation, especially since JJ’s battle with cancer. I invented the word “life-quake” a few years ago to describe these types of difficult situations because it feels like an earthquake–a major upheaval where everything is turned upsidedown and collapsing and nothing is steady. But after a few days, we usually find our balance and start dealing with “what is.” Unless, of course, we are hit with another life-quake. More about that later.
I often write in the midst of life-quakes because, well, writing is how I think things through, how I process, how I confront anxiety or pain, how I struggle to reach a new understanding. I tend to grow through struggle, and I work through the struggle in writing.
I also write to explore and remind myself of things I am learning or want to remember. For example, I write about what I hate to be told when I’m experiencing a life-quake, but mostly it’s because I want to remember that if those things were unhelpful to me, they probably aren’t helpful to others either. “So,” I tell myself, “remember and don’t say or do those things to others.” Or, conversely, if someone said or did something that was especially comforting and helpful to me, I try to remember to say or do those things for others who are suffering.
I also write because I love authenticity. I find raw, messy, flawed, honest emotions much more beautiful than perfection. Perfection shuts me out. If someone shares only their strengths, how they went through heartbreak and turmoil in unflawed faith singing songs of praise, and admonishes that I should do the same, all connection between us shuts down. How can anyone possibly empathize with another person’s suffering if they never felt any fear, turmoil, confusion, heartbreak, pain themselves? How can we help–or be helped–if everything is hidden behind a mask of perfection? On the other hand, people who honestly share their life-quake moments strengthen me because I know that they do understand, they have been through it, and they made it out alive. I love and agree with what Larry Crabb wrote:
“Everything in spiritual community is reversed from the world’s order. It is our weakness, not our competence, that moves others; our sorrows, not our blessings, that break down the barriers of fear and shame that keep us apart; our admitted failures, not our paraded successes, that bind us together in hope.”
Of course, I am aware that people can have good reasons for not sharing, and all that. I think each person has to deal with suffering in the way that best suits them. There is no “one size fits all.” And I know that sharing is a risk. Sometimes I feel that what is inside me comes bleeding out in writing, and after it has poured out, it looks messy, weak, and ugly. I tell myself I should have kept it hidden safely inside. But if I feel it strongly enough, it bleeds out my fingers anyway.
There are a lot of different reasons I write, even more than I listed. But you get the point?
So…I was beginning to find a bit of stability after the life-quake of EJ losing his job on Monday and the uncertainty of his health. I could even see blessings, such as the friends who told me that I could pour everything out to them, ugly or not, and they would support me. Or the friend who sent me a basket of her beautiful homemade soaps and things to brighten my day. Or the friend who told me she had bought me a book of crochet patterns filled with adorable mythological creatures. It hasn’t even arrived yet in the mail, but she already knows someone who wants to buy three of them.
Then today some things exploded and fell apart in another life-quake tremor.
Here’s the thing: I often write about the beauty of simple things. Natural beauty, simple tasks, soothe and restore me and remind me of goodness. So I write about them to breathe their goodness in. Other times I write about difficulties and struggle. But I never really write every detail or every difficult situation. Some are parts of others’ stories that were entrusted to me. Some are things I really think ought not to be shared. So when I write emotionally about things that might sound minor, there really might be other things beneath the surface that can’t be shared. The bloody words sometimes pours out of an unexposed wound.
This week has totally sucked, and I have felt shocked and stressed about life-quakes and uncertainties. And today something happened that I can’t really share, but it has to do with abuse and PTSD.
I have for years and years and years endured all sorts of abuse–most of it from family members. I have experienced more than I can describe. And we’ve had our share of other difficulties, such as EJ’s chronic back pain, my chronic illnesses a few years ago, JJ’s battle with cancer. There’s more than I can share.
I started out as a child wanting only to follow God and be “good” and kind. Even at a young age I was called “Wise,” “The Caring One” and “What a Christian Should Be.” When I began to experience–or, rather, recognize–abuse from my Mom and family (excessive control, insults, accusations, condemnation, and rejection), I did not defend myself nor did I attack back because I loved them and didn’t want to hurt them. I did good to them when I could. I was taught at church to give unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness to others no matter what–because that would show them the Love of Christ–so I did, I tried. But eventually–after years and years–I recognized and could no longer tolerate the damage to myself or my own family.
I learned about the dynamics of abuse through those years, and I learned that unconditionally loving and forgiving doesn’t stop abusive people from abusing. It tends to enable and empower it. I used to think that if only I could explain myself to my Mom and siblings, we could reconcile. So I explained, only they didn’t understand. So I thought, “Ok, if I explain things THIS way instead of THAT way, they will understand.” Only they didn’t. “Well, if I explained THAT way instead of THIS way, they will understand.” They didn’t. So I thought, “Oh, I should have said THIS thing!” But saying it–words such as “I Love you”–just made them mad. I kept trying harder and harder to say exactly the “right” thing, only it never worked. And I kept trying to show them that I loved them–short of allowing them total control of my life–but no matter what I did, they always accused me of not having good enough motives or something. Finally I realized that they didn’t want to understand, and that reconciliation was impossible (my Mom said that no matter how hard I tried, she’d never forgive me), so I gave up and went No Contact with them. It broke my heart and I grieved deeply but I had to save myself and my own family.
Experts say that predators target empathetic people with strong principles. Because EJ and I have been kind, and helped people, and forgiven offenses, we have experienced toxic people. Most of them called themselves Christians. I believe God is good, the Bible is true, and there are real Christians who love and follow God. I know some of them. But there are also very evil people who pretend to be Christians, who intentionally hurt people. The Bible warns of this and I have seen it. With each encounter, we’ve learned another aspect of abuse, and we’ve learned another way to set a boundary. But we also were damaged.
We’ve also suffered at the hands of EJ’s family, who came together as a group to try to pressure us into having contact with their brother, who is not a good person. They mostly bullied me because EJ was at work, but I/we stood firm. People have the right to make decisions for their own families–themselves and their children. They don’t have the right to force their decisions on other families, even if they are related. And it’s unacceptable to bully and insult people because they don’t do what you want.
We have experienced more abuse–more insults, accusations, guilting, blame, gaslighting, unkind actions. Again, from relatives. Some of it is meaner than any other that I’ve written about. It is things that we would not/could not even imagine saying or doing to even our worst enemies.
With my family, I stood silent. With EJ’s family, I spoke out. With others I have sometimes done one and sometimes the other. There are times when I tried to be silent, but the insults grew worse until I reacted–and then I was condemned for my reaction. Sometimes I have confronted, but I’ve been accused of being overly critical or reactionary. Sometimes I tried to walk away, but I was followed with insults and told that I was refusing to deal with the issues. If I cried, I was mocked. I’ve been patient, not patient. I’ve been supportive, and I have confronted. I love, but nothing I do stops the insults. An abuser abuses because he (or she) is an abuser, not because of his victim’s actions.
The Bible says that there is a time to be silent and a time to be speak, but I am never quite sure anymore when I should do one and when the other. If I speak, I should have been silent. If I am silent, I should have spoken. Both EJ and I suffer from PTSD. Some of our symptoms are the same, some slightly different. We both have anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, and sometimes depression. I have insomnia and nightmares. I struggle with intrusive thoughts, guilt, self-blame as I go through memories, trying to figure out if it was my fault, if I should have/could have/would have done something different. I am not always sure who I am or what I should feel. Sometimes I feel nothing, sometimes I feel everything. At times I feel guilty because I feel nothing…or everything. I used to be calm, but now I feel quickly emotional. I’m not always sure if I am good or evil, right or wrong. I used to be strong, now I feel weak. Problems quickly feel overwhelming. Abusive people make me very angry. Abusers break people down and then condemn them for being broken.
EJ and I battle these things every day. Sometimes strongly, other times not. When one of us is feeling weak, the other tries to be strong.
So this week has totally sucked. I was regaining my balance, but dealt with a person who demanded that we deal with HIS problem, who didn’t listen when I said we needed space to figure out what comes next, that we were dealing with uncertainties and were busy trying to get to medical appointments and tests, and schedule EJ’s surgery to remove the splinter in his hand so he can have an MRI. I felt callously hounded, stressed, overwhelmed and I reacted. I do not know if I should have or not. I might have made a mess of things and totally screwed it up, but maybe what happen is something that really needed to happen. Maybe this is a tragedy but it might not be after the dust clears. Whatever, the person angrily ended our relationship. Our relationship has been deteriorating for a while. I don’t know if I feel sad or released. I think I feel both. The person metaphorically slammed the door, I tried to keep it unlocked. Sometimes I second-guess myself and wonder if I am nice or awful, or if I should have said things differently or not at all. EJ read everything before I sent it and he said that I only spoke the truth, and that I was much kinder than the person deserved. My close friends–the only ones who know details–say they know that I am not a terrible person, they love me, and they are here for me. And I’m just sitting here telling God that I’m really a bit tired as I read Psalms 43:
Wake up, Adonai! Why are you asleep?
Rouse yourself! Don’t thrust us off forever.
Why are you turning your face away,
forgetting our pain and misery?
For we are lying flat in the dust,
our bodies cling to the ground.
Get up, and come to help us!
For the sake of your grace, redeem us!
I love the people in the Bible. They were so honest.
I will be ok. I think I will survive and grow. I just need to catch my breath, and regain my balance, and let words bleed a little on the keyboard.