I will be taking a break this week. See you next week with a slightly different format!
Month: January 2021
Being alone at the small house on the river became easier. It was quiet there. I was quiet there. The pull to be with others loosened. The pull to be with the worry and drama of my own thoughts, also loosened. One day, while writing in my journal about Ron’s struggles, I began to wonder about what hidden wounds I possessed that bled into my daily actions and reactions. I knew they were there, but focus on Ron’s issues provided a convenient excuse to ignore them.
I reflected on my search for inner peace over the past few years. Bits and pieces swirled in an eddy of confusion. My brain understood the call for compassion, but my heart still felt anger. My heart also felt love, but my brain pierced it with doubt. One night, I woke in the heat of anger from a nightmare about Ron cheating on me. But he wasn’t the one that had committed the act in real life. He was the wrong target for my fury. I thought about past nightmares and recalled one about being frozen in place while Ron yelled at me. My resulting fight for control had also been aimed at him, but again – wrong target. Growing awareness sent me deeper into shadows from my past. Threatening eyes peered out at me.
Yes, Ron had cheated on me with alcohol as his mistress. Yes, his abuse of alcohol had exerted control over many parts of my life. But it was not that simple. His love and fidelity were major reasons I had stayed through difficult times. His gentle nature had been a key attraction when we met – he never yelled! I began to wonder, had my strong attraction to him been due to the positive characteristics I saw? Or did the alcohol fulfill the needs of a damaged ego to be controlled and cheated on? Or was it both?
The answer to that question was not as important as the door it opened. The turmoil inside me didn’t go away, but the writing in my journal turned in a different direction. What part had I played in our family’s difficulties? Ron had obviously brought alcohol on board, but what had I loaded onto the rocky vessel? My anger for sure, my stubborn nature, my need to feel in control. But we had both also brought love for each other and our children, persistence, and the ‘glass half full’ view of the world. I started exploring reasons to stay together, instead of just reasons to part.
Before I could accept Ron the way he was, I needed to accept and own human frailties. I needed to aim my intense love at the one person I could change, and who seemed most in need of it – me. I also needed to determine what I wanted – not just from Ron, but for my life. I possessed control over my own actions and responses, but could I give up the need for a sense of control over things outside of myself? Could I instead work on understanding why I responded with anger or fear? I wanted to feel free to express myself, even when it conflicted with others. Could I find the key to unlock my true voice? And perhaps the biggest challenge of all: trusting Ron enough to let go of my fierce need for independence. But what would that mean – dependence? This one sent a shiver of fear down my spine.
Days passed, and I realized I would never be able to allow myself to be dependent on another. But independence wasn’t working either. Then it came to me, like sunlight breaking through a leafy canopy overhead. There was a third choice: interdependence – two people giving and taking, interacting with and for each other, mutual dependence between two people, not just one person’s dependence on another. I wasn’t sure I could do it, trust Ron enough to let my guard down, or allow him to trust me enough to lower his. But interdependence might offer a full spectrum of possibilities, along with the flexibility to change from one moment to the next. Life is full of changes. Was I ready to move beyond the shadows of the woods?
We did reunite. Ron went back to the Vet Center for a while. Today he continues to drink, but less. When drinking increases I express my concern out loud, without anger – usually – and he cuts back. I accept that this battle will never end, but we can work to maintain boundaries we can both tolerate. I also accept that I value his kind heart, his ability to make me laugh, his fidelity, and his unyielding love and acceptance more than complete sobriety. The pain that leads him to drink does not have to spill into my heart. I cannot mend it, but I can have compassion for his plight without making it mine. I can offer support without anger or fear of being controlled. It is not a fairy tale marriage, not a choice some would make. But it is the story of our marriage, moving in the general direction of ‘happily ever after’.
The End (but possibilities always continue!)
Ron and I started spending more time together at the camp on the river. It was quieter there, and fewer remnants of past troubles had been swept into the corners. Ron asked me to move back home. I resisted. Part of me was not sure I could return to the turmoil. Another part wanted to gain an ounce of control, make him wait, not let him know I wanted to come back. I could feel that familiar pull of stubbornness – a tool for self-protection? I didn’t want to be alone, but I wanted to keep the power of the threat alive. But who was I kidding, that was all part of why I was here now. I was tired of the threats, of holding back for fear of betrayal, of my one foot out the door.
I wanted to go back to our home, but I did not want to go back to my role there. A role I had created to address my fear of being controlled: the role of an angry woman that resembled a bear in the woods! I knew I did not want to be dependent – but independence was not working either. I needed to feel connected at a level I had never allowed with Ron, or few others. How could I connect without risk, without opening the door in my heart that exposed the most fragile part of my being?
I had deep relationships with women friends without this fear. I could bare deep feelings without fear of being hurt, despite having experienced the mauling of my emotions from other women friends in the past. What held me back with Ron? Was it trust? I trusted that he loved me. I trusted that he would step in front of a speeding car to save me. I trusted that his efforts to make changes in his life were sincere – even when he was unsuccessful. I trusted his desire to make me happy. I trusted his fidelity. That’s a lot of trust! What, exactly, didn’t I trust?
I knew that answer, on the surface. I feared that he would never be able to stop chasing his pain away with alcohol. I wanted him to gain control over the alcohol. I wanted to gain control over the alcohol! To tie up all the horrors in a neat little package and send it to the bottom of the sea. In other words, I wanted to fix his world in order to fix him. But I knew, knew as a cold hard fact, that I didn’t possess that power. And maybe he didn’t either.
The move back took more time. Before the decision to become a couple again could be made, I needed to know what I wanted from Ron. I needed to think about how to handle the things there was no guarantee I could have. My journal was kept busy at all hours. The kayak floated on the river following the pull of the current or push of the wind as I sat in silence. The yoga mat hit the floor over and over again. My paper mentors were pulled from the shelf. It all helped, but ultimately a decision needed to be made by me, for my one life.
I could only go back if I gave up my desire for Ron to act the way I wanted him to act. If I could allow the positive to outweigh the negative. If I could accept the wounds he harbored that were not going away. If I could soften my anger and open that door in my heart.
A vacation had been scheduled prior to the Vietnam reunion, and plane tickets were non-refundable. We were both emotionally drained and decided to go. The condo had two bedrooms and we could be away from the scene of our troubles. Maybe I could get some sleep. As we were leaving the airport in a rental car a thought, unrelated to our relationship, occurred to me. I started to ask Ron his opinion – but then stopped myself. This was how I interacted with my friends, bantering ideas back and forth, listening to what each other had to say – maybe agreeing or maybe not. This was not how I interacted with Ron. Our conversations focused on his drinking, the kids, his drinking, the house, his drinking, dinner …. But our marriage was done, what did I have to lose? So I asked his opinion. He responded with the silence I expected, for a minute. Then casually stated he had never had the experience I referred to, but had experienced something similar, and then went on to explain his thoughts. A real response! He had heard me, thought about it, and then replied with his own thoughts – like one of my friends. In that moment I realized that even though I had asked for his love and taken him as my husband, I had never asked him to be my friend! Never talked to him like a friend. Had I ever even observed or experienced friendship within a relationship between a man and a woman? The door to a different way to interact squeaked open, its hinges rusty from disuse.
It was hard to keep the wheels of habit from slipping back into the deep ruts carved from years of use. It was hard to even see another route beyond the one I had been trained on – despite all my efforts to avoid its path into the woods. What was waiting, hiding in the shadows if I dared to venture off the beaten path? Claws and teeth and blood and pain? But despite the fear I did veer into new territory, a few steps at a time, cautiously placing each foot, glancing over my shoulder, listening for the whisper of courage. The call of courage grew louder each time I expressed a personal thought or idea. It crept past conversations with Ron, into more honest conversations with my kids, parents, friends – and even with acquaintances and strangers. Sometimes my thoughts and ideas were not in accord with those of others, but I set them free despite fear of disapproval.
Anger towards Ron did not disappear. It was not that easy. But it was released more freely on the wind of my voice, defusing the explosions self induced silence always led to. Anger was my most familiar mode of expression. I had grown up with it, learned it, and used it to manipulate situations with Ron. But I was tired of anger, and it had never really worked to change things anyway! My heart yearned for peace.
The journey began, but it bucked with fits and stutters. A particular fit was initiated by a perceived inconsiderate response. Adrenaline rushed the blood to my heart, then pumped it to my brain as I prepared for a fight. “How dare he! After everything I’ve done!” I carried the load for about 15 minutes before I came to a halt in a doorway, realizing I had expected the response I would have provided. I had not allowed the extra processing time I knew he needed before he could make a shift in his rigid routine; nor had I provided a reason for my request. Even as a trained specialist in disordered communication, I found it difficult to see weakness in my own. Maybe we really do teach what we need to learn! The patience I extended to children that required extra time to process requests seemed to have been left at the therapy room door. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, consciously letting my ‘fight’ response settle down. And then it was over, gone, just like that. I had been known to carry the tension from similar interactions for hours, maybe even days – or longer. Was this related to why my blood pressure was so difficult to control??
More to come next week…..