We passed the turn we were supposed to make. My fault. I was the navigator.
“We missed the turn,” I said out loud, my voice shaking slightly. “We have to turn around. I’m really sorry.”
My body froze. I braced myself for the backlash, the anger, the screaming. I was surprised when he only laughed, found a place to turn around and then found the right exit. I gathered the courage to look up. He was singing the words to a country song playing on the radio. “Thanks,” I said quietly. “Thanks for not getting mad.”
“What ever for?” he asked me, truly perplexed. He turned to look at me sensing my unease, his foot coming off the gas pedal. “Why would I?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Because he did. They all did.”
I’m not used to a man who doesn’t go from zero to angry at the slightest inconvenience, the slightest frustration, the slightest annoyance.
I’m used to fingers pointing in my chest, faces contorting into fury and hatred, mean words, and blame. So much blame.
I’ve been programmed to stop, drop and roll, to not add to the anger. Don’t make it worse. Don’t question, don’t solve. Just sit there quietly, disappear, and let it blow over. Or if it escalates, soothe. Take the blame. Use that soft voice.
I’ve been a work-in-progress for a few years, healing from past years of emotional abuse, but took a major step backwards last year when I reopened all the old wounds by again choosing an angry, controlling man.
My opinions made him angry. My tattoos made him angry. My past made him angry. My refusal to wear more makeup or go to church made him angry. My disabled son’s priority in my life made him furious. No one will put up with your lifestyle he told me in a voice way too loud and threatening for my quiet house. No one will accept your situation. No one will listen to Damon’s loud music or his inappropriate videos and deal with any of it. No one will ever want to take on your baggage.
And then, when I felt sorry for myself based on those hideous words now pounding in my head, he spewed out that people have gone through far worse in life and how dare I think I had it so bad with Damon’s situation.
When I finally reached the end of my feeling-not-enough rope, when I finally mustered up that mama bear strength, I looked at this angry man and said in a quiet voice. I am not afraid of you. Get out.
Before my body’s involuntary reaction to my navigation flop, I thought I had totally healed. I thought I had finally moved through all the triggers which caused me to walk on eggshells, to always want to please, to not allow me to be me. But emotional abuse doesn’t shed just because the abuser is gone. It remains until each trigger is faced head on. Not avoided; navigated through. Navigated through by saying That was then and this is now, and I was never to blame for anyone else’s inner demons, feelings of worthlessness, or insecurities. By saying, Threats, emotional blackmail, control, and anger are the workings of a little man and have nothing to do with me.
Most importantly, healing from emotional abuse requires breaking molds. Changing gears. Choosing someone different. And then understanding this different guy is not the other guys.
I’ve had that bad habit of choosing the wrong guy. Of repeating the pattern, over and over again. “You need to understand control doesn’t equal love,” my daughter told me time and time again, knowing that I had a very controlling mother and then husband, and that for my first 50 years of my life I honestly didn’t know that I could have love without control. That I could be loved without anger. That I could be accepted without someone trying to change or mold me.
When this right guy finally stepped in front of me, I said to my girlfriend, “I don’t know…he’s not my usual personality type.”
And my friend said to me, “Seriously? Look where your usual personality type has gotten you.”
He is unusual because he truly accepts me as is, unconditionally, and has no desire to change me, control me, or make himself feel like a big man by making me less-than or causing me to squirm. He trusts who I am, respects who I am, respects himself, and has the confidence in himself to put me on a pedestal without any fear whatsoever that by doing so he may lower himself. Rather, he elevates us both.
He is not afraid of the priority Damon requires in my life and unequivocally accepts him as a huge part of me, saying you are who you are because of everything you’ve endured. A lesser man would be threatened. Lesser men were threatened.
I feel him holding the end of the tape while I slowly spin to unravel….that tape which has wrapped me up and held me inside of me, like a mummy. And with each unraveling, each full rotation, I expose more and more of my real self….the self I’ve hidden away for so long. I hear his words now: Please do not ever change even one ounce of who you are, instead of the other words: You need to change your hair or your outlook or your plans or wear some lipstick or what were you possibly thinking or just grow the fuck up.
I should never have had to try so hard to please anyone, ever, in order to keep the peace, to make someone else feel important at the expense of me feeling so small. I should never have accepted being made to be anyone other than me.
I should never have been made to feel like a child in an adult relationship, by a man-child pretending to be an adult.
I know this now. But I cant go back and change it, then.
Instead of an onslaught of condescension or reprimands when I screw up or merely stumble, today, I’m met with laughter….the belly aching kind, gentle teasing, but also encouragement. I’m met on an equal plane, a level playing field. With a partner and not a prison guard. How it should be. How it never was.
I know I’m still in the healing phase. But I’m truly getting better. I seldom walk on those eggshells anymore. And when those triggers appear, I try to no longer look down; I slowly glance up and look into the eyes of this wonderful guy I’m with and breathe deeply and stay in the present, and know I’m ok. I’m safe from the past, from myself, from all the boxes I’ve ever lived in.
I know I can be loved without control. And I know I can love without fear.
I’m finally on my way to free.