Friday, September 17, 2010

Waves Crashing Over Me

I have (for the most part) really been enjoying my husband's company lately. The changes that have come over the past two years have been painfully, incrementally slow, but they are adding up. They are adding up to a romantic friendship that I am beginning to be able to relax and enjoy. Every day I am learning new things about my husband, my relationship with him and my self.

Last weekend we had an unexpected opportunity to spend the weekend alone together at the beach. It was a surprise gift from our neighbor, and a delight. We weren't even unpacked from the wedding in the mountains the weekend before, but the hotel was free so we couldn't say no. We traded out the dirty laundry in our suitcases for clean clothes, threw in some swimsuits and beach towels, and off we went.

We enjoyed the sun, the relaxation, the pool, the privacy. Part of the time we caught up with our neighbors who invited us, enjoying their company and visiting the places familiar to them from family vacations past. We slept in Sunday, a rarity, and had a pleasant morning together before starting on our day.

My husband and I enjoy the beach in very different ways. He is a former surfer, and he loves the waves and the power of the ocean. I am a nerd and a sun bunny. I love to stay warm and dry on land reading a good book, while he body surfs, boogie boards or snorkels. My fondest memory of our honeymoon is one where I am poolside, sunning and he is snorkeling nearby. Every so often he would surface near the pool with some new treasure of the ocean to show me. I remember the joy on his face that day and it makes me smile.

Sunday afternoon came, and all I really wanted to do was stay clean and dry and finish the book I had started the day before. He wanted to go body surfing. Since he knew I didn't want to go body surfing, he invited me to go walk on the beach with him.

Inwardly I contemplated what that would mean. I had on my socks and shoes, and if I took them off to walk on the beach my feet would be wet, sticky and sandy when I went to put them back on. Even after rinsing them in the showers, they would still be wet and sandy. I didn't really want to feel that, ewwww. BUT...

I'll go, I decided inside. Without even thinking about what I was thinking, I decided to submit my desires to my husband's. I have internalized that teaching so thoroughly that I made the decision subconsciously. I still felt somewhat uncomfortable about it, but I took his hand and stepped out the door toward the beach. I kept my socks and shoes on though, and determined to walk far enough up the beach to avoid the tide.

We had not gotten far down the beach when we were stopped by a drainage pipe leading to the beach. It had been raining all morning and so what was usually a mere trickle of water was a stream five feet across. I stopped. He stopped.

I said, "You know, why don't you go on by yourself? I don't really want to get my feet wet and sticky." This was a true reflection of my desire all along. I did NOT want to get all wet and sticky.

"Come on," he pleaded. "I want you to go with me." He smiled and held his hands out.

"You can go alone. I'll see you later." I offered one last time, a very wishy-washy passive way of trying to say that I did not want to go.

"I'll carry you," he offered. I protested some more, this time saying I did not want to hurt his back (true but not the whole truth). After a little more needling on his part, I didn't see how I could refuse. He jumped into the stream (he was barefoot) and I climbed on to his back.

We were about half way across when a bigger wave came in on the tide. At the point where the incoming tide slapped against the outward rushing rain run-off, the water piled up up in a four and a half foot wall, high-fived, and relaxed back down into the stream as quickly as it had arisen.

We were standing between the palms of the high-five, of course. The entire land side of my body was soaked in sticky, salty, sandy water. Not merely my feet, but now my whole right side from head to toe. My cell phone was in my soaking wet pocket. I was utterly defeated by this unexpected drenching.

My husband was all apologies as he set me down on the other side of the stream. After drying my cell phone off with the dry half of my shirt and putting it in my dry pocket, I took a few deep breaths. I walked away rapidly, not understanding the waves of emotion that replaced the physical wave I just encountered. Unlike that wave of Atlantic ocean water, the emotional wave did not recede. It kept coming.

All of the many times I had subjugated my will, my wants, my preferences, my desires to my husband's whims; all of those many, many times I had done so and it turned out badly for me; all those times came flooding back into my brain. I was soaked through and through with the memories of those times.

Luckily, both my husband and I understand PTSD. He was walking beside me, all apologies, when I started crying. He apologized all the more profusely, and I cried all the more profusely. Eventually through my sobs I was able to tell him that I was not mad at him, but nevertheless I couldn't stop crying.

We went back to the hotel, where he held me and I cried. He handed me Kleenex's while I recounted to him all I was remembering and all I was feeling. He listened with love and patience as I eventually wrapped it all up and was able to set it aside. It took awhile.

I won't recount the memories here. They are personal and the details are irrelevant anyway. It's what I understood about them on the beach that I want to relate. I understood that many of those hurtful times, times I subjugated my thoughts, feelings, desires to my husband, WERE MY DOING.

I did that to my self.

My husband is not a monster. He did not demand I subjugate myself. He did not demand I walk on the beach. I could have said, "Sweetheart, I want to spend time with you too but I really, really don't want to get sticky and sandy this morning so we will have to find another way to enjoy each other's company."

It was my doing. I am the one who discounted my own opinion, my own desires, my own feelings. I did that internally to my own self. Wow.

I had not realized how much responsibility I BORE for those bad experiences. I had believed the teaching that if a wife lets a husband make the decisions, God will see to it that all works out well in the end. I put it into practice, and I found out by hard experience that it is NOT TRUE.

This I already knew: abdicating responsibility to my husband when he did not care as much or have as clear an understanding of what was at stake as I had at the time was stupidity on toast. See the entry Poison for my Marriage.

The epiphany Sunday was how automatically I still slipped into the "subjugate yourself" mode. The epiphany was how unfair it always was to my husband, who is no mind reader and can only judge the depth of my convictions by how forcefully or not I stick by them. He apologized over and over for my soaking, but I was the one who climbed onto his back even though I didn't really want to.

We have hosted several foreign exchange students before, and one year we had a wonderful Japanese student. In Japanese culture, it is considered rude to turn down an invitation. The onus is on the one offering the invitation to carefully consider ahead of time if this will be an inconvenience to the person you are inviting.

Of course, we are Americans see things differently. In America (or at least my version of America =) invitations are a sign of approval and inclusion. So I invite people to go with me every single time I leave the house. If no one wants to come, it is -as we say in Oklahoma- no skin off my teeth. I just want them to know they are loved.

My Japanese student did not know this. No matter how poorly timed or downright intrusive my invitations were, she accepted. This was not good for her school work or our family relationships.

This student was taking private English lessons at the time, and the day came when her entire hour-long lesson centered on only one word- the word NO. She practiced over and over again the whole hour with her tutor. She gained courage with each passing minute.

The next day after her lesson, I was getting ready to go to the store. I called up the stairs and asked our foreign exchange student if she wanted to go. She came out of her room, looking a bit scared, made her hands into fists as they hung at her side, and very forcefully said, "NO!" She then winced a bit as she steeled herself for the negative reaction she expected.

My face broke into a huge grin. I clapped my hands together and exclaimed, "Good for you! You said "no"! I am so proud of you." My own kids came out of their rooms to congratulate her and give her their approval. She beamed.

I guess I need some practice saying "no" myself. I am going to do my best to stop this automatic self-subjugation. I choose to believe that the people who love me want to know what I really think, how I really feel, and what I really want. My husband was hoping for emotional intimacy on the walk, but how could we have that while I was not even being honest about my heart's desires while we walked?

Next time I hope that I can be honest and open about my wants too. Instead of having to choose one person's desires over another's, I am guessing we can find some middle ground on which to meet. Dry middle ground. Clean and dry and smooth middle ground, with no waves. Poolside, maybe? =)

Peace and good will to all who read here, SS


  1. I understand what you are saying Shadow.

    And I do agree with you that ultimately it is up to us.

    But it is still frustrating when you are married to a man who takes any no you offer as a personal insult, like he's from Japan or something. When he's not. And he doesn't mind telling me no. It hurts his feelings that I 'don't want to spend time with him' when that's not the issue.

    He doesn't get it and I'm frustrated with him not getting it.

    On the one side he's fragile. On the other he's unreasonable.

    I'm not at all discounting what you said. But some of my 'no's have cause huge fights in my house, when they so shouldn't have. And the fights wear me out.

    The Boundary books were good for me. Helped me stand my ground better.

  2. Mara, I am saddened to read that your husband gets insulted when you say NO! That sounds extremely frustrating, even maddening. >:[

    That is so immature, and shows no expression of agape on his part. He should be as interested in your wants/needs/desires/thoughts as he is in his own.

    I am only writing about MY self. I am seeing in my past how I ALLOWED no, even at times CONTRIBUTED to bad situations in our family life because I internalized the lie that submission/subjugation to my husband alleviates my responsibility and (I truly believed) is the obedience to God that will bring about good in the relationship.

    I totally do not believe any of that anymore.

    I believe the scriptures about HOW to submit to their husbands were written to women WHO HAD NO CHOICE IN THE MATTER ABOUT SUBMISSION other than choosing the attitude with which they were to serve God in their CULTURALLY MANDATED SLAVERY.

    Finally, finally it is all making sense.

    Submission was not optional to first century wives. The question Paul answered was "how do I live out the love of God in spite of this slavery in which I am bound (first century marriage in the Roman empire)?" The answer: though you have no choice whether or not to submit, do it as unto the Lord (like slaves were also counseled- in hopes that God would reward). Paul counsels to take the mandated oppression and make it a willing sacrifice to Christ.

    He was never telling us to choose oppression.

    Likewise the place where he says "submit unto your own husbands". Paul was saying you are only legally bound to submit to your own husband. Don't subjugate yourself any further than culture demands.

    Don't subjugate yourself. That's what I am trying to unlearn- the idea that I should subjugate myself unthinking to my husband.

    I will take your book recommendation. It sounds like you are ahead of me in learning to say "no".

    I hope your husband will learn to accept NO as just as useful and helpful as YES DEAR.

    I asked my husband this, "what did you want from the walk? emotional intimacy? closeness?" Of course he said yes. Then I told him I want that too, but if one of us is having to hide our true feelings then it won't even be possible.

    He seemed to understand. I hope your husband "gets it" soon.

  3. SS--this post, while inspired by entirely different circumstances, mirrors much of what I have mulling over for the last several weeks: owning our trauma--both in the causation (not 100% of course but for what we DID do, allow, escalate) and in the continuing PTSD (again, not 100%). And then, even more importantly, forgiving ourselves for our actions/inactions that set us up for the trauma.

    As hard as it has been to own up to my responsibility for my condition (in my case, physical and mental disability), the forgiveness thing has been the real wall at which I continue to fling myself. I still can't extend grace to myself even for the times when the action/inaction I took was necessary for survival.

  4. I am so proud of you....this is HUGE. You have shown grace to your husband and to yourself through this epiphany...and what a one it is!

  5. It might sound trite, but your story reminds me that our "yes"s have no meaning, apart from also having "no"s. There are times I can choose to say "yes" and do something that wouldn't be my first preference, but it would have no meaning and not even be a choice, unless I could say "no". I think you have really hit on the significance of not feeling able to say "no" when "no" is what you feel and want. I think "no" is important on so many levels--not only for healthy marriages and other relationships, but also just for general health. This concept of "no" giving meaning to my "yes"s is one that I've had to think through with regards to burnout as well.

    It's not so much that "no" is more important than "yes", but rather that being free to choose either one really means being free to choose. (Now I've gone from trite to redundant, LOL).

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your story. It is one I am reading with great interest and deep emotions, as parts of it overlap some significant emotional parts of my past, and almost as significantly, parts of your story contrast sharply with deeply emotional parts of my past. Your words help me put words to some of my feelings and thoughts.

  6. Danakx,

    It is humbling and very satisfying to know that my words are helpful to someone else's journey. Your words are helpful to me, I might add. Some of us need redundancy to finally "see"! :p

    *blush* Yeah, it's pretty big...

    I pray you are able to forgive yourself soon. You are such a precious soul, and I am quite sure that God adores you, is infatuated with you, delights in you-you are LOVED! God has chosen to completely overlook all your shortcomings and take upon Himself any blame or responsibility for them that needed to be addressed. He is for you!

    And so are your internet friends. =) Accept it. There is no longer any charges pending against you. All are dismissed. You are free to go and be anyone you and grace can work out. Go in peace, friend. <3 <3 <3

  7. SS--just so I can keep up with you, I had my own major PTSD meltdown today. I lost control of my car door in a parking lot and it slipped a couple inches to scratch the door handle of the car parked too close next to me. The grumpy old man charges out of his car to berate me for recklessness and threaten me with having to pay the damages if his rental car company sees it. Seriously, the only way that anyone will see the scratch is if he points it out but he was such a pr*** (my hubby's term for him) that he could very well point it out, just to make my life miserable.

    I was already in a fragile state of mind from some other triggers but had been holding together alright. When he started chewing me out, holding onto my car door so I couldn't shut it, all the while speaking calmly but with venom, I shut down--couldn't think of a single response except to wait for him to wind down and pronounce judgment on me.

    By the time I got home some five minutes later, I was shaking and sobbing and couldn't even speak coherently. My 13yo daughter had to tell the story. My husband recognized it for the PTSD episode that it was sooner than I did--he kept repeating "this isn't about a scratch on a car, this is about your father and all the evil old men who put you down in church".

    He was right, insofar as he went, but I think the bigger issue was that I was/am so angry with myself for not doing anything about it. Almost any action I could have taken would have been better than my inaction. My husband kept asking, "why didn't you do XYZ, or PDQ, or ABC?" and I kept having to say, "because I couldn't think straight, all I could hear was white noise where I was blocking out the grumpy man."

    And then I started wailing all over again. My husband still, five hours later, wants to jump on his white charger and gallop off to avenge my honor for someone having made me hysterical. Which is really terribly sweet, I haven't seen him so willing to support me in a long time. But misses the point that *I'm* the one I am most angry at.

    I cannot... will not... forgive myself for not defending myself (whether this grumpy old fart or the authority figures of my past). It's stupid and irrational. I know there wasn't anything I reasonably could have done as a child but I am hideously, hatefully, angry at that child.

    Shadowspring, I am so glad that you found the grace to forgive yourself because that gives me hope that I can get there, too.

  8. Aw, Sandra, I have such a different response to that child! I want to embrace her, pick her up, tuck her head against my chest, and kick that old man in the shins- HARD! Tell him to back the heck off, stand my ground until he mumbles an apology, then take that little girl home to rock on the porch swing and blow bubbles.

    One thing to consider is that your inner child is VERY VERY young! I sense that immediately. The age you must have been when the original trauma happened had to be extremely young- a toddler? Younger? 0.0

    When we experience a significant trauma, it lays down certain neural pathways to the primitive brain. This part of our brain (by evolution if you prefer, by the design of God if like me you prefer that idea) has only three responses. These responses are designed to protect us in a time of danger. Fight or flight we all know about, but the third is FREEZE.

    Young animals, nestlings or sucklings, can not win a fight or outrun a predator. Their only hope is to escape detection. Freezing, then, is not stupid or weak, but the wisest chance for surviving the threat against the very young.

    My husband also freezes at open confrontation. I know for sure of one serious trauma that happened before he was five that could account for his completely shutting down in powerless passivity. I won't tell his story here without his permission, but thinking about it makes me grateful his mom is senile now. She has become very sweet in her senility, thankfully.

    As children we pick up the idea that the berating/beating was truly our fault, and we hate ourselves for being so bad that we brought the need for this abuse on ourselves.

    I think your harsh emotions against yourself are just another continuing experience of your PTSD. It is part and parcel of reliving the trauma.

    I am really liking EMDR, but I have tried other things that were helpful in the past. Like writing a letter to my toddler self promising to protect her and look out for her and not let people abuse her again.

    I found that incredibly healing, though I cried a lot (not while writing it) while reading it aloud to my image in the mirror. My tears turned into prayers and it was truly affirming to the little girl in me that she is lovable, worthy of love, and is no longer abandoned to deal with abuse alone. Adult me is here to help. =)

    Hope any part of this helps. Love you much, SS

  9. "One thing to consider is that your inner child is VERY VERY young! I sense that immediately. "

    The one event I remember (and wrote about in the my Fear series last spring) happened when I was four. It is logical that similar but less immediately scary events happened earlier.

    Another thing I have to remind myself of is that much of my first year was spent in an out of the hospital: from birth (normal trauma for a mid-60's birth) to surgury (at 3 or 4 mo) for a facial oddity, a car accident at 6 mo that left me temporarily blinded, broken arm and leg, and a crushed skull. There was supposedly no brain damage and I certainly came out of it without being vegetative but I think there was some significant injuries that would be consistent with my psychic experiences, my mysticism, and a lot of my fears (annihilation, etc).

    But, even knowing these things with my conscious adult mind, my non-rational non-adult mind is like a rabid dog with a bone.

    On the up side, my adult conscious self is not willing to let it go anymore either--I will do whatever I have to do to break the hold of that dog and get rid of the bone.

    But I should quit hijacking your thread and post all this stuff to my own blog!

  10. Wow, crackerjack of a thread AND comments! Sandra, I'm sorry that happened to you in the parking lot and for what happened to you earlier. You are probably right about your first year having an impact on you, also - I was jaundiced at birth and had many blood draws and needles for weeks afterward - three years later, my mother told us she was expecting a new baby sibling. She says she does not think she ever had talked about my jaundice episode with me at that time, but the FIRST thing I said was, "Are they going to poke the baby?" So yeah, unfortunately trauma at that age can have an affect. Actually, when I go to a doctor even now, even though I like doctors and love all things medical, they can never get a decent vital signs on me - always way high (and not like that when I take them at home). I tend to wonder if it's due to body memory or something. Talking about myself too much here, oh well.

    Being affected so much later may seem discouraging to realize, but I think that maybe if you can remember it is probable and let it help you be more gentle to yourself, that might help both the current emotions and help diffuse the previous traumas. I hope so, anyway!

    Don't try to suppress the anger you have at yourself, if you feel something then you feel something and that is OK, but just try to look at yourself every now and then from a different perspective tance and think what you would feel if it were someone else in those circumstances. No one here would blame you for freezing as a kid!


  11. Thanks, L. I appreciate the support. Even, especially, the "I've BTDT" kind!

    And, thanks, SS for the use of your comments section!