Listen to My Story, My Way
Every day of my life, I’ve thrown myself into my work as a means of denial and escape from one kind of abuse or another, past and present. Below you will find excerpts from my published memoirs, Sculpting the Heart: Surviving Depression with Art Therapy. To be honest, I don’t have all the answers. I can write about being victimized, but I don’t know how to escape it. Do you? So many of us have to stay tied, physically and mentally-boxed in with an abuser, who is always far too much in our personal space. Every day we say to ourselves, “I wish I was dead; or him!!!”
We live with yelling, screaming, condemnations and threats. Most abusers like to break things to punish us, especially the things we love. We suffer so much hate for our abuser, ourselves and our situation, we can barely breathe. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Do we stay together and fix the relationship or do we take a break from to fix us like Ross and Rachael from the TV series Friends?
Sometimes we act crazier than our abusers. I’ve often screamed, “Shut up. I’ll kill you if you don’t leave me alone!” I live on my Social Security. I’m 64. I have high blood pressure. I suffer chronic back pain. I have to get a shot once a month to stand. How do I fix us? It is natural to want to fix what is wrong,” says Joyce Meyers, evangelist. “There are two kinds of pain in the world that hold us back from having all the happiness and love we want: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. “
The first kind of pain she mentions comes from the discipline of working with callused hands trying to make our dreams come true . Our calluses eventually heal as does our pain. The second kind of pain is of regret. This kind of pain can be so pervasive it intrudes in our work, relationships, and keeps us from being happy.
Recovery from verbal and mental abuse involves as much unlearning as learning. My parents were alcoholics and I learned from childhood to shut my mouth, agree and hide. For many of us recovery takes a lot of years. Like many others when grown, I sought out approval and love in all the wrong places and in all the wrong people.
I spent most of my prime looking for someone to complete me by roaming empty, unlighted streets in the dead of night; slipping in and out of dark, sleazy bars; past whispering souls with luminescent faces and unkempt hair. I danced under disco lights and made secret rendezvous with anonymous souls. I even marched into places and predicaments even angels feared to treat. I always ended up alone. Unhappy. My gut told me I wasn’t a loving kind of person. I was damaged. I was unloveable.
The writer, MacLaren says, “God sends us many love tokens, and among them are the great and little annoyances and pains that beset our lives, and on each of them, if we would look, we should see written in His own hand, this inscription: is for your own good.” We are hopeless humans when our hands are hanging down empty, bent and useless. It was Paramahansa Yoganda who says, “Love is the silent conversation between two hearts.”
Our story goes like this: When I met my significant other we became a couple out of need and convenience much like I believe my mom and pops did after the war. There was no romance just a lot of laughing and leaning. Laughter was healing for both of us. This just may be another case of how history in certain families keeps repeating itself.
If the truth were told, Joaquin was a textbook alcoholic with no place to live; and, I was a codependent enabler with a home and no one to enable. My four children were grown and gone off to chase their own dreams. I had just gotten out of the hospital from another period of manic depression.
Joaquin and I met at a bar one night. Big surprise! Where else would I meet someone as sick as I? It was the first time I went out in ages with a lady friend. I was bed-bound for so long from the pain that comes with emotional disability. I also had physical pain from a fallen bladder and needed a hysterectomy also. My body was as on fire as my heart.
It was a cold October night just before Halloween. It was dark in the club and Joaquin had gotten separated from his friends. They left him there alone, maybe, because he was drunk. He asked me to dance. I said, yes. On the floor while dancing, he leaned on me in a fog of confusion. I just laughed at him and later bought him a cup of coffee and tomato juice thinking that would help him sober up. I brought him home that night like I would any stray. Sex was no minds. We both had what the other needed.
If you will excuse the expression, I was most probably his last shot at living and he was mine. He was moody, depressed, and manipulative and I was the same. Sometimes we did not even like each other yet we made our bed together lying between sheets of codependency and anger for our lot in life. That was what we both knew best. He kept his bag packed behind my couch those first years. Sounds like a country and western song doesn’t it?
We clung to each other while mending our hearts. A funny thing happened in our darkest times; we discovered the healing that comes from pouring ourselves into art making and creative expression. We had the love of making art. Creating revived our imagination, our will to live, and recaptured for us some joy in our sore lives.
We walked around in denial that we were in love. We both swallowed an inordinate amount of crap from each other! We were like two pieces of a puzzle that should go together but did not! Also, we both needed someone to lean on. There were good times when he was sober and affectionate, not so defensive. He was kind, loving and thoughtful. He seemed enjoy taking care of me as much as I did him.
THE ALCOHOLIC & HIS ENABLER POEM
Rotted gutting, pickled lips and blood shot eyes, violent limbs in the middle of sleep, Protruding wormholes where the liver and heart should be, Fading in and out, a stranger, a lover, A stranger, again, Coal black days for his enabler, Who nourished him? It was me. His breathing labored after kissing me, Him licking his lips loving the way they tasted of beer; I was his woman, He drifted in and out, a Boy, a Monster, a Boy, again, Joining hordes of others dying, One day at a time in crowded Sanguine rooms of hell, nothing Left but the faintness of their best memories, their dreams Strangling in dishevelment Who nourished him? Who fell in love with him? It was me. His enabler. ~~
After twenty years, we had now moved into a better vantage point as far as couples go. His bag behind my couch long ago disappeared. We are totally committed to one another but we still fight like cats and dogs. As far as I’m concerned, once an abuser, always an abuser. Once an enabler, always an enabler.
Right from the start, we began working on our self-esteem issues by discovering value in each other first as creators than as friends. I loved it when he took the time to read my writing. I had boxes and boxes stuck away. As a matter of fact, he told me, he first fell in love with my writing and then me!
Love brought the best in us after our pain and anger brought out the worst in us. Joaquin finally quit drinking and went back to work to support my need to write and make art. We are still together, as happy or as unhappy as any couple can be. We have art all around us we made together. I tend to agree with Goethe who says, “Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.”
Otto Rank, philosopher, says, “Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life. We are all functioning at a small fraction of our capacity to live fully in its total meaning of loving, caring, creating and adventuring. The actualizing of our potential can become the most exciting adventure of our life time.”
In the last twenty years, we opened and closed those mad, sad, scared and lonely doors before falling in love. We kind of melded into each other without us consciously deciding to do so. My life has been like a great work of art, a masterpiece that has little to do with fame and a lot to do with commitment, discipline and intention. Each of us in our subjective consciousness has a story of love and survival that is uniquely ours.
Enjoy my poem below:
It’s nice to think of tears…like polliwogs
swimming around excitedly
ready to evolve,
it’s nice to think of sorrow as water,
all those tears escaping where
swelling pain had been,
It’s nice to think our sorrow will soon
evaporate just like our tears,
It is nice to think we are like polliwogs
merely evolving into a higher form,
And someday, we’ll be up in the
clouds dreaming of the comfort
and safety of polliwogs
swimming in a mortals’ eyes,
poetry meant for another.
by Joyce White