Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dealing with fear

Before you read this post, I want to say that I have been agonizing over how much to write here about my marriage and the reasons for my divorce. My ex is a private person and has always asked me not to talk about our relationship with anyone - family and close friends included. Although this blog is somewhat anonymous, it probably won't be in the near future. We're trying to make this an amicable divorce and I don't want to jeopardize that. I also don't want my kids to read this someday and be disappointed in me for being vindictive or disclosing too much.

But I've decided that, for me, healing requires complete honesty. Writing is my outlet. I'm not a private journal kind of person. For reasons I don't know, I need to write publicly. In order to successfully work through my current crisis, I need to write about my experiences in my marriage - good and bad. I will try to be fair and not use this space to vent my anger willy nilly. Everything I write is obviously from my point of view. If I've learned anything in my relationship it's that different people have different views of the exact same event or conversation. This is my truth and my truth only - his version of events will be much different and that's ok. I also need to say that in our 15 or so years together, we had some really, really good times. There were times when he was my best friend. He helped me in many ways. But he was also my worst enemy and hurt me deeply. Healing will require me to come to terms with those different sides of our relationship.

I'm hoping that by bringing my dark experiences into the light, I can rid myself of some demons. And maybe help other people get rid of their own demons in the process.

So, on to the post . . .

I've been reading lots of great stuff over at The Fluent Self which is this incredible blog written by Havi Brooks (who I wish I could meet in person because she seems like the coolest person to hang out with). Anyway, I was just reading this post about why some of us have a problem with the traditional advice that, to move past fear, you need to "face" it. I'm not sure what it means to "face your fear" because, ok, let's say I turn around to face my fear and say "Hello, fear." What do I do next? Do I push it down and run away? Do a roundhouse kick to its face? Do I plead with it? Use logic? Throw water on it and make it melt like the Wicked Witch? Facing it clearly isn't enough to move on and deal with it. You have to somehow make it go away or make your peace with it and move on in spite of it. That post got me thinking about my own fears, how I've dealt with them (or not) and how my ex often tried to "help" me deal with them.

One of the things Havi stresses is that we can't bully our fears and make them go away. She also stresses the need for loving compassion when we're trying to work past the things that keep us stuck in unhealthy patterns. This is the kind of advice I need. Mostly I try ignore my fears but sometimes I try to bully them, make fun of them and push past them. But none of that works for me. And the way my ex treated me often made things worse rather than better.

Throughout our relationship, my ex tried to get me to face certain of my fears. I think the goal was a good one - I have way too many fears that hold me back and I need to deal with that. Sometimes he was supportive but more often he was a bully. I called him Bobby Knight (the basketball coach known for his belligerence and violent outbursts both on the court and off). He took it as a compliment. After all, Knight got results - he has a great win/loss record. And lots of his former players would lay down their lives for the man because he provided the kind of tough love and motivation that those men needed at that point in their lives. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of former players and others out there that have been damaged by his behavior.

My ex would yell at me, call me names, tell me I was incompetent and later he would explain that did those things to help me improve. He said I better develop a thicker skin because he wasn't going to "coddle" me the way my parents did (at least in his eyes). This was the way he tried to get me to (among other things) exercise more, be a more effective parent, eat right, face my fear of dealing with certain childhood issues, and, my favorite, to get me to stop making so many "stupid" mistakes. Again, to be fair, there were many times when he was nice, gentle, kind, loving, logical and helpful - but he was a bully often enough that sometimes when I think about dealing with some of those issues (like right now), I feel pressure in my chest, I have trouble breathing and I just want to curl up and cry. I hear his words, the derision and anger in his voice. I see his face distorted by rage. I feel the fear. And it consumes me.

I tried and tried for years to be the kind of person that could be motivated by that kind of coaching. I believed, up until I started reading Havi's blog, that I was lazy, stupid and incompetent. That a smart person, a person who cared about her family, would have made the changes he requested. After all, shouldn't I set a good example for my daughters by exercising more and eating right? It's a reasonable request. Shouldn't I deal with my childhood issues by talking to my mother about events in our past? Sure - that conversation was long overdue by the time we had it. Shouldn't I improve my communication skills and my common sense so that I don't make stupid mistakes? Of course. But one of the big problems I've had in dealing with my own issues is that his behavior and the way he treated me became the focus of my energy. In a way, he did the opposite of what he wanted - he helped me avoid taking responsibility for dealing with my issues.

I realize now that what I really need - from myself more than from anyone else - is kindness and compassion. We all need to deal with our issues at our own pace, in our own time. And there may be some things that we never deal with. And that's ok. I need to respect myself and respect my fears. Each fear is there for a reason. It's my job now to figure out what those reasons are and decide what to do about them. Instead of treating fears like monsters to run away from, I'm going to try to treat them like my babies. I created them, says Havi, so I need to be nice to them. Every once in awhile, I'm going to sit still so that I can hear what they have been trying to say to me all this time. And I'm going to listen, for once.
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