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Talking for Awhile

So, in my life, in several places and in many ways, I come into contact - deep and sometimes intimate contact - with women who have abuse histories. Some have sexual abuse... others physical or emotional abuse. Of course, contact with survivors is inevitable for all of us considering one in four women and one in six men are sexually abused during their lifetimes, but for me, it is deeper and more profound. I know that much of my drive towards a degree in psychology has come from working with those who have been hurt so deeply. Most of my relationships, even with formerly abused folks, are positive and empowering because all involved work hard to heal from the horrors and injustices they have (and I have) endured. Yet, when isolated islands of strife appear, they loom immense and crash with thunderous pain.

My own abuse history adds a layer of knowing what women feel. The heightened sense of self-protection, distrust of most, and sticking out the emotional (safety) barometer before entering a room or a home all have been (and some remain at times) major parts of my life at one time or another. I've heard other survivors speak of the same thoughts and behaviors along with reading copious amounts of self-help books - and twenty-five years (plus) of nearly continuous therapy - validating I am far from alone in my trying to un-learn a behavior that was possibly life/spirit/body-saving as a child, but can be relationship-destructive as an adult.

I find myself in tender and deep relationships with women who have been hurt in their lives and several scenarios tend to re-play over and over. Apparently, I haven't learned, or hurt, enough.

One I have discussed often in writing is when I am told, within an incredibly short time after meeting, that I will surely disappoint the person - that everyone does - and I, in my effort to please and probably to prove them wrong try hard to be The One that doesn't hurt them yet find myself being the most disappointing person ever in their lives. These relationships tend to be flashes of relationships, fast and tight, and I have learned to recognize them pretty quickly and accept that I am a disappointment to that person just like all the rest and that I am not responsible for making his/her life perfect or right - as much as I'd like to be helpful. The entire relationship is a set-up to validate the person's sadness, pitiful behavior and thought processes, and their reasoning for emotional isolation from the world. Self-protected? Sure, but at what price.

Another relationship I experience comes with eloquent, therapy-experienced and extremely manipulative women who have much more subtle/sophisticated methods for validating how horrible the world is to them and how they should never trust a soul because of the betrayal foisted upon them time after time. With this type of person, I am relatively able to see what is coming, but all too often am blind-sided by what the person considers betrayal. I spend more than my (invisibly) allotted time with someone the person despises or cross (invisible) lines regarding any number of social and private experiences together - these are all cause for a flurry of out-of-proportion hysteria that could have been easily tended to with a conversation instead of playing guessing games (something I was great at providing for many years in relationships).

These relationships tend to end with the other person claiming "abuse," "betrayal," and using words such as "violation," or "I don't feel 'safe' anymore." I remind myself (LOUDLY) that people come with an entire history I am not responsible for and that I do own up to my shit when it is brought to my attention, that I do apologize when someone is hurt, and that all I can do is try to resolve it so we are able to continue the friendship/relationship. Sadly, typically, the person says they are so hurt and so unable to forget the "betrayal," the relationship dissolves and someone I once loved is forever gone, floating away on a barge of bitterness and amazing miscommunication.

In The Turning Point, Shirley McLaine and Anne Bancroft, lifelong friends, compete for lives each other embodies - one a mother, the other a prima ballerina. As the story crescendos, all the mean thoughts and long-held beliefs vomit forth from both women's mouths... their using the term "toads" for the ugliness in their words. Their anger, frustration, and sadness swirls into a physical fight with each hurling words and hands at each other until, after all has been said, they begin laughing at the absurdity of what they are doing and sit on the ground and laugh about their ridiculousness. As the scene softens, each has shed all pretense and confesses to exactly what the other thought all those years but never said. The movie ends with the women deeper friends than they had been for two decades. The explosion found resolution and communication improved; something the women had not expected when they began sharing their toads.

I sometimes think I need a mediation contract with such friends - asking, even begging, for some discussion and attempt at resolution should difficulties occur sometime down the road. It pulls hard on my heart that I am shut out so completely sometimes even an "I'm sorry" is not even possible. (Especially with women who have been abused, trying to contact them to say "I'm sorry" is cause for yet more hysterics and anger at being "violated" yet again, so I've learned to keep my heart and door open and my mouth shut and allow them, in their own time, to come to me if they ever wish to.)

As a woman with a sexual abuse history and a woman whose parents abandoned her as an early teen - along with the plethora of mental illness, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction in her family (and self), I am extremely, supremely, sensitive to hurting someone's heart. When the accusation of "abuser" comes anywhere near me, I take it and press it into my face, inhale it into my nostrils and down my throat, wash my body in it, push it deep into my pores, and absorb all the guilt and suffering the accuser wishes on me - and more than they could ever imagine. The absolute worst epithet for an abused person is "perpetrator" and when it happens to me, I sink deeply into a place of removing myself from the world because the very last thing I ever, Ever, EVER want to do is hurt someone's heart and spirit. Ever.

That the injured party doesn't come forward for discussion baffles me and I cannot wait to learn why people do this in my upcoming classes. My therapist says that I am correct in believing drama is vital to some people's existence and I am ripe - always ripe - for providing a great big dose of just such drama.

One of my children had one such experience - a best friend for ten years - turned on her for no apparent reason (drugs or alcohol were not involved), spreading evil rumors about her, sharing intimate details my child entrusted this person with and the person never would talk about what in the world happened. The relationship was severed by an appearance in court as the ex-friend accused my child of physical abuse - a charge the judge summarily dismissed as completely fabricated - yet an experience that traumatized my precious daughter so thoroughly, she wonders who she can really trust anymore. The person claiming abuse received a great flurry of support and my daughter shielded herself with what was right and good and it wasn't long before those that supported the other party realized who really was the person being abused.

I learn from my children and her experience reminded me to stand tall in controversy, to speak my truth, to own up to my responsibilities when possible/allowed, and to press on regardless of how much it hurts sometimes. I sometimes feel insignificant in the grand scheme of the world, yet those around me (in real world land as well as Netfriends) continue asking for my insights and knowledge. I do know some things. If completely inexperienced people can share their insights, I absolutely have the right to share my experienced ones. I am reminded (again) that I put myself out there and those that do so are going to be criticized and sometimes villified. I think about how beloved Ina May Gaskin is and how I am pretty disgusted with her much of the time. Does she give a whit what I think? I doubt it. Does she recieve hate mail? Possibly. Does she cry about it? Possibly. I know I was raised to care what others think about me and to work hard to keep the peace almost at any cost. It isn't right, though. I was raised to open my chest and let strangers melon-ball my heart, throwing the spoils into the city dump. I cannot allow that to happen again. (Of course, we all know it will.)

If I learned anything in all of my life - the culmination of thousands of relationships and dozens of conflicts and many spiritually painful lessons - it is to remain true to my Self. Strive for my truth, my translation, my observations and to do my very best when it comes to taking care of others and their feelings, but to not become clinically depressed or get myself into an inner tizzy if they decide to play out their own dramas. I know that my reputation will speak for itself, just as my child's did, and that eventually, the Truth will float to the surface. I will never be universally loved - or even liked - but if I have my family and some friends who believe in me and continue to be asked to write... and write what I see... I know I am on the right track. I have a long history of working with women, admitting my own transgressions and striving to educate others about injustices to women in birth. Those that accuse me have their own histories, their own experiences in whether or not they have helped humanity in any way, personally doing something to spiritually and emotionally grow and change in this world.

I know I am unfolding the next facet of my life as I attend school so I can be a Midwife-Therapist for women who hurt. There are so many that hurt.

And I am not always the reason.

Thanks for listening.

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Reader Comments (8)

I may have to blog about this just because I dont want to fill your comments with a novella, but I wanted to let you know that your writing today is powerful for me. I was contemplating this morning about people who soak in pain, and people who use it to step forward, and I see myself as a person who uses pain to step forward- and I see myself as a person who tries to help others to do the same thing.

I want to offer to you that the harsh words people use when they are triggered are simply reflections, not accusation- that there are people in the world (as I know you know, but I want to say it to you) who can hold you in your humanity and imperfection and feel *blessed by those aspects* as equally as by your wisdom and love. There are people who can hear you be your most selfish narcissistic self and love you as unconditionally as when you are giving selflessly.

I may be saying things that you already know, and that is ok becuase I still feel moved to say them so I'll just trust that you're intended to hear them one more time. ;) But I also wanted to reflect to you that your role in these women's lives is to reflect back to them, and when you are wounded and reminded of your pain, it is easier to lash out and blame than it is to live in *that* moment. We are all God for each other, a blessed opportunity to shine into someone else's life and each them about love.

My mantra: Conflict is an opportunity for growth.

I live by it!

Much love to you, and gratitude for your imperfect humanity :)


December 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

yea this reply could be a novella too... but to keep it short
Barb sorry you are having a hard time. Is it possible that people are going to be hurt by what we think or who we are- yes. Can we completely avoid this no.

December 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

that's some self reflection.
Keep on asking those questions Barb - only those who seek and are open to the answers will have them presented.

December 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterWash Lady

Often, when reading your blog, I wish I lived near you, so I could swing by Ama Mama or your home and give you a hug.

I had a dream last night and you were in it. You were in a Farmer's Market (in my town? yours? not sure...) and supposed to be selling stuff, but instead there was a line of women and you were sitting at a table and holding their hands and, one at a time, counselling with them.


Thank you all so very much. Your kind words sent me to the Kleenex box.

I've been filling out scholarship applications (completed a dozen now), so am not reading lists and not writing fun things or blogging (not always fun) too often. I miss MDC, EC, the doula list... but I think getting some money for school next year is even more vital.

What I wrote yesterday was stream of consciousness that came clearly and completely with very little editing. Sometimes, I feel someone else is writing through me. I have read what I wrote several times and cannot believe my thoughts came out onto "paper" so well; I've been trying to say so many of these things for a month now and it hasn't been heard or understood. Sometimes when I write something like this, I want to go back and add stuff - "oh, I forgot this example," or "I need to clarify this, it sounds so goofy/arrogant/confusing/etc." Yet, with this piece, I still don't see many places I could change something. Sarah told me this was absolutely something that needed to be in "my book" (whatever that is).

You four here and the few others who only write in email are the rock that I lie on when it is time to climb out of the water to get some sun. Your brightness, humor, love, and compassion are overwhelming. I wish I had adequate words to thank you for standing by me.

Kristina, the comment about loving me even at my worst, ugliest, and during my greatest transgressions, to me, is what friendship is all about. Friends say, "hey, I don't like that!" to your face and then conversation - even if it is shouting and emotional - ensues. But, rarely is friendship so worthless as to not even bother with any sort of discussion whatsoever.

I have severed ties with friends that were not good for me or my spirit. Just like in birth, emotional vampires drain the life out of any interaction. I believe when one braces themselves for someone's phone call, email or visit, perhaps some re-evaluation of the relationship is in order. One-sided relationships rarely succeed as resentment, anger and frustration overtake joy, delight and anticipation.

Even as a doula or midwife or LLL leader or LC or childbirth educator, one-sided relationships are doomed to disappoint - and probably disappoint both parties! The client surely isn't getting what she needs if she remains mute, antagonistic, non-compliant (so to speak), or apathetic.

I used to say that being a doula was taking co-dependency to an art form. The anticipation of needs, the go-fer aspects and always with a smile, thank you... the loving unconditionally even when the person is not the most lovable... all these traits are honed in co-dependents from childhood.

When I'd been a doula for about 6-7 years, I became incredibly depressed and through exploration, realized it was because I gave and gave and gave (nursed 2-3 kids, cooked for 2 families, baked bread, doula'd at least twice a week, LLL leader for two different groups, etc.). Of course everyone was loving and kind and extremely grateful, but I didn't have any touch on my own reality - who I was as a woman, a person. I built walls to limit the amount of giving I could do - not to withhold when others need - but to keep some of my heart for myself.

Sometimes, I forget the wall falls into disrepair and needs reinforcements. I recently had just such reinforcement. My heart is not gone, or even hidden, just more protected for awhile.

I once asked in therapy how come when it comes to relationships I say, "I will NEVER do that again," and I don't (usually, at least I don't do it the same way), but the next thing/issue comes at me in a blind spot. How come that blind spot moves around and is different every time?

I was reminded I am here to learn. To grow. To change. It sounds so new-agey, but if it weren't true, why stay and fight on? I need it to be my Truth - at least for now.

I love you women. Thank you for loving me.

December 27, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Keep telling yourself the truth- and it will just emanate from you. You are loved, Barb!

December 27, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKristina

Why do people like IMG so much anyway?
I've always thought her beginnings MIGHTY IRRESPONSIBLE! And what are those bagels on the sides of her head!?!LOL

December 28, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

"My therapist says that I am correct in believing drama is vital to some people's existence and I am ripe - always ripe - for providing a great big dose of just such drama."

Wow. Your words are so powerful, so deep... and that sentence in particular has given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen C.

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