Thinking...Thinking...Thinking!

This past week has been a tidal wave of sorts. Not the way you might imagine, necessarily. But lots of thoughts and emotions, interactions with people I haven't interacted with in quite some time, healing moments mixed with sad reflections; all enveloped in steady waves of thankfulness. I am eager for the reflections to stop. However, the magnitude of my thankfulness is in large part due to the memories of another life.

For the last nine years, I've had the only recurring nightmare I've ever been plagued with. I've dreamed over and over that I was trying to get away from someone and couldn't. The magnitude of heaviness in those dreams is overwhelming. The dreams were merely reenactments of scenes that used to be my life (no worse than what I actually lived all those years). But it always felt so much worse because I had now experienced a life so polar opposite of what used to be my ordinary life. So, when I would wake up and realize it was just a dream, the emotion would be very intense. This will sound dramatic, but the only way I can describe my relief was that it seemed to me how a person would feel to walk into the sunshine and know they were free after being in prison. I know. It really sounds over the top. But I'm writing it anyway because it's the truth.

As recently as a month ago, I had two or three of these dreams within a few nights. In the dreams, I'm being belittled and objectified; I feel trapped and afraid. I am always intrigued by the intensity of my despair in the dreams, since my dreams are not of the worst moments I lived through; rather, the more ordinary forms of contempt that I just accepted. In my dreams, those ordinary moments are sheer anguish. But while I lived them, I just pushed through them and constantly tried to rise above them. Some of my friends have told me I was in denial. I just thought I was doing the right thing. My dad used to tell me that some people spent their whole lives trading one set of problems for another set of problems and if they would just accept the problems they had and work on them instead of running away, they would have a better chance at being happy. So I thought I was trying to accept the problems I had.

It took me a long time to figure out (with the help of a counselor) that instead of being very noble and strong, I was really an enabler who was constantly engaged in self-preservation. I was unintentionally doing the wrong things, and I really thought I was doing them for the right reasons until counseling exposed that I was doing everything -- at all times -- simply to protect myself from unwanted consequences. I wasn't helping the other person. And by constantly pursuing someone who was abusive, I was literally feeding the monster and enabling -- in the words of my counselor -- "ungodly behavior." He made me see that if I really loved this person, I would tell him the truth about his behavior, not tolerate it. I would risk rejection by confronting the unacceptable behavior for the sake of that person's condition and relationships with others. I began to think in ways I had never considered. And I began to make efforts to change my unhealthy responses.

That period of time is now "long ago and far, far away" for me. But I recently had to watch someone else make the difficult decision to detach and refuse to enable. And, as a result, I relived a lot of my own experiences with the rejection and objectification. But I knew I wasn't bitter because even in the midst of the disappointment and even occasional anger I felt, I could always feel some level of compassion for the person who was inflicting harm. And in light of these recent events, compassion is 95% of what I feel. It kind of amazes me, to be honest. But I believe God has done that for me.

There is a cost incurred in loving someone enough to be honest with them. It's far easier to placate people and make patronizing excuses for consciously backing away from them when they become difficult or draining. But when we do that, we are hurting their opportunities for growth and our collective opportunities for more meaningful relationship. When I ask John a question about myself, he always tells me the truth as he sees it. Even when he knows it's not the response I'm looking for. It's never mean-spirited. It's just honest. I love that about him. I don't want to be lied to. Even if it might make me feel good in the moment, it doesn't show me any respect.

One of the things John has said to me many times in our eight years together is, "I know you think you're doing the right thing and trying to be humble, but sometimes your attempts at reconciliation deteriorate into groveling. That upsets me because you invite people to walk on you. You need to have more self-respect." One time when he said that to me, I knew he wanted to see reconciliation as much as I did. But he said, "You are wanting this too much. If you have to grovel to have this relationship, it isn't worth having."

Although I haven't exactly felt wonderful about myself in the moments when he's told me that, I have appreciated his honesty because I know he always has my best interest at heart. He is trying to help me outgrow the need to be loved by everyone. And I think I've made a lot of progress in the last eight years. But I still have to consciously resist my impulses at times. Groveling used to be a way of life for me and it was expected of me. So, of course, it can be a default setting for me when I really don't want friction or confrontation.

I do sometimes feel angry at myself for the abuses I have willingly subjected myself to and participated in through enabling (or groveling). I feel embarrassed that I didn't have more self-respect at those times. But being angry or embarrassed gets me nowhere. The answer is to learn from past mistakes and grow in God's grace on a daily basis. And I know I have.

I may sometimes feel embarrassed, but I'm thankful I do not feel bitter about my past.

I like this quote from a book I just finished.

"For the one who would be neither victim nor victimizer but experience true freedom, there is no place for bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness. To succomb to these impulses because of life's injustices is, unhappily, to perpetuate the hold these injustices have on the victim and turn victimhood into a full-time occupation." (William Dembski)

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