“If you don’t understand that I need to be sensitive… if you don’t get that this is TOO hard for me, then you’re… an asshole.”
Silence. Heavy, sticky silence.
And then, shame.
Thankfully, the night took over and covered us with the sweet absolution of sleep and soon enough it was morning and my words were forgotten. Yet, they hurt. They hurt him, they hurt me and they surely hurt us. You see, words matter. But what matters even more is what is underneath them. And what’s hiding under all the venom, is fear. Fear of admitting that I am not perfect. Fear of feeling what I was feeling. Fear of being judged and rejected. Fear of loneliness and isolation. But most of all, fear of sitting (alone and with him) in my naked vulnerability.
I felt exposed and I had no way of hiding it.
I chose to go on the offence, because frankly that’s my default way of dealing with this sort of challenge. I attack in order to defend. Yet, I am old enough to know now this whole facade is not fooling anyone, much less the man who knows and breathes me daily.
What do you do when you’re in a situation which is repeated over and over and over again? It is painstakingly difficult and confusing for both of you and for a long time you have not been able to see a solution.
What do you do, when you thought you had dealt with it, yet it appears again with the same intensity?
Over the weekend, we visited my husband’s parents in Poland for a big family gathering. His family don’t speak English, I don’t speak Polish. Inevitably, this creates a communication issue. But it is more than that. We have been together for a long time and each time I am in a similar situation, surrounded a big group, I feel I have no voice. I have to communicate through him. I cannot express myself, all my responses are filtered and honestly, I feel like a complete idiot. Yes, it’s boring usually, but mostly it’s frustrating. Frustrating because it’s no one’s fault. I know that I cannot expect his family to be able to communicate in a new language and even if they did, a big group of people who know each other will inevitably revert to the mode of communication which flows most freely, despite their best intentions.
The truth is, I feel traumatised. I have had several experiences when meeting with groups of his friends when I’ve felt I was not welcomed in the group. I felt language was used as a way of excluding me; or the less paranoid version of that is that people just didn’t bother to make an effort to include the foreigner. This, early on in our relationship, cost me and us immensely. Navigating through the mud of misunderstandings, unexpressed emotions and blinding fear was extremely challenging for us as a new couple. And I nearly bolted, on numerous occasions. In fact, if it wasn’t for his perseverance and commitment to making us work, I don’t think we would have made it. There were times when I was flooded by endless, incomprehensible chatter, and I run to the bathroom struggling to hold the tears down, wondering why the hell I was putting myself through this. I hated it.
As the years passed, we found a way to deal with it. Partly through avoidance and tiptoeing around it and partly through redefining what things should look like and growing closer to each other. I tried letting it go, I tried approaching the people who I felt made it difficult. My man and I talked and talked and talked between us. We fought and made up. And bit by bit, we kept coming back to the same truth – what matters most is making this work between us.
I realised this weekend that it’s not over. I have imprisoned myself by choosing to be the victim.
It’s hard, yes. It’s debilitating, almost. Feeling like you’re mute, you’re misunderstood; like you don’t actually matter enough.
But it’s my interpretation and it’s unfair.
The truth is, it’s my ego that is being bruised and punched and kicked mostly. That’s why it hurts so much. My ego that wants to be reassured all the time. She wants to be the centre of attention and also be left alone. She wants to be involved, but not pressured. She wants to be shown love and admiration so she feels safe all the time. There is no space for doubt, no space for anything else. And because my ego feels she has been treated unfairly in the past and plain rude on some occasions, she is looking for someone to blame. This will either be you or me. It cannot be the wonderful family who are doing all they can to make me feel a part of them. It also can no longer be the group of friends who supposedly could be trying harder. So it falls on him – because he should do more, understand more, defend me more; and it falls on me – because I should be speaking the language by now, I should be better at handling my emotions, because what’s the big deal anyway?
In my effort to make sense of this situation, I have let my ego take over and make the shots. I have fallen in a vicious cycle of victimisation and self righteousness, which has blinded me and is robbing me of the fullness of the here and now.
Because ultimately, I have no control over what anyone else does.
I have no control over what they think of me or what they say about me.
I have no control over how they choose to act.
I don’t even have control over how he responds, how much he notices, how he feels.
But I do have control over me.
I can affect how I feel, right now and in every moment.
I can choose how deep I go in my head and which story I choose to listen to.
I can choose which situation I put myself in, when I stand up for myself and when I need to be silent (not because I can’t speak, but because it feels right to allow space there).
I can choose whether I defend, I attack or I simply lean in and let go.
I can choose whether I hold resentment and anger or whether I forgive and breathe.
For me – and for us. I can choose.
The thing is, you are never mute. Your silence, your withdrawal, the energy around you; they speak for you, whether you like it or not. And I’m tired, I want to be free. It turns out I was waiting for him to free me, when actually, it’s not his job to do this. He can hold my hand, but he needs to fight his own battle and I need to fight mine. He can’t free me, however much he wants to, however hard he tries to (and believe me, he has tried). You can imagine the strain on our bond when I expect him to do the impossible, yet neither of us realise it cannot be done. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, says Albert Einstein.
No, this is not working.
It’s my battle and it’s with myself.
And it contains a whole lot of forgiveness, kindness, patience and compassion towards me, him and others; a pinch of humour and a lot of slow, grounding breathing (and eventually some language lessons).