Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Who installed the decision making software in YOUR brain?

A friend and I went for a walk today along the Rio Grande trail in Aspen. It was a lovely walk, and as usual, we fell into conversation that eventually wound around to talking about life, our goals, our happiness, our plans.

While we were talking, we started to talk about how much it costs to be a ski instructor. There are dues, clinic fees, exam fees, tryout fees, travel fees, she spends thousands of dollars a year in training.

I mentioned to my friend that at that moment, there is a decision process here. At some point, you have to decide if what it costs to apply for this job is worth interviewing for the job. If at some point the cost outweighs your desire to interview, then you are right, its not worth it. If you still want to interview even though it costs a prohibitive amount of money, you will find a way to find the money and get there.

It reminded me about the post I wrote about boundaries. At some point, even though you THINK you want to be involved in something, you may even feel SURE you want to be involved in it, there may come a time when you realize you have reached a boundary, one you thought was further out than it is.

It is smart, it is important, it is wise to be aware of these boundaries and to listen to them. If we don't listen, we tend to loose our sense of self preservation and just push through, sometimes right off the edge of a cliff. You saw the sign, you ignored it, you pushed through anyway, and the consequences are dire.

Sometimes, its important to look very carefully at those boundaries. Why are they there? Who put them there? Are you sure that obeying that boundary is in your best interest, or are you doing what society tell you is normal and right to do?

My friend asked me, "Kate, do you have any boundaries like this? Because it doesn't seem like you do."

Here is what I told her.

I am absolutely dedicated to the pursuit of becoming. My goal in my life is to perform to my potential as a human. To become who I might become, to remove impediments on the path to becoming.

Skiing is an avenue that I'm walking down while I'm becoming, but it could have been anything, it could have been fly fishing or painting, or under water basket weaving. I am very careful about looking at the boundaries I bump up against and checking to see why they are there. Am I not doing something because of fear? And if so, why is that fear there? Is this fear something I need to confront and move through? Or is this fear an indicator I should listen to?

Seven years ago, I did the scariest thing I think I will ever do in my life. Seven years ago, I faced a boundary of fear that I had shied away from dozens of times when I was growing up.

My stepfather was an incredibly frightening, abusive man. He terrorized my two sisters and I for twenty six years. During those years of abuse, I learned a lot of ways to keep myself safe. When I couldn't keep my body safe, I left my body and kept my mind safe. Our minds are amazing at coping, at creating little work arounds.

Seven years ago, when I was pregnant with Bodhi, I made the decision to confront him. To take the abuse we were all living with and make it public. This was scary for a couple of reasons; I wasn't sure what he was going to do. He has a violent and unpredictable temper, I had learned early not to provoke it if I could help it. I was afraid that I was going to lose my mother. I was afraid that she wouldn't believe me, or that if she did, she wouldn't be strong enough to leave him.

I had to decide that those choices were hers, I could not affect anything or anyone other than myself, and I knew I could not let this abuse continue. The tragedy of abuse is that it is a silent cycle of power. Because of fear and shame, its always kept under the rug, and the silence is complacency, which fuels space for the abuser to continue. Eventually, victims become abusers, or marry abusers, and their kids suffer the same fate.

Pregnant with Bodhi, Ethan not yet two years old, I knew it had to stop now. Sexual abuse is about power, not about gender. And I knew that no matter what the cost, I had to protect my kids from him. I would not allow them to become victims, I would not hobble their potential as people because I was to afraid to tell someone in my life that he could not touch me that way. That my body was my body. I could not fail my children that way.

I lived with fear for several weeks after I made the decision to confront him. I had to tell myself that it was appropriate that I feel fear, because this was a scary situation. When the day finally came and I drove with my husband to the therapist's office where my step father was going to be, I was more afraid than I have ever been. But I also knew that feeling that fear did not mean that this was something I should not do. It meant that this was a scary thing to do. In fact, the scarier it felt in my core, the more I knew I needed to do it, because I knew that fear that I felt was his, not mine. It was something I was taught to feel about him, by him. And I didn't want to be ruled by it any more, and I never wanted my kids to feel it.

After I went through that experience, I embarked on a mission to see what other things I felt fear about because of him. What decisions was I making based on lessons taught by this controlling, fear filled, abusive man?

At first, I went after them like a rabid detective. I wanted him out of me in every way. I wanted to be rid of him through to my soul. Of course, that is an impossible exorcism, I have lots of things in me that I learned from him that are good. I have a strong work ethic because of him. I can control my fear because of him, I can tolerate pain because of him, I can pitch a business plan because of him. I learned that there are no excuses and responsibility ALWAYS rests on me because of him. I learned to take responsibility, face the music, and walk towards the thing that scares me because of him.

But I had an unhealthy will to win because of him. I had a sabotaging tendency because of him. I believed I was horribly ugly because of him, I did not believe in myself because of him. I believed I could never be good enough, that I was unlovable and born to fail because of him. I hated myself because of him.

You can see that it is easy to say Because of Him. Its easy to fall into the role, to say, ah, I had a hard childhood, and because of that, someone owes me something. Someone else needs to love me the way that he should have. Someone else needs to take care of me to heal this wound.

Believing that is part of being swallowed by your past. It is another excuse, it is playing into your abusers hand, it is your abuser continuing to dictate your life, how it unfolds and what your potential is.

As I discovered that, I got angry. I didn't want even passive decision making by him in my head. And so, rather than placing blame, and becoming a victim of having been a victim, I got to work. For a while after you go through something like a confrontation with a person who is abusive, your abuse defines you. Its hard not to talk about it all the time. Its hard not to see everything through the lens of either the abuse or your struggle to survive. But with time and patience and practice, your abuse, your relationship with the person who abused you (and by this, I mean the way you think of them in your life and how much control they still have over you), fades and changes.

My abuse I see as a fact, like I have blond hair (well, now I'm getting Grey hair, but don't tell anyone.) When it seems apropos, I bring it up, because becoming silent about it again gives it power again. And so its a thing that happened in my life. I'm not angry about it any more. I don't hate my step father. I understand that he became who he is becuse he did NOT break this cycle in his own life. Someone obviously hurt him badly. He is a picture of what I could become. He is a picture of what happens when you let your coping and your abusers fear dictate the decisions you make in your life. When you don't do the work to ferret out root impetus, motivation, when you aren't willing to, for lack of a better word, look at your shit, you run the risk of becoming a person like this. A person driven to do things with no logical purpose, a person driven by passion and fear, a person running on the auto pilot installed by their abuser, and having no idea that its happening.

I don't worry or obsess about the abuse in my life. But it certainly was a powerful factor that shaped my life significantly, and continues to do so, because it drives me to become who I would have been, and who I can be now, had he never come in contact with me, and in spite of the fact that he did.

I bring it up here, because I answered my friend's question with a bit of that history, and then I told her; after I did the scariest thing I've ever done in my life, I wanted to be certain that any boundaries I felt were boundaries or rules that I agrees with. That were there for healthy reasons. I didn't just not want to abide by abstract rules of conduct installed by my step father, or all the coping I had learned to survive, but I didn't' want to abide by rules imposed by other people's fears in general.

Its like living in a pen or a corral and bumping up against the wall, and saying, oh, I shouldn't go out there. Well, why not? Because there is a fence here. Well, why is the fence here? Who put it there? Who says outside the fence is bad? Who is telling you to stay inside, and what is their motivation?

For years, my mother cut the end off of a ham before she cooked it. I always assumed that she cut it off for a reason, that had to do with basting or juices, I assumed that this is how you cook a ham. One day, I found out that she cut the end off the ham because that's how her mother had always done it. And then I found out that her mother cut the end off the ham because the ham wouldn't fit in their baking dish. There's no reason for me to do it. There's no reason for my mom to do it.

People live their lives trapped by convention and tradition, not that those things are bad, but have you examined why they are there? Just because its always been done that way, or it hasn't been done yet doesn't mean its not worth doing differently or its not worth trying to do!

What I told my friend was that I am just not willing, ever again, to look at a boundary that I bump into and blindly follow it. I look to make sure that I am not endangering myself, my kids, my family, I look to see what the risk is, what the possible result could be, and then, more often than not, I remove my fear and give it a try.

I realized, after I broke free of 26 years of fear and dictatorial rule by a deeply disturbed man that most of us walk around afraid of change, because the unknown is truly frightening. What would happen if I told the truth? Would my world fall apart? Would I loose my mother? Would I get beaten, or killed? Would my children get taken away? What about my PTSD? Would it get so bad that I would have to be hospitalized? Would I lose my kids because of that? Could I survive this?

The answer, quite simply, is yes. You can survive. There is life on the other side. Life on the other side not only of abuse, but of being broke, of being divorced, of being depressed, of being overweight. There is the life you choose to make. It is a life lived not carelessly, but in spite of fear. It is a life that you deserve, the life that we all deserve.

My friend asked me that question, because it costs a lot of money to walk down this path, that of trying out for the National Alpine Team, and there is very little chance that anyone will make it. But I'm not doing it for the paycheck. I could care less. There is a very nice tee pee here on T Lazy 7 that we can live in very cheap, and my kids like camping. We will be just fine.

Thats not to say I'm going to put us into financial ruin in pursuit of my goals, (you can't be a whole lot more broke than we are right now), but that I'm not afraid of it. because I know there is work out there. I know there is money to be made. I know my kids don't need TV or toys, they have the rivers and the horses and the mountains and the slack line and the other kids on the ranch to play with.

I know that making the safe choice, the choice with the predictable end is a choice that feels akin to death to me.

Now, when I face problems like, I want to go to Portillo this summer, but I don't have enough money, and if I do raise the money, are all my bills paid before I go, and who am I taxing in order to take this chance, an investment in my new path, trusting it will pay off later in things to write about, in relationships built, in training of my feet, in expansion of my understanding of history of the ski world? I think to myself, this is not a boundary that is going to hold me back.

This is an opportunity to work hard to make it happen. And it will either materialize, or it won't. Most of the time, if it does materialize, its not till the very last second, because I'm not in a place in my life where I can book things six months in advance, there is just too much uncertainty about whether it is safe to do it. That's me listening to a boundary. Until I know that I've met my responsibilities to my kids and my mom, who takes amazing care of all of us, I can't make a commitment like that. This drives people crazy, including me, and is something that I am working on changing, by working on increasing our bank account, and looking for creative ways to reduce costs, like getting an article approved ahead of time, and an expense account to help pay for a trip.

Whistler. Hood. Portillo. St. Anton, Italy (where I hope to find Stephano DeBenedetti and interview him, or have coffee with him, or go for a hike with him...). These are opportunities that could change my life. These are things that scare my friend because they are big choices in a life on a financial tightrope. But oh, if I can go. And OH! If I could take Ethan to Hood and take my mom and my kids to St. Anton for Interski... what an incredible journey it would be.

I choose to keep dreaming and to look at the thing that scares me, whether its a person, a thought, a steep pitch, or telling the truth to a friend, and walk right at it. Because I have a lot of becoming still to do.

2 comments:

minor catastrophes said...

What a brave and awesome post. Thank you for writing and sharing it.

Kate Howe said...

Thank you for reading it, Megan. I went to your blog, its wonderful . I can identify with the shag carpeting and popcorn ceiling, the ugliest house in the neighborhood, I lived in that house in Bozeman, myself!

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read.

Kate