I had an interesting dinner with my husband: A close friend began sharing his experiences; many of which paralleled my own — fear, rejection, feelings of worthlessness. But as he recounted his story, I realized that what happened to me required a decision by me about how it would affect me. For example, some people view adversity as an opportunity to learn a new coping skill; while others view it as another nail in their life’s coffin. I have to admit that I don’t quite understand sometimes the “why” of my circumstances: why people hurt me, why people talk about me, why people mistreat or discriminate against me, why, why why? I’ve stopped asking God the “why” question a few years ago. What I’ve learned to say instead is, “please let me learn the lesson so that I can fulfill my purpose.”
Much of what we confront in life comes down to a simple thing: a decision. A decision about how you will react to whatever comes your way and how much power it will have over your life. For years, I’ve blamed people for decisions that I made because of the hurt that was inflicted upon me by them. It was easier to view my life as being out of my control in certain areas than to admit that I actually could change the circumstances or the outcomes by changing how I viewed and reacted to the situation. You will find that my best lessons were learned through my personal stories. So, here’s one…
I mentioned in my first blog that I was physically abused by my boyfriend. I was 14 years old at the time, and he was significantly older. He was 20. Now, I should have questioned why a 20 year old would be interested in a high school student. I didn’t; I was too excited by the possibility of dating “an older man.” The first year was fine: he drove me to school in his new car. He bought me clothes and gave me money to pay for lunch and whatever I needed. Life was good, so I thought. What I didn’t know was that slowly, I was being pulled away from my friends and family. He required that I spend all of my hours outside of school with him. I thought at the time that I was special, but I learned later that this was how abusers isolate their victims.
The abuse lasted for almost 4 years. I initially tried to fight back, but his “If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care” responses made me feel guilty for doubting his “love for me.” Crazy, right?!
I’m sure people wonder how a person could place themselves or stay in abusive relationships: I grew up around violence, which usually coincided with alcohol consumption. It was in my neighborhood. In fact, my mother was the victim of domestic violence. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know at the time was that I had unconsciously believed that this was “normal” in terms of living. As a result, I unconsciously recreated this in my first real relationship. It wasn’t until I was in counseling that I unearthed this false belief. I was amazed at what I had adopted as my “standard” for how my life was to be lived! Without an awareness of those thoughts or being able to challenge their validity, my life tracked what I unconsciously believed. I used to say that “ignorance is bliss,” but in this regard, ignorance almost killed me. Back to the story…
It was my senior year in high school, and my boyfriend had been telling me to wait one year before going to college. But, I knew if I waited, I would never go — he’d have me trapped. I also knew that I had spent most of my young life wanting more than I had: I dreamed of places that I could travel in books. I created a life in my head of how it would all turn out once I made it out of my neighborhood to college. For me, education, and particularly, college, was the beginning of every dream that I had. It was imperative that I go! When his words didn’t convince me to wait a year, he tried to use his hands and feet instead. It didn’t matter – I was going to college!
I remember the day that I decided that I would rather die than to continue to live like that: I was a freshman in college (I knew he was angry about my going, but I didn’t care!) and I found out that an administrator that I confided in had been telling other students about what was happening to me. I was mortified! But, it was the catalyst that I needed to get out of the situation. The secret of my abuse was out, and I was more upset that people knew than I was with the abuse. Crazy, right?!
It was scary, but I finally realized that my complicity in being a silent victim held my dreams hostage, and that my life without my dreams was unacceptable. So, as Shakespeare said, “I screwed my courage to the sticking post” and announced that I was done — I would rather be dead than to stay with him. As you can imagine, we had a fight. However, this time, I had DECIDED that I would not look back – life was ahead of me. There was a distinct possibility that he could have killed me – he threatened that he would — but a made up mind is powerful!
It wasn’t easy – nothing ever worthwhile is — but I was learning that, even though I didn’t always feel deserving, my dream was too big within me not to be worth the effort to come out of the hole that I helped someone dig for me.
This is what I’ve learned: a decision propels you to some future because all decisions have consequences. Every time I told myself and others that “so and so” made me do or not do something, I gave “so and so” control over that portion of my life.
I have finally discovered that what I have been hearing for years is true: we really do have control over our lives once we realize that we have total control over the decisions that we make. I’ve often counseled our girls that “If you want to keep getting what you’re getting, keep doing what you’re doing. If you don’t like the result, change your behavior.” Behavior stems from thoughts. Change your thoughts — make new and better decisions — and you can change your life! I did!