In, The Gift of Fear, (Little, Brown and Company, 1997) Gavin de Becker, writes, “I believe that the first time a woman is hit, she is a victim, and the second time, she is a volunteer…staying is a choice… I believe it is critical for a woman to view staying as a choice, for only then can leaving be viewed as a choice and an option.”
The relationship I was in was not physically violent. I feared physical violence every day. He threatened physical violence often. But he never had to strike me. His emotional terrorism kept me pinned with invisible arms to his abuse. Makes it harder to see the bruises, the results of his abuse. It doesn't make it harder to realize, I made a choice to be there.
I knew he was lying. I knew my life was in danger. I knew this wasn't 'normal'. Knew my thinking was way out of whack with reality. I knew my daughters were being caused emotional harm. I knew my family and friends were distressed. But I couldn't leave. I kept telling myself, I had no option. I kept choosing to believe him when he said he'd never let me go. I kept repeating all the reasons why I couldn't end it -- including the fact he'd never let me go. I wanted my life and money back. I wanted to get everything out of storage. I wanted to know the truth.
There was no truth in him or that relationship. There was especially no truth in what I was telling myself. I told myself I stayed because I had to. I stayed because I was too afraid of what might happen if I left. I stayed because I told myself I didn’t have any option. I lied. There were always options. Just not one’s I was willing to acknowledge.
In The Gift of Fear, and his subsequent book, Protecting the Gift, de Becker talks about the need to face reality. What is real and true and actual. An elevator door opens. You look inside and see a man standing there. He smiles at you. There's something about him that makes you feel uncomfortable. You hear the voice inside whisper, "Take another elevator." Your 'let's pretend' voice, says, "Get in. There's nothing wrong." What do you do? Heed the voice of doubt and wait for the next elevator? Or, get into a steel chamber with a closed door with a stranger?
When I wrote that last word I almost typed, 'perfect' stranger. But there's nothing perfect about a stranger. It's just one of those little myths that live in my head because of societal imprinting. Perfect and stranger have been linked since I can remember. Yet, if I think about it, what's perfect about a stranger other than I know nothing about him or her? If a voice of doubt sizzles up my spine, do I heed it and risk appearing rude or fearful? Or, do I listen, tell myself, "This is a stranger and I don't feel comfortable about him." Whether he thinks I'm rude or not, it's my choice to take the next elevator. Today, I choose to wait and take the next one when my intuition speaks.
I'm not suggesting we live in a world of constant danger. I believe we live in a world of constant wonder. It is my responsibility to savour every moment, to delight in each moment and to walk consciously through my day; to keep myself safe from harm, to heed my intuition when I feel uncomfortable.
Yesterday, I received an email from two different people about a 'clear and present danger' to women. Bands of people were lurking in shopping mall parking lots attempting to abduct women. Their ploy, a tiny strip of ether soaked sniff test paper posing as an $8 knock-off of a $20 perfume sample. The warning came with a long, 'this almost happened to me but I dodged the bullet' missive from a woman in the police service. I read the text and thought, this is important information to know. In fact, at the top of the email it told me this was very important information to know and I must share it with everyone on my email contact list.
What was most important about the information, however, were the questions I asked. I wondered, what was the likelihood of a little strip of paper containing enough ether to knock me out? I mean, think about the movies you've seen. When ether's applied to knock out a 'kidnappee', it comes soaked in a cloth of unknown origins that is held at length against the victim's mouth and nose. Doesn't ether have a strong smell? Doesn't it evaporate in the air? Couldn't I tell the difference between an $8 perfume knock-off posing as a $20 perfume that is actually ether intended to render me unconscious?
I went on a hunt. Sure enough. The $8 sniff test doesn't pass the truth or fiction test. It's an urban myth. http://www.snopes.com/crime/warnings/perfume.asp
Which brings me back to being aware and conscious. Making choices that celebrate the wonder of my life in freedom.
When I honour myself, honour my freedom and my beautiful life, I am aware of both the dark and lightside of living on this complex, magical and mystical planet we call earth. When the elevator comes and I choose not to ride with a stranger, I am perfectly okay with my choice. Doesn't mean I'm paranoid. It means I honour my life and my right to make choices that state clearly and unequivocally, I am free. I have choice. I acknowledge there are risks, I will not put myself at undue risk. I exercise my choice for my own good.
When I was in that relationship that caused so much pain and stress on my life and the lives of those I love, I didn't honour my life, nor my right to make choices that celebrated my freedom. I continually made choices based on fear, denial, terror, confusion. I made choices based on what one man told me to be true, and never questioned the possibility that it was all fiction. I chose to believe he wouldn't hurt me, even when the facts so clearly demonstrated, yes he would.
In my denial, I lost sight of the truth. My choices make the difference in my life. Will I choose to celebrate life, or kill off any hope of freedom? Will I open doors to change, or slam them shut in the face of possibility? Will I step into my fear of the unknown, or, will I stay stuck in my denial of what is, fearful of what could be?
In my life today, I accept with open arms the truth of who I am. I am responsible for me. Never accepted it back then. I wanted to deny the truth. I wanted to avoid taking responsibility for the one life I have total control of. Mine.
That is the joy in my life today. When I do something that holds me back, puts me down, or simply keeps me stuck, I know I've made a choice to undermine my beautiful life. It's up to me to ask the tough questions. (What's in it for me to do this? What's the purpose of my living in fear? Why do I believe I deserve to treat myself with disrespect?...) To make better choices. To acknowledge my mistakes. To change my actions. To step in a different direction.
That is the joy of freedom. I have the power to create a beautiful life for myself. It's up to me to live it with all I'm worth.