Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I thought I was the strong one

I had this comfortable illusion that I was the strong one in our marriage. How grateful I am that God did not allow me to continue 20 more years of my life in that pattern. He knocked me down, bowled me over, and showed me the truth.  I wasn't the strong one. I wasn't the gentle one. I wasn't the patient one. I was weak, impatient, hard hearted, and cruel.  I was unforgiving and angry.

I didn't know I was these things. I thought I'd forgiven everything that I needed to forgive. I imagined that I didn't hold any grudges.  Then came my trip back to Texas, back to the place where I grew up. We left on a wing and a prayer, without knowing how we would get back home or if we would even have a home to get back to. We did this because our son needed us, and nothing else mattered.

Three very miserable weeks we spent on edge, as opportunity after opportunity not only failed to materialize but help that was promised drifted further and further away. Frustration set in, and I set to work to study as hard as I could the materials I had at hand so that maybe, just maybe, I could find a way out of the hole we found ourselves trapped in.  The week before we left, we thought we'd caught a break. A check was written that would cover the rent that was past due and catch us up.

We got help getting tickets home, and we thought everything was going to be okay, until the call came in that night to let us know that the check that was written had bounced. We had no idea what we were going to do now. We also got notice the eviction notice had been served. Our life suddenly seemed so incredibly uncertain. Would we be able to get out of this? We had no idea. We faced almost certain homelessness.

He fell apart. He told me he was going to kill himself, that he didn't see a point to continuing to live like this. He told me I always told him things would get better, but they never did. He was hurting, and he was angry, and I was angry. I was angry because now instead of having a partner who could help me, I had to pull his weight and mine through the mess. I was also frightened. The love of my life, the man I'd spent nearly 20 years married to, was giving up. None of the usual stuff I said seemed to work. He wasn't listening.

He told me he wouldn't do it there, with our hosts. He didn't want their children scarred by that. He would wait until we'd left, and this left me pleading with him to just wait until after we got home. He made no promises, and I spent the night thinking things over. I realized I'd been trying to fight his depression - fix it - on my own for more than 20 years, and I was losing the battle. He was doing me the courtesy of telling me that he was going to kill himself, knowing that I would talk him out of it - but a thought finally occurred to me. What happens on the day that he doesn't say anything to me - he just does it?

I knew I couldn't let this go on like this. I needed to get help, and I needed help not only for him but for me. What had driven me to do this on my own for 20 years, to fail to reach out for help at every turn? Why had I let things get so far?  That was a question I needed to answer.

Weeks went by. We fixed some of the problems, stabilized our household just enough so that he could see a light ahead. He wasn't threatening to kill himself, but I knew we still needed help - I just couldn't find help in our budget. I turned to the standard resources but produced nothing. I continued to pray, continued to look for answers.

Last night, I talked to my mother and in the midst of it finally told her the whole story. That's when she pointed out to me the thing I had overlooked this whole time, the real reason I was doing what I was doing. She reminded me that when I was a child she had suffered from depression. She had often fallen apart in a crisis and I had been forced to pick up the pieces for her, to do the adult things I didn't feel ready to do. I had been forced to play a role that I wasn't ready to play, and I was still angry about that.  Moreover, I'd married a man who also suffered from depression and all this anger and resentment I held over from my relationship with my mother spilled over onto him.  I was angry with him for not being the partner I needed him to be.

Except that, as I look at it now, I realize this is silly.  My mother and my husband both have a disability. It isn't one you can see, so it's not one that's given a lot of credence, but it's very real. It causes them problems in their relationships, problems holding on to jobs, and sometimes problems functioning in life. As a child, I didn't understand that my mother had a disability because I couldn't see it. I just knew that she wasn't doing for me what she needed to do.  I knew I couldn't trust her and I couldn't rely on her and I didn't understand why that was.

I grew up and married a man who suffered that same disease and I spent 20 years telling him that he was weak for needing my help, or any help at all. I'd been expected to carry a weight that shouldn't have been mine to carry, so I put that same burden on his shoulders. I didn't respect his fight, I didn't understand why he was the way he was. I was angry, impatient, and looked down on him because he couldn't do what I could do. I was arrogant, and I was prideful.

I didn't know why God allowed things to go on the way they did while we were in Texas, but I am so glad now that He did. I learned more about myself in those three weeks than I have in 20 years.  I have a newfound respect for my mother and my husband.  They fight a daily battle that I don't have to fight, and they do it alone, without the support of society, while the people they love and care about most berate them for their struggle and look down on them for their weaknesses. They get knocked down so many times but they get back up and fight again. They grow tired and weary, but they soldier on and keep trying.

I thought I was the strong one because I could carry more weight than they could, but now I understand they have a strength of character I do not possess. They forgave me time and time and time again as I tore them to shreds and belittled them for their weaknesses because I was blind to my own. I didn't understand what they were going through, and I was expecting from them things they could not possibly do.  If my mother and husband had been born deaf, I might be upset at the deafness for them not being able to hear me, but I would have understood. I wouldn't have been angry at them. Now I understand. It's okay to be angry with the depression. It's okay to be upset and frustrated at the limitations it imposes on our relationship, and on my life. It's not okay, though, to be upset with them for being depressed.

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