In my darkest days, it all came down to one word: Safety.
How badly I wish I could remember it all. I don’t. I remember generalities, I remember very specific anecdotes, mostly I remember the snippets of conversation where men in a safe environment told a highly personalized version of the exact same story.
It always began with safety. Safety leads to conversation, conversation leads to honesty, honesty leads to trust, trust leads to love. At least that’s the way I think the ladder was built, it certainly seems to make sense right now.
We could not begin our conversations until we attained that sense of safety around ourselves. We had to stretch a little to begin with and build trust. That was why we only let new guys in once a month, intake always required things to be a little out of order and it was tough to build that moment of trust out of nothing. So we told our own stories, promised safety amoungst ourselves and began actual conversations the next week after we had started to sort out who we all were. Being open made a huge difference, not always for the better although it usually worked out that way.
We were the dregs of society, the lowest of the low, and in case anyone is thinking this is fiction this is the most sincere factual account I’ve ever related on my blog. We were the lowlifes, the assholes, the abusers.
One thing worth mentioning early is how fundamentally those conversations helped me out. I know much of it must, by necessity, be cryptic. There are phrases in my psyche that are purely evocative to me that won’t make sense to most people unless they were there. “Little bomb, big bomb” is a way of picking a fight. “Dragging the truck around” means not dealing with your issues until you have to dump. “Climbing down the mountain” means bringing yourself into a better mindset where you can rebuild your reserves. The full explanation of each of these is a fascinating four hour conversation all to itself. They all came from a small group of men who got together and told each other our stories.
Most of the stories went, “Yeah, I yelled a little bit – but I never hit her!“ Then we get around to the guy at the end with a funny, crooked smile nervously twitching the corners of his mouth just a tiny fraction upward. “Oh, yeah, I hit her. I beat her bad.“ Invariably there was an initial shock, then a particular smugness that I wasn’t as bad as him, then the dreadful shame that we were so close to crossing the same razored line. We would always talk about safety. There really is no difference between one line in the sand and the next when they both conspire to strip away safety from the people we loved.
It’s so easy to draw lines and to stand rigid by declaring that you have not, ever, crossed that line you laid out for yourself. You couldn’t understand what could have possibly gone wrong – she should know it was fundamental to our very person, ingrained from childhood, one does not hit girls. It becomes deadening when the conversation gets pulled away from a discussion about striking and into a discussion about safety. Yelling your fool head off may be the greatest of cathartic releases, but if it erodes safety you’re standing in the exact same spot at the end wondering why life just kicked you in the groin. That groin kick was from yourself and your inability to control your emotions. “Inability?“ That’s the wrong word. “Unwillingness to control your emotions.“ Willfully justifying your excesses for your own internal rationalization.
There were a dozen metaphors to describe it. Most often we described ourselves flying down a highway so fast we couldn’t see the off ramps that would take us to a slower, better choice. We talked about winding the spring so tightly that the only possible release was to snap free. Feeling an inevitability and choosing to let it take us over as we made one bad decision after another without ever stopping to examine the options available to us. Once you’re in the middle of it, it’s so much harder to stop and turn around.
It is hard to be called the abuser when you feel nothing but abused. To this very day I take a certain amount of pleasure when I tell the story and get the response, “She said WHAT?“ It’s simple to look at the world from a singular perspective and say openly, “This is why I had to react the way that I did.“ Except you never have to react in any particular way. There are always choices to be made, some being much, much better than others. Some choices bring a moment of superiority followed with a lifetime of pain.
Me, being me, tried to stir the pot with the question, “But what about my safety?“ I never felt that I got an acceptable answer. Of course, it didn’t matter at all at the time because I was locked into the consequences of a decision I had made long earlier. I deeply regret that, but I see now that it was for the best. I’ve become exceptionally good at avoiding making the same poor decisions as others around me make their own bad choices. I sometimes manage to find new bad choices to make, though, but we’re all learning in life.
What’s been eating me the past weekend has started to crystallize around me today. I’m not a holiday guy and I especially long for the day when I can spend every Hallmark holiday drunk in my fortress of solitude telling the entire world to get lost. It’s only been because of Father’s Day that I’ve been able to think about some of those old lessons and begin making sense of where I’m at.
I have to say, after my fabulous week of holidays riding my bike and the past week where everything I touched seem to come together and made a great day, I began the weekend feeling distrustful and afraid that I was going to be paying some sort of nasty karmic debt. Thursday afternoon didn’t go well for me and Friday was a mixed bag all day.
Saturday morning I received the comment, “I see many joyful gatherings in your future.“ I replied that I doubted it, I’d have to put in more effort to make an effort and to try to build more trust with others.
Today those old lessons that have embedded themselves in my brain leached out and granted me a little understanding. I have a lot of trust in that one particular other person, else I wouldn’t have even started stretching out the way I have over the past while. I was having difficulty reconciling my feelings. Today I thought about my feelings of distrust in others and my mind went back to that ladder.
Right now, I don’t have a sense of safety around me. Financially unsafe. Emotionally unsafe. Unsafe because I am reliant upon others to make good decisions and there are precious few people in whom I would place that level of trust.
And I finally think I have an answer to the question about my own safety. I don’t have to make any decisions whatsoever that leave me feeling dangling precariously. If I don’t feel safe, it’s a serious warning that I should reconsider going there. I have plenty of options I can take where I do feel safe and comfortable. I can’t provide safety to anyone else unless I can provide safety to myself first.
I have to provide for my family, I have to continue to grow and develop myself, I desperately want to become a better person. It is another example where I must start from within myself. I’m finally heading in a better direction and there’s no reason that this run of good fortune needs to stop just yet. Quite the opposite, so long as I find moments of clarity and feel safe in the chances I take, I may create my own run of exceptional good fortune ahead.
Now to get to work.