I’ve had the joy of teaching English for the past 25 years, and during that time, I’ve often had to explain the difference between the words “lonely” and “alone”, but it’s only recently that I have “experienced” the difference between those words.
I believe that we are only given what we are ready to handle. This does not necessarily mean that we want what we have been given—just that we are capable of enduring what might on the surface appear to be unbearable. I am witnessing first-hand how strong the human heart and human will is to work through immense pain. I have written many times about the daily challenges I face having disclosed that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. What I am finding overwhelming at times, is how this childhood trauma has woven its tentacles into every part of my life. When I first disclosed the abuse six months ago, I was not aware of how tenacious this trauma was, and I think thankfully, that was another example of life only giving to me what I was able to bear at that given moment.
Undisclosed childhood sexual abuse takes many hostages—It has a devastating impact on the child, but until this trauma is brought into the open and worked through, the trauma continues to impact every relationship that this child has, and every relationship that this soon to be adult engages in. In my case, everything came to a head yesterday when I sat across from my wife on the couch with the stark realization that in the process of me finding my voice, she was wrenched from many of the ways she defined herself, and this in turn, has lead to her own self-actualization because she now has a new role to play in our relationship.
It’s an incredibly powerful feeling to sit across from the person you love with all your heart, the person you have spent 27 years of your life with, and look at each other in the midsts of complete raw emotions, and say “I don't know how to fix this, and I don't know what our future looks like, or where we go from here.” It was at that moment, when we both realized that coming to terms with trauma—an illness, an accident, or in my case abuse—often is the death nail to a long term relationship. Both partners are irrevocably changed, and your future together can be built on the past, but it can not look like the past.
There was tremendous pain in both of us, and the only way forward was to look forward and not look back. We needed to sit together not as husband and wife, but simply as two people who railed defiantly against every self-motivating emotion inside of us that said, “my needs are paramount” as we held each other and came to the realization that behind all of the pain, hurt, sadness, and confusion, lies one nurturing truth—our love for the other. I was listening to an interview with a palliative care specialist, Dr. Ira Byock, who said that when his patients are faced with their inevitable mortality, all the “superficiality” and “bravado” in their relationships with family and friends slips away, and what is left is pure authenticity. He suggests that every relationship that finds itself at a precipice can find the hope to move forward by one person saying these four simple sentences: “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.”
For us to move past that point of “stuckness” yesterday, we needed to tear away all of the veneers that buried our hurt inside of each of us. In essence, we were stripped bare, and left with acknowledging the vulnerabilities in ourselves, and this permitted the window to see the same hurt in each other. As a culture, we are programmed to hide any imperfections in us, and to simply keep moving forward despite our feelings of “brokenness”. The most transformational lesson we learned yesterday was that sometimes, there is no “solution” to an obstacle. Sometimes all we can hope for is a “sign”—and for us, that sign was clinging on to love in its rawest and most redemptive form.