From Darkness to Dawn

Fakers, posers, haters… I see these words used a lot on social media these days. I see friends’ posts emanating pain due to misplaced trust. Life has a way of plunging us into darkness and survival depends on whether or not we can fight our way back into the light. Life set me on just such a trajectory right around six years ago. Emotionally, it was the darkest time of my life. It was during that time that I found that those I called friends were nothing more than fakers, posers, and behind the scene, haters.

A little more than six years ago my Mom’s illness had taken over our lives. I loved my mom dearly, but if the truth be told, she was hell to deal with. Mom was very passive-aggressive. She would stonewall you. She often interfered with the relationships between her kids and their kids (her grandkids). She was stubborn to the nth degree. Yet, despite all those things, she had a huge heart and loved people the best way she knew how.

Being a caretaker is a tremendous job. People hate it when I use this word, raw truth is uncomfortable, but being a caretaker, frankly, is a “burden.” Your life gets hijacked. It no longer belongs to you. It belongs to the illness, it belongs to the disease, the doctor’s appointments, the emergency calls, the procedures, the recovery, the home-health aides. Everything else has to wait.

That’s where we, my husband and I, found ourselves. Just trying to survive. Trying to figure out how to make it all work. During this time, we had to turn down invites from friends. Either, we had no one to care for our son, or we couldn’t take the chance on leaving Mom home alone. Some of our friends took this as an affront. Not only were they not understanding to what we were dealing with on the home front some even went as far as to ridicule my husband. It was a difficult time.

My husband and I, both, have high-stress careers. Statistically speaking, the odds have always been against us. Judges don’t wait. A hearing must proceed. Clients pay big money for you to show up. On the flip side, disease doesn’t wait either. Every time the phone rang it was a new emergency.  At my wit’s end I confided in a friend; “I think I’m going to have to quit working for a while. I just can’t balance the two.” Her response was harsh and equally ridiculing. I learned the hard way that trying to discuss the enormity of these situations with others only makes you appear selfish and bitter.

On the career front, my business partner was a royal jackass. He embodies every bad lawyer joke you’ve ever heard. I left the practice once only to return hoping it would be better. It wasn’t. He had a pattern to his behavior. He lays the ego-building compliments on thick while swooping in with tactics to manipulate you into doing more work for free all the while he is more than happy to cheat you out of money you earned. If you are bold enough to call him out, or tell him no,  you will meet the truth behind the fake demeanor.

On the religious front… My brothers and sisters in Christ? The ones who live lives of grace, peace, and love? Well… they were no different. I found the love they confess lasts just about as long as they can use you. Faking has become the norm in religious tradition. After years of hearing about saving the lost, the hurting, I found every opportunity to be a good community partner was met with resistance. But, I ignored the signs. I ignored the warnings. I wanted my church to be different. I wanted these people to be different. Unfortunately, this place was no church. It was more akin to a combination of a who’s-who social club and a small family run business.

During this time, when the pillars of my life were crumbling, I attended a seminar on domestic violence. One of the speakers gave an in-depth presentation on human-trafficking and child sexual abuse. To say it was troubling is the biggest understatement of the year. The thought of any child, alone in this world, suffering tremendous bondage at the hands of another, is too much to lay witness to. My heart ached. My heart still aches. I engaged with this organization hoping to help. I later discovered the leader of this organization was being investigated by the attorney general.  Oh, the stories and tragedies he told of were real, very real. But, unfortunately, he was not. And, for as much as I’ve aged, and for as strong and intelligent as I am, I never clearly understood just how each and every one of those traumatic stories was a trigger for me. I was emotionally raw. I was grieving. The masks were falling off. I became depressed. I then became angry.

In every aspect of life I searched for a little understanding. None existed. It was a hard truth that I needed to face. I, yes, me. I had built my life on pillars of users, posers, fakers, and haters. Instinctively, I knew this was true. I was responsible for the current status of my life. I am the one who allowed them to persist in my life. People who didn’t care about the troubled times. People who hoped I would fail. People who made fake media pages and attacked my business. People who saw me as a challenge and not a human, a thing to manipulate. People who were happy to dump on me, but never return the listening ear. People who never showed an expression of compassion or of concern. People who would often call for help, for money, for legal services, all the while wanting, plotting even, to destroy my marriage, talking crap about my kids, rolling their eyes behind my back as they gave me a big “ol warm hug. People who will walk around aisles in the store as to avoid even passing by me. Oh, yes, these were my people. My pillars. I worked hard for each and every one of them.

As every pillar (death of a parent, marital, career, religious, family, friends), in my life came crashing down all at the same time, I had to ask myself some troubling questions. I fought the answers tooth and nail. I didn’t want to know the truth. It was as if someone pulled a curtain back and laid every problem, every disappointment, every hurt in my life out to bear.

Obviously, there is much more to these relationships than the few snip-its I shared with you here. These were patterns, very unhealthy patterns. I had no choice but to examine the relationships in my life. Were they working? Were they worth keeping? Why? Why was I feeling hurt? Why was I feeling disappointed? Why didn’t they feel good? They existed because I let them exist. I let these people into my life. I was more than happy to play the role. The darkness griped and enveloped every aspect of who I am.  This valley was deep and wide and I found I was walking it alone.

I spent the next, probably three to four years, trying to untangle myself. I didn’t handle this time or process very well at all. I vacillated. I would make excuses for the behaviors of others only to see those familiar abusive patterns show up again. I would spew my anger and then I would hop right back on that merry-go-round for one more ride. Chance after chance. Back and forth. Back and forth. I had to take my own advice. It’s time to stop running on the hamster wheel. It is the only way to make the spinning stop.

I felt tremendous guilt about closing doors. The guilt causes us to question the method. But, I knew what I had to do. I changed names on my social media in hopes I could finally just be myself.  Raw, pure, ugly. In whatever form it presented itself. It was a pruning process that took even me by surprise.

I had to ask; “Is it the person who let me down or my expectation?” The answer is;  “Both.” I know you say you care about me, but can you do so in that moment when I need it the most? Ultimately, I think that is really the question we are all asking. That is the pinnacle moment when it matters. For most people, the answer to that question is going to be a harsh no. They simply either do not have the capacity, or they don’t have the awareness of that critical moment, or they don’t place the same value on the relationship (expectation) that you have placed on it. In those moments you are dealing with rejection. You invested your care and your time with the expectation of reciprocity, and in that moment, it failed. That failure creates the disappointment, the sadness, the self-loathing.

Once the pillars were burned down and nothing remained but the ashes, which lay scattered about everywhere across my life, I set on a path to rebuild. Why? Because that’s what you do. You get up. You fight back. You start again.

I set down some rules. Rules for myself based upon what I had learned through this process.  These rules may not be right for everyone, but they are right for me. The pruning is never complete. It’s a process that must be done on a regular basis. Some of my rules are as follows:

  1. I will be true to myself in all things.
  2. I will be myself in all situations.
  3. I do not need to gain the approval of any other human being, at any point in time, ever.
  4. I will express my grief and pain in any way that suits me best and for as long as I need to.
  5. My health and happiness will not depend on anyone else’s ability to understand me or validate me.
  6. I will not be ashamed of my grief, my pain, or my childhood trauma (past). Nor will I be ashamed of my response to life when it gets overwhelming.
  7. If I have to guess at how you feel about me, I don’t need you in my life.
  8. If you are a threat to me, my kids, my family, you don’t get a role in my life or an invitation into my home.
  9. If you use me, you are not my friend. I’m done.
  10. If you lie to me, you are not my friend, I’m done.
  11. If you talk trash about me behind my back, you are not my friend. I’m done.
  12. If you can’t respect my boundaries, I’m done.
  13. I will reach out to others to explore new friendships. Some will work. Some won’t. I will not waste the investment of my time for the sake of appearances or numbers.
  14. I will not play religious games nor will I support or respect anyone else who does.
  15. I will do my best to utilize my experiences to provide hope to others who may find themselves dealing with similar experiences. Albeit these may be conditioned to certain avenues.
  16. I can’t save everyone.
  17. I will say no.
  18. I don’t have to take that call or answer that e-mail.
  19. I do not owe anyone my time, my skill, or my talents (unless they’ve paid for it).
  20. I do not have to discount my legal fees based upon perceived relationship status.
  21. I do not have to buy other people’s affection or appreciation.
  22. I will pay attention to the red flags and be stingy with my excuses for your behavior.
  23. Be leery of any individual who always compliments you and tells you what you want to hear.
  24. I’m not everyone’s friend and not everyone is my friend.
  25. Blood may be thicker than water but the capacity to use and abuse is just as great. Trust and respect must be earned.
  26. I do not need to feel guilty or apologize for taking care of myself or my family.
  27. It is perfectly okay to see the world differently, process information differently, and be different.
  28. I will value real and genuine whether the world does or not.
  29. Life is not about the capacity nor the depth in which we suffer.
  30. Happiness is not a sin.
  31. My peace comes from being true to who I am regardless of anyone else’s opinion of me.
  32. Peace is my priority.

If this is the season you find yourself in, please let me remind you, in all sincerity, people do not define you. You are more than enough. You are awesomely wonderful just as you are right now. A relationship that requires you to change is much too expensive to maintain. You don’t always have to be the one giving. It’s okay to not be at that point of forgiveness yet. It is okay to say goodbye. It’s okay to close the door. It’s okay to grieve the expectations that were never met. It’s okay to be you, just as you are.

I was watching a short video the other day that was directly on point. The discussion was about ambivalent friendships and just how much stress those bring into our lives. Toxic relationships are the easiest ones to identify. We can say no and do it without feeling guilty, but those damn ambivalent ones, those are tricky. Those relationships can consume us. Recognizing those relationships boils down (according to the video) to this one question: “Do I ever question that this person is happy for my happiness?” True friends mirror our feelings, our excitement, our happiness. That is powerful. We often already know the answer, we are just not ready to embrace it as truth.

Many years ago my boss and I were having a biblical discussion. He said he didn’t believe Jesus turned the other cheek in weakness. He didn’t believe Jesus was being a victim, a doormat. Yet, he believed Jesus turned his check to his abusers in strength and somewhat in defiance. This act showed the other person they had no power over Him. It was an act of power and strength. Today, I encourage you to turn the other cheek as well. You’ve been beat up enough.

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