Astray with strays...
I woke up this morning and my first thought, my very first thought was this:
Maybe I have signed up to take care of all these people, animals and lost causes because once upon a time, I needed that kind of care taking and it was not available to me. Now if you know me at all, you have probably thought this about me a lot. Every stray dog, alcoholic, man, wounded bird. My ex-husband once said, "you are the only person I know who can go out for a walk, be gone 10 minutes and come home with a pocket full of baby squirrels!" True story.
I have always known this about myself. I was forever rescuing beings from other beings. Friends from their fucked up families, girlfriends from their abusive partners, mice, squirrels and rabbits from my cat...the list is endless. As much self examination as I have done in my life, I never really stopped to ask why I did this. My examination surface and superficial, "I am an animal person" or "I am just empathetic". For me there was no ability to say no. It wasn't an option. If I saw an animal next to the freeway, I had to stop the car, get out and put myself in peril to save the animal. There was no other option. I am not sure there will ever be for me and I am ok with that today.
But this morning's first thought struck me: why is this such a strong need in me? Why do I feel so compelled to save the voiceless and vulnerable? It wasn't until this morning that I knew...it was because I was once voiceless and vulnerable and no one saved me. I have stayed silent for a very long time. I did not talk about it at all until I was 23 and the talking about it almost killed me. I was ill equipped to process horrific abuse - I had worked so hard to hold it down and pretend it wasn't there - didn't happen. I did a really good job until the day that my parents placed a newspaper article in front of me with his picture front and center. It all became vividly real and I felt like I began to dance away from myself. I remember chatting on and on and on about nothing - trying desperately to change the subject. I remember feeling that I had to protect the secret or perish. I remember being all alone and compelled to defend that aloneness because it was all that I had.
It wasn't long after that confrontation that I began to drink more and more. I had been a partier for a long time but it was in check and I was functioning. I was engaged, in law school, working a couple of jobs. I was showing up in my life. However, I was never completely engaged in my life - there was always a part of me that was never really present and slowly falling apart but I did a good job lying and covering for the most part. After seeing his face after almost 20 years, I began to unravel. I was never a big crier except at the death of pets but I became despondent and would drink myself into an oblivion. My fiance didn't know what to do with me. He tried to help me but I couldn't tell him what was wrong. I wasn't even completely sure that I knew. The closer he tried to get, the farther I pushed him away from me.
It started with night time fun drinking. Party girl. Then I started drinking after school - socially. Then I started continuing the party when I got home. I was more or less buzzed most of the rest of the time I was with John. He would go to bed and I would stay up and drink and call the suicide hotline nightly. I would talk to whatever counselor was on duty and they would get great practice in talking an insanely drunk and unstable person off the ledge. The more this wore on, the worse I felt about myself and so the more I had to drink to cope.
Finally my drunken escapades resulted in me hooking up with one of my day drinking classmates. Sneaking around with him then going for wedding dress fittings. Insanity! I felt awful but I couldn't stop...I could not take it any more so I fessed up, told John of my indescretion. And do you know what he did? Forgave me. Who does that? Within weeks of marrying someone, she tells you she is cheating on you with someone else and you forgive her??
That act of kindness which I perceived at the time as weakness was the end of us. I had no respect for him. I deserved to be booted to the curb and never spoken to again not forgiven. I knew that a man who would forgive me, didn't deserve me. He deserved much, much better. I have reviewed this particular point in my life so many times from so many different vistas. It always comes back to this: I felt trapped and my freedom was the only thing that was mine. It was the only vestige of my old self that had managed to survive my childhood. Marrying him would require me to give that up, so he had to go. So I cheated again and confessed again. This time he was not forgiving and kind, he was pissed and hostile. I got what I deserved. My insides and outsides matched and I felt like I could breathe again. He left, the wedding cancelled just two weeks before it was set to occur. He was sad and heartbroken. I was relieved and moved on like one moves from Monday to Tuesday. I cried no tears. I made no sad calls. I stopped calling the suicide hotline because I was no longer trapped in an intimate relationship that I couldn't bear.
I thought that I was walking into the bright future of my life...turns out I was on the downward spiral to the bottom. The next two years brought a lot of booze and men through the revolving door of my life. I was still committed to ensuring that you thought I was ok at all times as I began my descent because hiding was all I was really good at...well and keeping secrets. I dated a lot and fell in love with an abusive alcoholic who did a great deal to assist my lower aspirations. The worse I felt about myself, the more outward things I attempted to do. When I finally hit rock bottom two years later, I was working 5 different legal jobs, was enrolled in my last year of law school, had three different boyfriends in three different states, was on call for the rape and spouse abuse hotline 40 hours a week and was dead drunk pretty much every night past 8 pm. As my alcohol intake increased, my tolerance began to wane. I would find myself in strange places with even stranger people. I was driving drunk daily because I am pretty sure that I did not have one day in those two years where I was actually legally sober. Drunk driving just equalled driving for me.
I was getting into fist fights with men in bars and was losing more frequently than I won. Apparently, my wicked tongue and flair for eviscerating men, made that golden rule of not hitting a girl somewhat flexible and optional. I didn't care. I kind of liked getting hit. I liked the bruises and cuts it left behind. Evidence...which is something that my childhood trauma lacked.
Finally, and blessedly on March 21st 1995 I found my bottom or rather it found me. The details are for another day but it was the first time in my life that I would hear the voice that would save me. It was clear and quiet and true. While being driven back to wherever the hell my car was left, I was reviewing what I could remember from the night before: hockey game, playoffs, after party, lots of shots, getting into an argument with a referee, being launched down a flight of stairs, landing with the kind of bounce that only the truly inebriated can manage, a cab being called and a desperate attempt to seduce the cabbie, lots of drunk & dials at 4 am, lots of phones slammed in my ear...all bringing me to the moment I was sitting in the back of some shitty car being driven to a place I was positive would not contain my car. That is when I heard it for the first time. What was said is way less important than what it meant. It was the first time I heard the person in side me say that I was worth saving. It was the first time since I was 4 that I felt that I deserved to live.
I did not know it at the time but that was a beginning of learning to live with myself and all my baggage. It was the time where I was able to exit the self destruction super highway and pull off to an exit and breathe. I had no idea at the time that I was embarking on a very long and lonely journey. I had no idea that I would hurt way more later on. I had no idea that I even really wanted to live. I just knew that the new very small voice in my head had something to say and I felt in every part of my body that I should listen.
It was this same voice that woke me up this morning. She and I talk much more frequently these days. I turn to her for guidance and consolation all the time. Every once in awhile she launches me into some new level of consciousness by bringing to my full awareness some truth that was before hidden. Of course, I funneled all that pent up sorrow for not being protected into and onto others. In trying to save you, I thought I could save myself. I know now that is wrong. Saving others is not possible. I can't tell you how many beings I have saved only to have something else take them out like five minutes after my rescue. I just prolonged the agony. The truth that I got this morning was that it is time that I actively work to save me. I can stop running around trying to control the universe...it isn't up to me really. And, turns out, the universe does not really need my help. I am going to have to be the one in my own life that shows up for myself and gives me all that protection and care that I did not receive when I was a kid. I can't save me by saving you, I can only get lost in you so that I don't have to deal with me. I realize now that I can sit with this very guarded, wounded child and hold her hand and let her rest her head on my shoulder. I can touch her hair and wipe away her tears. I can tell her it is all right to let her guard down now. It was never, ever her fault. What happened had nothing to do with her as she has so feared. She was just a convenient target at a time when no one was looking. I can tell her that she can stop being afraid to open up and let people in...unlike then she can protect herself now. Besides, I will tell her, look at all those other beings you helped along the way.