The biggest difference between Jeffrey and I became painfully obvious this last weekend. The following conversation took place as we were pulling in to church on Sunday morning…
Jeffrey: Oh, now that soccer is over, we don’t have to rush out of here after church today!
Me: Well, I told my mom we’d be there at 10:30.
Jeffrey: We DON’T have to rush out of here today.
Me: …..*possibly an eye roll*
Jeffrey: You don’t have to get annoyed by everything.
Me: You don’t have to talk to me like that, like I have no say in the matter. I told my mom we’d be there at 10:30 so that’s when we need to be there. *gets out of car, slams door, walks off*
Jeffrey: Here’s your coffee babe. *puts arm around my shoulder*
Me: Don’t touch me. *walks a few paces ahead*
I sat through church mad. The entire time. I would say that I put on a fake smile, but it wasn’t fake – it was a genuine smile to everyone I came in contact with. Everyone except my husband, hell if I was even going to make eye-contact with him. I wasn’t talking to him and I certainly wasn’t going to fight with him in public.
It seems like such a small thing, like this is what we’re going to fight about? But, like most arguments, the stuff on the surface is usually just the boiling over point – the real fight is something deeper. So, I sat in church, arms crossed, body tightly folded into my seat and my seat only. I was very careful not to bump my husband to the left of me, even if it meant spilling over into the seat to the right of me. I was mad. And as mad as I was, I knew it wasn’t really about the exchange that took place a few minutes earlier.
You know how before you dive into the ocean, you dip your toes in and think, “Oh, it’s not so bad.” But that’s only because your toes only go so far and the sun has been beating down on that top layer of the water for hours. It’s a trick because you are shocked when after jumping in, initially it feels decent, but it’s followed immediately by a cool sensation as you plunge deeper into the vast, dark, unknown water. And then eventually, as if by magic, your body just gets used to it.
When I dive into the way I was feeling, the top of the water, you know, the layer that is warm because the sun’s been beating down on it for so long – that is my anger. And it is a trick. It’s designed to keep me distracted from the matter at hand. Followed very quickly by the change in temperature – like a one-two punch, the second layer is a feeling of self pity. And I had to, or chose to, swim around in that feeling for quite a while, wallowing in this perception that I’m a victim, before getting to the third layer which is the exact nature. And that exact nature is a self-centered fear of not being in control, which is fueled by this crazy notion that if I’m in control, things will go my way. And if things go my way, all the things I want in life, I will have. And all the things I want in life – love, acceptance and respect, are very simple. Yet, it’s ironic because when I fear that those things are being jeopardized, I become the complete opposite – unloving, combative and disrespectful. It’s an act of self-preservation.
While treading through the feelings of self pity, I’m just trying to stay afloat. I know that allowing myself to stay there too long is a dangerous place for me to be. As an addict, or maybe even just as a human, sitting in self pity is like putting a loaded gun in my mouth. It will take me back out quicker than anything else, and if it doesn’t take me back out, at the very least, it will cause me to act out on my character defects. And when I act out on character defects, I cause harm – usually intentionally. When I allow myself to think I’m a victim and then allow my mind to go to, “Poor me. My husband has a different opinion than me. What a horrible life.” I’m in trouble. Intellectually I KNOW in my head that surrender is the solution, but sometimes I can’t stop flailing my arms in the water long enough to let go. And the harder I thrash about, the colder the water feels, and the colder the water feels, the more tiring it becomes.
There is beauty in surrender. If you’re following along with my theme of water, you might be thinking, “Well, that sounds like a terrible idea. If you surrender, you drown.” But, actually, the opposite is true.
When you surrender, you float.
At this point I’m praying furiously. And then it hits. When I stop fighting, take a moment to compose myself, and not just allow God, but actually invite God into my ocean of a life, a feeling of acceptance washes over me like waves on a beach. I can feel it start in my toes and slowly, calmly, and evenly, it immerses my entire body. I stop flailing. I stop thrashing. No longer am I fighting this losing battle to stay above water. Because it is a losing battle. Every. Single. Time. No matter the scenario. The longer I take to get to a place of acceptance, the harder it is to surrender. When I accept the situation for what it is, naturally surrender will follow. I’m floating.
As a result of my lack of tolerance to the fact that I’m not in control, I acted out. I caused harm. After church, we hung out for a little bit and talked with our friends, because after all, we weren’t in any sort of rush, remember? We make our way to the truck, get buckled in and I said, “I have to take ownership for my part of what happened earlier.” I went on to explain to him what happened in my mind from the moment I perceived him threatening my ability to attain the things I need – that love, acceptance and respect. I’m the planner of the family. I schedule appointments, I keep a calendar of things we have to do, I remind him in the weeks and days leading up to an event all the items that are on our calendar. I detailed how so much more was at play than just the simple statement he made. I feel safe and secure with structure. When I know what to expect, I can be prepared. And while most times, I can relatively manage to roll with the punches, sometimes, seemingly out of nowhere, when things don’t go according to MY plan, I panic. I lose all sense of security, my mind goes back to the days of when I was using and had zero control from one moment to the next what was going to happen. My mind goes back to that scary feeling of the unknown. The terror that accompanies the unknown is enough to convince me in the moment that it is me against the world; only I can make sure I make it from one day to the next. Only I can be relied upon to make sure I survive.
Now, I’ve know about this difference in our personalities since the very beginning, and sometimes those differences are even cute. I never expected that he would change, but when you get to the real, boring, every day, mundane parts of life – those things can stop being so cute when you realize just how much those differences can affect every day life. As you might have gathered by now, I’m a little bit tightly wound. Jeffrey is not. He is carefree, impulsive, extroverted, outgoing, and up for anything, even at the last moment. I enjoy my safe place, which is at home with our dogs – and Jeffrey, if he isn’t off doing people-y things. I avoid large crows and interacting with lots of people. While I am good at it, it absolutely exhausts me. When we have a lot on our social calendar, it absolutely overwhelms me. Where Jeffrey is energized by engaging with people, it’s draining to me. I enjoy watching Jeffrey interact with people because it’s where he truly shines. All these things that I absolutely love about him can be a source of pain for me when I’m not living in acceptance. And if I’m not careful, and I overstay my welcome in the land of nonacceptance (yes, this is a very real place), the very things I love about him will become everything I hate about him.
The reality is that I don’t want to just survive on my own. I don’t want to just tolerate our differences, I want to embrace them and learn how to grow with them instead of fight against them. I don’t think I even actually said the words, “I’m sorry,” to Jeffrey in the truck that day. He listened as I talked about my feelings and took ownership for my part. He didn’t apologize or feel the need to explain his point of view, and the beauty of it is that my taking ownership wasn’t contingent on him being apologetic, as well. I tried as best I could to clear my side of the street, without the expectation that he would do the same. It allowed for an open and honest communication and gave me the opportunity for me to explain to him that while I am tightly wound, I will work on being more flexible but also clearly tell him the things I need from him – advanced notice of things (when possible) so I can plan accordingly.
I know that while it’s possible for us to both work on meeting each other in the middle, these things about us are deeply a part of who we are. And I’m 100% certain we will meet again, head to head, over this same issue. But that’s okay. Life is a journey of experiences woven together, one to the next, sometimes just trying to make it through. We will make mistakes. We will cause harm. But we will also hopefully learn from those mistakes and take responsibility for the harm we cause. When I let go of the idea that I’m in any sort of control, and let that control lie with the One that really matters – my life is much easier. We always hear, “Let go, let God.” or “Turn it over.” And it’s really as simple as that. When I stop actively fighting God for control, a sense of peace and contentment and serenity fills my life. On any given day, my goal is to live with more serenity than the day before. Some days I don’t achieve it. But overall, I think I’m heading in the right direction.
By us not getting out of church exactly at 10 and being at my mom’s exactly at 10:30, nothing bad happened. The world didn’t end. I didn’t use. My mom gave us a hard time, but all in good fun. I survived.
As Trevor, our pastor, was preaching that morning while I was drowning, the one thing I kept hearing him say over and over was, “God burden my heart with the things that burden you.” And while I didn’t feel it in the moment, it was like a life vest being thrown out to me. I can see very clearly now how that specific argument was necessary at that specific time. It provided me with what is now the feeling of being burdened to write about it – something I haven’t felt in a long time. I usually call it inspiration, but feeling burdened is so much more. And in writing about these things, I get to share with the world the one thing more than anything else that keeps not only me or my husband centered separately, but keeps us centered together as a couple. Through my own experiences, I get to share God’s mercy and grace – something that’s attainable to us all. And while I fall from my own grace every once in a while, I never fall from God’s grace.