The Silent Treatment is Child Abuse

The damage may not be physical, but it’s there.

As an adult, when another adult gives me the silent treatment, I have to laugh inside. Clearly, the two of us have issues, so does that person really think their silence is a punishment to me? A recent coworker used to do that to me, coupled with a glare that was dripping with contempt. Actually, I viewed her silence as a nice respite, because, let’s face it: please shut up. Please.

I know that eventually these misguided adults will figure out that this lack of communication isn’t going to further their agenda very much, and they’ll either speak to me or they won’t. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to speak to them when the need arises, but small talk will cease. Works for me. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading.

But it’s very different when the silent treatment is directed at a child. I had one relative who would do that to me for months on end unless my mother stepped in and forced her to stop. Until the next time. It was worse than toxic. According to a psychotherapist interviewed for this article, the silent treatment is an abusive method of control, punishment, avoidance, and disempowerment.

You don’t have to physically or verbally abuse a child to damage them. The silent treatment is emotional abuse at its most insidious. According to the article, it is “manipulation, a twisted way of regaining authority over someone, making the victim feel powerless, intimidated, guilty and insignificant.”

The messages I received when this relative hit me with her stone-cold silences were, “I care more about hurting you than communicating with you.” “You are unwanted.” “You do not matter.” “You are insignificant.” “If you don’t want to be ignored and rejected, you have to give in to all my demands, beliefs, and opinions, and squash any of your own.” “If you want to avoid conflict, just shut up and do as I say, no matter how irrational it may seem.” “You have no right to question anything.” “I don’t take you seriously.” “To get along in this world, you should allow yourself to be manipulated by others.” “Anticipate my needs to the point of having anxiety attacks if you want to be loved.” “Doubt yourself.” “Nobody has your back.” “Nobody will stand by you.” “You are completely and utterly alone in this world.” “The best way to communicate is by not communicating at all.”

These are horrible messages to send to a child. Children who are stripped of their self-esteem in this manner are definitely not being set up for success. In fact, quite the opposite. To this day, my gut reaction when someone gets angry at me is that they’re going to stop loving me. I have to remind myself constantly that that’s not true. I should know it. I deserve to be confident about love in times of strife. That was taken from me.

I never thought about this behavior as actual abuse until the subject came up recently with a friend. Then I started reading more about it. Then I got really angry. Then I gained some insight about the person I have become.

My mother was not the best communicator either. When she’d get mad at me, she’d write on her day planner, “You are mad at Barb.” That way she could emotionally color all our interactions with that fact. So I’d sneak in her room when she wasn’t there and erase that note. (Thank goodness she always wrote in pencil.) But even at her very worst, she didn’t hold a candle to this other relative.

For several years during my childhood, I truly believed that if I wasn’t right in someone’s line of sight, I no longer existed for them. That’s why, to this day, when someone does something that shows they’ve thought of me when I wasn’t present, it means so much to me that it often brings tears to my eyes. In a way, I’m glad I have this heightened level of appreciation for thoughtful gestures. It’s the silver lining to this messed up cloud. But the cloud remains.

A healthier lesson to teach a child is that there is a rational way to get through conflict. Talk problems out. Listen to both sides. Compromise. Come to an understanding. Kids should learn that everyone deserves respect. Everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone’s opinion has value, whether you agree with it or not.

Healthy communication is the very bedrock of love, and it provides children with the tools to function well in society. So if you’re supposed to be the adult in a relationship, please act like it. Your ability to do damage is greater than you think.

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Do You Like Everyone?

I don’t.

I know several people who seem to like everyone that they come across. I’m not one of those people. Far from it.

My emotional system reacts to toxicity. I tend not to tolerate hostile people, users, those filled with hate, and substance abusers. Stupidity combined with arrogance, in particular, makes me chafe. To quote the Desiderata, I tend to “avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.”

And you know what? I’m tired of feeling guilty about it. I have a right not to like everyone. Heaven knows that not everyone likes me. That’s just a fact. My dislike of you doesn’t really matter in the overall scheme of things. I’m sure there are oodles of people out there who think you’re just peachy.

It’s also okay to stop liking someone that you used to like. People change. You change. Your friends change. You outgrow some people. You get new insights. Maybe that person is no longer healthy for you to be around. Some people are just more adept at recognizing end points than others.

Many religions say that you should love everyone, but the followers of those religions rarely do. I honestly think it would be a rather creepy world if everyone did. It would be a Stepford world. I prefer a little more nuance.

I’m not talking about going around and actively hating people. That is its own form of toxicity. But there’s nothing wrong with curating your friendships. Some people are only meant to be in your life for a season. Sometimes you need to move on. And it’s also perfectly okay if you never form a friendship with someone in the first place. Sure, give them the benefit of the doubt, but if you don’t mesh, you don’t mesh. It’s not the end of the world.

When I do warm up to someone, I’m a good friend to have. I have a lot of love that I freely give. But I reserve it for those whom I invite into my circle.

I believe that people who allow toxicity into their lives tend to get so used to it that they don’t even realize it’s there anymore. If you are abused, after a certain point you begin to think you deserve it. If you grew up next to the Love Canal, you probably wouldn’t realize that there’s clean water elsewhere. If you smoke long enough, hacking your lungs out in the morning seems like a normal part of your routine.

I kind of feel sorry for those who like everyone. They are not living in reality, for a start. They often get taken advantage of. Not everyone is going to have your best interests at heart.

I don’t have to like someone to hear what they have to say. It’s just that my time is getting more precious with each passing year, so I prefer to spend it with people I enjoy. Time is a commodity that you should dole out wisely.

People who claim to love everyone often say they don’t want to live in a bubble. They want all sorts of people in their lives. That sounds great, but every human being is different. If you have more than one person in your life, you have all sorts of people already. Mission accomplished.

I have all sorts of people in my life. Some don’t get along with others, so I share different parts of my life with each of them. Each person brings a different flavor to my feast of life. I’m not intolerant of differences. What I’m intolerant of is the lunatic fringe. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

People who say they love everyone do not seem genuine to me. So you do you. I’ll do me. Don’t try to force me to be you. It won’t work. Think of me as one of the many sorts of people you want in your life and leave it at that. Go off and kumbaya all you like. I’ll be over here when you’re done. In the real world.

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On Losing Friends

You have a right to put your foot down.

There are very few things on earth that make you feel more lonely than having to say goodbye to a beloved friend. I’ve had to do that twice in the midst of this already isolating pandemic, and not a day goes by when I don’t have tears in my eyes at some point because of it.

What? Oh, no, they didn’t die. That would be infinitely more tragic. But they both broke my heart, making me feel like I was dying. Either way, it’s a mourning process, and one I barely have the strength for.

There just comes a point when you have to stop tolerating bad behavior from the people you love. You have a right to set boundaries. You have a right to put your foot down. You have a right to say, “No, you don’t get to do this.”

You should always be your own best friend. You need to put a stop to things that hurt your heart, even when they come from people with whom you have had decades of happy memories as well as a mountain of emotional investment. If you’ve tried to communicate and/or work things out and gotten no results, you have to say, “This far and no further.”

So for future reference, here are a few boundaries that I have set:

  • You don’t get to insult people you don’t even know on my Facebook page. Respect me, respect my friends. You don’t have to agree with them, but you don’t get to attack them.
  • If you espouse hate speech or try to encourage violent behavior, I don’t want you in my universe.
  • If you’re going to stand me up, blow me off, or take advantage of me, you better have a stellar excuse. And if you never return my calls and then accuse me of not being a good enough friend, you’ve made my choice for me.
  • If you make promises and then don’t keep them, I will lose trust in you. It’s hard to maintain a friendship under those circumstances.
  • You don’t get to exaggerate other dear friend’s behavior to the point of damaging their reputation, simply so you can win an argument. If you tell me that a friend I have known for decades, who has a reputation of never saying an unkind word to anyone, has suddenly verbally attacked you without any discernible motivation and with no proof whatsoever provided by you, I have to call foul. Not only are you insulting my friend, but you’re insulting my judgment.
  • You don’t have to like all the things I like, but if something is extremely important to me, the least you can do is be supportive of that thing. My blog, for example, is me on a page. When you continually reject my invites to my Facebook group, that’s painful enough. But when I offer to send you a link to one of my blog posts and you say, essentially, “Please don’t,” that’s like a rejection of me. How hard would it be to just say thanks and fake it?
  • If you know you’ve been hurtful, set aside your pride and apologize. If you choose your pride over our friendship, then the friendship must never have had much value to you in the first place.

For what it’s worth, I tried to salvage the wreckage of one of these friendships. I tried really hard. He just bent the truth more and more to prop up his stance, until finally I was the one who felt broken.

And in the other situation, it suddenly occurred to me that this person has made me feel bad more than once, and never has apologized, not once, in all the decades I’ve known him. I’m tired of begging to be treated decently. I shouldn’t have to ask for an apology. It should be a natural process once you know you’ve hurt someone. I realized that if I just swallowed my pain yet again and accepted my second class status in his world one more time, it would rot away my soul. This person could still apologize, and we could move on, but I’m pretty sure he never will. I suspect he is sorry, but I don’t think I’ve ever meant enough to him to merit an apology. And that crushes me.

That all of this is happening during a pandemic is bad enough, but then add on top of it the fact that I moved to the Pacific Northwest 6 years ago, and, with one or two wonderful exceptions, I’m struggling to make friends out here like I made the other 5 decades of my life.

It’s hard to make new friends after a certain age. Older adults have well established lives and obligations, so the opportunity to bond is just not there as much. That, and people are a lot more standoffish out here than I’m used to. I’m pretty sure I’ll never quite fit in. I can’t remember the last time someone took the initiative to do anything with me. Out here, I do all the asking, with very mixed sucess.

Oh, and I just remembered that one woman out here accused me of killing my cat and making a joke out of it, and called me a sick, sick person. When I pointed out that I haven’t owned a cat in nearly 40 years, and that I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, she stopped talking to me. Who could even think that I could do something like that? So yeah, another boundary I’ve set is that I can only take so much crazy.

What I’m finding is that as my self-confidence and self-awareness grows, I’m less willing to put up with bad behavior. But the humiliating truth is that, my whole adult life, no one has ever called me their best friend. What does that say? I don’t know. But it hurts like hell, and it makes it hard for me to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

So, if you see me enforcing boundaries, or speaking my truth (not yours) don’t assume I’m being insecure. Instead, congratulate me for my own agency. Cheer me on for standing my ground. Think of me as strong, not defensive or paranoid. View me as healing, not broken. Is that too much to ask?

It’s just… I’m just really sad and lonely today. I’m struggling. (For what it’s worth, I wrote this more than a week ago, so I’m probably doing much better now.)

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Thank GOD I have a wonderful husband and awesome dogs. It’s amazing how couch snuggles can make you feel that everything is right with the world.

Bleh. Thanks for listening. I need a hug.

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Random Memories from Childhood and What They Taught Me

Children are very impressionable.

Children are very impressionable. A flip, sarcastic remark may become a life lesson for them, rightly or wrongly. Here are some lessons that I learned growing up. Some I have worked very hard to unlearn.

I had taken a magic marker and doodled “bad” words on my white Keds. Given my age, around 5, they were probably shockers like, “poopy head” and the like. My mother wasn’t thrilled, though. But she hated confrontation. We went to the grocery store and I was wearing them. After we had loaded the groceries into the trunk, I was getting into the back seat and one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Hold on, Mom! My shoe fell out of the car!” She sped away, saying we were in too much of a hurry to go back, and that there were other cars in the parking lot wanting her to move. Lesson: Adults can lie when it suits their purposes.

We were trailer camping, and the camp manager came up and told us to stay inside, as a man had broken out of a nearby prison. We heard helicopters and saw flashlights in the distant woods. But I had brought no toys or books (I was about 7) and after about an hour I got really bored, and I begged my mother to let me at least go outside and sit at the picnic table. She let me, because she got tired of my whining (which from my adult perspective was a horrible solution), and I went out there and sat in the dark. Then I saw a man walking toward me out of the fog. So I got up, went to the trailer’s screen door, and it was LOCKED. I didn’t want to yell for my mother, because I was afraid I’d draw the man’s attention. So I stage whispered, “Mom, let me in!” and scratched at the door. She was sitting right there, lost in her book. I could see her. She had to have heard me. She was just annoyed that I had been such a pain earlier. “Mom!” I was convinced I was about to be killed or taken hostage. Then the guy walked up behind me and said, “Ma’am, you should keep your daughter inside.” She let me in. I have never been so scared in all my life. And I also learned that my mother was indifferent to my needs at the best of times. I pretty much had to raise myself. When I look back at some of the emotionally neglectful and/or downright irresponsible things she did to me as a child, I’m horrified and disgusted. And kind of proud that I survived.

A teenaged boy, at the swimming pool, once put his hand on my head and pushed my ten-year-old self under the water and locked his elbow while I underwater screamed and struggled. If he hadn’t let me up, I would have drowned. I ran home and told my mother, and she didn’t take it seriously. I learned two things from that one. If a guy wants to kill you, you’ll be dead. And when the sh** hits the fan in my life, I’d be on my own.

When, at age 13, I finally told my mother that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me, she said, “You’re making too much of it.” Lesson: My safety mattered to no one but myself, and grown ups live in convenient little fantasy worlds and can’t be counted on.

My mother had gotten herself a brand new aluminum cake cover. I noticed that if you held it by the handle on top and thumped it, it made an amazing “bong” sound. I was 8, and was also experimenting with my cassette recorder. She wasn’t home, so I decided to record a home cake cover concert. When she returned, I proudly played the recording for her. When she discovered my instrument of choice, she went into the pantry to find her cake cover covered in dents. I had been enjoying the sound so much I hadn’t even noticed the results. Lesson: Not everyone finds joy in the same ways that you do. (And also that when I’m in the zone, everything else tends to fade away. That’s still true to this day.)

My sister, twisting a half a grapefruit in my face and laughing as I screamed and cried. From that I got that my sister (who was 9 years older) genuinely did not like me at all, to the point of taking delight in my humiliation, so I must not be likeable. (She likes me now, and always loved me. But I struggle to feel liked by anyone to this day, and while this incident wasn’t the primary reason for that, I’m sure it didn’t help.)

My other sister, 10 years older than me, got chronic kidney infections. One day she looked at me and said she may have to take one of my kidneys someday. I was 8. It made me feel as though I had no autonomy, even over my own body. (And let’s face it. As a woman, I still feel that way quite often.)

A more lighthearted one. I was sitting in the kitchen with my stepfather. There were about 3 flies buzzing around. He told me he’d give me a nickel for every fly I swatted. So I propped open the door and let in more flies. From this I learned that it pays to think outside of the box.

Lessons can come at you from all directions. They may not always be the right ones, unfortunately. You, too, are teaching, even when you don’t realize it. So it’s important to be thoughtful with your words, kind with your deeds, and make sure everyone feels safe and heard. Anything less can cause a lifetime of destruction.

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What He Saw, What I Saw

Viewing life through the lens of abuse.

Warning: This post may be very triggering for childhood abuse survivors, and is not suitable for children. It was very uncomfortable to write, and I’m sure it will be equally uncomfortable to read.

A friend and I went to the YMCA to do aqua aerobics. It’s great exercise. The Y limits attendance by appointment only and there are very few people in the building, all of whom wear masks until they enter the pool. We are definitely socially distanced, and they are constantly cleaning all surfaces.

We weren’t attending a class. We have worked out our own routine based on classes we attended pre-pandemic. It’s usually a wonderful experience, and I leave there feeling refreshed, relaxed, and very glad that I had made the effort. But not on this day. Oh, no.

My friend and I were sharing a pool lane, and in the next lane was a boy, about 12 years old, with a man that one assumes was his father, although they looked nothing alike. That is all my friend and I can agree on about the situation. We both were looking at it through our very own lenses, based on past experience and a general trust (or lack thereof) of humanity. My friend never experienced sexual abuse. I did, at right about the same age as this boy. I had a visceral reaction, and to be fair, I’ve seen several father/son swimmers in this pool, and I didn’t have that reaction with any of them.

What my friend saw: A father and son, rough-housing in the pool. Both seemed to be laughing and having a wonderful time. The father was most likely trying to get the kid comfortable with swimming.

What I saw: A pedophile grooming a child. He kept chasing the kid around the shallow end of the pool, growling, with a little plastic shark in his hand. The child was nervously screaming and laughing the whole time. It lasted 45 exhausting minutes. Occasionally, the father would playfully use the shark to bite the son’s thighs. Then he would come up behind the boy, wrap his arms around his torso, and pull him back against his chest, as he rested his chin on the boy’s shoulder. He’d tickle him, and the kid would scream and laugh nervously, and struggle. Once, while pressing the kid against his chest, he lifted up the boy’s legs so that he was almost in the fetal position, with the boy’s feet against the edge of the pool, all while the man growled in his ear. That was the only time the boy was quiet. Sometimes he would throw the kid in the air, and then pull him back toward him.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to punch the guy in the throat. I wanted to call child protective services. I was losing my mind. But did I do anything? No. Because I couldn’t be sure how much of what I was seeing was through the very biased lens of my past.

I kept thinking, “Yeah, great idea, man. Train the kid to think that if he screams, no one will come to help. Train him to get used to this nervous, uncomfortable feeling. Teach him that this is all a game and he’s supposed to think it’s fun. Do this in front of strangers so that he can believe that if other adults are seeing it and doing nothing about it, it must be okay. Make us all complicit. It takes a village to abuse a child. Get him all used to being in the fetal position with you behind him, your head on his shoulder. That’s how it’s done. That’s how it’s always done.”

Maybe, like my mother once told me (to my horror), I was “making too much of it.” Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe it’s my fault for thinking that a lot of people in this world are creepy and don’t have people’s best interests at heart. Maybe I was crazy. After all, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

I didn’t know what to do. I could intervene and humiliate the child with no concrete proof. I could beat the hell out of the man, further traumatizing the kid and winding up with an arrest record. I could tell the staff, but what could they do about it? I could try really hard to see things the way my friend did, but I was having no luck there.

I cried a little. I swam to the other end of the pool and stayed there as much as possible. But the child’s screams (of delight? of fear?) were echoing off the ceiling. I wanted to rescue that kid. But I didn’t know how. I thought of all the adults (and there were many) who didn’t rescue me. Did they feel similarly conflicted, or were they just incompetent and indifferent? It had never occurred to me before this that they might have been conflicted.

I felt guilty. I felt angry that I was being made to feel guilty. I felt envious of the people around me who didn’t seem to think this was a big deal. I felt victimized all over again. I felt an insane desire to protect my genital area at all costs. No. You have no right to touch me. NO!

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. I probably should have kept this to myself. But I can’t be the only one who goes through this. Thank God it doesn’t happen often. I felt alone at that moment, but I doubt I am. Maybe this will make someone else feel less alone. The bottom line is I hope that I’m wrong and that that child has a loving, decent, protective father who makes him feel safe and that they create a lifetime of happy memories together.

This was definitely not my best swimming experience. Ugh. Excuse me while I go boil myself in bleach.

If you are an adult survivor of sexual abuse, please know that it was not your fault, and visit the RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) website for support and information, or call them 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE.

Children as Commodities

It’s horrifying how often people are willing to rob children of their childhood.

I’m always perversely drawn to stories about exploited children, in the same way I tend to slow down to look at traffic accidents. I have this need to learn how something that terrible could have happened. I want to figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future, even as I know I’ll be all but powerless to do so.

I just finished reading an article entitled “The Dionne quintuplets: The exploitation of five girls raised in a ‘baby zoo’”.

It’s a heartbreaking story. It started in depression-era rural Canada, before most people knew that these types of mega-multiple births were even possible. And in no time flat these girls were taken away from their parents and raised in a facility where the general public could observe their play times. For a while there, they drew more tourists than Niagara Falls. Souvenir shops and food stands were built. They were also used to endorse products.

They were not the first children used as commodities, and they won’t be the last. It’s horrifying how often people are willing to rob children of their childhood. The lifelong damage by adults, especially professionals who ought to know better, boggles the mind.

This abuse comes in many forms. Wild children who are then raised by scientists. Child brides. Indigenous children ripped from their families and sent off to schools that are designed to rob them of their culture. Sex trafficking and child pornography. Abductions. Girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Child soldiers in Africa. Those kids who are subject to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of any kind. Children who don’t know any better who participate in family reality shows in America. Baby beauty pageants. Child actors and singers who never see their own money. Children ripped from the arms of their parents at the US border to prove a political point. Young athletes who are raised by their coaches. Children born of slavery. Children kept by the worst kind of foster parents who are only in it for the money. Children forced to beg, steal, or sell things in the streets instead of going to school. Children used as pawns in nasty divorces.

The fact that so many of us survive to adulthood with even a modicum of sanity is a miracle. We’d like to think we are above the animals in this world, but good luck finding any other animals that would treat their offspring the way many humans do. It’s sickening.

If you are one of the parents who are doing your best to provide a safe, loving, and functional childhood for your child, or one of the people, like me, who chose to be child free, then thank you.

exploited children

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Predators

Does it feel good when you break the arm of someone who is 8 times smaller than you are?

I just heard the most disgusting recording ever. It was Tyreek Hill and his fiancée Crystal Espinal discussing how his three-year-old son’s arm was broken. It’s hard for me not to get emotional about this.

From an emotional standpoint, it seems clear to me that this huge NFL player broke this small child’s arm. Big man. Class act.

In fairness, at the time of this writing, neither adult has admitted any wrongdoing. But here are the facts from the recording:

Espinal says the child is terrified of Hill.

Hill tells Espinal she should be terrified, too, and insults her.

Hill admits he told the child to shut up and stop crying.

Espinal says the child said, “Daddy did it,” and “Daddy punches me.”

Espinal admits she stuck up for Hill with investigators. In other words, she knew what he had done to her child, and yet she prevented investigators from finding out.

Hill admits that when the child cries, he makes him open up his arms and he punches the kid in the chest. He says the child respects him.

They both accuse each other of using a belt on the child.

We will never be 100 percent sure of what happened, but it’s quite obvious that both of these adults have some extremely questionable parenting skills, and that child is in danger.

To be quite clear, there is no excuse for injuring someone who is 8 times smaller than you are. There is absolutely no justification for it. And respect? That is earned through love, not through threats and violence. I have no respect for someone who feels the need to punch me in the chest or break my arm.

When you prey on someone who is clearly more vulnerable than you, does it feel good? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished something? Is it some sort of triumph?

It’s easy to abuse small children, little old ladies, women half your size, smaller kids in the school yard when you’re backed up with a group of jeering friends. It’s a lot less work to harvest the low hanging fruit. Sure, you can do these things, but you shouldn’t. Every civilized human being knows that. The fact that there are certain people out there who know that and yet do it anyway, and others who enable them, says a lot about what they are.

They are predators. They are twisted, evil, cruel, ignorant animals that should be locked up in cages for the rest of their lives.

Predator

The Other Shoe

I can’t have nice things.

My whole life, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. That feeling intensifies when things are going well. Because I can’t have the nice things. I’ve never had the nice things. At least, not for long.

Sooner or later, everything seems to turn to sh**. If I’m braced for it, I can usually handle it, and come out the other side. I’m nothing if not a survivor. But if that darned shoe takes me by surprise, then that would be bad. Really, really bad.

I remind myself of Nelly, a wonderful dog, who flinches every time you reach out to pet her sweet head. She knows all about what having it bad used to be like. She learned early that flinching can soften the blow. How do I explain to her that I love her, and I’ll always love her, and I’ll never hurt her? She deserves to be petted and cuddled and adored. I want her to be able to own it.

I deserve the good stuff, too. I know it. And here lately I have been experiencing it. And I enjoy it. Mostly. But I can’t seem to get out from under that mental shoe of mine. It’s always there, stinking up the place.

I think there are a lot of people out there, walking around with a shoe in their heads. Please be patient with us. We may not show it well, but your goodness really is appreciated. Probably even more than it would be if we were one of those lucky shoeless people.

one shoe

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Cautious? Me?

She found it really hard to imagine that anyone could be more cautious than I am.

During my wedding ceremony, one of the things I said to my husband-to-be was, “You’re the more cautious one.” Afterward, a friend came up to me and expressed her total shock about that. In a nice way. She’s a pure delight. But the implication was that she found it really hard to imagine that anyone could be more cautious than I am.

That, to me, is really fascinating.

Okay, standing beside that friend, I’m sure I come off as shy and retiring. She’s amazing. She’s colorful. She’s larger than life. Total strangers will stop her on the street to talk to her. (Which is wonderful, unless you’re with her and happen to be in a hurry.) She lights up every room that she enters. She’s got that indescribable “it” factor. Rock on, my friend!

But my being quiet, thoughtful, and ever-so-slightly slower moving does not necessarily equate with caution. Let’s review:

I’ve been to 19 countries.

I lived in Mexico, all alone, when I was 19.

I spent a summer away from home, doing construction work on an Air Force Base, when I was 16.

I used to camp deep in the forests of Appalachia, a week at a time, with only my dogs for company.

I survived a childhood of sexual abuse.

I have met several friends face to face that I had previously only known on line.

I worked graveyard shift, in total isolation, for 13 years.

I sold my house and moved three hours south, where I knew no one, to go back to college.

I started over, yet again, moving 3100 miles from Florida to Seattle, at age 49. It was a place where I had never been, and where I knew no one.

I managed not to have children despite intense societal pressure.

I got married for the first time at age 53.

Have poured my heart and soul out in this daily blog since 2012, revealing things about myself that many people wouldn’t even have told their best friends.

I’ve published a book.

None of this sounds particularly cautious to me.

I may not be flamboyant or loud or outgoing, but does that mean I’m cautious? Hell to the no!

Brave Cat

In Spite Of, Not Because Of

I have heard a lot of amazing stories of survival over the years.

So many good things came from the Christine Blasey Ford hearing. She started a long overdue national discussion about abuse and, even more basically, about what it means to be a woman in this world. This genie will never be put back into the bottle, and I think our culture will be all the better for it. Being heard provides an opportunity for healing.

Believe it or not, I’m a very quiet person. Because of that, it’s assumed, I hope correctly, that I’m a good listener. Therefore, people tend to confide in me. So I have heard a lot of amazing stories of survival over the years.

These stories have left me with two lasting impressions. 1) We live in a world that is a great deal more violent and abusive than most people realize or care to admit, and 2) I will always be fascinated by people’s ability to survive and even thrive in spite of the many obstacles that are thrown in their paths.

I know a woman whose mother tried to kill her on multiple occasions. I know a woman whose parents attempted to beat the gay out of her. I know a woman who was sexually abused at an extremely young age by a never-ending series of her mother’s boyfriends. I know many people who have been beaten up for simply being who they are. I know a man who was so severely tortured by his alcoholic father that to this day he is afraid of his own shadow.

I’ve learned of knives being held to throats. Legs broken and improperly healed. Humiliations and punishments beyond your worst nightmares.

Every one of these people survived in spite of, not because of, the people around them. Those people should have been supporting them and raising them up in life, not beating them down. The fact that abusers seem to flourish in this society is an outrage.

Survivors are my heroes. They have a depth of character that people who have had the good fortune of waltzing through life unscathed will never achieve. But I’ve come to believe that depth of character wasn’t brought out by the abuse. I think it was always there, deep inside. Humans have this uncanny ability to default to incredible if given half a chance.

So, if survivors are already awesome, imagine how much more they could have been without the toxicity that was injected into their lives. What gifts has this hostile world deprived itself of? What are we missing? How much further could this society have evolved without all the harm that it inflicts upon itself? What an incredible waste.

Something to think about.

Michael Paul Miller The Calling
The Calling, by Michael Paul Miller

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