We’re such social creatures. We love community, shared passions and purpose. Communities can range from the world-wide congregation of a church to the one on one community of a friendship or intimate relationship. Regardless the size, there is strength in numbers. But the quality of that strength depends entirely on the individual integrity of each person within that shared community. The question is, how can individuality be found in a crowd?
In order to be a contributing part of the whole, we must face certain obstacles on our own. And one (or some) of those demons could be to “quit” communities we’ve grown accustomed to (and have even loved some aspects of), but that could be weighing us down, thwarting our growth and joy and learning, even sucking our energy into the black hole of zero progress.
Aside from the death of a loved one, leaving a relationship we’ve invested time, attention, and love in can be one of the most difficult things we face as human beings. It is a certain sort of death really. When the decision is made to leave, there’s anger, blame, and a sort of mourning period we pass through. Even then, we swing back from time to time…just to make sure we have made the right decision.
I happened to face this sort of relationship death almost a decade ago.
It was 2004 and I was struggling in my marriage. I loved my husband. Our sex life was incredible. There were so many things I appreciated in him. I thought we would share a life-time and that we were simply going through a rough patch.
But in retrospect, our relationship was erratic and fickle at best. One moment, it seemed we were closer than ever and the next, I would be witnessing an emotional explosion over clogged sinks and dirty blinds. Instead of my clumsiness being a source for laughter and fun teasing, dropping a fork or apple slice onto the tile floor was kindling for criticism and verbal abuse.
I had to be ‘on point’ twenty-four-seven. I had to watch every move I made and every word that came out of my mouth just to keep our home climate at neutral. The majority of my time and energy was spent promoting the most minimal amount of damage to be inflicted on me and my children, let alone having any free time to do anything proactive or creative.
My children and I were voyaging waves of emotional turbulence with fear as our sail.
Toward the end of our marriage, my husband was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and was in the process of finding a drug that might calm his anxiety and temper. The first medication he tried made things worse.
And stepping in between my husband and youngest son to prevent physical (and further verbal abuse) was a nightly ritual.
When I was not at home he was throwing my youngest (seven) up against the wall or into the closet and using his two-hundred-pound, six-foot-three-inch frame to take my oldest son (twelve) to the ground, forcing his face into the carpet. (To accomplish what, I still have no idea.) Toward the end of our marriage, he did the same to me. I couldn’t breathe. I felt carpet fibers through my eyelids and in my nostrils. Through the slit of my right eyelid, I saw the blur of my three children crying and yelling at their dad to stop. It felt like he would crush my skull into a thousand bits. I stopped fighting, he eventually got off me, and without a word I immediately herded the kids to the garage and we got into the car. We drove to my friend’s house a few miles away. We stayed there until he agreed to get serious help. We set up a plan and he made specific commitments, which he failed to fulfill.
It was no longer a safe environment for the kids. It was no longer a safe environment for me. Even he was in danger of doing things that we both knew he would deeply regret later.
A few weeks after our separation he begged to come over, so he could apologize to me and the kids for his behavior. Within fifteen minutes I was calling 9-1-1. And when the officers escorted him out, he yelled from the driveway that he would do everything he could to throw us out of the house and on the street.
So, yeah, he gave a sincere apology with some serious baggage.
Most of our marriage, I was in and out of denial with the way my kids and I were being treated. Mainly because there were good times too…very good times.
Much of the abuse that happened while I was not home came to light only after we had divorced. My children were too scared I would confront my husband with the facts and that I (and they) would be the brunt of more abuse.
But all of that is only to give you an idea of what I was facing, of what the emotional climate was like in our home. And if you’ll bear with me, the origin of AmyJalapeño! is ahead.
During our last months together, I repeatedly listened to Eckhart Tolle’s THE POWER OF NOW during my hour and a half commute to and from work every day. My brain began to form new grooves, new ideas and possibilities of how to handle our emotionally explosive home climate. I remember hearing Eckhart’s calm, centered voice, his clear ideas that cut through the bull-shit conditioning of my life up to that point.
Eckhart writes (and speaks) of observing thoughts, people and situations, of the emotional ‘pain body’ and of not reacting to the fear and anger projected by others.
I began to see opportunities in my home life and at work where I could put this to practice. I realized how I could handle my husband’s ‘pain body’ calmly and rationally – to respond to his fear, rather than react to it.
There was a point before our separation (when I agreed to come back if he got serious help) – a relationship event horizon, if you will – when I made an immovable and absolute decision (which I shared with my husband calmly,with resolve and love and he agreed to cooperate).
The decision I made was to no longer accept (at any degree) the belittling, the name calling, the yelling, the abuse. It was a defining moment in our marriage and for me as a woman. Zero tolerance was my minute to minute mantra.
And I meant it.
Every single time his old behavior rose to the surface, I calmly expressed that the abusive tone, the words and name-calling, the destructive behavior was unacceptable. I did not react to his pain even in the slightest, not even if he ignored me and kept ranting.
It was HIS turn to be ‘on point’, to be at a high level of attention with his words and with his behavior. And honestly, I think I wore him out with my tenacity, consistency, and bull-dog determination in making it absolutely clear that I would immediately take the children and leave if his words and behavior turned volatile (which they eventually did).
This agreement with my husband, this declaration of my rights as a woman, a mother, wife, and human being was the topic of a phone conversation with a childhood friend that was a major support for me at the time. When I shared the above proclamation, he dubbed me AmyJalapeño! He said it was my superhero name. That phone conversation was in 2004 and AmyJalapeño! has been a daily reminder of my strength, resolve, and passion for and the power of inner self-reliance.
I honestly believe (from the depths of my soul guts) that the realization and practice of inner self-reliance – its importance in the contribution to the whole of humanity (whether you are a part of a religion or not) – is vital to our evolution, survival, and brilliance as a human race.
Be your own superhero. Learn how to save yourself, so that when others need you, you will have something to offer and someone they can lean on and into.