I have read countless books on self-actualization, self-realization and spiritual awareness. I have done hundreds of hours of yoga, pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation. I have worked with therapists, energy workers, acupuncturists and a million body workers. All of this has been helpful, even critical, to my recovery.
One of the primary spiritual premises I have heard is that the universe will give me exactly what I need. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
In my early years of recovery, I thought that had something to do with the physical world. Of course, as a trauma survivor, it was pretty hard to believe. Actually, I didn’t believe it. Or at least, I didn’t believe it applied to me.
Now, I look at it differently. Now, I know it isn’t about providing me a vehicle when mine breaks down. It isn’t about making my life more convenient. It is about providing me with the motivation to change my inner world, because the only way to recover is to change from the inside out.
That being said, I hate that. I hate the pain it causes. I really dislike looking at my problems from the perspective that I need to make the changes. It is truly painful. It is much simpler to blame everyone else, stay angry and play the victim. Of course, I have realized over time that ignoring the need for change just makes the next lesson a bit more challenging. I affectionately refer to them as “baseball bats over the head from the universe.”
As a child sex abuse survivor, my childhood was full of boundary-less adults. I learned very quickly that my boundaries were not important. I learned that nobody cared for my opinions and that my expression of emotion was unwanted. I also learned that I could do nothing right. I learned that everything I took pride in would be criticized by those who were already perfect in my family.
As an adult, I thought healing would be brought about by attracting supportive and emotionally available people into my life. But that’s not how it works. I had to make my own changes to bring those people around.
In looking at my past learning opportunities, I can group them into several major categories. Many have come from my children. I have written about boundary-setting and helicopter parenting on several occasions.
However, adults provide lessons as well. And today, I will focus on the adults. Of course, these are very specific to my journey. But I think that others have similar experiences.
1. No boundaries.
I have had my share of acquaintances and romantic relationships with people who lack personal space. Whether it is the need to spend too much time with me, use my stuff incessantly or glean more information about me than necessary, my lack of space has been abundant. I once had a man tell me he would die for me, but that he wasn’t willing to give me one night a week for myself. Seriously? Even he eventually realized the ridiculousness of that statement. But it took a while … and maybe a therapy appointment.
2. Emotionally and physically abusive.
I have had a romantic relationship where I had to lock the door to my bedroom after he had been drinking because he was going to start yelling about my uselessness — guaranteed. He would still stand outside the door and yell, but at least there was a door between us. I have had romantic relationships where it was assumed I would do all the work (in and out of the house) while my partner nursed the physical manifestation of the day.
And I have had some bosses that made Satan seem like a decent being. I have had bosses tell me I am stupid, that I don’t deserve the job and that I am paid too much. Bosses have micromanaged me by delving far too much in to my personal life to tell me how I should manage my time to get more hours in at work (also a boundary issue). Bosses have shut my office door and yelled at me at the top of their lungs (so the shut door didn’t really matter). And I am really good at my job (personal opinion of course).
I have also had good bosses. If you are one of my past bosses, and are reading this, just assume you are one of them.
3. Sexually inappropriate.
I cannot even count the number of older (way older) men who have been overly physical with me. I used to wonder why a man could not have a conversation with me without putting his hand on my arm or his arm around my shoulders. I have even had totally repulsive coworkers attempt to give me shoulder massages when I was stressed. There have been countless sexually inappropriate conversations at work or in volunteer scenarios. Of course, there have been more overt advances as well.
You know the type. They cannot do anything wrong. They have created their house of cards of perfection and any threat to that house of cards is met with a barrage of deflection tactics that leave their adversaries dazed and confused. Even when their fault is so insanely obvious, they will stop at nothing to avoid blame. They are not interested in having an adult conversation. They are only interested in taking you down with their version of the facts.
It has only been recently that I have developed relationships with people who could take constructive criticism like a mature adult. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, my relief is almost overwhelming.
5. Passive-aggressive or overtly critical.
I have spent most of my life trying to meet the needs and likes of people who were never going to be happy with my efforts. I banked my life on the perfect Thanksgiving meal, Christmas tree or bridal shower only to hear little criticisms about whatever was not just right. Looking back on it, I was creating a very impressive home life that would have rivaled Martha Stewart. But none of it was real. And none of it was appreciated. Sometimes, the comments were passive-aggressive. “If that is how you want to do it …” Sometimes, the comments were overtly critical. “Why in the world would you think that was a good idea?” But the criticism was always there.
Every one of these meetings has caused me substantial pain. Prior to recovery, I would deal with these situations by avoiding the particular person, which does not work well when they are your boss. For years and years, I was absolutely petrified to stand up for myself. I was subconsciously convinced that I would experience retaliation, even death, for speaking my mind. I know these people were brought into my life so I could stand up for myself. And in most cases, after spending far more time with them than I should, I figured that out.
However, the pain of accommodating these people for far too long has certainly affected my quality of life as an adult. I am hoping that soon, I will figure out the lesson a little faster, so the learning from these interactions can less painful. I know there are lessons in my life right now. I know this because there is pain. And right now, I have no clue what I am supposed to glean from them. But I am working to become as aware as possible, so the baseball bat doesn’t actually knock me out.