Free pass

Many years ago I was in a group of friends who lived in Atlanta. One girl kept making snarky comments to me one day. She would say something rude or condescending about everything I said or did. Either she didn’t usually speak to me or I didn’t notice her comments, but that day I did.

I finally worked up the courage to speak up. I said this to her with our friends present. Bullies have a hard time when there are witnesses. “Are you a bitch all the time, or is today just a special day?” She was silent. I continued. “Because all you have done all day is cut me down and I can’t think of any reason for it. If I’ve done something wrong, let me know.” She never answered, and she has never spoken to me again.

It was very hard for me to do this, but I had to. I was shaking inside, but I knew I had to say something. Verbal abuse is exactly the same as physical abuse, and must be stopped as soon as it is noticed or it will get worse. If you ignore it, you are allowing it to happen.

I once had a coworker who thought it was acceptable to walk up behind me and hit the back of my head several times a day.

I have relatives – blood and in-laws – who think it is acceptable to slander me, steal from me, and lie to me.

I am here to tell you that nobody is ever allowed a free pass to abuse you. Nobody. This includes but is not limited to managers, bosses, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, ministers, and strangers on the street.

Nobody has permission to harm you in any way.

First, let them know how their actions make you feel. They may not realize that they are being a bully. If they sincerely apologize and never do it again, then let it go. If they do it one more time, walk away. You do not need people like this in your life. It does not matter who they are. Nobody gets a free pass at harming you.

You are valuable. You are a child of God. You are unique and precious. If they cannot recognize that, then that is their loss. You cannot make blind people see.

Rumi says in “The Way That Moves as You Move” (rendered by Coleman Barks)
“You have read about the inspired spring. Drink from there. Be companions with those whose lips are wet without water. Others, even though they may be your father or your mother, they are your enemies. Leave, before they kill you.”

Jesus says:
“You assume that I have come to bring peace on earth, and you are mistaken. I have come to set fire to the world, and how I wish it was already burning! I have a mission that I am called to, and it will overwhelm me until I have completed it. I’m not here to join people together but to divide them. Families will turn against each other in their households. I’ve come to bring a sword, cutting old family ties. I’ve come to turn sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. Your worst enemies will be members of your household. Anyone who loves their family more than me cannot be my disciple.” (MT 10:34-37, LK 14:25-26, LK 12:49-53 – Condensed Gospel version)

We must follow the Truth,
regardless of others around us,
regardless of their authority
or connection to us.
If they are harmful to us,
we must walk away and cut all ties.

Only God is above us, not them.

It is better to be lonely than with someone who abuses you.

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The dentist

My parents took me to a dentist when I was very young and the experience traumatized me. The effects of that are still with me today.

I believe that he didn’t knowingly traumatize me. He thought he was a very good dentist. It turns out he wasn’t as good as he thought and in many ways he wasn’t a very good person. If he’d really thought about what he was doing then none of this would have happened.

He caused me immeasurable pain and terror because he didn’t use anesthesia when he worked on my teeth. He thought he could be very gentle and delicate and that he didn’t have to give me anything. He also thought that simply seeing the needle (needles for dentists are very large) would frighten me.

Ideally, he would have given me a shot anyway and explained the benefits of it. Ignorance leads to fear which leads to pain. Seeing the needle could be frightening sure, but that is when you explain why it is long (to reach inside your mouth) and how it will help (to make sure you don’t feel any pain).

Without a shot, I was in fact in pain. But also, I was in terror, because I knew that if I moved I could be very hurt. One wrong slip with that drill and he’d be drilling my cheek and not my tooth.

Strangely, he didn’t even have an assistant. So there was no one else in the room to look in my eyes and see the terror and suffering, both physical and mental.

Because my parents took me to him, I thought this was normal. I thought this was part of going to the dentist. I thought surely they wouldn’t make me go through this terror and pain for no reason.

People don’t really understand how traumatizing this is, that this authority figure caused me pain and my parents, other authority figures, took me to him. This means that what he’s doing to me is accepted and okay and normal and in fact, they’re paying him to do it.

No one warned me what was going to happen. That just adds to the pain. Any time something new is going to happen to anyone – but especially a child, explaining it beforehand is a kindness. It is all about thinking about the other person and their emotional needs. They don’t know what is going to happen. They don’t even know what to ask. It is the medical professional’s duty to remember that even though s/he has performed that procedure a thousand times, this is the first time for this patient. Not only is “informed consent” important, it is also simply kind and humane and compassionate to make sure they know what to expect.

I’m so grateful that I’m realizing all of this. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t have the strength at the time to stand up and say “No you can’t do this to me.” or “You have to tell me what you are going to do to me before you do it.” But at least now I’ve noticed it and I can start to make changes. If I didn’t notice it then it would mean that I would continue to suffer and say nothing.

Hopefully by my writing about this, you will gain strength too and learn to ask for what is going to happen before it does if your doctor doesn’t think to tell you. Hopefully you might start to understand the root of some of your distress as well. Uncovering this root has really helped me in understanding some of my behavior and attitudes. This early experience badly affected how I related to and experienced the world. Now that I’ve uncovered it, I can heal myself from that point onwards.

Verbal aikido – not engaging in the fight means you win

Nothing drives an angry person more up the wall than refusing to fight or be indignant with them.

I remember a time when I saw two homeless guys sitting on a bench. I was walking back from getting lunch at a barbecue place when I worked at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. One of the guys was black and one was white. They were doing fine, and then they started arguing, and one hit the other. I told them that they needed to make peace. I pointed out that they were friends (or at least friends enough to sit together in the first place) and they didn’t need to fight. They agreed, but then a little later the white guy got up, sidled up to me and started saying something racist. I didn’t agree with him – I’m on the side of peace. It has nothing to do with race.

He thought I was going to agree with him because I am white. He thought I’d be on his side. He was very frustrated that I wasn’t on his team.

A lady came into the library recently and complained about the lack of parking there that day. I told her there was a job fair going on next door. She said – so they have to park here? I said that lot is now full, and they are parking here now. She was still upset. I pointed out that this number of people going to a job fair just shows how desperate people are for jobs.

I was trying to get her to have some compassion, but it didn’t work.

She said that there are a lot of other places that have more unemployment.

This means nothing. Pain is pain, no matter where it is, or the amount of it. Just because another city has more unemployment doesn’t mean that the need isn’t great here. Her comment makes no sense. Really, she was just saying that she was inconvenienced.

Her inconvenience is nothing in relation to their need.

I could tell that she wanted me to get upset right along with her, and I wasn’t. I wasn’t freaking out at all. It isn’t “our” parking lot that “they” are taking.

I’ve also learned that one of the most amazing things you can do to someone who is angry at you personally (not at a situation) is to ask them to pray for you.

A lady came in once and asked me if we had a vending machine. I pointed out that we don’t have a vending machine because we are a library and you can’t eat or drink in here. She got very upset with me and started cursing at me. She finished by saying that she was a Christian.

I’m so glad that she told me because I would never have known based on her actions.

So I asked her to pray for me, and she immediately calmed down. It was like taking the wind out of her sails. How can you get angry at someone you are praying for?

I refused to get to where she wanted me to be.

This is all like verbal aikido.

Remember the phrase – if you wrestle with a pig, you’ll both get dirty, but the pig will have more fun.

A punch to the head woke me up.

If you have told someone that something they do makes you uncomfortable, and they keep on doing it, then it is up to you to terminate the relationship.

That may sound harsh.

But it is as if you’ve put up your feelings for a vote. Who wins? Their needs or yours? Ideally, you’d both win. Ideally, everybody would be happy.

But if they feel they need to continue doing something that you have said is distressing or harmful to you, then they have voted. Their needs are more important than yours.

I went to a gathering once and I brought a jewelry project to work on. It is like a security blanket to me. I like having projects because it makes me feel more comfortable. I feel more exposed when I have nothing to work on.

A lady there wasn’t comfortable with me working on a project. I wasn’t right next to her. The project wasn’t loud or big. It wasn’t like I was taking notes. But she felt that in order for her to share her thoughts she needed me to not be doing anything and to look right at her.

She didn’t ask me directly. She mentioned casually, to the air it seemed, that she would rather each person pay full attention and not work on anything. It took me a little bit to understand that she meant me, she was so vague.

So I had a choice. Make her feel comfortable, and me feel uncomfortable, and stop working on my project. Or, pretend I didn’t hear her and keep on working. I’d feel a little comfortable because I’d have my project, but a little less than before she spoke because I would know that I was making someone else feel uncomfortable.

But really, I wasn’t making her feel uncomfortable. That was her choice.

I put my project up. And I developed a small amount of resentment to her, and a little bit to myself. I was upset that I didn’t stand up for myself. I was upset with her that she confronted me at all, and that she did it in such a passive-aggressive kind of way. It was my choice not to tell her how I felt. It was my choice to let her needs be more important than mine.

I had a coworker who thought it was funny to hit me on the back of my head when she walked by. She wouldn’t hit hard – she would often just catch my hair. That is an invasion of my personal space. That is a violation of social rules – we don’t touch each other unless it is mutual.

Now, I hate having people walk behind me anyway, but there is nothing I can do about it at work because of the arrangement of the desks. I don’t have an office. I don’t really even have a desk. I have a space that I usually work at when nobody else is around. It is a little discomforting to work in a place for many years and not really have a “place” to be, but that is for another post.

I first thought she was getting a rise out of it, out of getting in my personal space. So I dealt with her like I dealt with my big brother – pretend that I liked it. I figured that she’d stop because that works with big brothers. Don’t let them get the satisfaction of seeing you upset. Pretend it doesn’t bother you. It didn’t work. I had to tell her to quit, and in telling her I learned something very telling about my boss.

She laughed at me for telling this lady to quit hitting me. I should have seen that as the sign that it is. Hindsight is 20/20 they say. I learned this lesson later – don’t trust her with anything real. She isn’t really human.

I knew a guy in college named Carson who hurt me badly. He and I were sitting in a friend’s dorm room. I was sitting on the bed and he was sitting in a chair facing me. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but at some point in the conversation he reached over and pushed me sideways. My back was against the wall, and being pushed sideways meant that my head caught the part of the doorjamb where the doorknob was. It hurt a lot. I pulled forward, turned around, and saw what had caused the pain in my head. I told Carson to be careful – I’d gotten hurt from his shove. I figured it was an accident.

The second push wasn’t an accident. He took my shoulder, pulled me back to see where the doorjamb was, and then shoved my head sideways into the doorjamb.

Without thinking, I hit him as hard as I could right between the eyes. Every bit of energy and force I had in me was directed into that punch. I’m grateful that I didn’t hit him anywhere where it could have caused actual damage. I could have bloodied his nose, broken his teeth, bruised his eye. I could have killed him if I’d hit the right spot with that much force. It was an instinctive punch, and it did the job.

We stared at each other for what seemed like ten minutes. I’m sure it was only a minute, but time had slowed down. It does that when crazy things happen.

He broke the silence. “Don’t ever do that again.” He glowered at me.

“Don’t ever do that again.” I responded, indignant. He’d hurt me intentionally. There was no reason for it. I’d never done anything to him to deserve that. I’d never done anything to anybody to deserve that.

The first time is free. The first time is an accident. Once you’ve been told that you’ve harmed me, and you do it again, everything is over.

If they hurt you and you don’t tell them, then it is on you. If you tell them and they continue to hurt you, then they have made their choice. It is on you if you stay after that.

Tree pose without doing tree pose.

I know a lady who dislikes going to the grocery store. I understand. I feel the same way. It isn’t all the food. It is all the people and color and noise and choice. It is all too much and it is overwhelming.

She does yoga, so I suggested this – do tree pose, without doing tree pose.

There is a certain deliberate calmness you have to adopt to do tree pose. You have to pull all of your energy into yourself. When you are there, you can balance. You can breathe better. You can stand strong, even though it is only on one foot. You aren’t holding on to anything, yet you don’t need to.

You are strong. You are centered. You are whole.

Do that. But without doing tree pose. The pose is just a reminder. The point of the pose has little to do with the physical balance you gain and the strength you develop in your ankles.

That’s nice too. Not getting hurt from twisting your ankles anymore is a nice side benefit of yoga. But it is only part of it.

The real part is what happens inside. The real part is what happens deep down. The real part is the balance and the centeredness and the calm that you are able to call on when life is too much and too crazy and too full and too much.

The real part is that you don’t even need to stand on one foot to get there once you’ve done it enough.

Disagree – words and food

I’m OK with people disagreeing with me, just not all the time. I certainly don’t want people around who only agree with me. That isn’t healthy. It is important to have friends who can help keep you from doing something stupid.

But it also isn’t healthy to have people around who constantly disagree, even if they try to soften the disagreement by saying they “respectfully” disagree. This is like saying I’m going to hit you, so brace for it. It is for your own good.

People who constantly disagree are like food that disagrees with you. If you know that eating pepperoni always gives you heartburn, you will (hopefully) stop eating pepperoni. The pain and discomfort just isn’t worth it. If you go over to your aunt’s house and she always serves you pepperoni, then do you eat it, out of respect to her? What if eating pepperoni was part of her childhood and serving it is how she shows love?

Yet eating it makes you sick. Do you tell her, and break her heart, or do you eat it, and get heartburn? Somebody is going to get hurt either way.

Does it matter who serves you? Are you more likely to take something disagreeable from a relative, or from a long-term friend?

The same is true with words. If you have someone who constantly disagrees with you, you don’t have to take it. Balance is good. If all that person does is disagree with you, you are not obliged to “eat” it, no matter who they are.

Ideally, it would be great if people were thoughtful enough and considerate enough to not “feed” you anything that makes you sick. Ideally, people would be mindful and look out for each other. Ideally, we wouldn’t have to tell people to stop hurting us.

Sometimes they don’t know they are being harmful. Then it is on us to tell them. Then it is up to them.

Sadly, there are people in this world who know what our triggers are and they ignore them. There are people who just don’t care what our needs are and they do their own thing anyway. There are people who feel that our boundaries are suggestions rather than rules. They are the same kind of people who if you tell them you are allergic to a particular food, they will serve it to you anyway.

Whether they do it intentionally or accidentally makes no difference. They are harming you. They are either being malicious or mindless. The result is the same. You are harmed.

Then it is up to you to decide – continue the relationship, or terminate it? Is it worth getting sick to be around this person? You may love them, but by their actions they are proving that they don’t love you. Is it worth that sick feeling you have in your stomach every time you are around them?

Poem – kin/kind

Just because someone is kin to you
doesn’t mean anything.

Kinship without kindness
requires no fealty.

If your brother, mother, father
show you “love” couched in
threats, shame, or guilt
then walk away.

Love that hurts isn’t love.

There is nothing
about the accident of birth
that guarantees
kindness.

There is nothing about
being a sister
that fosters
protection.

If kin are not kind
then “family” is an empty word.

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

If they treat you
as an accident,
an embarrassment

then that is their loss.
It is not a reflection
of your worth
but of their blindness.

Set a high price for yourself.
even if your “family”
says you are worthless.

Or perhaps even because of it.

If the family you were born into
does not treat you as a friend
but ignores, belittles, embarrasses you

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

Bullies can be brothers.
Rapists can be relatives.
Murderers can be mothers.

There is no “normal”.
There is no “average”.

There is only you, right now.
If your “normal”
feels wrong
feels unhealthy
feels strange

Walk away.

You can create
a new family
from friends
who know how
to love
the beautiful person
that you are.