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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Restaurant thoughts – too loud

I’ve realized that I really don’t like eating out. I do like the idea of someone else making food for me, and someone else doing the dishes. But I don’t like that the food is often not very healthy, and the ambiance is often a little overwhelming. Restaurants can be very loud when there are other customers there.

Sometimes I think I want to rent a restaurant and invite just my friends. Or maybe I want to go to a restaurant that has a limit on the number of people that can be in it. And maybe even the kind of people. Loud, shrill voices are not great for the digestion. This is regardless of age.

I have actually asked to move tables when people have ordered tequila or margaritas. What is it about social drinking that makes people unsociable? They laugh too loud and too high pitched. They become boisterous and belligerent. I’ve also asked to be seated in a different area if there are families with small children. I don’t think it is charming to see a toddler running all over the area, yelling at the top of his lungs.

There are very few restaurants that will go up to the customers who are being loud and ask them to be quiet. They think that if they do, the customer won’t come back. They don’t get that the good customers, the other ones who are not being loud, will really be the ones who won’t come back if this keeps happening. Then the restaurant will be filled with only loud, obnoxious people.

Bully in the library.

I can’t stand bullies, but I often wrestle with what to say or do so that I help but I don’t become a bully in turn.

It is easy to spot a bully when he is hitting someone. It is when he is using non physical forms of aggression that are harder to spot and to deal with.

I was in a library while on vacation and overheard a woman chiding some people. She kept going on and on about how they weren’t working fast enough, that it was almost time for lunch, that they weren’t going to get done in time.

She wasn’t helping. She was actually slowing them down by her constant harangue. She not only wasn’t trying to figure out what was causing the problem, she was becoming part of the problem.

She wasn’t using her library voice either. She was annoying me, a patron.

I looked through the stacks to see what was going on. There were three people at the table, all women. The lady who was doing the talking was about 40 years old and about 250 pounds. She had a binder open in front of her with a lot of charts. The other two ladies looked like they had some developmental disabilities. One was around 60, black, and had a brace on her wrist. The other was around 20, white, and had a beautiful smile.

I took a breath in and walked up to them. I said in a cheery voice “What are you all working on today?” while looking over what was on the table in front of each of them.

I feel I have an advantage with this tactic. While it is considered rude to initiate a conversation with a stranger, I’m physically very non-threatening. I’m short. I’m female. I don’t stick out. In some ways I’m invisible.

The lady said that she was their supervisor, but didn’t tell me what they were working on. I looked and it was an activity to help the library with summer reading. They were hand writing something for each reading log. Why the words hadn’t been printed on the sheet in the first place is beyond me.

It looked a bit like busy work. It looked a bit like their time was being wasted. Everybody needs to have meaningful work to do. Nobody likes busy work.

Since they were in a time crunch, (as evidenced by the constant reminders of the supervisor), I asked her why she wasn’t helping them. She pointed at her binder with its charts and graphs and said she couldn’t.

I said “A boat goes faster if all the oars are in the water.”

The younger lady gave me a huge smile at this. I feel like both she and her companion were frustrated at this lady but couldn’t say anything to her because of the hierarchical relationship they had.

I walked away, and listened. No more harangue. No more bullying. Bullies hate witnesses. Thinking that nobody is watching is what gives them power. I just let her know that she was being observed.

Ideally, she would have been working with these ladies – not necessarily doing the work with them, but finding out ways to get them to do their best.

I have seen quite a bit of this kind of “supervisor” of people with developmental disabilities at my workplace. So many are short tempered with their clients. So many are snappish. For some reason they feel it is ok to show off how smart they are by subtly making fun of people who have cognitive impairments. They treat them like children. They treat them like dummies.

The only dummy is the supervisor.

Getting impatient with how “slow” a person with a mental disability is makes no sense. It is like getting upset at a person who is missing a leg for not being able to keep up with you. They can’t compete.

But they shouldn’t have to.

The caregiver forgets that this person is doing the best she can, and that it is really hard all the time. They forget that their client is a person, first and foremost, and deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.

My brother, the alligator.

My brother sent me a second letter recently. I’d not written him back after the first one, in part because I didn’t want to ruin his Christmas. I didn’t write back immediately because I wanted to make sure I said things correctly. It is best not to respond to someone when you are angry.

I’d composed a letter, but I’d not sent it. I had put in reminders of all the things he’s accused me of, insane accusations. I’d put in reminders about all the ways he has hurt me over the years, that he has not acknowledged or apologized for. I’d pointed out that there is no relationship of any account.

We aren’t friends. I don’t like him as a human being. I don’t trust him. I certainly don’t want anything to do with him. If he was anybody other than my brother I would have stopped talking to him decades ago. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn’t have talked to him at all. He is very selfish.

He has harmed me in many ways, and has never shown any sign of awareness of the damage he has done to me. It isn’t just me he abuses. This is just who he is. Then he blames the other person for his own problems. He even said that the reason he was a quarter of a million dollars in debt is because I’d “prayed for his downfall.” That is just crazy. He needs professional help. This is part of the reason he’s been divorced four times. I really wonder if his fifth wife knows his backstory. My suggestion that he get therapy and they both get counseling before they got married is what precipitated the last time we quit talking with each other.

So I thought that to be kind, I’d wait until after Christmas to reply. Getting a letter from your sister saying that she’s not your sister in any real way isn’t that great right then. Christmas is hard enough without something like that. I thought I’d be kind by waiting. At least one of us should be, right?

So then there was another letter before I could send it. He didn’t wait for my reply. I’m learning that I shouldn’t open these letters. I gave it to my husband to read it first. It was kind of like giving a bomb to a professional. He read it and it was innocent enough, but clueless, and still unrepentant. There was something about some writer his pastor had mentioned and here’s a blog address for me to read. My guard went up – once again he’s telling me what to do, rather than acknowledging his role or admitting his errors. The last thing he’d said to me before I stopped talking to him a couple of years ago was to tell me to read “How to Make Friends and Influence People”. He said that I should read that and then talk to him again. It was an ultimatum.

I decided that was the last time he was going to tell me what to do. I decided that was the last time I was going to be bossed around by him, or anybody. I decided that he’d made my task easier. If I don’t read that book then I don’t have to talk to him again.

Scott went on with the letter and came across something that sent up a flag. He started reading out loud these words – “The next time you decide to cut someone out of your life…” and I put up my hand and said “Stop!” Done. Right there.

I’m glad that I didn’t fall into that trap. In years past I would have heard those words and gotten stuck there, like a deer in the headlights, waiting to be run over. It is why the phrase “trigger warning” is so useful. It lets you know that something that might trigger a bad response is coming. This is helpful if you’ve been abused in the past. But life doesn’t have any trigger warnings. Sometimes you just have to toughen yourself up to be able to handle them from wherever they come. Sometimes it is like martial arts, but with words. When a person swings a fist at you, you know to duck or to divert their energy by grabbing their wrist. When a person swings a verbal attack at you, it is sometimes harder to see it, and you get flattened.

I’ve met people who are walking trigger warnings. They are so broken that all they can talk about is their brokenness. Being around them is like getting punched in the stomach repeatedly, and with no warning.

This time I stopped it. I didn’t “decide to cut someone out of my life,” I decided to get away from being his punching bag. I decided to stop being abused. I decided to take my life back.

He chose to harm me, again and again. When I told him how I felt from how he treated me he continued acting the same way. It was his choice to act in that manner, both before and after I told him he was harming me. Then, to stay would have been my choice. It would have been me saying that being abused by him was OK.

He chose to abuse me. He chose to not get therapy. He chose to not acknowledge the damage he has done. He has never apologized. He has never made restitution.

I didn’t make an arbitrary decision. I chose to live in a sane way, in a healthy way, by establishing boundaries. He chose to ignore them.

So now I’m really glad I didn’t reply to the first letter. To reply, even in the negative, is still to reply. It is still to further a relationship. Even if it is a bad relationship, it is still a relationship if two people are communicating. It gives it energy.

It is just like a child who constantly misbehaves. If they act in a good way, they get ignored. Their parents take them for granted. But if they misbehave, they get attention – even though it is negative. Negative attention is better than no attention.

A negative relationship is better than no relationship, if you are an unhealthy person.

I choose to only give energy to the good.

Sure, I’m giving energy to it right now. I’m doing this in part to exorcise him out of my psyche. I’m doing it in part to let others know they aren’t alone. I’m doing it in part to show that if someone is harming you, no matter who they are or whatever social obligations are put on that relationship, that it is healthy to walk away to save yourself.

I’m also doing for total disclosure. I’m no saint. I’m not a guru or a counselor. My advice on how to live life is hard-earned. I’d love to foster peace in this world, but I can’t even get along with my brother.

But I’d rather have no relationship than one where I’m being harmed.

After I wrote another piece about my brother recently – after the first letter he recently wrote, members of my family got involved. A cousin wrote another cousin and there was something of a request for me to make peace.

I’m not the one who is to blame. I’m the victim. To insist that I make peace with him is insane, and revictimises me. It says that the fault for the broken relationship lies with me.

A minister told a story once that I identify with. He grew up in Louisiana. When he was a child many years ago, it was common to keep alligators as pets. He had a small one, and he gave it shade and nice food and a place to play. He took good care of it. Then one day, it bit him.

It bit him, not because of how well he’d treated it, but because it is an alligator. That is its nature.

My brother is an alligator. This is just how he is. I’ve done nothing to provoke him. I’ve done nothing to deserve his abuse. I’ve done nothing to deserve him stealing from me, lying to me, harassing me, and falsely accusing me.

I accept that this is the way he is. I wish it wasn’t so, but wishing won’t change things. He has to want to change. He has to understand that he can’t treat people the way he has all of his life. The longer people keep letting him steamroll over them, the longer he’s going to keep doing it.

I, for one, am done. Perhaps this will help him. Perhaps this will be something that makes him see that he cannot abuse people and expect them to take it. I want him to be well, but I can’t do that. All I can do is stop allowing him to harm me. All I can do is stop putting my hand near him enough for him to bite it off.

Even if he changes, even if he turns around and gets it, I cannot trust him. He’s harmed me often enough and deeply enough that I cannot ever allow him into my life again.

I’d rather write only about positive things. The more energy I give to negative things, the more I give them strength. Sometimes I may need to write about Ian, because he has provided such an amazing example of what NOT to do, and how NOT to be a good human being. I really wrestle with this. I don’t want to dwell in the past. But I also sometimes may need to refer to it to illustrate a point.

The answer, to everything? Pray. Give thanks in all situations, and in all times. Balance. Acceptance. And trust that God is working through all of this.

Death, or not.

My mother-in-law is dying. Or isn’t.

She has pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed in December of last year. It was stage three, possibly stage four. There is no stage five. She was given until about May. It is now late December. We are planning to have Thanksgiving at her house. We are talking about having Christmas this year too.

A year ago, just thinking about how that particular Christmas was going to be her last Christmas just tore her up. She was very teary. She didn’t think she’d even make it to another birthday, which was in November. She’s made it, and made it better than anybody expected. She’s still driving herself to her doctor’s appointments. She’s still at home, sleeping in her own bed. Hospice has not been called.

The trouble is, she has changed personality, and it really isn’t for the better. She was married young, and married to a very domineering man. She was very submissive. Her own personality was overshadowed by his. She grew up stunted, with all her energy being focused on one thing – the house.

She has spent her entire adult life playing house. She paints the rooms, again and again. She redecorates. She buys knickknacks. Decorating the house is all she talks about. All of her energy has gone into decorating her house. The results aren’t anything exciting. It is hard to believe her life energy has been spent in this way and there isn’t anything real to show for it. It is hard to believe that God put her on this earth to do this.

So she now has become assertive. She still works on the house, but she has gone from being passive to being pushy. She uses the fact that she has pancreatic cancer to push people around. She has cancer, so nobody else’s plans matter. Everyone else has to drop whatever they are doing and drive over and visit with her or do her bidding. She doesn’t ask, she commands. The fact that she has a limited lifespan is always part of it. You’d better do this, or else.

Or else what? She’ll die? You’ll feel guilty that you didn’t spend more time with her?

While I’m glad that she is starting to wake up to who she is, I wish she’d have gotten past the toddler stage a little sooner in life. Toddlers are always about me me me, and they never care about anybody else’s feelings or plans.

The problem is, she is in her 70s. She has had plenty of time to grow up, and she hasn’t. She has had plenty of time to be a productive person, and she hasn’t.

We all are dying. Being born is the beginning of death. None of us have any guarantees on how long we will live.

So there is nothing especially sad about a 70-plus year old woman getting cancer, even cancer that has a high rate of death. Death comes to us all. Many people don’t make it to her age.

What is tragic is that she didn’t wake up to the fact of her mortality sooner and do something useful with her life. What is tragic is that she didn’t stand up to her abusive, bullying husband earlier and leave him, taking their two sons with her. That would have saved them from years of being harmed in every way possible. What is tragic is that she is treating this time as a time to push other people around, when life isn’t ever about that. What is tragic is that when told she had cancer, she kept on decorating her house.

Maybe I’m reading this wrong. Or maybe I’m not. I’m angry at her acting hurt and put upon that she has a death sentence, when my own Mom died at 53. My mother in law has lived nearly 20 years longer than my Mom, and has nothing to show for it. My Mom volunteered all the time. She made the world better for other people. She wasn’t well educated, but she had an open heart and gave constantly. This woman, however, is a little child in an adult’s body.

I’m tired of her. I’m tired of her neediness. I’m tired of how shallow she is.

And I’m sick of myself for feeling this way. It isn’t very Christ-like. It isn’t very nice.

I wish she would have protected her son, my husband, when he was a child. To stand by while your child is being abused is to condone it. I don’t think she understands the depth of damage that caused. I don’t think she understood that her inaction was just as abusive because it translates to abandonment.

I wish she would have grown up sooner. I wish that she would have woken up to the truth of her mortality sooner. I wish that she would have become a human being sooner.

I guess late is better than never, but it still isn’t happening. She’s not blooming very well. She’s stunted and warped from her life, the life that she chose. There is nothing passive about this. She chose to marry him. She chose to continue to live with him. She chose to raise two boys when she herself was still a child. She chose to do what everybody else did rather than think for herself.

She chose to stay asleep.

She’s mirroring what she has seen her whole adult life, living with her husband. Her role model is a self-centered man who beats up on anyone he finds weaker than him. So she is blooming into a self-centered woman who pushes everybody around and expects them to drop whatever they are doing to take care of her.

God help us all.

Tidy

I am a neatnik. My husband is a cluttermonster. God has a sense of humor.

While I feel that our small house has too much stuff in it, I also feel uncomfortable in a too tidy house. When I go over to a person’s house and there is nothing on the floor or nothing on the bathroom counter I begin to wonder. Do they really live there? Did they throw everything in the basement? Did they rent a storage unit just for this occasion?

I wonder if I have too much stuff or they are just better at hiding it.

When my mother in law first came over to our home, she actually said “Have you thought about getting a larger house?” This is one of those times where I got really angry yet somehow found the right thing to say. I answered “No, we’ve thought about getting less stuff.”

She should know better. She married a cluttermonster. My husband learned from him. She knows where this madness comes from. She’s lived with it for over 40 years.

I wanted to say “Hasn’t anyone taught you not to say everything you think?”

Lucy

Remember Lucy from peanuts? The one who always managed to convince Charlie Brown that she would hold the football for him so he could kick it? And she always pulled it away and he always fell? The one who treated everybody like dirt? Yeah. That Lucy.

Lucy is a bitch.

I’ve never understood why Charlie Brown let her do that to him. I’ve never understood why he didn’t just say “no thanks” and walk away. Again and again she lied. Again and again he fell and got hurt.

Remember the saying “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”?

I’ve never understood why everybody let her talk like that to them. She bossed everybody around. She thought that her opinion was so valuable she set up a “the psychiatrist is in” stand instead of a lemonade stand like a normal kid. She made fun of Linus her brother for believing in the Great Pumpkin.

So really, is Lucy a bitch, or is it that everybody created this monster by not standing up to her?

I feel that Charles Schultz didn’t do anybody any favors by having this character. The audience wasn’t taught how to stand up to a bully. I feel there is a lot of stress in seeing Lucy be hateful to people over and over. Children can end up feeling helpless, and learn that being bullied is normal and there is nothing you can do about it.

On Sesame Street there was a character called the Snuffleupagus. Only Big Bird could see him. Everybody else thought Big Bird made him up. The creators decided to change this because they felt that it was sending the wrong message. They felt that children would feel that parents wouldn’t take them seriously. They felt that this was especially important if the child had something serious to report, like being abused. They felt that otherwise they were teaching them that their reality would get treated as a fantasy.

Sure, it is just a cartoon. Sure, it isn’t real. But children are constantly learning, even when we think they are just being entertained. Why not teach them something useful for a change? Why not teach them that they don’t have to be victims, whether the abuse is coming from a peer or a parent?