“Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.” ~Rachel Wolchin
The month of June we’ve summed up with the phrase, “the shit show.” There were a lot personal things that happened to us as a family. Things that I’m not at liberty to discuss because I would never out someone for personal satisfaction. I will, however, talk about us during the shit show.
Dom and I have always felt we had much to give. At times we give until it hurts, and then we give some more. But we don’t give blindly. We give to others based on patterns we see in their lives. If we feel they are doing all they can but just can’t seem to get it all together, we’ll come alongside and help in whatever way it might be. It could be a construction project, helping to pay a bill or two, a listening ear, a meal, or even just some coffee to let them know they’re thought of fondly. We give as we see the needs open up. It’s in our nature.
It led us to Maine and on that crazy odyssey I’ve written about on our website. Helping others. Yes. Being taken advantage…yes, that happened too.
But this isn’t a sob story about how others have wronged us. This is a song of victory about how we find out who our people are and who is just using us. Sob stories always involve someone who was “trying” to help someone and got burned. They got bilked out of their money or life savings or some other story like that. It’s the little old lady who’s pills were taken by the unsuspecting drug addict posing as a kind neighbor. Or the lovely but lonely person who had their things stolen by someone who claimed to be a friend.
Crimes happen most often by people the victims knew.
This is similar to what we’ve been through. However, the difference is that as we came to understand we were being taken for a “ride,” we put our foot down and said no…no more.
But does that work? Nope.
We blame ourselves only and take full responsibility for our actions that led to others taking too much from us. No one else is to blame. As soon as we saw that our time and money have been siphoned away from us, we put a stop to it.
There are patterns that we’ve learned over this last year that I feel have helped us reach the end chapter of our four-year odyssey. These patterns are important to understand especially if we want to move forward in our lives.
These patterns don’t look like patterns because it takes time for them to form. When friends and family are involved, the lines to those patterns become fuzzy, blurred, or missing altogether.
How do we really know who needs our help? How do we help without becoming jaded and losing all faith in humanity when we get burned?
The answer, we discovered, has more to do with their conduct and less to do with how we want to help. We used to help others because we didn’t want to see them suffer. It seems noble right? Well, I’m here to tell you that in our case it was nothing more than not wanting to feel BAD or guilty…especially if it was in our power to help. Did you get what I just said? It would seem that our desire to help certain people was really done out of an alterior motive of not wanting to feel bad. It really had nothing to do with the other person.
Now, add to the mix, someone who has done something terrible to your family. They lied, they stole from you, took all your time, and then cried and flipped it all on its head to make us the bad guys. What do we do in that situation? Do we cave in and just let it go? Or do we love ourselves enough not to do something because we feel “bad.” Emotions are powerful things. When people start using your emotions against you, that should be a red flag.
Let’s talk about red flags!
Red flags are those almost invisible things that warn you someone is trying to pull one over on you or isn’t who they keep claiming to be.
My list of red flags:
- Someone who never quite gives you all the details, but claims they were wronged. They need help, but you can’t seem to get the truth out of them.
- A person who at first seemed to hit it off with you, but over time they pull away and you are left as the only one who communicates with them, and instead of good communication you get a vague sentence or two about nothing at all. You might be willing to chalk it up to “hey we all get busy with our lives” but don’t go there. Just because YOU get busy, doesn’t mean that person who is always on their phone or computer, is busy.
- The time suck. This is a HUGE red flag. If a good majority of your own personal free time is taken up with someone else’s problems, which they refuse to handle themselves, you are being taken for a long hard ride down victim ally. Don’t go there. Examples would include doing hard physical labor for someone who could do it themselves but want you to do it for them for free. Driving them places because they no longer have valid insurance due to nonpayment. Paying their bills because they spent their money on “wants” not needs and don’t even have a job or work schedule is sketchy.
- Someone asking you to be responsible for their _________ fill in the blank, because they can’t do it. They don’t want to face the consequences for their actions, they want you to be responsible for their stuff or life in general, and will make you feel guilty if you don’t do it. This has a LOT to do with paying for someone else’s lifestyle choices. BLOOD SOAKED RED FLAG.
- Someone who claims they have done so much for you, however, nothing was given freely. Instead, you paid fair and square. It would be like if someone sold you a car for $12,000. The car had great sentimental value to the seller. You purchased the car from them. You go on your merry way, and later on, the seller comes back to you wanting something, and when you refuse, they claimed they did something great for you. What did they do? They sold you a car, you purchased the car. It wasn’t given to you. You purchased it with your hard earned money. Don’t ever let anyone make you believe that they gave you so much when there was a price tag attached and you paid in full.
- Someone who claims to be one way and talks all the time about being honest, ethical, moral (fill in the blank), and by their constant actions prove they are liars and the opposite of what they claim. Liars always tell the truth…remember that! They’ll tell you with their actions when their words betray them.
- If you’re investing more time and money into a friendship and it doesn’t seem that it’s a reciprocal relationship, it might be time to reprioritize. What is happening is that you are allowing yourself to be used, and it isn’t a friendship at all.
Those are just a few red flags. There are many more that I could write, but this post isn’t about red flags. It’s about understanding ourselves and how we move forward despite having our asses handed to us because of the decisions we made.
I refuse to be a victim. One thing both Dom and I say to each other when we feel wronged is, “Victim is not a good look on you.” That is code for change your attitude, you did this to yourself.
It doesn’t mean that we sweep being wronged under the rug. No, on the contrary, it means that we hold those who have wronged us responsible. To not hold them accountable is to remain a victim. We hold them to account for what they have done to us. We do this because we love ourselves and each other. I would never allow anyone to take advantage of my husband’s generous nature. If I saw it happening, I’d nip it immediately. But when we have together made decisions to allow certain people into our lives or to give when we don’t know the full story, we invite uncertainty and become vulnerable. There’s strength in vulnerability and we’ve learned to embrace it. It says to the new person in our lives, “We have no reason not to trust you, but if you give us a reason we will have no choice but to let you go.”
Letting go of people or situations is difficult for some. In a way, it means giving up. But not to us. Letting go is how we say “I love you” to our own souls. It dares us to allow our souls to shine. It dares us to keep our hearts soft and malleable when all our emotions want us to recoil in bitterness and resentment. Letting go also means that those you’ve invested your time and love into are being released from your life. It’s like grieving the loss of a friend or family member while they are still alive.
For us, letting go of friendships have been difficult. We love deeply and fully, and when we need to say goodbye, we realize just how much we’ve invested. When we realize that we made the right choice in letting go of someone, we get to see what they are really made of.
This brings us to the chorus of our victory song, so to speak….
When a friendship or relationship ends, you get to see their true colors unless their true colors were there all along hiding in plain sight. No, the chorus of our victory song is about making the correct choice in ending a friendship and watching that person become destructive, vindictive, and violent as a consequence of our decision. These are all real actions. The person who says they love peace, truth, and love, but destroys your property and puts your child at risk…which would be more accurate? Their words or their actions? It doesn’t feel good while something violent is being done, but it becomes a solidification that you did the right thing in letting that person go.
I might strike a nerve with some in what I’ve expressed. Mostly because we all want to give. But you are responsible for your giving. You might believe that you are doing it out of good will because your heart hurts for this person in need. Just remember, regardless of the outcome of your giving, you are still responsible for your actions. Giving to others never absolves you from being accountable for your actions. Giving to others is very similar to making an investment in something. Would you invest in a company on the stock market that would lose all your money or would you invest wisely? What would happen if you invested and all your money was lost? Would you blame the company or your decision-making process? I know that I wouldn’t blame the company if they lost money, I’d hold myself accountable for not doing the do diligence it takes to make a wise investment.
Relationships are almost the same as investing in stocks except that with bad relationships if you’re not careful you could end up losing your integrity if you don’t stay true to your soul. And that is more costly than any dollar figure you could throw out there.
As we close the last chapter of Our Nightmare Four Year Odyssey, I can say with all certainty that investing in the right relationships will help heal the wounds from bad investments. Forgive yourselves for making the wrong choices, and love yourself enough to make new friends. Invest in yourself by being a true friend to your soul. You won’t be disappointed and it will help you recover from the emotional pain of being personally accountable.
Dom and I have been married for almost 14 years now. Before we became romantically involved we were great friends. We were vulnerable, soft, caring, and compassionate to each other. Professionally, it served us well as raw vegan chefs running our own catering company and later starting an organic CSA. Working together is a gift we share with one another. It is a pleasure each moment we plan, conspire, build, and complete projects. It was like that in the beginning of our relationship when we built a solid foundation of friendship, and that friendship has endured and grown ever stronger with each passing day. It has also given us the unique ability to work well with others who are open to real friendship. It has become so ingrained in us that it just naturally flows out to those around us.
We have always been soft towards one another. Being soft requires strength, courage, and bravery. Emotional safety is the hallmark trait of remaining soft in any relationship, regardless of whether it’s a marriage or a friendship. It means that we can be honest with one another without fear of reproach. It also means that when things get hard in life, we don’t turn against each other, biting and gnawing at the other’s very being. It means that we don’t accuse the other of nefarious activities and unpure motives, mention past offenses to open old wounds or gush on about how much we do for each other as if that is a justification for any type of bad behavior we might be exhibiting at the moment or as a way to manipulate the other person into submitting to our will.
No. That is the behavior of someone with a hard heart. A hard heart breaks easily, is offended often and is annoyed at the slightest provocation.
Have you ever gotten something stuck in your finger, like a piece of glass or splinter? If it doesn’t get infected and we don’t remove it, our bodies will begin to create a hard casing around the object to keep it from harming us. Like an internal callous, these objects can be physically felt and rarely hurt, but they are there nonetheless. They are a constant reminder that there is something foreign under our skin that we have not removed, either because of fear of pain, or sheer laziness. We can often remember just when that piece of glass entered our bodies and have stories about how it happened. We recall it easily and remark at how clever our bodies are to be able to keep it encased.
We do that with emotions and hurts too. Emotional hurts and slights become encased in bitter feelings and emotions and lodged in our hearts and minds like a shard of glass. We put layer upon layer of excuses and justifications to wrap it up tight, and at just the right moment we tell those who have harmed us to feel the bump they caused. “Feel it!” we say, “See what you did to me and all I ever did was try to love you…this is what I get in return.” We become hard. Our softness begins to dissipate, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get through the cohesion of hurt and hardness.
Dom and I don’t live this way. We never have. Staying soft when things get hard is a lifestyle choice. It means that you won’t put up defenses because they aren’t necessary. It means that he can say what is on his mind and heart, and not be criticized by me or judged harshly. If he feels I have hurt him, he can tell me without fear of reproach. I can hear him say the thing that hurts him most and offer the most loving thing I have to offer…a soft heart. There is no pride to protect, no egos to overcome, no scorecard or *one-up-manship*, and no need to defend myself when he says I have hurt him. And vice versa.
When couples are able to practice being soft and malleable, it makes it possible to face hardships that come at us. Our marriage is steeped in hardships! Not towards one another, but because of different circumstances.
We have been homeless, penniless, friendless, family-less, very sick and often very alone. One thing we do have is a softness to each other and those we come into contact with.
Softness has nothing to do with demeanor. We aren’t pushovers, nor can we be easily crushed. We are soft even in the face of great adversity.
Right now as my health declines, Dom is frantic. I’m physically weak and become out of breath just walking from one room to the next. I wake him up at times wheezing and coughing at night, and all the life is draining from my face and body. It has set him to panic mode, where he alone is now responsible for not only working 7 days a week, but also packing up the house, cooking dinner at night, cleaning dishes and doing laundry. He is doing it all while I sit weakened, emotionally vulnerable and always on the verge of tears.
He could destroy me right now. He could beg that even though I am unable to take a bath without extreme effort, I should try to do more. I can’t though. This is what happens to me in moldy houses. I begin to fade away, vulnerable and emotional. But he doesn’t destroy me in these times. Does he get upset? Hell yeah. Is he upset with me? No way! We have been through this situation so many times that it’s completely predictable. Most people fear the unknown, but when it comes to dealing with my health and mold, we see it clearly. Mold is the enemy…not each other.
There is no need to get upset with each other or take it out on one another. He understands what is at stake and has always been my protector, my shield, my everything.
We have had times when I was so sick that I needed to be hospitalized, and then coming out of the hospital after 3 or 4 weeks in intensive care, would come 3-4 weeks of home care. He would have to quit his job to care for me because I can’t even move. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened while we were living on the east coast in the early days of our marriage. Through it all, however, he has always maintained a soft heart.
Dom’s softness has often been confused with being “happy-go-lucky” and “roll with the punches” but I can assure you that is not who he is. He is deeply mindful of the emotional needs of others. He excels this way. I, on the other hand, have a very soft heart but a rugged exterior. My softness doesn’t seem apparent until after you have known me for some time.
We compliment each other well. This is how we have survived as a couple over the last 14 years. We have been dealt some pretty nasty blows over the years but as a team, we have faced those challenges head-on and it has made us even more bonded than we already are. People we have met and shared our story with have often commented on how strong we are, or that they don’t understand how we are still married, but I can say with all candor that it is our softness of heart that gives us the strength we need to endure life’s hardballs.
Hardballs can be anything from needing to get rid of everything you own because of mold, to being hurt by the selfishness of others. That happens a lot to soft people. But we don’t become hard to endure their abuse, we simply choose not to be involved in the lives of those who would harm us emotionally or try to manipulate us. Easier said than done sometimes, I can tell you that much! People are complicated creatures with their own set of values and rules. Not everyone comes equipped with a soft heart and luckily we can see that while developing friendships and make decisions about how close we want to become to others.
Hardballs hurt. They leave marks in the flesh that we don’t easily forget. We flinch at times remembering a past pain or traumatic event, yet, we stay soft. We stay resilient.
Our lives are rich and full whether we are in good health and have a house full of treasured belongings, or if we’re homeless, sick, and left destitute.
We’re ready for a good change. We don’t know yet how it will all happen, but we trust that God is in control and will make a way for us. He is the ultimate reason our hearts have remained soft through all these years.
Life is good, even when it disappoints. Love is real, even when despair causes our hearts to weep because of an unknown future.
We are soft, even when things get hard.
When I was a child, I remember spending time at the beach. The sound of waves coming up against me as I waded through the water; breathing in the soft breeze of salty air; the sun as it kept me warm in the water and the sounds of people and birds around me lulling me into an almost trance-like state. I was on autopilot in the water, overtaken and swept into the hypnotic rhythm of the ocean.
Time would cease and before long I was out in the ocean for hours. It was often difficult to get me out of the water when I was young. And then it would always happen- I would reach the breaking point of exhaustion from being out in the sun and water all day. My exhilaration would turn to dread as I would fight my way back to shore in what seemed like a battle for my very soul.
I fought the undertow, the waves, and the ruthless sun, to get to shore where I could drop onto my sandy towel and fall asleep for a few hours. The battle to get to shore was always hard, would make my heart race and I would panic that I wasn’t getting any closer to leaving the water.
This is what trauma feels like to me. One moment I’m are basking in the beauty of a perfect life, and in the next moment, I’m battling for my very existence.
In the start of 2015, Dom and I set out to discover what we really wanted in our lives. We knew what we wanted, we knew where we wanted to be, and as the months unraveled, we came to understand how it would all unfold.
We believed in each other. We also had faith in people we didn’t even know. Reaching for our goals and dreams and heading into a farm partnership was like being out in the mystic ocean. It was a dream. And a nightmare.
Coming out of that situation was traumatic. And as quickly as we were settled there, it felt like God scooped down his big beautiful hand into the water pulled us out of that ocean where we were fighting to get to shore, and hurled us through the air two states over, from Maine to Vermont.
The first month in Vermont I walked around with my shoulders tightly raised. Every muscle and fiber in my body was clenched in agony and exhaustion. I wanted to just disappear into a dark hole and cry for a long time. I couldn’t however because I also had to think about how that would affect Simmi and Dom.
The second month in Vermont brought my very old and well-hated adversary, Mold. My exhaustion continued and now enter illness to set off a cascade of autoimmune responses. I lost my hair and feared I would lose my life.
The third month in Vermont brought some comfort and healing. No more exposure to mold meant that my body could begin to recover. But my heart and emotions are still damaged, writhing in pain still stuck at the bottom of the ocean. Every time I taste the saltiness of my tears, it reminds me that I’m still at the bottom of the ocean.
The fourth month in Vermont brought lots of tears. More tears than I would care to admit to. I’m doing the deep work now in my soul, weaving and repairing those things so ruthlessly torn apart after giving all we had and then feeling completely trampled upon.
Many people don’t come back from that kind of trauma. I didn’t know if I ever would.
My courage, hope, belief in those around me, my giving nature, my love, joy, friendship, my calling, my very heart, I placed in the hands of those who never deserved it. That was my mistake. That was my error. Believing that others are just like me, and finding out that they are the opposite. The trauma is mine to bear, mine to repair, and mine to heal.
It has changed me in ways that I feel I may never recover. It has caused me to distance myself from those resembling anything violent, terrorizing, physically or emotionally abusive, and even those who would support such things.
The fifth month in Vermont brought grieving. Grieving for the loss of my calling. The loss of my animals. The deep and abiding connection I have with the earth and the need to be always connected to it through planting and animals. I cry daily over this. My grief is endless.
Recovering from traumatic events takes time.
I don’t stop it though. I need to feel it all. The anger, the frustration, the grief, the sadness…all of it. Because this part of my life is just as significant and important as those times when I’m lost in the garden filled with wonder of the smallest living creatures and how they function in my world.
I love every part of me. Even the part that grieves every day. It makes me vulnerable and cry out in fascinating ways. It makes me look in the direction of injustice and open my mouth. It makes me look with empathy at those suffering great loss. It helps me connect back to my humanity in ways that happiness cannot.
As I look toward 2016, my hope is that I can finally be through this grief and can create a new plan for our lives. One filled with tears of joy instead of sadness. To be able to once again bask in the beauty of our lives without fear of loss.