“There are always risks in freedom. The only risk in bondage is that of breaking free.” -Gait Belling
When I was a kid, my oldest sister (18 years older) was married to a man who struggled with alcoholism. That was back in the days when it was expected that, should you get pregnant out of wedlock, you would simply have to get married, no questions asked. So at the ripe old age of 18, my sister was married to this man and by the time I was 11 months old I was an uncle. I liked her husband. Yes, I knew that he had struggles. But he was always kind to me. It was my sister that he was not kind to. He would never do anything to her in front of me, but when I was not around he would hospitalize her with yet another drunken beating. She lived a very hard life with him. When she came to my parents for help to leave him and take her children with her, my father’s response was, “Well, you made your bed, so you lay in it.” How’s that for compassion? I was very young, but I knew that this was a horrible thing to do to her. And it was not just her he was doing it to, it was all of her children as well.
A few years, and one more child, later she finally had to leave him. In order to do so she also had to leave her children behind. Back then things were much different. She had no rights when it came to her children if she was the one to leave. So as much as it destroyed her to have to leave them behind, she knew that if she did not leave them they would not have a mother for much longer because he would eventually kill her in a drunken rage. It had escalated to the point of him cracking her skull open and breaking her wrist, both of which happened in the same beating, and both of which landed her in the hospital.
Fortunately, the police at that time were savvy enough to know that if this continued, she would end up dead. So they escorted her to her home to gather a few things and then took her safely to her temporary abode where she would at least be safe for the moment. Back then there was no shelter for battered women. After she got a job and got on her feet, she was the one who lobbied to open a shelter for battered women in the community. I have no idea how many hundreds of women were saved due to that selfless act. But she knew that if she experienced the “You made your bed” attitude from her own father, there had to be others out there who did as well, and she was damn sure going to make sure that they had a place to land.
Many people in my family looked down upon her for her circumstances. Some of them still do. But what I saw was a woman who found her strength. Yes, she had to make an unthinkable sacrifice in order to survive. It was a sacrifice that members of my family condemned her for, even though they were unwilling to step up and help her. But she found her strength. In many ways she was the strongest woman I knew. I perceived my mother as strong, up until she did not help my sister and buckled to my father’s misogynist ways. I became very disillusioned with her from then on. And I knew that I would also not be able to count on her if the going got tough. So I started making myself become more resilient every day. Although on one hand I would pray to whomever was “out there” to please guide her to divorcing my abusive father, I knew, on the other hand, that the likelihood of that was minimal at best.
My sister and I had been targets of our father’s rage for years. Then she was the target of her husband’s rage. But she broke free of that. And in doing so she inspired me to break free of that type of thing as well. I am forever grateful to her for doing that. Now that she has passed on an number of years ago, I hope that she has the peace that she deserved all her life. Before dying she found a wonderful man to marry who adored her and loved her with all his heart. It was quite mutual. I enjoyed seeing them together. Now that she has died, he has moved on and also married another woman who is quite wonderful as well. I am very happy for them. And as for my sister’s first husband, from what I understand he did seek help with his illness. I can’t really forgive him for what he did to my sister, but I can have compassion for the pain he was also in that led to his alcoholism. And he was the father of my neices and nephew, and so I can respect his place in my life and in theirs for that reason. He has since passed away himself. I hope he finds even more peace on the other side as well.
Things can work out. If we allow them to, they can. That is the trick. We can so easily block our success rate by refusing to take the necessary steps in order to create the changes that are needed. We become very complacent in our comfortable little realities, thinking that we are free when, in actuality, we are prisoners of our own device. I remember a friend telling me that, although he was very unhappy in his marriage, he could not AFFORD to get a divorce. I almost slapped his face. Money is not a valid reason to not get out of a bad situation. And on top of that, his wife was using money to keep him in debt and thus make it more difficult for him to leave. She was financially abusing him and he was allowing that crap to continue. That is so not cool. And then one day there was a knock on my door and when I opened it, there he was with a back pack and a bruised and bloodied face. She had physically attacked him when he told her he was out. Yes, he needed a place to stay (because there are still NO SHELTERS FOR BATTERED AND ABUSED MEN IN THIS WORLD) but I wanted to make sure he was dedicated to the change he was making. He assured me that he was. So I let him stay. It took two months for him to get himself set up and be able to get his own apartment. Within a year and a half he was free of the abusive woman he had been with. Three years after that he found a wonderful woman to be with and they are together to this day.
We often convince ourselves that we are in bondage of one form or another. But most often we are not. We simply have to find our intestinal fortitude to make the changes that are required. I, too, have been there. Thinking that I was trapped in a relationship was the most agonizing thing that I had gone through, more so than the garbage I experienced from my father when I was a kid. What made it more agonizing was the fact that all the abuse was wrapped up in the concept of “love”. I finally had to come to the realization that love is not THAT. And then I had to make the necessary changes. It was not easy. It was damn difficult. But I have never once looked back. I knew that I was risking a lot in order to break free. But I knew that it was a risk that I had to take if I was going to survive.
When it comes right down to it, anyone that we are with can choose to act like an asshole. But we get to choose if we are going to live with that or not, and if so, for how long. We really have more personal power than we give ourselves credit for. We just have to do the work involved in accessing it and putting it into action. And we have to also develop a trust that, no matter what, somehow we will find a safe place to land. That may mean trusting in spirit or god or Jesus or whatever, depending upon the person. I really don’t care how one chooses to phrase it, because what it really comes down to is trusting in yourself. There is no greater gift and there is no greater power than that. Once you find that power, never, EVER look back. Keep going. Always forward, never back. You will learn and heal and grow much faster if you just keep moving forward. The only real risk in bondage is that of breaking free.