A true Christmas story
a number of years ago, when the abuse memories started to return, i first plunged into depression. i was in my 30s, was severely under-employed at the time, working at a part-time job just a few hours a day – half-time, essentially. There were no benefits, no insurance, no health care provided or even partially covered. We had just moved cross-country from S California to the northern mid-west and i could find no jobs in my own field. it was our first experience with living and driving in freezing temperatures and snow. we had few friends, no support system, and only one car. my wife was isolated at home when I was working, with a toddler, an infant and no one to turn to but her mom and dad. We did not want to tell them of our problems. We were living in a rental house that belonged to them – and they were flexible on payments - but that was as much help as we wanted to accept.
I entered therapy as a survival measure. I was suicidal and did not want to leave my kids fatherless – as I had been – which began my pattern of abuse. My wife was worried about the expense. We could barely afford food, utilities and gas for the car. Any unexpected bill – like car repair – was a major crisis. The T was a large and intangible expense and the results were neither guaranteed nor measurable. she was also distrustful of the counselor and whatever the secrets were that i was telling him that i couldn't tell her - and jealous because she wanted to be the one to "fix" me. she wanted me to quit the counseling. i wanted to continue - since it was the first gleam of hope i had seen in a long time. I was in a desperate situation – needing her on my side – but needing the T’s help too. I couldn’t see any way to keep both.
one memorable evening close to Christmas, she told me that she had something to say. I also had an important decision to communicate to her. We were in the kitchen at the time. She told me that she had decided that if it was going to help me heal, she wanted me to continue the counseling. I then i told her that i had already cancelled my standing appointment with the T because i didn't want to cause her distress and I needed her more than him. we cried and hugged and i ended up re-scheduling the counseling appointments.
i gave her a copy of the O Henry book, “The Gifts of the Magi” for Christmas. If you are not familiar with it, it is about a young couple in the late 1800s who are so poor that they cannot afford to buy gifts for one another for Christmas. The husband has a prized pocket watch from his father but no chain for it. The wife has beautiful long hair and wishes for ornamental combs to wear in her hair. He pawns his watch to buy her the combs. She cuts and sells her hair to buy him a watch chain. Both have sacrificed their most prized possession to express their love for the other. That was what it was like for us. We each gave up our strongest desire for the other.
We have gone through some rocky patches since then – most recently just a couple of weeks ago - but this is a good memory to return to – reassuring to see what we have come through already. And I know so much more than I did back then. It has been quite a journey – with lots of delays and backtracks and detours – but ultimately… progress!
i am blessed.
"the scariest thing about abuse of any shape or form, is, in my opinion, not the abuse itself, but that if it continues it can begin to feel commonplace and eventually acceptable."
- Alan Cumming, "Not My Father's Son"