“How could you not have known what was going on?” my friend gently implored after learning about my then-husband’s betrayals and deceptions.
“I don’t know!” I lashed out, “I’m not the one at fault at fault here. He lied. He did this to me. He destroyed everything.” The words were sharp in my mouth. My friend’s well-intentioned question felt like an additional attack. A further betrayal. A fire burned in my belly while the gate slammed shut over my heart.
I was not ready to hear the message.
Many months later, my pen explored a version of the same question within the safe confines of my journal, “Why was I not able to see what was going on in my marriage?” This time the question felt different. The threat was gone, replaced with curiosity and a desire to understand myself better. I no longer saw my taking on responsibility for my role in the marriage as absolving him from his role in its demise.
The first time this question was posed, I was not yet ready to hear the message. I was too hurt, too fragile. At that time, all of my energy was directed outwards towards him. It felt safer that way. After all, he was gone and therefore, a safe receptacle for my rage. But to look inward? Well, that was scary. After all, I would have to live with whatever I found there.
When I considered the question again, I was in a different space. Much of the initial anger had faded, like the receding waters after a summer deluge, leaving raised welts behind to show where its power had molded the very earth. I had begun to accept the limits of blaming him. I could scream obscenities at him into the night sky until the stars grew dim, but all that would happen is that my voice would run out.
Blame feels good, but ultimately leads to a dead end.
I understood then why my friend asked that question. She knew that whatever lived inside me that was too scared to see the truth would need to be exposed and explored if I was going to be able to heal from the life assault. And by the time I wrote down that query in my journal, I was ready to do the work.
With addicts, we generally understand that you cannot force them to face their addiction and seek treatment until they are ready. If confronted too soon, they lash back or aggressively deny any claims that they are in over their heads. The addiction wants to protect itself and until its host is ready for the battle, any attempts to dislodge it will fall flat.
Healing isn’t much different. We desperately grasp onto our identity as the hurt one or the victim because we fear that it is all we have left. And so when well-intentioned people suggest that we have some responsibility in our own healing or that the one that hurt us is not all-monster, we become defensive and angry. Not yet ready to hear the message.
Perhaps the biggest gift that time brings is a softening. Like butter left out on the counter on a warm afternoon, we begin to lose our sharp edges and consider that maybe things are not as absolute as they once seemed.
Pay attention to those well-intentioned queries that cause you to pull back like a wound has been touched. Those are the very areas that likely need attention. Maybe not today. But once you’re ready to hear the message.