I don’t buy that whole spiel that everything happens to us for a reason; it certainly doesn’t fit with an atheist world view. Yeah, there are reasons for what happens but they’re not part of some larger plan directed by a deity. Growing up in a rigid, authoritative family, being molested, having my particular personality and genetic make-up along with a myriad of other factors are why I’m here typing away on this blog.
But I am trying to reinterpret some of my experiences. Instead of feeling misunderstood and victimized by my mother, my step-father, his father, my sister, my therapist, my real father, on and on, I’m trying to feel proud that I did more than just survive. I sought help and struggled to trust therapists even after having a disastrous 2 years with Fr. M, the leather loving wonder priest. (Here’s a happy side effect of atheism: no more worries that “Baphomet” is stalking me.)
When I’m trying to help others, that’s when it’s easiest for me to feel proud of myself. It’s one of the promises: No matter how far down we have gone, we will see how our experiences can help others. And whether I’m any help to them or not, every time I talk to a fellow suffering addict, it helps me.
A few days ago a woman called me looking for support and we had the strangest conversation. She told me she was an addict as well as a co-addict. Almost immediately she started in on how awful her husband is, what a liar, what a pervert, and so forth. I generally don’t listen to drunk-a-logs but this lady didn’t want to stop. She seemed to be frustrated that she wasn’t communicating just what a bad person her husband was. As the conversation progressed, I thought she probably needed support from sa-anon. When I mentioned this, it came out that she’d assumed that I was a fellow wronged wife. I could almost hear the gears in her brain grinding as she tried to process the idea that I was like her husband. I was kind, understanding, helpful yet I’m like her husband. That’s discordant. Either her preconceived notions have to go, or I do.
My guess is that she’s not ready to let go of her illness yet. Right now she’s the poor wife who has been so betrayed by this bad man. That buys a lot of sympathy from her church, her family, and her friends. It’ll be easier for her to imagine that the reason I wouldn’t play along with her vilification of him because I’m a pervert too.
I felt drawn down into that old shame spiral after I spoke with her. Usually I feel energized and hopeful after trying to help someone, this time I felt awful. I was going to blog about how this was the first time helping others didn’t help me. But spin and recovery don’t really go together so here’s the truth: I felt like a piece of shit after that call. But I’ve got a whole new set of tools that I’m in the habit of using to fight shame, like affirmations. My favorite is “I’m a strong woman in recovery.” After saying that a few times, it’s easier to remember who I am.
I’m a strong woman in recovery (not a piece of shit).