October 16, 2014
The Need to Control Another
I was supposed to go to Grand Canyon today for an "observation" of my mentor. I have been scheduled twice, but he had family emergencies come up that required that he head out of town. I flaked today (emailed to let him know I wasn't feeling well) because my body simply would not move this morning. The thought of getting dressed, hauling myself over to GCU (30 minutes each way) to sit in and observe a class, well, it was just too much for me to contemplate today. He was gracious to me, but still I feel like I dropped the ball and 'gave' into sickness. I hate it when I feel that I cannot be sick or that I cannot say "no" to a commitment. I know where these feelings come from and why they are ingrained in me -- the truth is though -- that while I am free to do as I choose, I still live in bondage often to what I call "old programming." Let me explain...
I grew up in a family that had normal expectations of illness. Whenever we were sick, my Mom kept us home from school. I was home sick often during my childhood. I was prone to bronchitis, and it seemed that every single year (from age 8-18), I was home for 2-3 weeks with a fairly serious infection. A couple times during my middle school years, I ended up with a combination of bronchitis and pneumonia. One time, during 8th grade, I also contracted mononucleosis in addition to bronchitis and pneumonia. I was out for about 6-7 weeks of school. Later on in high school, I was in a car accident right around Christmastime that left me with severe whiplash and the combination of pain medication caused me to sleep through most of January and February (I don't remember much of my Senior year). Needless to say, when it came to feeling sick, to getting ill, to not being well -- usually -- it was always a pretty serious affair.
After college (the first time around), I found myself ill during the change of seasons (Fall or Spring). In CA, this usually was during the wettest part of the year, so lots of rain, lots of pollen, lots of allergies. I struggled with the same illnesses -- mostly upper respiratory infections, ear infections, sinus infections. I didn't suffer with Asthma until later on, though I was told that I probably had it as a child, but it was only induced during severe cold or exercise (in IL, I remember those bitter cold days when I could barely breathe!) It wasn't until I moved to the desert that I suffered all the more with sinus and asthma. I am thankful that I haven't been severely ill in a long time, years really, but it seemed that for 10-20 years in a row, I was seriously sick every single season.
My approach to dealing with any kind of illness has always been to stay at home. I guess when you are sick a lot, you just know what is best for you. For me, it is to rest, to sleep if I need it or just chill out and relax with no pressure, no appointments, no schedule to force you to go out in public. After I graduated from community college, I got married and I came to find out that my way of dealing with illness was not the same way my husband's family dealt with it. I was used to saying to my boss, my teacher, my parents -- whomever -- that I was unwell and I would be at home resting. I never got any negative feedback other than to make sure I kept up with my commitments or in the case of employment, being careful with my allotted sick days. However, once I was married, I found myself in what I liken now to a courtroom. Yes, to be sick in my husband's household meant that you had to "justify" your illness. There was rarely a reason to be sick, according to them, and that the will was always stronger than the body. This meant that you "willed" yourself to be well, and then you picked up your cross and soldiered on.
If I was unwell, unless I was in the ER, it was expected that I would be at work, at school, at an event. Even then, often you were expected to "show up" after the trip to the ER (I did it -- I went to school or work with a broken foot, a broken elbow, a slashed hand -- stitched of course -- all because it was the "expected thing to do"). There was rarely an excuse that was "good enough" to not keep your commitments. I can remember begging my then husband to allow me to stay at home because I was unwell. I can remember crying about being so unwell that I couldn't get out of bed, and being told that I was not sick enough to stay at home. Yes, it is hard to believe that another person, another unqualified person, could give approval on whether you were "sick enough" to stay at home. In hindsight, I was young, and I was stupid (as I like to say it). I gave a great deal of my personal power to another person, when in reality, that power belonged to no one but me. I digress...
When you live in a controlling environment such as I did for so many years, you begin to behave and act in certain ways to keep a balance, to keep an even keel. You do whatever is necessary to not upset the apple cart, so to speak. You play the games, you accept the consequences, and you willingly choose to do certain things just to keep the peace.
There were numerous times when I almost died due to asthma, kidney stones, or other serious illness. Yep, I almost died simply because I didn't have permission to go to the doctor or I was told that there was no money to pay for doctors visits. As I look back on those years, I cringe to think that I allowed myself to remain in that kind of environment for so long. I did it, of course, because I believed so strongly in my marriage vow. I signed on "for better or for worse," and well, just because I got the worse part of the deal, that didn't give me permission to walk away.
Zoom forward to today, to 2014. Even though I have been single, living singly for four years now, that old programming still kicks in whenever I get to feeling unwell. Yes, I heard the tape say today: "Are you really sure you are not well enough to keep your appointment at GCU?" I wrestled with it for about 10 minutes, thinking that I was a failure, a loser, a sham artist for giving in to feeling poorly. I prayed about it, and I asked the Lord for permission to stay at home. I said, "Lord, is it OK to stay at home today?" Yep, I am still asking permission to be sick, to stay at home, to rest. Of course, it is better to be asking the Lord for permission than to ask another person, right? The blessing is that I am covered by grace so regardless of what I decide to do, stay or go, the Lord covers me. And, yes, there are consequences to consider, always consequences. Yet, the consequences are manageable, and they are not going to set me back or adversely affect me.
Some day I would like to study controlling behavior, to look at the communicative processes that take place in controlling environments. I would like to help young women, girls, to learn to use their power in a way to stop the cycle of abuse that occurs when one person forces their will and their way on another. I experienced this power-play for years, and not just through my marriage, but through the extended family I was part of because of my marriage. This kind of controlling lifestyle was the new "normal" for me. I went from a fairly low key, easy going family (my own) into a high-voltage, high-maintenance, and high expectancy family (my husbands). Instead of being able to decide for myself on various issues, every decision had to be passed through the hands of the family (first my husband and then his family). My life was no longer my own, it was part of a larger dynamic, and decisions were always made that reflected what was best for the "family." So for example, when I wanted to study Humanities at SJSU, I had to get family permission. Of course, my choice was vetoed as not being a "God-honoring" discipline. When I wanted to return to graduate school to get my Masters degree in order to become a teacher, I was told that my continuing education would not be in the best interest of the family (it was time I settled down and had a child). When my son started school, I was told that only schooling option was Christian school, even though we didn't have the money to afford the tuition. Likewise, when the bullying at the public school became serious enough to consider home schooling, I was told that home education was not an acceptable alternative (only Christian schooling was OK).
The long and short of it was that despite what I wanted or believed was God's will for me, for my child, for my marriage, etc., the family always had a "say" in the matter. The family rule was akin to Scripture. You didn't argue with the family because if you did, then you went against them, and that was not a good place to be. Yes, going against the family caused all sorts of difficulty, pain, suffering. At times, the decision was often made by choosing what would be "the lesser of two evils." The wrath to come was weighed based on the expected outcome. Sometimes it was better to take the wrath. Sometimes it was better to tell yourself no and let something go, something die, simply to avoid the wrath.
It is hard to believe that I still allow that kind of thinking to percolate up in my head, but I do. I am honest about it, I am open to the truth of the experience. I lived in a world of control for nearly 30 years, and it took its toll on me physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I am a different person today, having come out of that environment. I am well, healed for the most part, and free from the pain, the bitterness, and the anger that could be justified because of that experience. The Lord has done a marvelous work in me, and He continues to strengthen me, to comfort me, and to care for me as I learn how to live on my own again. I still allow those old thoughts to come back, every now and then, but I am learning how to let them go. I pray that I never experience that kind of life again. I pray that I never willingly allow any person to control me, to say "yes or no" simply because they feel they have the authority to do it (Biblical authority). My prayer is for me as well as for all those young women and girls who are either brought up in this kind of environment or who marry into it. I ask the Lord to give me the courage, the grace, and the confidence to speak into their lives and into their hearts so that they can see and can hear that there is freedom in Christ, freedom from this kind of authoritarian grip that unfortunately predominates much of the Church today. This is my heart-felt prayer, and perhaps someday, the Lord will provide a way for me to share the message of hope, of love, and of acceptance to anyone who needs to hear it.
May the Lord's will be done! Selah!