I’m sitting at my desk in 8th grade science class with Mr. Doucet. For some reason though, all we’ve done for the past few weeks is sing pop songs, and he ALWAYS gives the solo part to Max. Everybody is frustrated but nobody wants to speak up. Mr. Doucet just has his favourite, and that’s all there is to it. But today instead of joining the tense silence, I stand up and walk over to him, meeting him in the front left corner of the classroom. I tell him we are fed up with Max getting all the special attention, that there are other people in the class who would like a chance to sing too. He rips me to shreds with his dark beady eyes, and arches his back so he is towering over me. “You just want the solo for yourself, don’t you. You’re so selfish and stuck-up! You think that just because you play the violin you’re better than the rest of us.” I turn to my classmates and say “No, I am speaking to you on behalf of everybody. We all feel this way. Who here wishes they could have a chance?” And everybody not only raises their hands, but they add to the conversation. I sit down at my desk, feeling elated that I have just helped a room full of people find their voice. My boyfriend is next to me. He looks at me and smiles, softly interlacing his fingers with mine. “That was embarrassing. You should really keep your thoughts to yourself” he coos. And I just nod my head. In silence.
And then I wake up. Nicely played, dreams…
Three months ago, I broke up with someone who for one year, ever so subtly, tore down the walls around the foundation of everything I know and love about myself. He made me feel like I was deeply flawed. My identity went from happy, beautiful, talented, empowered and compassionate to the identity he projected onto me: insecure, judgmental, stressed, sexually repressed, unattractive, needy, selfish. Not in touch with my “true” feelings. Not a “real” artist. The list goes on. Every fight began with me trying to express how something he said (or didn’t say) had hurt me, and ended with me apologizing. Your needs don’t matter. That was the destination being stamped onto my relationship passport. A place I’ve visited many times before. Thank God he said something so colossally hurtful at the end that I couldn’t let slide, or I might have stayed with him for another year. Or 5, or 10. Ever since, I have been rebuilding my house, stronger than it ever was before. I am finding my voice because I am determined NEVER to let someone walk all over me like that again. Only I get to decide what virtues I have, and what flaws; and whether or not I’ll work on them. I’d say my conscious mind is pretty fucking on top of things, but my subconscious is like “Just in case, I’m going to throw in this dream where your boyfriend is COOKING YOUR FUCKING CAT IN THE OVEN for dinner, and you nod tacitly as though it’s a new recipe on pinterest before dream-smacking yourself and snatching the love of your life into your arms.” (The cat, obviously, not the douchebag)
It’s amazing how empowering it is to say No. To say, this isn’t good enough for me. To let myself feel anger instead of justifying someone’s shitty behavior by psycho-analyzing their childhood. It’s extremely hard, coming from a background where I was terrified to admit when something was hurting me because it meant making my sweet mom who suffered from serious depression sad or angry, and all I wanted was for her to be happy. It’s funny because all she wanted was for me to be happy… so we were doing quite an elaborate dance of repressed emotions. If only we’d realized honesty is what paves the way to happiness. I want to be clear though, there is the kind of “honesty” my Ex dished out; and there is honesty from a place of true vulnerability, love, and respect. A dear colleague once told me “Honesty without compassion is cruelty.” And that is the difference between a healthy relationship, and an abusive one. We must find the courage to express ALL of our feelings, not just the “good” ones. To be able to say “I love you, AND this behavior is hurting me;” not “There is something wrong with you; I will love you when you fix it.” To respond with “Thank-you for telling me, what could I try to do differently?” instead of “What about MY feelings. This is YOUR fault.”
There is room for everybody’s feelings. Not just those who have the loudest voices, or the most pain. We just have to be willing to put down our weapons and listen. And until I find a partner who is able to do that, I’m just going to keep working on my house.