Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
― Carl Gustav Jung
When I first began seeing my therapist, I was there to find out how to behave in a way that would stop triggering my abusive spouse. As sad as that might sound, it was a beautifully transformative moment. I was willing to throw my hands up and say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” I was able to accept my situation was out of my control. By getting to that point, I was able to listen to advice and grasp my reality. If I kept believing I could learn how to manage and cope with an abusive relationship, kept my limited perspective, and kept blaming myself, there’d have been no transformation.
It took time for me to accept the reality of my situation and even more time to take the steps I needed to progress. Even after I filed for divorce, retained an attorney, and had a restraining order granted, the work was only beginning. How did I let it get to that point? What part of me allowed it to occur?
Learning about Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scores helped me frame as adverse some of the activities that I’d always considered normal. By seeing and feeling certain things as a child and accepting them as ordinary everyday life, I’d set myself up for some pretty serious setbacks as an adult.
It should be no surprise that I started drinking booze, puffing ciggies, and smoking the devil’s lettuce at the age of 14. It should be no surprise that my social plans frequently revolved around drinking and smoking.
Going to the high school football game on Friday night? Imagine what my friends and I did before and after. After four years of substance abuse while living under my parent’s roof – my father was an alcoholic and a pack-a-day smoker, so those parts were normalized – I was heading off to university.
Living in the dorms at university can be unruly. Not everyone in the cluster of dormitories on my campus enjoyed abusing booze, but you can bet those of us who did found instant camaraderie. We’d regularly break the rules about drinking in our rooms. Even when we were caught and forced into counseling, we laughed it off, knowing we weren’t abnormal. I’d love to find the group of friends I had in my freshman year of college and find out what their ACE scores are. I’d bet there’d be some similarities in our ideas of normalcy as opposed to adversity.
It should be no surprise that I was raped in my junior year of university after having too many piña coladas one Thursday night. I still can’t enjoy drinking a piña colada because my body remembers parts of that night that my mind will gladly never recall.
Of course, I was ashamed. So, of course, I said nothing to anyone. I remember getting into my 1994 baby-blue Nissan Altima and going to McDonald’s to get a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. I remember the 45-minute drive home. I was hungover emotionally and physically. I convinced myself it was my fault. I tried to block it out and make excuses. I wasn’t surprised by the actions of the aggressor. He wasn’t a good guy. And I let my guard down in his presence. I couldn’t stop hearing my voice repeatedly saying, “No, no, no.” The pitch and fear in my voice replayed in my head daily in the years following that event and even haunted me in sleep.
Since that didn’t help me change my ways, it’s no wonder I continued down a path of destruction guised as normalcy. I befriended and dated people as damaged as I was. I wrapped myself in peer groups that gave me false senses of pride with each terrible decision I made.
And as the universe would have it, I married a man with the same first name as my rapist – after dating two men with that same first name. They say the universe keeps throwing the same problems at you until you learn your lesson. But did it have to be so blatant? And still so unbeknownst to me?
That part of me had nothing to do with my spouse. But that part of me was drawn to what he brought to the table. He helped me to continue to normalize the adverse. It was us against the normal world. But after my eyes were opened, I craved what the normal world had to offer.
Now I need to make sure my children don’t face the same challenges. My family may not have known about ACE Scores and what that meant for me. But I know. And it’s my responsibility to make sure my children don’t have to learn the invaluable lessons I’m learning at 35 years old. I know I can’t shield them from the lessons the universe has to teach them, but I can – and will – provide them, to the best of my ability, safe passage and healthy senses of themselves along their respective journeys.
It’s us amongst the ordinary world.