“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.” Marianne Williamson
The dream goes like this: I am sick. I cannot speak or make a single sound with my mouth. I hear beautiful music and it frustrates me, yet pleases me at the same time. I open my mouth and feel pain, but cannot produce any expressive noise or words. I move closer to a plant that is growing beautiful flowers; they are orchids or lilies. I take the outer petals of the flowers and eat them. Suddenly, I am singing beautifully. I am growing, and I am life.
In a training session for elder duty at my church I was asked to look at this poem in relation to my faith. The first thing this line reminds me of is the term “shrinking violet.” While my reasons for being a “shrinking violet” were probably not to protect others feelings, my role as shrinking violet certainly was not enlightened. Digging deeper into my faith has caused me to dig up a lot that I haven’t thought about in a long time. There are dark spaces inside, but there are also places that filter in the light.
Among the dark spots on my faith journey are the many times I stuck to being a shrinking violet, not to prevent others from feeling insecure, but to avoid conflict. Avoiding conflict was a constant goal of mine, or perhaps we should say it became more of an instinct. Needless to say when avoiding conflict is your ultimate goal, one is not living fully to their potential. There is also a saying “Don’t squander your talents”, “Don’t hide and your light under a bushel.” Evidently people do this all the time, and I’m not so unusual. But when we were singing that song about this little light of mine in Sunday school, I suppose I didn’t get the metaphor. Or maybe survival was more important to me.
My upbringing in a household with one alcoholic parent and the other frustrated and constantly the peacemaker taught me that I should be the person to avoid conflict. Maybe because the peacemaker was the woman? Perhaps that’s how I learned my role ? Maybe I took the role of man to be “rules the house with anger.” To this day I can’t stand sitting at a table when someone pounds it in excitement, anger, or frustration. Fortunately, my dad went on to rehab when I was 20, and was no longer a drinker. By that point, my habits and misconceptions were set. However, I must give my dad thanks for strongly encouraging me to go to college, because when I went through high school, my life was not geared towards that. The only honors class I took was English, because I just love that subject and wanted to see if I could do it. It seems that drying out helped him become more supportive and encouraging, even if it was through long-distance. So I have to say, I went to college and excelled because he told me I could do it, so I wanted to prove him right. He even funded my first two years.
Flash forward to age 25. I am about to get married to an attractive guy I met at a party. He blew me away with his ownership of me. How he could not live without me or bear to see me with another guy. I actually did have second thoughts the day o f the wedding. I did not heed them. I am a sort who usually sticks with a choice I have made. Abandoning the relationship would have hurt him. Calling off the wedding would as well. Everything seemed to hinge on preserving his feelings. What about mine? They were on the back-burner. I had to be the peace-maker. His heavy drinking did not help matters. But I was still the peace-maker. I had earned a college degree and a professional job in management, but he overshadowed and made me second guess every decision I made. Saying certain things at a party could set him off as well. I obviously wasn’t growing as a person. My spiritual growth was stunted. Sunday morning would be a hung-over day just as much as Saturday. Then came my pregnancy, and the birth of our perfect baby. Keeping the peace was more important now.
Let me tell you, that only lasted so long. Knowing my son would one day understand all the horrible things my husband was saying to me, the accusations, the name-calling, even thinly veiled threats, made me fear the way his perception of a mother’s role or even a wife’s role might turn out. Would he one day believe all those things his dad was saying TO MY FACE and I would just try to go into the other room, being a survivor, never a fighter. My only way to fight back was to preserve my dignity and my sanity and leave. Looking back, it is apparent that I was forever shrinking so that he wouldn’t be insecure around me, or because of me. But this was also motivated by fear. Insecure people grow angry, they manipulate, they try to cut you down to size. I would allow that so his anger would JUST STOP. I did not want my son to grow up in that household. Sadly, he later came to see his dad as the outcast family member, cut-off. For years, he would fight to defend this perceived “underdog.” But that is an entirely different battle.
For the most part, I have raised my son as a single parent. There were some relationships. They grew stale or were revealed to be the wrong situation, for one reason or the other. I pride myself on the fact that I did not get married prematurely again. I did not jump into another family situation or have another child, thus making myself dependent on a man. I can’t see how some women go through pregnancy alone, my hat’s off to you. I have often used my gifts as self-therapy, not always to help others. But I would like to share them with the world. It still purges my spirit to produce something with my gifts, words, a song, prose or poems. The world may take it or leave it. And I still have my voice. I feel an increasing need to speak out with this voice. I want to speak and plant seeds with my words. Ideas will grow, and there will be no more shrinking.