Last night’s meeting was a focus on power and power structures in a lot of places. The group had to sort aspects of power and how it is used into two separate categories - power as a force to control another and power as a force within one’s self (empowerment). What we ended up with was a list of the ways a person who is abusive uses their power to exert control, and what kinds of power should ideally exist within a healthy relationship.
I have to say, this exercise was a bit of a mind-bend for me.
As a white male in our modern society, I am fully and incontrovertibly aware of the power that my sex and color hold. I’m also reminded what kind of a past these two aspects of me have had across the history of mankind on nearly a daily basis, and that as a member of this group, it is up to me to make positive and healthy choices that reflect a shift in how members of this group conduct themselves both on a personal and interpersonal level, as well as on a communal/global level. This part I get.
What I came up against, however, was how that same power - from another caucasian male - was used against me, and how that made me feel. I recognized the ways that I was manipulated and held under his sway. I recognized the ways in which he would use my desire for equality within the relationship as a carrot, tempting me to behave one way with the promise that things would change - and then inevitably breaking his promise.
I also began to recognize this beyond even the violent first relationship I had. I saw this pattern repeating itself in successive relationships, and suddenly, I was left realizing that I had made choices that put me in the position of being placed under another’s control. On the walk home, events and moments in my past rolled through my mind, like a rolodex of images, where I had been passive, been quick to shut off my own voice, and thus cut off my own power, in order to establish peace, in order to make the other person happy, or with the idea that in doing just this one thing that the end result would be better for both of us. I compromised myself at every turn, and gave over what little personal energy I had straight into the hands of another. I entrusted them with more than just my heart - I gave over my entire self.
When these relationships ended, as they had to, I felt I had to flee, I had to leave the geography in which it all took place, promising myself I would be better to myself, I would treat myself with more dignity, more respect. In the end, though, all I did was drown myself in alcohol and become wrapped up in the immediacy of the here-and-now, without really allowing myself to process and understand the real consequences of giving up myself that much and with such abandon. It was easier for me to disappear into the night, get a buzz, and shut down my brain a bit. I could lose myself in the fuzz of it all. I did this in Maine. I did this in Denver.
Because of my circumstances here in Oregon, getting that sort of escape is not possible. I don’t have a steady stream of income to support this kind of behavior. Nor do I want to continue to hurt myself like that any longer. Having this break in my work life, as challenging as it has been, has also provided me with the circumstances I needed to finally stop and assess the damage I’ve caused to myself and my own sense of being over the last sixteen years.
I came here in a relationship that was destined to fail, because, yet again, I had given up my total self to a man. I had disappeared into him because it was all I knew how to do. I had convinced myself that this time, with this man, I would finally find the happiness that seemed to be just out of my grasp. I could show my devotion by simply disappearing into him and his needs. I thought this was what I was supposed to do. It turns out, much to nobody else’s surprise but my own, that this is not the case.
My job going forward is to find a way to empower myself, to have the self-respect enough to not simply give over at a moment’s notice, or the turn of a smile in my general direction. By staying low, by keeping myself slightly dis-attached, I have the power to engage with others at a pace that is healthy for me. For the first time ever, this feels like the right way to proceed. This feels like the way it should be done. There is no rush in me to fall into a relationship and simply disappear into him. It has never worked out for me, and for the first time, I get it. I’ve taken enough time and processed enough of my past to at least grasp a better understanding of this.
Do I still want a healthy relationship in my life that goes beyond just friendship? Yes. Am I simply out husband-hunting for the guy who will validate me and make me feel good only if I give myself over to him completely like I have always done in the past? Not at all. Not anymore.