How do you measure strength?

a conceptual image representing a focus on strength

STRENGTH.

There is power in that word, but without much of a definition. It’s subjective to interpretation, isn’t it?

How do you measure strength?

It’s an interesting concept…

How do others define it?

Physical strength may be among the easiest to measure, but even that is not black and white.

We’ve all said it, or at least probably most of us, at some point in our lives or another, haven’t we?

“I’m strong!”

Or perhaps we thought it.

Or perhaps you viewed another and deemed them strong.

Why?

What is it about them that makes you see strength?

What is it about yourself that makes you see strength?

Can you conceptualize it? Can you define it? Can you put it into words?

I went on a quest recently to understand this.

It originated because I heard:

“You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met.”

“I hope I can be strong like you.”

“You are so strong Christine.”

I heard this when I felt anything but strong. It made me mad to hear those words in the moment. I felt expectations were on me.  Expectations I didn’t want. Expectations I didn’t know if I could fulfill.

I didn’t feel strong. I didn’t want to be strong.

I know I can hear another’s story and measure what I view as strength. I can build on this strength with them. I can harness their strength. I can help empower, encourage, and promote growth.

But to put that into words, is tough.

Recently I started asking people: “How do you measure strength?”

These are some of the responses I received:

“…when life deals you the shittiest of hands and you’re still able to play the game.”

“…the ability to know what battles are worth fighting for. Sometimes it means fighting for what you want, while other times it means being strong enough to let something go.”

“…the strongest thing I ever did was forgive my sisters for what they did to me…they nearly ruined me…in fact they did ruin me. And I forgave them when they never asked for it…[that] was strength.”

“I think that strength is the ability to see the beauty in life regardless of the mountains we are climbing. I also believe that strength comes from the ability to view one’s own struggles in perspective of the struggles of others.”

“I think strength is being able to fight your battles, but knowing when to call for backup.”

“I would argue that strength is being able to view the mess of your own life in terms of feeling fortunate, rather than self-loathing.”

“Strength is the ability to be grateful when the mountain gets steep and we aren’t sure if we can make it over.”

“…knowing you’re going to lose the fight, but still standing up to your opponent and giving it your all.”

“…never giving up.”

“Strength is watching someone else do something, handle something, go through something, that you don’t know if you could do.”

“Genuineness.  If someone is honest and truthful that tells me they have a lot of strength because it takes strength to be vulnerable. I measure strength for one’s ability to be open and honest. Complete genuineness and vulnerability.”

“If people are able to work through tough times, do what needs to be done…”

“People that have endured hardships in their life and were able to get through it, making them a better person…going through bullshit and coming out of it with a positive outlook intact.”

Powerful isn’t it?

There are themes within.

Perseverance.

Endurance.

Forgiveness.

Wisdom.

Gratefulness.

Vulnerability.

What do you see?

I am hesitant to call myself strong. I know this. Seems the minute I do, life asks, “Oh yeah? What about now Christine?”

Life has a way of questioning our definition of strength. Or perhaps redefining or even refining our definition…

I’m still working through my own definition. I know for me, it is many of the things that others mention, but it is more. Truthfully, I think it grows with life experience, through hardship, through joys, through life….

To be continued…

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HAVE YOU NO COUTH? …

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“Hello?”

I was worn out; physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. It was a rough 6 months…hell it was a rough year.

“Christine, I just heard he died…Oh my God…Oh my God…” she wailed into the phone.

When I realized who it was, I wanted to scream,

“HAVE YOU NO COUTH? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

I wanted to unload on her. I wanted to put her in her place and tell her where to stick it. I wanted to tell her I never wanted to speak to her again.

I said none of that.

“Yes. He died.”

“How? What happened?” she asked through tears.

I gave her the blunt details as I thought about her last call to me a few months prior.

She had called me a few months prior, though I never did find out how she got a hold of my phone number. She was angry. He had hurt her and she wanted to get even. He left her; hooked up with one of her friends and went to Louisiana with her looking for work. I wondered if she was surprised, but I never asked. I knew she was hurting. She offered to help me. The irony of the situation was almost more than I could bare. I declined her “assistance”.

“It was quick Rachel. He didn’t suffer…” I went on to briefly explain what happened.

I gave her the facts. I knew she needed closure.

I hated being put in this position. I hated that she had called me. I hated that I had to be the one to tell her and that she didn’t think twice about calling me. I guess people only know what they know and to a degree, I knew where she was at and I tried to meet her there. It wasn’t easy I can assure you.

I took control of that conversation and ended it as soon as the details were covered. I was not interested in forming a comradery with her.

It was the 2nd phone call from her, but it wasn’t the last. She called me a few weeks later. She wanted to know about a necklace she had given him.

“Yes, I know what you’re referring to. It was given to me with his belongings after he died. He must have liked the necklace; he was wearing it when he died. His blood is on it.”

She gasped. I gave more than I should’ve and I knew it. I predicted her next words and I knew my response before I uttered them.

“Can I have it back?”

“No, I’m sorry, you cannot.”

She got angry with me. She told me she had his wetsuit and all his dive equipment. She threatened to sell it with justification of how much he ‘owed’ her.

“Rachel, you do whatever you need to do because in the end, we all do, don’t we? I’m not giving you the necklace and you can sell his equipment if it brings you a dollar and makes you feel better. That choice is yours.”

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Unconditional love does not equate to unconditional acceptance of behavior.

He didn’t like the answer he received when he asked her why she gave him up for adoption. It didn’t explain a whole lot, though it was simple and honest. That was where he forgave her though. He told me once that he felt like he could be himself when he was around her. And to a degree, I could see that. She had no expectations for him. She never called him out on things. She accepted him for who he was and all of his behaviors as they came.  He saw this as love, I did not.

“Unconditional love doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want!” I yelled at him.

We were in a heated debate in our living room at a small house in Louisiana. I had just learned some new information that threw me over the edge. For an individual who was so afraid of losing me, he sure made a lot of attempts at destroying the very thing he wanted to keep.

I probably worded it wrong.

What I should have said is that unconditional love does not equate to unconditional acceptance of behavior.

I don’t believe Eric was an alcoholic, though it was one avenue that he sometimes ran to. He ran to other behaviors though just as much. He always ran on impulse – without thought, to the closest thing available.

When I left him following the birth of our first child, I received a random phone call from a guy I did not know, a co-worker of his. It was not the first time I had received random phone calls with information. He asked me some questions that were not new to me, “Why are you with him Christine?” “Do you know what he has done?”

I knew more than he realized.

Yes, he ran to alcohol, but it wasn’t the only risky behavior he ran to. He ran to women. He ran to cocaine. He ran to marijuana. He took a lot of different paths dependent on what was available and where he was at. We were similar in this aspect, yet different. I too ran on occasion.  I ran to make sense of things, he ran to numb.

Describing our relationship with one word would be “roller-coaster”. He either worshiped the ground I walked on or cut me down to the core – there was no middle ground. I tried to stay balanced through his emotions and stay grounded. I didn’t always do a good job. There were times his words hurt more than any of his actions. And there were times that I just couldn’t handle his actions. Many of those times, I left or made him leave.

When friends of his tried to call him out on some of his behaviors, he severed all ties with them.

I don’t know if Eric and I would have ever gotten back together had he not died. He may have needed much more structure than I could give him. And honestly, some things had gone too far. That never took away from the fact that I hoped he would make it. I always hoped he would make it – with or without me, because truthfully, I loved him. That is what love is – it doesn’t wish the other person dead. It doesn’t wish for revenge. Love hopes. Love forgives. Love desires healing – with or without each other. It is something I have learned because of my relationship with Eric, though he will never know this.

I will always wonder if he understood what unconditional love is before he died. When I arrived in Louisiana for his funeral, I bought him another wedding ring. I placed it on his finger when I said goodbye and told him, “You were loved unconditionally”.

That doesn’t mean that I accepted all of his behaviors or that his actions were justified, but I knew his struggles and I understood where he was at most of the time. I loved him through it all, I just couldn’t live with it anymore.

At the time of his funeral, I gave a woman a hug. It was the one who took my place in Houston. The words she said to me I have not forgotten and reflected on it throughout the years.

“Eric is in a better place; he was never happy”.

I never disagreed with a statement more. I have known Eric’s happiness. I have experienced it. And yes, I have seen his sorrow, his disappointment, his self-loathing, his fear of abandonment, his anger, and all the other sides of him. I knew him well.

All of this was a lifetime ago, but looking back I learned a lot from my experience with him. I know that when abuse is involved, there is almost always more to the story.  For many years I felt like I was in the middle and had to make a choice either for him or against him, dependent on whose presence I was in. I will not make that choice, nor have I ever. I saw both sides as I still do today.

I do not regret my time with him and I do not regret going back to him all those times that I did. I believe in second chances. I believe in grace. Not everyone shares my views, I understand that and I am okay with that. It is I who has to be okay with the choices I have made, not others.

I have loved three men in my life. This was not my first and not my last, but I loved him nonetheless. He was part of my story and I will always be grateful for that.

 

© LifeasChristine, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For many years I wondered if I had opened Pandora’s box…

o-PANDORAS-BOX-facebook.jpgMany people believed that Eric was an alcoholic and there were times when I too believed this. There were times that he drank more than he should, for days longer than he should. There were times he made very poor decisions while intoxicated. His family had wondered if he had born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Based on the presentation of what that looks like, I highly doubt it. I think it ran much deeper and more complex than that. It was not simply a blame that could be passed onto his biological mother, though she played a part.

Eric was very open with me. It was one of the things that drew me to him. I have always been drawn to conversations of the heart.  He allowed himself to be vulnerable with me from day one.

We had many deep conversations about our life, our dreams, our disappointments, our failures, and the things we took pride in.

He was adopted as an infant. It was a fact that was never hidden from him, but also wasn’t talked about. It brought a lot of conflict to his heart.

In all the years I was with him, the one idea he struggled with the most was the concept of unconditional love. I too struggled with that idea, though we had different concepts and went about trying to understand it differently.  We had many conversations, tears, and battles over this. It’s one of those conversations that I wish I could have with him today, if he came back for only a few minutes. If you have ever lost someone perhaps you too have wondered what you would say if you got that moment.

We moved to Louisiana when I was in my last term with my first pregnancy. He wanted to find his birth mother. He had questions. Seeking out his birth mother was kept hidden from his adoptive parents. It was out of respect for them; he loved them a lot and didn’t want to hurt them with his questioning. He explained this to me from the get-go. I understood where he was coming from and joined him on that mission.

For many years I wondered if I had opened Pandora’s box by helping him in that mission. Today I believe I did not. Life is full of questions. Sometimes we get answers, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we get answers we like, and sometimes we don’t. It is just the way life is. It isn’t always an easy pill to swallow, understanding and accepting that, but it is necessary in order to let go and grow.

I spent long days at his parent’s house waiting for baby number 1 to come into the world. In that time, I looked through his baby book and discovered a document that included his birth mother’s name. And so, the journey began.

I made the random, uncomfortable phone calls because he was too frightened to do so.

“Hello, I know you don’t know me, but I am calling for my husband. He was put up for adoption in 1973 by a woman with this name. Are you a relative of hers and do you know how to get a hold of her?” That wasn’t verbatim, but it was close to that. It took a lot of calls before I found a relative of the woman whose name was on the document. I kept at it because this mattered to him.

I will never forget the day we met her at her house. We chatted for a while about superficial things and then I dropped a bomb. It was the whole reason we were there.

“You remember the day he was born?” It was what Eric wanted to know, among other things.

She did not.

She rattled off some date that was not the date of his birthday, not even the same month. He paused, his face froze for a brief second, and I saw him swallow. I knew in that moment he was just brought to the core of disappointment and hurt. I know this because the after-shock was seen, heard, and felt for many years following that moment.

I corrected her as he followed up with, “It’s okay”. He then asked her the million-dollar question, “Why?”

To be continued…

© LifeasChristine, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.