The Slow Leak—how you lose yourself
My last car had tires with slow leaks. I had a portable air compressor in my trunk and used it every few days to re-inflate the tires to the correct tire pressure so that it was safe to keep driving on them. Eventually, after my mechanic pleaded with me to stop shopping in the $5000 car aisle, I bit the bullet and risked buying a better vehicle.
But looking back, I see how seamlessly I adapted to this problem, enduring the inconvenience of inflating tires in the grocery store parking lot in the dead of a Calgary winter. For several years I did this without any real complaint except that occasionally I had to replace the portable compressor when the cold was just too cold for the plastic parts and they broke. I never questioned that maybe, in my sixth decade of life, after working hard for over 40 years earning three degrees, supporting two children who faced learning challenges, and serving in a position of caring for people and leading them into healing and growth, it was reasonable for me to eliminate this additional stressor of compromised tire safety from my life. No. Instead, it became just another “work-around.” As it turned out, my life was one big “work around”. I can still remember my frustrated mechanic, more worried about me than I was, telling me to buy another car with such emotional intensity that I was taken aback. But let me tell you, it’s been so much easier to have a reliable vehicle. Yes, it’s still nine years old, but all I’ve done to it in three years of ownership is buy a windshield wiper. The money I saved on repairs alone made up for the higher purchase cost. It’s been a load off my mind and less of a drain on my energy.
A couple of things brought this to mind this week. One was a congruence of client work topics, and the other was a powerful conversation with Lili Bee, my colleague in this work with wives and partners whose site www.posarc.com is well known to most women living through this experience with men called sex addicts. We’ve been sharing our personal stories so that we can encourage each other in this hard work, and also move our own healing to an ever deeper place. But we’ve also been sharing tools that we find effective in helping partners to become visible to themselves as real people deserving care and support and justice in these nightmare stories we are living. Because we often find women like me, already doing hundreds of “work-arounds” in their relationships with these men as well as in their lives as a whole.
This week we were talking about the ways in which we put up with stuff that was just plain ridiculous. We put up with it from our husband or boyfriend. We put up with it from his 12-step routine, his therapist and his treatment centre. We put up with it from our friends, families, spiritual leaders and faith communities, as well as from counsellors and therapists and other resources that promised to care for our wounds and support us in healing. Blameshifting, lying, insults, accusations, put-downs, gaslighting, patronizing remarks, being ignored, mocked, intimidated, or temper tantrums and rages directed against us, financially deprived, using family and friends against us—it goes on and on. It’s happening faster than we can recognize it, and often for so many years that we are groomed to endure it.
We may even cobble together ways and means to keep going anyway—sort of like the portable air compressor I used to keep in the trunk for my slow-leak tires. We stop listening. We go silent. We isolate ourselves to protect ourselves. We try to run under the radar until the worst of it is over. Or, maybe we stay at work longer, volunteer more at the church or school. We visit adult children in order to get away. Some women snap and just have it out in screaming matches with him, or find he silently enjoys her melt-down, recording the whole thing so his therapist can pronounce her “abusive.” We may comfort ourselves with food, drugs, alcohol, or shopping. We may become very religious and try to follow all the “rules” for being a woman of faith, wearing religion like armour and weapon, both. We may go to treatment centers and intensives for partners and do everything we are told. We may post inspirational quotes in our homes and store them on our phones so that when we are ready to quit, we don’t quit. We keep at it. We stay in the relationship. We work around it.
And slowly, the breath of life that fills you with joy, creative energy, hope, laughter, physical energy, imagination, and the desire to connect with others, leaks out anyway. We become less and less. And we don’t see it happening. Only the mechanic does. And he worries about you more than you do.
It’s not just you. Women have been socialized to the do the “work around”, to put others before herself even to the point of disappearing in the story altogether. We were raised to serve and help and support, seldom demanding or expecting any priorities for ourselves at all. So we are great “problem solvers”, cobbling together temporary solutions to keep the ship afloat while not disturbing others with those problems, or with our hopes and dreams, either. We are socialized into thinking there is some moral high ground in living with a slow leak. I remember a client in her seventies who loved her husband, her family, his family, the church, the farm, and everything else that came along with the life she had built with her husband. She talked about how in putting everyone else first, in both their needs and their dreams, she had become invisible to all of them. As she told me, “I realized after waiting for nearly five decades, it was never going to be my turn.”
Are you living this way? Does your life have a slow leak? Why are you living as if your life deserves to be diminished, as if your life isn’t worth worrying about, as if your life is expendable in the “greater” story of his life. Is it possible that you were groomed, almost imperceptibly, over time to not look after yourself, even when it was critically important? If not now, when you are truly spent with grief and empty of joy, when will it ever be okay for you to take your turn?
Your life is not expendable. You are not expendable. Your hopes and dreams are not unimportant. But you’ve developed a slow leak, and in spite of the portable air compressor you carry in the trunk, it sometimes breaks and you forget to use it when you should. It is enormously inconvenient to operate a life with a slow leak—especially the life of responsibilities, commitments, and relationships that matter more to you than anything. But it is more than that. The worry in my mechanic wasn’t about inconvenience. It was about me living dangerously by using that car. All those work-arounds mean you may not even recognize when you have put yourself in real danger.
If you want to talk more about the “slow leak” in your life, and how to stop living with an uncertain air compressor in the trunk, your story is safe here.