Where Does Hope Fit? And What Is It?

Although I am over nine years from dday, it has been a long journey to find my voice. I well remember putting one foot in front of the other every day as one of the walking dead. I didn’t use the word hope. I just kept going. That was hope. Now, leaving terror behind means I can use my critical faculties to do what they do best—identify, question, analyze and discuss what happened, and choose what happens next.

I seek a just way for us to understand and heal our lives that begins with ourselves as priorities for care, not women to be “managed.“ I will not ignore the domestic violence in our experience or when practitioners add a “therapeutic” version of it to our nightmare. And I keep going. That is still hope.

As the weeks pass in my blogging life, you might not imagine that when I see a message from you in my inbox, I catch my breath. But I do. When you write to me, I know that your effort to connect is coming out of your life salvaged from a poisoned stew of pain that is breaking your heart, mind, body and spirit. Yet there you are still trying to be fair, supportive and polite to me, still courageously seeking a human connection in the midst of so much isolation. I catch my breath with the wonder of you. You keep going. That also is hope.

As we all struggle to figure out which way is up in this mess, we seek to use the pillars that we believed were reliable before and will be again. We don’t know how the pillars fit, but we want them to belong. When I mention things in unfamiliar ways and ask questions that may sound like I’m setting them aside, it is fair to ask me “well then, Diane, what do I do with this pillar? Where does it fit? Because I’m not going to give that up.”

Hope is a word like that, a pillar for so many lives.

I have written and spoken before about “hope” in my resources and in my blog. But there is always something more to be said, and much that bears repeating. There always will be. I, too, am learning everything all over again all the time. So, when your questions begin to ask me about hope, then I know it time to speak of it again. Yet, so much of our work around “hope” is disentangling it from its imposters.

Imposter #1

Chump Lady (www.chumplady.com) succinctly distinguished a hope imposter as “hopium”. It acts like a drug that dulls us to pain but leaves us addicted to what is ultimately a temporary tinker. Hopium keeps us invested in a relationship that is revealed to be dangerous to our wellbeing. It sounds like this: “But there’s always hope”, “You mustn’t lose hope”, “Act hopeful even when you don’t feel hopeful” “With hope anything is possible!” Hopium is severed from facts. It is severed from truth. It is also severed from any faithful theology of the hope that does survive personal disappointment and grievous loss. Hopium actually heightens fear instead of diminishing it. Hopium casualties are everywhere in our stories.

Imposter #2

Some will weaponize “hope” and use it to shame wives and partners for leaving or even thinking of leaving. It sounds like this: “You don’t have enough hope for his recovery”, Your faith is weak so your hope is too”, “If you were a real Christian you wouldn’t lose hope”, “If he fails it’s your fault for losing hope”, “You are killing his hope”, “Once you lose hope, there’s nothing we can do” This is a vile form of blameshifting designed to shame you into compliance or shame you for various consequences that don’t suit their needs.

Imposter #3

Others will choose the word “hope” to talk about the fears they will not/cannot admit. This sounds like: “I hope he tells me everything this time”, “I hope he doesn’t text her”, “I hope he won’t come home in a bad mood”, “I hope he goes to his therapist appointment.”  Those sentences are not about hope. They are about fear: “I’m afraid he won’t tell me everything this time, “I’m afraid he will text her”, I’m afraid he will come home in a bad mood”, “I’m afraid he won’t go to his therapist appointment.” When we cannot say what our fears are, we tart them up with the word hope. But then people cannot help us address those fears, disempower them, or explore what else they reveal about our doubts about his recovery and our life. This is not about hope at all.

 

That’s enough time to spend on imposters, don’t you think? Let’s talk about real hope! I am sharing what I’ve learned about hope through all 62 years of my life, not just as a wife of a compulsive-abusive sexual relational disordered man (CASRD—rhymes with hazard—Dr. Omar Minwalla’s correct clinical description of a man called a sex addict.) That life includes my Christian faith tradition, raising my sons, going to school and three decades in ordained ministry, and my work with women like you. But by now you probably know I’m not much interested in shallow churchy talk. There’s just too much at stake here. You are at stake, and in my faith, you are worth everything—as am I and all creation. So here we go with the genuine article—Hope!

 

Signs of the Genuine Article #1

For me, hope expresses the trust we can have that the force of life (grace, new life, gospel, Spirit) is always at work and always available to us. Hope is grounded in that certainty regardless of what unfolds. In this way, hope is not something we have to “whip up” out of thin air. It is about remembering what is always going on—the constant renewal, recreation, birthing, beginnings after endings, strengths of human mercies and love that we see in creation, in the stories of our ancestors, and in our own lives. We do not control that life force or determine its work, but we can trust that it is at work. Horrible things may happen. But while we are reeling from them, that force of life is hard at work making a way where we see no way. My hope is fundamentally anchored in this truth which asks me to trust and respect and come alongside it, if possible. I’ve spent a lifetime learning to see it, feel, it, hear it, taste it. Everything else I know about hope begins here.  

Signs of the Genuine Article #2

Hope survives endings, losses and deaths. It is stronger than all those things. At the same time, we may not be stronger than all those things. But hope endures while we are in freefall. Hope waits for us to recognize it again. In my faith tradition no one recognized the Risen Christ, at first. Mary thought he was the gardener. Thomas demanded to see the marks of the nails. Two disciples met him as a stranger on the road. And so, it goes. The hope that the force of life is stronger than our endings, losses and deaths keeps speaking, come what may. But its message is not something we get to compose so we don’t always recognize it right away. The maple tree that emerges in spring is not exactly the same as the one that dropped its leaves in fall. It hasn’t moved, but it re-introduces itself every year. And I meet it with fresh joy. Sometimes hope has to introduce itself.

Signs of the Genuine Article #3

Hope is a humble thing. It does not prance about in capital letters and loud voices or act with a heavy hand. It gently invites us to accept what has happened and accept what truths emerge from it. Hope nudges us along to see that life goes on with renewal, rebirth, and new beginnings. We cannot passively engage these things. We seek to align our living with the force of life at work, to co-operate and strengthen it where possible, and to create opportunities for hope to speak.

Hope, however, is never carried on the backs of victims we will not stop victimizing. The people who are harmed by the actions of others are not responsible for giving their abusers hope as an invisibility cloak for harm done. Hope is a humble thing and a humbling thing. It kneels with us and helps us to carry our grief and disappointments, not the other way around—because sometimes it hurts to hear hope still speaking. It hurts to know the world will not end here and now with our pain. It hurts to know that people will go on working, laughing, creating and loving even though we have lost what mattered most. I remember when my first parishioner died, standing in my kitchen and hearing the streetcars grind along the rails, and wondering how they could still run and how people still went about living their lives. Richard had died. Didn’t they know? Yet it was the ongoing flow of daily life as I held his young baby in my arms so her momma could help her other child that helped lead me through that loss into the promise of life ahead.

Hope kneels and begins quietly. In my faith tradition, hope came so quietly in the night that everyone slept through it. It came like so much “nothing” that “nothing” was all that remained in the tomb to signal Easter. Hope is a humble thing and humbling thing.

 

But, does this all mean there’s hope for my husband, or not?

There is as much hope for him as there is for all of us, but his capacity to engage it, to live into it, to be changed by it is not in our control. Since most of these deeply damaged men have never been fully and competently assessed, diagnosed, or treated, I truthfully cannot say if they could ever recover enough to be credible candidates for an adult relationship of positive mutuality. In my experience they never stop manipulating and positioning themselves to have control over you and to use whatever means, including the sex addiction treatment industry, to convince you to play along nicely with the ongoing abuse. For me, this very thing is hopelessness.  Wives and partners are asked to bear it on their backs, while others point and proclaim that this “hope” is a “win.”

Still, some say she has no hope. She’s just angry. She’s making money on your pain.

Sometimes people who write to me can’t believe I answer them. They think my site is a big operation of some kind. Let me tell you how this all actually plays out.

In the work I am doing now, I have no sponsors. My savings created this. My income comes from those who place orders for resources or services. I recently added a donation button but other than a test run, no one has used it. I have never, nor do I now receive any spousal support. Because of PTSD I cannot do full-time permanent ministry. I have no staff or volunteers. I have a retired life partner and an old dog. They keep me going. My eldest son has a partner who is a talented graphic designer. She built my site, designs my materials and I pay her. I have a few precious colleagues in this field and we support each other—because as well as we all do, we still have PTSD. That’s it. The power here is not in the set-up, in the financial backing, in the high profile personality, or in the marketing. It’s in the message.

Why do I want you to know that?

The life I live, the healing I have pursued, and the work I do could not be grounded in anything else but a profound hope as I have described it for you, above.

For me, that hope is certain and compelling and transformational. I have enough hope for my life and for your life that I refuse to believe less about you than I know my Maker does. I believe in people when they don’t believe in themselves. Others have done that for me, and on difficult days, they still do. Thank you!

I worked alongside people like me and better than me for three decades in ministry—some paid, and some not. All of them were grounded in the hope I described above. And I have sought to work now with others living in their own stories with hope, because you can’t do this work without hope.

I know what hope is. My life is marinating in it. But I understand that people may not always perceive that at first. In knowing a little more about my life and this work, you can put my words into a context of a life lived not perfectly, but consistently grounded in hope.

Thank you for asking me about hope. Hope will not promise your husband will recover. It promises that the primal force of life will never stop speaking in his life, in our lives and in creation, whether you stay or whether you go, whether he gets better or whether he doesn’t. And if you want to talk, your story is safe here.

With you,

Diane.

Quick Links:

 

 

Diane Strickland