I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
She told me she couldn’t say his name for years. That when she was on the train or in a store or at a show and someone would say his name, it would instantaneously bring tears to her eyes. He had beaten her so many times, blacked her eyes, and screamed horrible words into her face, that when she heard anyone say his name even in a movie, it would bring her to tears. She didn’t even tell me about the pain for almost the first year we were dating. After a while, she opened up about the abuse but she never used his name. She would just say, “Him.” “HE” was the one that told her he would kill her dog if she left. That “HE” would trap her in the apartment and not allow her to leave for days. And “HE” fought the cops when she found the courage and opportunity to finally call the police. But she never said his name to me. Even while she was heaving from the tears, telling me about the awful pain she endured, she never once said his name.
Dating me isn’t the easiest job in the world. I mean, I come with a host of baggage, trauma, and insecurities. I suppose most people do, but I come with bonus extras like having made a living out of putting my personal stories and secrets out in books and blogs for the whole world to read for the past 15 years.
A large part of my career has been based upon exposing my dark secrets. It wasn’t something that happened overnight. If you pay attention, you notice what elicits a bigger response and resonates with your audience. And the idea of what I set out to do was to help people I care about make sense of a few things. That maybe I had an idea or experience I learned from and since I have been an over-sharer ever since I can recall, I figured I might as well put my big mouth to good use. So I wrote stories. And I bared my soul. And I dug into those dark spots on my brain and in my heart for your entertainment – but mostly for my sanity. I wrote about death and loss and abuse and break ups because it made me not want to kill myself. Writing took me out of my dark hole and helped me understand that maybe I wasn’t a lost cause. But my speaking tours pushed me forward. It forced me to stand in front of strangers and make it tangible. They could see the pain on my face and hear the tremble in my voice. I wanted to be an example that there was strength in vulnerability. And speaking about the dark spots was oftentimes excruciating but it forced me to move not only past, but through, the pain.
I learned what therapists and priests have been making people do for centuries – talk about the pain. Because the more you talk about something, the more you understand it. And the more you understand it, the less control it has over you. And the less control it has over you, the easier it is to move though the pain. Because there are no short-cuts. There is no option to Eternal Sunshine that shit out of your head. And your options are: to be controlled by it. To allow it to impact and injure all following relationships. Or you can pretend it’s not there while it continues to burn a hole in your brain forcing the venom out as hatred or self-loathing. Or you can grab it by the throat and let the pain in. Let it sink deep in and remember all the pain. The breakups. The cheating. The abuse. To stop hiding from it and face it.
She got hired at a new job and when the owner introduced himself he said, “Hi, my name is Steve.”
When she came home that evening, she cried in my arms. She said she had been doing all she could to hold it in but everyone kept coming up to her saying, “Oh, David told me all about you.” And it took everything she had to not scream, “STOP SAYING THAT NAME!”
Over time, she got used to it. She no longer winced when saying his name, even if it wasn’t the same person that put her in the hospital. It took years and a boss that shared the same name to have the courage to tell me more about those dark days. This time, she used his name. She said, “Steve threw me into the wall.” And I noticed her voice shook a little less. I asked her questions and I talked with her for as long as she needed. I didn’t rush her. I didn’t interrupt. And I didn’t turn on the television. I listened to her talk about everything he did. And it hurt me to know someone would do such awful things to someone I cared so much about. But I sat there and let her filter her black smoke through me. I sat there because I knew it was important for her. Because those moments were crucial. That she was growing stronger right before me on that couch. Each time she mention his name without crying she was gaining strength. But more than anything, she was taking control. And I would hug her when she was finished and I would smile. I would thank her for trusting me with her vulnerability and I would smile knowing that tomorrow her load would be a little lighter.
It really is inspiring to watch someone gain confidence right in front of you. But you also have to keep in mind that sometimes you have more strength than others. But that some people aren’t yet ready to confront their demons. And just because you’re a little farther down the line than they are doesn’t mean that you are any better. All it means is that you have knowledge. Insight. A roadmap to a journey they are just beginning. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t force your knowledge into another person if the pain is still too strong to allow them to hear.
But what you can do is be an example. To let people know it’s okay to let it in. To use your time to let someone talk about their trauma. That there is strength in vulnerability and that you should be there to listen and hold someone you care about while they scream over and over, “Fuck you, David. Fuck you.”