Thursday, July 24, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse:


Today we continue on the journey of debunking the lies:  perceptions and assumptions.  From the other side.  From the side of those who observe us.  From the side of those who rather than getting acquainted with us and our stories and attempting to find heathy ways to walk alongside us in our journey rely on what they see and, most importantly, what they've been told by others.

Relying on someone else's perceptions and assumptions on the matter rather than investigating for themselves and making their own perceptions and assumptions based on something more solid - like a relationship with the individual involved.

This is my story.  Uniquely mine.  Told from my side of the equation, the side that has gotten bruised, battered and very muddied through the journey.  The side that has somehow continued to get up in the morning and chose to focus on recovery.  Even after seeming defeats.

That side.  That story.


*******

Remember the earlier postings about the earth cam?  The saga of the search for this seemingly elusive piece of technology in North Myrtle Beach and subsequently finding it in Myrtle Beach?  How we stood in front of that building talking on the cell phone with our daughters back in Ontario?  How people passing us had no idea there was an earth cam in that location and that people from all over the world could see them (and us talking on our cell phone) as they passed?  I'm guessing that the people who observed our behaviour that day, the ones who had no clue there was an earth cam there, had some perceptions and assumptions of their own about us.  We were nuts.

Assumptions and perceptions.  Based on their senses.  What they saw.  What they observed  And their knowledge - or lack of it in this particular case. 

My journey of unrelenting hurt, pain, exhaustion, inability to do even the simplest tasks continued on throughout the fall of 2012.  So much so, that I've blocked out whole pieces of that particular time.  I remember only the bigger things like the first Thanksgiving after Mom's death and feeling overwhelmed and inadequate even trying to put on a very simple meal for immediate family members only.  Likewise, I remember falling out of the bathtub and breaking my wrist.  The excruciating pain. The hospital journey.  Again, the unrelenting pain.  The times I met with a friend who was walking through a painful journey of her own with cancer and the talks we had - until I broke my wrist and could no longer drive.  I remember the same person coming over on one of her good weeks immediately after I broke my wrist with a plant, a home made card, and a meal.  A meal ironically which had been given to her by our church.  Because she too was down for the count.  She too had no resources to cook and do things.  I remember this incident so clearly because she gave out of what she had in a time when she was needy herself.

Similarly, there is another time, another incident which occurred at the very end of that year, that period of time in 2012 which is forever seared in my memory.

Finally, after three months of being ignored and feeling abandoned, a staff member from the church called and asked to come over.  I had had previous positive interactions with this staff member and felt that she was safe.  Perceptions and assumptions which turned out to be false.

Things started out well.  I tend to be a visual person, so I wanted to tell her the story of bereavement and post bereavement visually through pictures on my computer and the things I made. My own show and tell.

In short, I let a person who in retrospect turned out to be unsafe into my safe place.  My safe room.  My sanctuary.

First clue.  She wouldn't sit on the comfortable chair provided.  She stood over me.  Looking down on me.

Second clue.  Body language.  Looking down on me.  Arms folded across her chest.  Stiff.  Unyielding.  Definitely not relaxed.

I was sharing with her the emotion of how abandoned I felt when suddenly she said:  "I wonder if you realize when you hurt others."

I felt like I'd been slapped on the face.

We weren't talking about me hurting others.  We were talking about my excruciating hurt.

With that simple sentence, she turned things around.  Frankly, I had no idea what she was talking about.  Who had I hurt?  When?  How?  And what did that have to do with helping me?

We suddenly shifted from my hurt to unknown others.  And that somehow when I'm in such a world of hurt that tears are cascading down my cheeks like Niagara Falls, I'm supposed to deal with others' hurts.

My perceptions and assumptions allowing her to enter my home were (a) that she was a safe person and (b) that she was there to problem solve ways in which the church family could come around me and support me during this time in my life.  Maybe even offer an apology for not being there in the first place.

I was wrong.

Having gained the advantage, the power and control over the situation, she continued on in this vein.  Standing.  Looking down on me.  Body language tense.

I showed her the things I made.  She told that this was not who I am.  With these words, she dismissed something very valuable to me.  My right brain therapy.  What I do.  How I cope with my situation.  Most importantly, how I bless others.

I was told that I hurt others in the church, and that is why no one wanted to talk to me.

Slap.  Slap.  Slap.  Verbally not physically.

I was told that my friend who was going through a very serious physical illness was worthy of church help because they had been in the church for years, her parents went to the church, they had been in a small group, she had volunteered with the children's ministry, etc.

Similarly, I was told in as many words that I was not worthy because I did not belong to a small group.  I was not involved in ministry.  I was not doing the things that they considered worthy in their criterion of evaluation.  The fact that for most of my tenure at the church, I was actively working on recovery and was not in a place where I could do these things was not taken into consideration.

More slaps.  More hurt.

I was told that I was abandoned because I had "weak" relationships.

At that point, I began to realize that this woman had absolutely no idea of where I had been when I first came to that church six years prior.  Of the injury from the former church.  How extensive it was, the steps I'd taken through the years.  That I had once been part of a small group and that it had folded.  Most importantly, she had absolutely no idea of trauma.  In addition, I realized that people who were part of the church in my earliest days of attendance who had walked with me and had even attended a session with my therapist on trauma so that they could walk with me had all scattered to other places, other posts.  One went to the mission field.  One felt that his "shelf life" had expired after the church had appointed a new minister and left.  All the knowledge about trauma left with these people.  Ditto all the knowledge about the steps I'd taken and the progress I'd made.

I also realized that the church I had walked into six years prior was no longer the church I attended now.  Same building, yes.  But the focus had changed from acceptance and helping wounded people to something else.  A different focus I'm still not sure of.

Gone.  This woman had no clue.  She hadn't been there in that position at that time.  She didn't know.  She came into my home with "knowledge" based on faulty perceptions and assumptions.

I was also confused.  I don't know what Bible this woman reads, but this is not how my Bible reads.  Giving to others so I can receive back?  Not in the Bible. 

Knitting and crocheting chemo hats, prayer shawl, afghans and giving them to others across Canada and the U.S. who were going through their own difficulties, who could not repay for my gifts, did not count. Ditto: praying for others did not count.  Investing time and energy in those who were outside the church body and could not possibly repay me also did not count.  Probably because these were things that the church could not see and, therefore, could not objectively evaluate or quantify.  These were things they would only know if they were walking with me.

She did ask how the church could support me in my journey given the circumstances.  That is always a hard question to answer as my experience has shown that once I voice my viewpoint I become (a) vulnerable, (b) I'm not expecting the question so I bumble and stumble and (c) I am placed in a position where the other person can easily shoot down.  To say no.  In short, I become vulnerable.

This is what happened in this situation, in this very room where I write these blogs, where I knit and crochet, where I feel safe.

It would have been so much better if that person had come into my house, my safe place, with a plan already formulated of how they could support me better in the upcoming months in place.  A plan we could discuss and modify.

I felt that having someone regularly reach out to me via phone as in every week or two to see how I was doing and if there were any needs they could meet, would help a lot as it was in the silence, the absence of human contact that I was having so much trouble with.

Her answer:  No, we don't do this.

So where did this leave me?  

Nowhere.

During most of this conversation, I was deluged in tears.  I was still crying uncontrollably when she left.  Her face dispassionate as though I were some whiny kid trying to get something I didn't deserve.

I cried for the best part of 20 hours.  I couldn't sleep.  I felt so worthless.

Somehow I made it through that miserable night.  In the morning, when I felt it was late enough that I would not awaken my daughter, I called her.  As I've said before, she has walked with me through this journey even when she was hurting herself and it was probably not in her own best interests.  She was appalled at some of the things that had been said especially about knitting and crocheting being not who I am. She understand the hurt, the devastation, the vulnerability.  She too was confused as she said:  "But that's what you do and how you bless people."

While we were still on the phone, another call came through from someone we both know and are close to.  Someone who has walked with me in this journey.  Someone who doesn't always understand everything, but has learned to listen, to ask questions, to love.  I switched to her call.  It was like the two were unknowingly tag teaming to get me back to a stable platform, a healthier place emotionally.

The fog began to lift.  I began to slowly come to terms with the visit.  To understand the dynamics that had been in place.  The misperceptions.  The faulty assumptions.  The lies.

However, the hurt, the injury, the disconnect with my church remained.

*******

I'm going to stop here for today as remembering this is taking its toll on me.

I was left with many impressions and questions after this meeting.

The most crucial question I had was turning around this person's question, Do I realize when I hurt others?, to Does she realize when she's hurting others?  Did she not know how badly she hurt me?  Especially when she could see the tears?

She had badly injured me during a time when I was very vulnerable.  Yet, she didn't seem to either realize it or care.

Questions that arose in my mind after the fact were:  "What was she doing in my home?, What was her purpose, her objective, that day? Did she come to help me?  Or did she come to confront me?"

She was going on a sabbatical for three months just three days after this meeting and would be completely severed from the church body for that period of time as in no communication with people from the church and no attendance at the church, so there was no continuity, no follow through.  Given that circumstance, why was she in my house?

Perceptions and Assumptions.  I believe that she came that day with her own set of perceptions and assumptions.  Those she had gained through others.  Others who were conspicuously absent on my journey.


Until tomorrow ....

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