Power. Abuse. Love… And the Road to Transformation.
“Asking for help with shame says:
You have power over me.
Asking for help with condescension says:
I have power over you.
Asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other.”
Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking
When violated, power silently breaks us—and breaks us apart. When claimed, it strips everything false away, making us feel free, full of light, and reconnected.
Next week, I will be joining Michael Wallace to give an empowerment workshop in Canada, to young women who have gone from homeless, sometimes addicted, sometimes abused, and pregnant, to bearing children in a home together.
It has me quiet, taking long walks, and stewing over power. These women, who have already overcome more than many of us will- on their own and at too young an age- have taken up home in my gut for the past six weeks or so.
Michael and I can’t envision how, exactly, our workshop will play out. What emotions will silence the room- and us- before giving way to transformation? Where will we feel so stirred that we choose to be transparent about our own humanness, while also holding theirs?
I don’t know about you, but I feel crowded by experts, answers, and advice. As a coach, I sometimes feel this is what I need to offer, in order to capture attention so that I can work.
But that’s not real to me. What’s real is that we have the power to help each other, and love- in the biggest, non-romantic sense of the word- creates mutual empowerment.
Michael and I will sit at the head of our circle of chairs, and it will look as if we are the ones with the power. The first thing we need to do is correct that. We’ll start by dismantling any assumptions that we know more or have anything to teach. We don’t.
We only know the difference between what it sounds like when a person speaks from their truth, their power, and their light, and when fear is out in front, talking a good game and keeping everything else under camouflage.
We only know how to point to power, name it, and draw it out from under cover.
For myself, I identify the first by the chill crawling up my neck, the tears that well up in my eyes, the tension in my throat keeping emotion from darting up, the anxiety in my body causing an imperceptible shiver, or sudden blankness, as if I couldn’t possibly form words to fill the silence that just happened.
When truth, power and light break through, it moves me, one way or the other. Something breaks open.
When fear has the mic, toting old stories and logical reasoning, everything seems to make sense. The moment fits, we can explain it, and there’s a kind of “mmhmmm, yeah, okay” nod of agreement. But nothing happens.
This is good for keeping things the same, but not for transformation.
When I was 37, I got engaged. After a torturous six months of secretly trying to find a good explanation for my skyrocketing anxiety or any reason to ignore the ever-growing voice inside me telling me something was not right, I realized I was afraid of my partner. And that I was afraid of him because I was in an emotionally abusive relationship.
I didn’t want to realize this. I was searching for the answer that was about me and my inadequacies, the ones I knew I could fix and get out of the way. But that’s not what I found, and I went to bed for the first time asking the universe for help, cheek to pillow, wide-eyed and wondering how I would ever find the courage to expose the reality I couldn’t now un-see.
Over the course of several months apart, deep research into the nature of abusive relationships and how they arise, I met myself. It may have been the hardest and most heart breaking time of my life, but it also bore gifts I would never in a million years turn away willingly. In other words, Life knew what she was doing when she kicked me down this hole.
It’s in that period that I understood love. I separated my lovability from my partners capacity to love. I saw the difference between acting out of love for him and acting out of fear of him. I came to know that he could love me and act in ways that ultimately hurt me, even intentionally, all because he didn’t love himself. I understood I could love him and not allow myself to be treated that way, because I did love myself.
I understood that while we like to put people in villainous boxes and label them “abusive” or “assholes,” this does nothing for anyone. It’s a slippery slope from self-abuse to abuse of others, and both start with failure of compassion. Abuse is everywhere. It’s less black and white and more of an underlying grey scale. That’s the other thing I learned.
Abuse is everywhere, and so is love. Sitting on a park bench, the same one I’d visit again and again to stare at the same trees while feeling my way through my crisis, I suddenly had access to this truth. It flooded in and surrounded me, as timeless as the sky: “I am okay. I will be okay. I have always been okay.”
Everything I’d been struggling for- earning love, trying so badly to put my life together in a way that made sense, bridging the disconnection that permeated my relationships- all of these needs melted away, because there was no problem. I had love- great love– inside me. I made sense. I wasn’t disconnected.
When I ended my relationship, I didn’t just do it out of love for myself. I did it out of love for him, too. When one person violates another, in doing so he also violates himself. It’s good for everyone to stop that pattern, however possible.
And, loving my way out of that hole taught me who I really am. The wiser, more honest me loved him, I just didn’t want to marry him.
Next week, at our empowerment workshop, Michael and I will stand face to face with power, drawing it out, encouraging these young women to reveal and claim what is inside them- the grit, intelligence, heart, humor, strength, skill, talent, depth, intuition, love, endurance, ferocity, wisdom- to create magic for themselves and the world.
We’ll show them: its okay to stay in the giddy vulnerability that self-proclamation brings. Yes it is!!
We’ll make clear that the choice to unleash their power- to trust and love themselves enough to shine- will be theirs to make, over and over and over again.
When we asked the director of the center to describe these women, she took a sharp inhale, paused for a second, and had one word. “Amazing.” You could hear her smile through the phone.
We trusted as much. We’re already humbled.