… Under the bed, and elsewhere…

I’ve been thinking a lot about being brave lately. I wrote a poem a while ago on the subject.
Yes, But..
What if I look under the bed

To make sure they are only figments of my imagination
And they leap out
Splitting my ears with their roars
Tearing my face with their claws
Spilling my blood
In pools
On the bedroom carpet
This was what it felt like to me to dare to ask, “Is abuse happening in my home?” On the one hand, it seemed so far fetched, like asking if there were monsters under my bed. Of course not.
But on the other hand, what if there were? I couldn’t just leave the monsters there.
The consequences of asking– just asking!– are so huge, it’s hard to even go there. Even if it’s not happening, there would be investigations, CPS would come into our lives and I was afraid of what they might do. Would they take my children away from me, because of what he did? What would my husband do to me, think of me, for making charges like that? Would my children be hurt by my suggesting such a thing?
But then again. If it’s real… if it’s not just my imagination… can we live with a monster like that under our beds? Creeping out at night to eat us?
I had to look.
And I can now say with certainty, it’s better to look. And if the monster is there, it’s better to go through the ear-splitting roars and claw marks and heart-pounding escape for your lives than to leave him under the bed.
There are so many things in life that require bravery. And so many people whose brave actions have helped me. I hope that in writing this, I can encourage you to be brave in your own life, wherever you need to be brave.
My dear friend, Charlene, was living with us while looking for a house. She has several wonderful daughters. One day she did a very brave thing. She asked if she could talk to me outside. Alone. Sitting on our front steps, she told me she was uncomfortable with some things my husband had said, and some little things he had done toward her daughter. She was afraid I would be offended or upset.
But I was SO grateful! For years I’d been seeing the same sorts of little things, but when I’d asked my husband about them, he’d tried to convince me it was all my imagination, or he’d accused me of being paranoid or even delusional. Charlene’s brave little talk with me gave me the validation I needed to know I wasn’t crazy. Those growling noises I’d heard form under the bed were not all in my head. It was time to get down on my knees and do some serious under-the-bed investigation. And when the monster was real, her courage gave me courage to move forward. Thank you, dear friend, for being so brave.
Many years ago, I had the chance to be brave, and I didn’t take it. I began to see signs in another dear friend of addiction to prescription drugs. They started small– just a few things she said in a phone call. But as they got more pronounced, I got more worried. At the same time, how could I ask if there was a problem? What could I say? She was a Christian, a mother of young children, a member of my church, and one of my closest friends. I was afraid of offending her. Of offending her husband and children. Of destroying– or at least damaging– our friendship. So I said nothing. I pretended I didn’t see.
Until she died.
And I felt a guilt like I’ve seldom known before. I could have helped, and I didn’t.
I pretended that I was afraid of hurting or offending her. But in reality, it was me I was protecting. I didn’t want to loose a friend. I didn’t want to be embarrassed by speaking about something that might not be true. It was me I was protecting, not her.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when it’s ok to talk about something, and when it’s not. My mom (another very brave person) shared a key with me. If someone mentions a subject, in any way, it’s an open subject. Let’s say your friend’s child has cancer, and you’re wondering if it’s ok to talk to her about it, or if it will just upset her more. If she never brings it up, it’s not open, and chances are she hopes you won’t say anything. But if she mentions it, even in passing– perhaps that her child is not as nauseated from treatments this time as she has been in the past– it’s an open subject, one she’ll be ok discussing with you. So often people going through hard times wish someone was ok talking about it, wish someone would let them talk. So if they mention it, let them know you’re ok hearing what’s going on.
Sometimes, however, a subject is closed that needs to be gently opened. I never said anything to my friend about prescription drug addiction. Had I opened the discussion, maybe she would have talked eventually. Maybe she would be alive today. I never said anything to Charlene about my concerns that my husband might be abusing my children. But she was brave enough to gently open the subject with me. And that was all the help I needed to take the action I needed to take.
In my life, sometimes being brave has meant making that doctor’s appointment to find out what was up with the lump in my breast. (it was benign) Or taking my daughter in to the hospital when a little voice said something wasn’t right. (she had heart failure) Or asking to see my child’s iPod when I suspected they were doing things they shouldn’t be. (I was right)
What to say in such a situation? How to let them know you care, without offending them?
I like what Charlene said. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember the ideas, the feelings. She started by saying she had thought about not saying anything, but then decided we were good enough friends that she could tell me what she was worried about. She told me what she’d seen, and that she hoped I wasn’t offended. She said she was worried, and that she hoped I wouldn’t be upset.
I went upstairs and cried. Sobbed. Clutched my blankets to my mouth and tried to stop the gashing wound that had opened inside me. But I also felt loved. And supported as I made up my mind to do what I knew I needed to do. I had to ask my daughter if the things I suspected were true. Making that report was the hardest single thing I’ve ever done in my life. But it opened the possibility of healing. For everyone.
I think most of us fear reaching the end of our life, and looking back regretting the moments we didn’t speak up. When we didn’t say ‘I love you’. When we should’ve said ‘I’m sorry’. When we didn’t stand up for ourselves or someone who needed help. There is a time for silence. There is a time waiting your turn. But if you know how you feel, and you so clearly know what you need to say, you’ll know it.I don’t think you should wait. I think you should speak now.”
Thank you, Taylor. And Charlene. And everyone else who has the courage to check under the bed, and to speak now.