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My Personal Story about Power and Control: For Israel and Palestine

"God, Grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Prayer of St. Francis. This prayer goes a long way back into history, long before 12 step programs or AA. There is truth in these words that resonates for many people, and so it was picked up by the AA program and became a prayer most often associated with it.

My story is about these words and how living them can change the circumstances of your life. My story is not about wrestling with compulsive drinking, but my wrestling with the drinker. There were miracles that occurred when I stopped trying to control something I could not control. With this change in my behavior came freedom and joy. It was not enough to stop trying to control the behavior of someone else, but included learning to let go of him, WITHOUT hating or resentments. It was not a battle between loving him or not loving him.

It was instead, about learning to accept valid truths, and distinguishing between my fears and my judgments. This is my journey. Deepak Chopra says "Quality of life depends on what you focus on". In 12 steps there is a slogan "What you focus on grows". These truths continue to play out in my life. I can see them today, only because I changed my behavior and committed to living this reality. It’s a commitment to peace that I make every day. And if I fail in this mission, I just start over again, as soon as I am able to see my mistake.

Years ago I met my husband when I was separated from my ex husband and going through a divorce. I met him at the bar. He was sexy, and the chemistry between us was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was as if I could not stay away from him. I knew enough to be wary of this. To top it off, the man I met at this time in my life seemed crazy and out of control. He drank, cussed, was stubborn and frustrated me in ways that no man had ever done before. I found myself thinking about him all the time. Not happily, but compulsively. I was constantly trying to figure out how to make him love me more or better. I was studying to be a mental health counselor and thought I could fix him, if I learned all the right information. In my dreams he would become the perfect husband one day, if only I could get him to understand this, that or the other thing.

This need for him to understand became destructive. The more I pushed my agenda, the more he fought back, and the more he withdrew from the relationship. One minute he loved me and the next minute he hated me. One minute I loved him and the next minute I wanted to kill him. There was no peace. We fought constantly. In my first marriage we had hardly ever fought, we just fell out of love one day. But with this man, it was a chronic battle. A war that was punctuated by short bursts of great sex and minutes of love. Our fighting even got violent, but I could not leave him. I could punish him, yes. I left him, kicked him out, he left me. In fact we didn’t get married until about 10 years into the relationship and we got separated most of our first year of marriage.

You see, I knew I was right. I knew he had a problem and I knew the cure. I knew he owed me apologies and that he needed to change his ways. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt if he just changed, then I would be happy and so would he. When I called him names, it was only because he called me names. When I swung at him, it was only because he made me. If I yelled, it was not as bad as what he said to me. If the house was a shambles after fighting all night and my children neglected…well, it was not that big a deal. They’ll get over it.

I was living the dance of self righteousness, minimize, deny and blame. But I was a counselor (eventually) and I knew I was right. After all, I am an advocate for peace. I help people find peace and my entire life’s work was about peace. Plus I know what’s wrong with people. I KNOW what’s wrong with him. But somehow I failed to connect the dots about how I was acting in my relationship to my husband which was anything but peaceful. I told myself it wasn’t MY fault…it was his. He made me do it, and look at all the horrible things he has done to me. His problems make him mean, irresponsible and a perpetrator in my life. HE is the cause of my misery. If I could just get rid of him THEN I would be fine. It was a constant power struggle trying to control him and my feelings of abandonment if I let him go. If he was gone, I had to focus on me, and I didn’t like that. But I was never happy, contented or peaceful. I lived in constant fear of his retaliation and worried about how to get him to take care of this or that so that life would be okay.

At some point, all my teachings, all my readings, all my studies about peace began a new understanding for me. I worked a 12 step program for myself. I worked a DBT program for myself. I took all my studies about methodologies and science, and applied them to my own life instead of HIS.

My first awareness was that I was minimizing, denying and blaming my behavior on him. I had a copy of the Duluth model power wheel on my refrigerator to remind HIM to quit using power and control. I had for years been blind to the fact that I was using power and control. I was rationalizing my yelling, my crying, and my swinging. I was rationalizing my neglecting the kids because he was such a horrible man to be married to…whoa is me.

It dawned on me, that my husband was a man with a problem, and my reactions to his problem had made a monster out of my life. It was a pattern I learned growing up, and seemed so "right". It was counter-intuitive to let go of my constant obsession with him to focus on myself. It felt strange and wrong. But over time, I learned that indeed this was the only thing that would work. I learned that this works in regard to my children, my clients and my marriage. In fact, this concept of focusing on myself and my reactions worked in every single area of my life.

I learned to practice the dialectic. That is I learned to look at both sides of every issue and look for the kernals of truth in all sides of a discussion. It’s not to agree or compromise, but to look for solid valid truth and combine it with effectiveness for a shared value or goal. I learned to practice a nonjudgmental stance and began to recognize how my judgments and beliefs actually were feeding my emotions. How my belief that my husband was a monster instead of a man dying of a disease fed my anxiety and anger. I learned to regulate my emotions by accepting them instead of denying them and pretending to be fine when I wasn’t. I learned to practice acceptance instead of denial. I learned to be 100% accountable for my reality as I was a partner to him. I learned to accept the things I could not change, I learned to change myself because that’s what I could change, and I learned the wisdom to know the difference. (and if I didn’t have the wisdom, I learned who to call). I learned to trust the patterns of nature and humanity that had been part of nature longer than the species of man. I learned to listen to seek these patterns for truth and surrendered to a power greater than myself. I learned how to really love another human being without the need to control them.

Whether it’s an out of control teenager, throwing chairs across the room, a drunk alcoholic throwing insults and trying to drive your vehicle while drunk, whether it’s a traumatized soul who thinks you are the devil, whether it’s your mother who is afraid you are going to put her away in a nursing home, whether it’s the neighbor next door who hates your dog…it doesn’t matter. There is peace. I cannot make peace for someone else, but I can role model peace to others.

Israel and Palestine remind me of the battle between alcoholic and codependent. It doesn’t matter who is who, the behavior on both sides is ineffective and pathological. It’s not peace. It’s not effective. It’s not working. It’s not building Israeli’s a better life. It’s not building the people of Palestine a better life. This is a fact.

I often wonder what would happen if we could teach the skills of acceptance, of the serenity prayer, of non-judgment and the dialectic, of emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. I wonder if some people would choose inner peace once they found it to be effective. I wonder if this behavior could slowly replace the behaviors of control that dominate the globe.

I help parents deal with their crazy teens, not by beating them, calling them names or punishing them, but by teaching acceptance and effective boundaries. (boundaries about what we will do instead of making someone else do something, boundaries about what we control not trying to control someone else). I work with high conflict couples and help them learn to stop fighting and find peace. It works. In fact it works so well, it is down right scary.

In regard to my marriage, my husband and I have been together now for almost 20 years. We are peaceful most of the time…and when we aren’t I know exactly what to do. There is no more violence and he no longer drinks alcohol. We have raised 4 amazing children together.

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I am a licensed mental health counselor specializing in the treatment of trauma. My twenty years of experience in treating survivors of domestic violence, childhood abuse, sexual assault and war have increased my desire to participate in studying the invariant relationships related to violence. My current pet theory has to do with denial and truth. The invalidation of those who suffer from trauma, has created symptoms that plague our society. The most serious symptom being the perpetuation of violence in our denial of it's consequences.

The truth shall set you free. But it takes skills (emotional intelligence) to handle the truth...because most of society...
"can't handle the truth."