Career disappointment

I haven’t had a career. That’s just one of many parts of my life that got derailed by domestic violence. While there are others that are even more important, this is the one that society sees every day, and judges me by. Let’s face it: In the U.S., if you don’t have a chartable and successful career track, you are judged as a failure.

It’s hard to not feel like a failure, especially because I know I could have had a great career had my ex-husband not hurt me this way. The ensuing trauma took away my feeling of power over my own life, and my career decisions have not been made with clarity but, instead, with survival at the forefront. Not the best way to organize a career.

So here I am now, at age 50, wondering what I’m supposed to do with my work life. I know what my skills are, at this point — who knows what they might have been, had I had the chance to develop them fully. I have to accept reality in that regard, and I’m struggling to do that.

Some days, I just want to hide away from everything and everyone, to avoid the glare of judgment that I feel when I look at my friends, acquaintances and people I don’t even know who are so successful in their careers. Yes, it’s self-judgment, probably more than anything else. But that makes it even more powerful. My self-esteem just isn’t what it could be.

What trauma recovery feels like for me today

You are standing on one side of a lake. The smell of pine trees and the whoosh of the breeze surround you. On the opposite shore, you can see what you want — whatever that might be for you. It’s glistening in the spring sunshine, just waiting for you. (Close your eyes and imagine it.)

The rule is, in order to have what you want, you have to swim across the lake to get it. And you only have 20 minutes in which to do it.

You look again at the water between you and what you want.  Oh my gosh, I can’t swim!  How can you get across the lake if you can’t swim? You look around for something to help you. A boat. A raft. A helicopter. Anything.

There’s nothing. And there’s no one to teach you how to swim, either.

You’re alone.

And you really want what’s on the other side of the lake.

So you close your eyes, take a deep breath and dive in. The water is cold, but you manage to keep breathing as you adjust to the temperature. You dog paddle a few feet, then a few yards, then many yards. But about halfway across, you start to run out of oxygen. The churning of your legs and arms has worn you down, the water has become freezing, and your breath is coming in gasps.

You still see the shore and what you want, but every so often your head goes under water and you fight to get to the surface. You want to enjoy the swim, but you keep seeing the shore, and what you want, and it starts to consume your every thought as you fight for the next breath.

What time is it? How many minutes do I have left to get there? Can I make it? Will I make it?

Suddenly you hear sounds approaching from behind you. Then the sound is all around you. Laughter. Splashing. Other people are swimming easily beside you, talking about what they’ll do once they get to the shore, lounging on their backs and stroking the water gently, as if there is no clock running.

Help me! You say. But that can’t hear you. They start to arrive at the other shore, jubilant and smiling and glowing in the sunlight. And you are just about to go under water again.

You ask yourself again,

What time is it? How many minutes do I have left to get there? Can I make it? Will I make it?

You watch as more and more people pass you by. The clock is ticking.

What should I do now?

I posted this originally on my previous blog, but I’m re-posting it here, edited slightly, because it really encapsulates what I’m trying to do:

To say that the therapeutic process has been life altering would be putting it mildly. It has also, without a doubt, been the most challenging personal endeavor of my life. That includes dealing with the deaths of my parents and my mother-in-law. The grief I have experienced over the past year has eclipsed everything else, at times.

I have struggled to keep my balance at work (and eventually took a one-month leave). Although I’m back at work, I’m having a difficult time some days putting on that “work face” (you know the one I mean!).

Sometimes I feel like giving up. Other days I feel hopeful. Most of the time, I keep asking myself these questions: “Who am I? What should I do now?”

Being in that state of uncertainty is, honestly, terrible. And I also have to fight against being angry all the time at my ex-husband for hurting me in such a deep and permanent way.

I suppose if I could do anything now, it would be to try and help people understand that domestic violence doesn’t end when she (usually a she) walks out the door. The damage is permanent. And she will need help and understanding every day, for the rest of her life.

The regular rules do not apply to her. She can’t “just let go,” or “pull herself up by her bootstraps,” or “just make different choices.” Those are options that people who have experienced this type of trauma NEVER have. And never WILL have.

That’s a tough concept to grasp as a trauma victim/survivor, and even tougher for people who haven’t been in this situation. But believe me, I’ve berated myself for years, wondering why all those self-help books and advice guides never seemed to work for me.

Now I know that they weren’t meant for me, and people like me.

So if I could do anything, it would be trying to explain that while survivors of domestic violence aren’t “damaged goods,” we are somewhat disabled. Our thinking processes, even with therapeutic help, are different from a non-traumatized person’s. We can learn coping skills, but the disability is permanent.

We wouldn’t tell a person with one leg to just go ahead and walk. And when he can’t, we wouldn’t say, “What’s the matter with you? Just do it! And what’s taking you so long? Hurry up!”

That’s part of the message — only a small part, by the way — that society sends to victims of domestic violence.

All this to say, we have a long way to go before we, as a culture, can truly support people like me in the best way possible. I’m fortunate to have found a good therapy provider while, God willing, I still have a few years left to live.

Maybe those years can be better.

Old habits

Even though I’ve gotten much better about this, I still question myself, my worth and my abilities too often. For example, I have a professional situation that is testing this aspect of my trauma recovery. If I look objectively at my work history, I can see that I’m extremely capable and have a lot of valuable skills. In past jobs, I have been a major contributor and have brought a lot of creativity and strategic thinking to the table. I also have been able to make things happen — not just dream them up.

Currently, my work situation is not ideal. Creativity, strategic planning, and then thoughtful and consistent delivery of the goods … let’s just say that none of that is openly valued.

Not being a person to want the spotlight — based on how I am naturally and also the domestic violence I experienced — it’s difficult for me to work under these circumstances. I have no inclination to outshine anyone; I simply want our department to do good work and make a difference. I want to contribute something meaningful.

Can you guess what has happened, though? That’s right: I have started to doubt my ability to contribute anything meaningful. Starting thinking that maybe I’m not creative anymore, that I don’t have any abilities or skills that are valuable. Every day now, I’m having to give myself a major reality check and realize that it’s my boss and the environment that has set up this situation — not me.

Old habits … So other than the reality check, what am I doing? I’m looking for a new job! Wish me luck.