Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what your mind has been mulling over. Lately it’s been that way for me. I guess I just need to start somewhere. Over the holidays I was sick with a touch of the stomach flu, which in actuality was pretty awesome. It meant that I had a viable excuse to stay in bed and not lift a finger–– well, beyond making meals for the family and feeding the animals for the day. So I did a lot of sleeping and reading.
One book in particular was about twins separated at birth and one growing up with her birth mother and being horribly abused by her step father and neglected by her mother, and the other growing up with loving, supportive adoptive parents. They found each other later in life after their birth mother died. It was a story that demanded deep thoughts on how circumstances can affect a person. For much of the story I kept wondering why the one sister stayed with the people abusing her, especially when she was older and capable of leaving. Why did she allow her mother to stay a part of the family all the years and drive a wedge between her husband and her children? She herself, wondered and grieved over her choices after she found out what her mother had done to her and her sister.
Why do people stay in hard, impossible circumstances?
Why do people stay when they are being hurt?
Why do people continue to let it happen?
I’ve never been in an abusive situation. Not like this lady. Not like others I’ve heard about. But I have been in hard, difficult and trying situations. Not overly long, but long enough. And as my mind twists over these questions, I remember the time I worked as a horse wrangler for an outfitter in the Yukon.
It was one of the physically and mentally hardest periods of my life. Three months of straining and stretching and surviving. Three months of beating my body into submission. I remember thinking so many times, “If I can make it to breakfast, I’ll be okay.” And then, “If I can make it to tea time, I’ll be okay.” And then, “If I can make it to supper, I’ll live.” My days were broken into increments and I could only focus on the task immediately before me or I would start to panic.
My basic job was to find and bring in the herd of horses before breakfast, help saddle up or pack up for the day and then go out with the hunter and guide and hunt all day. If we got an animal, I helped skin and pack out the meat and horns. I was to make sure there was enough kindling and water for camp. I made lunches for the following day and did the dishes after the evening meal. Seems like a basic job. And it was. Nothing extra-ordinary than any horse wrangler does for any outfitter.
For me, part of it was that I had never done many of these tasks before. Or at least in a very limited sense. I was a girl and not a very big one. Some of the tasks set before me required a lot of strength–– which I gained in time. (Best shape of my life!) I had never tracked horses before. That was a huge learning curve and a frustrating one. I had to fetch the horses on foot, and wore rubber boots the entire time I was out there, as the ground was too mucky for anything else. The tracking caused no end of trouble for me. See post:
I started having panic attacks every morning before I had to go find them. The first time I couldn’t catch my breath, freaked me right out. But I managed to push through the hyperventilation and get out and find the horses.
Later in the season, my ankles started to freeze in my rubber boots after a morning of running in the horses. The aching pain got so bad I could hardly walk. If I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t stay warm. I was constantly cold. I hadn’t brought enough warm clothes, as I only expected to be there until the end of August. But even then, the coldest weather seemed to be in August!
I had a few problems with one guide in particular that made things mentally hard and emotionally troubling. I cried every day for the first six weeks. After that I was mentally numb, I think, and possibly just acclimated and more comfortable with the tasks I needed to do. Mostly I was just surviving. Living in three hour stints. One foot in front of the other. Learning to enjoy whatever good came my way.
Afterwards, when I finally got out of the bush, and had the first REAL shower in months. A long, hot, long shower that went on forever and was the most heavenly thing ever! I was debriefing in a way to the outfitters wife. After telling her about a few of the troubles I had endured or suffered through, she stopped me and asked a simple question, “Why didn’t you call and ask to come out?”
I was startled. Why hadn’t I? And I realized it had never occurred to me that it was an option. That thought wasn’t even on my horizon when I was out there. Never even entered my mind that I could have asked to leave. I just had a job to do and somehow I managed to do it. Though I must admit, I thought many times of just lying down and dying. I have learned since that is my broken way of reacting to a situation I feel I have no control in. I just want to die. I think it would solve all problems.
And it makes me wonder how many people in a hard or abusive situation where they are surviving or enduring, just don’t think there’s any other option? So they continue to survive.
Now though, whenever I face a tough period or a time that requires sticking power, I struggle with wanting to quit. And I struggle to reconcile in my mind whether this is something to stick out, or if this is something I should just walk away from.
How do you know?
How do you know if this time, this hardship that you are enduring is going to take you under, or make you stronger?
I still to this day have lasting effects of the mental strain that time in the Yukon. Panic attacks and teeth grinding, that fade when I’m not stressed, but come back with a vengeance when I am–– bringing haunting memories of helplessness and the fear I faced those early mornings. A back and a hip joint that has chronic problems from lifting too heavy of things and a jaw that’s never been right from being kneed by a horse.
However, I gained a lot from that time as well. I gained the knowledge that I could do incredibly hard things if I kept my mind to it. I gained knowledge of myself and what I was capable of. I experienced some pretty incredible wilderness and beauty that will forever be on my mind. The job taught me many lessons that have helped me in all areas of my life since. And I know that I would never trade that time for something else. Though I’m not sure I would take the job if I had a chance to do-over. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what I was getting into.
I remember all those times I thought, “This is it. I can’t go on.” And then something came along and boosted my spirits. Such as a new guide to replace the one giving me headaches, new insulated boots to keep my feet warm, a fleece jacket borrowed and other pieces of gear to help when I needed it. A rainbow to give hope. Laughter. A whisper on my heart. The glorious scenery.
And I wonder if hardship, if abuse, if suffering can give as much as it can take away?
Would we be the people we are, if not for that trouble?
What are you’re thoughts? When do you know if enough is enough? How often have you stayed with something because you didn’t think there was another option?
What makes the difference for one person to suffer through incredible abuse and survive and another to give up and quit?
These thoughts keep tumbling around in my brain. I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to them and the idea of suffering and hardship being more than something to just alleviate.