I can’t feel the bottom; I have no idea how deep the water is. My chest constricts making it difficult to breathe. I flip over on my back and reach my lips towards the sky above me to get more air. I feel like I am suffocating. I talk to myself, “You are okay! “You have enough air. Float for a minute; catch your breath.” The water is dirty and has a distinct smell of fish, and I begin to realize that I have no idea what is in the water with me. “Stop thinking,” I tell myself. “Just breathe, relax, focus.”
I flip back on my stomach knowing that the only way to reach my destination is to paddle and kick. Someone next to me hits me with their arm. It pushes me slightly deeper into the water. I panic.
I give them an annoyed look, but they are focused on their swim — not on me. I hear a quick “I’m sorry” as they move on. Their swinging arms become a threat to the air I so badly need, so I move away to where I feel safer.
It doesn’t take many strokes to realize that the energy I’m using also makes my lungs want more air. I flip on my back again to catch my breath. As I gulp the air in, an unexpected wave hits my face and the water sucks into my throat. I choke and cough.
“Again, you are okay, you’ve got this,” I remind myself. I can see I am half way to my destination. My body finally realizes it is in control and can finish. My breathing relaxes and I start to paddle again. Before I know it I can feel the bottom, I bend my knees, push and start walking to the river’s edge.
I made it. I am safe.
I can see clearly how my swim parallels my life.
I wake up suddenly and spend many mornings in a heaviness. One that I can’t seem to ignore or run away from. Being married once was tough, and being married twice was tough too. I am no longer married to an addict, and yet life is hard. Maybe harder than it once was because I am recognizing just that … I am no longer married to an addict and some days life still consumes me. It is forcing me to take a long hard look at myself, my wounds and my imperfections. It hurts!
I think back to my first marriage and realize that I wanted someone to blame. Not that he wasn’t to blame — he cheated on me. There is never an excuse for that. But I realize that I am to blame too. That is hard. Some days I wish I could be the victim, but now I know too much, and when I fall into victim mode I know it. Then shame takes over and it is worse.
I have tried to take ownership for what is mine, and I have tried to tell my story without throwing my ex under the bus. I have shared my pain and trauma, but with a victim mentality. That this was done to me.
Now I am trying to lose the victim mentality of “He did this to me” and I’m starting to recognize that his actions didn’t have anything to do with me. Just like the swimmer who didn’t see me until she hit me with her arm. I have to start to look at the possibility that he didn’t see me either. That he was just trying to make it to his destination and our paths happened to cross.
I am at the point where I have to open my mind to the possibility that other people’s responses, comments, actions and words don’t tell a story about me — they tell a story about them. It tells a story about their swim to their destination.
This new knowledge has provided a new insight. So instead of seeing the world as causing me pain and shaming me, I am realizing that we are all incredibly wounded people walking around in an imperfect world, and we are just trying to make it out of the water alive.
How many of us are gasping for air, at times moving into a state of survival where we might dunk someone else either by accident or on purpose just to get a little more air?
And I start to see the world differently
How many times have my responses, comments, actions and words pushed someone down, not because I wanted to drown them but because I was just trying to survive?
And if I want people to see that I didn’t mean to hurt them, and I want others to forgive me, I guess I too have to be willing to forgive. I have to be willing to see the world in a different light, and maybe it is time to see others who are gasping for air.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Norma Zaugg’s blog, rootstoholdme.com. It has been republished here with permission.