Friendship is a disinterested commerce between equals; love, an abject intercourse between tyrants and slaves.
~~Oliver Goldsmith~~It has grown quiet and gentle in our lives since we discovered the roots of the debilitating despair and depression that gripped Tom, and with Him our whole family. The addition of the metabolic supplement, L-methylfolate, created a balance that was, quite possibly absent throughout His entire life -- and restored Him to clear-eyed, happy, sanity. When the darkness cleared, everything changed. The storms that nearly tore our world to shreds ended, and suddenly we are alive together in a reality that feels so much better than what was … It is also true that there is much about that new reality that seems foreign; unfamiliar in a host of ways.
On one level, I have been glad for the changes. It is good to not be caught up in a continual fight for survival. It is good to not be constantly afraid of what the next moment might bring; good to find stability and consistency and sanity. However, I have also been prone to question who we are now -- what is it that we have left now that we don’t have all that fire and fury and frantic struggle?
He seems content to just let us be what we are, and to see us become what we will become. He does not appear to feel the need to define our relationship or our roles. When I have fussed about it, He looks bemused, and suggests that we can just be Tom and Sue. I have lain awake nights, railing in my mind, at the ordinariness of that -- just Tom and Sue. How many couples must there be who are “just Tom and Sue?” I’d imagine that those who have followed me along these many years might not be surprised by that bit of mental fussiness -- is it funny? Probably.
Were we extraordinary when we styled ourselves “Master and slave?” Was my capacity to serve somehow more than that of any other loving partner, and was the erotic bent toward sadism and masochism that He and I shared sufficient to set us apart from others who enjoyed a powerful and passionate erotic love? For whatever reason, I had myself convinced that the love we shared was “special,” and that my drive toward submission and masochism, paired up with His sadistic and dominant personality traits, constituted a formula for perfect and unmatched love. I guess I needed to feel superior and special, like He and I were fated, star-crossed, meant to be -- for always and in all ways.
I have, through months of therapy, and through all the agonies of recovery through which we have passed, bemoaned the loss of my “slave” status. There is irony in that, is there not? After all, what sort of “status” ought to accrue to one who is truly “slave?” I know it makes no reasonable sense, but I have felt that as a loss -- and grieved accordingly. On more than one occasion, Judy, my therapist has challenged me on the issue of whether I really wanted, or was prepared to give Him (or anyone, for that matter) what she termed “abject obedience.” It has remained, between us, a question that I have avoided answering directly. I have, over time, come to terms with the undeniable reality that I have clear limits, and will act to protect my life and well-being when those things are threatened. I have accepted that as a fact, and I am clear that it is appropriate that I maintain those boundaries. I am even willing to acknowledge that my failure to establish and defend those boundaries contributed to the huge crisis that befell our family. That was my responsibility and I did not manage it well. But, still... I have believed that, somehow, my failure to offer that level of obedience in that awful moment cost me the depth of intimacy that was wrapped up in the M/s dynamic He and I shared. I have believed that.
Back in August of 2009, I wrote at length on the subject of “mindful obedience.” That piece grew out of a question about “mindless” obedience, and it was a pretty easy step off to turn mindless into mindful and then hold forth about what that meant to me. I’m not ashamed of the writing there, but I am a little squrimy about the contrast with my actions and choices in the moment of crisis. Still, I have been unable, when pressed, to give a full and direct assent to the idea of “abject obedience.” So, maybe it is time for me to consider the questions that phrase raises for me...
The word, “abject” comes from Middle English, and before that from the Latin abjectus -- to cast off or reject; literally, “to throw away.” In modern usage, it implies a sense of hopelessness or resignation. And so, to offer “abject obedience” would be to become obedient out of a belief that there was no other path, no way beyond, nothing at all to be gained by any other course.
I think that, as life spiraled out of control here, I did move toward hopelessness. There was nothing that I would not have done to bring Him out of the addiction that nearly destroyed Him -- and all of us. There was also, in the depth of my being, a knowledge that my love and service, and yes, even my obedience was never going to be enough to break the hold that alcohol had on Him. I grew up with alcoholic parents. I raised an addicted child. I knew the truth, and so my continued obedience was, in fact, “abject.” I was resigned to the increasing distance between us, to the escalating anger and bitterness, to the recriminations and bitterness and accusations and abuse. I knew, in some deep and wordless part of my mind that nothing good could come to us along the path we were traveling, and I had no hope of any sort of rescue or reprieve. That is the abject obedience that I offered my Master in the last weeks and months before that part of our life finally ended. It was pitiable and pale and lifeless. It was a poor, poor sort of submission I gave in those days.
So much for the high-minded, and prettified version of “mindful obedience” that I once detailed for another. THAT sort of obedience would have found a way; would have sought out appropriate help and taken the risks to assure that He received the help He needed. That sort of active, listening obedience would have been selfless enough to withstand His anger in order to find the resources that He needed to break free from the demons that were pursuing Him. That sort of slave would have never given up hope; never settled for what became our daily reality; never allowed for some kind of resignation to whatever would come. What sort of slave “resigns?”
So, the answer to the question about “abject obedience” is that I will not offer that to Him again. I am ashamed that it was what I gave Him in the moment when He most needed my strength, my integrity, my intelligence, and all my effort and energy directed toward His well-being. I understand that, given the road we have traveled to this point, we are lucky to be still alive, still together -- and I am in awe of the fact that He still loves me and wants me. We are, clearly, better than we were a year ago, or two years ago... We are healthy and happy and amazed to have this life together. He is right. We are who we are. We will be who we will be. And, to be just Tom and Sue is not ordinary at all -- it is the most wonderful and extraordinary thing imaginable. Perhaps that highly charged label, “slave,” is gone forever from our relational lexicon. Perhaps that is all for the good. I hope to grow into the woman He wants and needs; to love Him well and with all the best that is in me; and I hope to live the always and all ways that I promise. If I can come to a place of doing that, I believe that will be enough.