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Wild Grapes

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Fall sits right around the corner. I’m just starting to catch a faint smell of the wild grapes ripening on their vines as I run on the trails. I love that smell.

I have childhood memories of standing tangled in grape vines with my best friend by my side. Squealing while sucking off the tart skins — knowing my lips would get a prickly rash from the bitterness — just to get down to the sweet inner layers. Avoiding crunching on the acidic seeds if possible; spitting them out of our mouths with most landing on and sticking to our chins.

While I struggle with transitions and I have a strong disdain for September, I do love Fall. Unlike Spring, which pulls us out into the world, fall affords an opportunity to look inward. As the weather cools we fold ourselves in soft sweaters, wrap our hands around warm, steaming mugs and slow down. Even if it’s just for a little bit.

I discovered this song this morning while riding on my bike. It’s light and whimsical. It makes me want to get up and get out of my own way. An insightful message this time of year, as the daylight hours wane and our rhythm slows. It’s an invitation to look inside of ourselves, beyond our outer skin, tucking in to and rediscovering the richness inside of our own selves. Welcoming our inner world and then bravely stepping out a little better for having delved in.

I’ve recently come to see that I often approach perceived conflicts with my fists up. As if I’m fighting my childhood abuser over and over and over again. But I’m not. Instead I’m creating barriers between my husband and the people that I love. Barricades blocking me from myself and others instead of offering any true safekeeping. Thinking I am protecting my heart but really, I’m closing myself off to all that life and love have to offer.

My husband and I have been partners since 1993 and as any longterm partnership evolves, patterns develop. Often my husband, Rob, will make a well intentioned comment or observation and I’ll immediately perceive it to be a criticism. Quite often this happens before he’s even finished his sentence and it occurs the most when I’m tired and weary. My knee-jerk response to any perceived threat is to quickly get angry. Defending myself, I launch into an unnecessary argument. I don’t have to be the best communicator to know that my husband loves me. I also know that it is truly not his intention to criticize me — I do a good enough job of that on my own. Despite knowing this about myself and despite him pointing this pattern out to me for years, I could never let in what he was truly saying. Instead, I got more defensive and more infuriated.

Last weekend, during an argument, I finally heard him. He was looking at me with hurt and confused eyes. Wondering how I had misinterpreted his well-intended, albeit ill-fitted comment. I stood, looking at him with my face aghast, through my own fierce, angry eyes and I actually saw him — my husband. I saw him and I let go of the breath I was holding in. I relaxed my body. I softened. In that moment I realized it didn’t matter if I was right or if he was right. What mattered — what was relevant — was that I had switched from being a partner and healthy communicator to a skilled verbal boxer. A courtroom litigator looking for evidence to vindicate myself from my perceived attack. As I shifted, I became aware of the most important piece —  I didn’t have to fight to be seen. He saw me already. He always does.

I kept my gaze on his, as if to steady myself, and something inside of me truly shifted. At first it was painful; like ribs cracking wide open. Leaving my heart beating vulnerable and exposed. I was terrified and I wanted to hold on to my anger instead of letting it go. I wavered. I held my verbal fists at the ready. But as I looked at him — this loving man who has stood by my side for 22 years — something stirred and for whatever reasons, I just opened my fingers and softened my grasp. I let my displaced anger go. And once I did it was as if I was finally given prescription lenses without ever knowing how desperately I needed them. The world was clear and crisp and I got it.  I don’t have to be angry to be safe.

It’s never easy to own the pieces of ourselves that need work. It’s easier to pull on the boxing gloves. Blame someone else. Or just get angry and stomp away. I rarely just stomp away. I stay and argue until the bitter end. But there’s no victory in that. No one wins. We just get lost in the argument with both of us not being seen or heard or celebrated.

I’m committed to continuing to look deeper inside of myself. To peel back my outer skin, to try to stretch myself and expand my heart. I’m tentatively taking off my protective boxing gloves and I’m going to try a new way of being in the world. An open way of being which requires a hell of a lot of trust and courage. I’m going to look at myself with a bit of curiosity. I truly believe that knowing and accepting all of our bits and parts — being willing to see our whole-selves — is the biggest leap towards change. Seeing allows us to accept ourselves without judgement or criticism and to honestly embrace our whole-selves. Looking beyond the surface allows us to change and grow. Only then can we take ownership of our authentic self.

In that moment of arguing, I saw Rob’s face and his eyes and I had to ask myself, “Who am I angry at?” Not him. Not him. With that awareness, I can change my responses. I can take a breath. I can soften my heart. I can hold myself open to possibility instead of closing myself off and holding my arms clenched across my heart — closed. I can change.

We need to get past the tart bitter outside of the wild grapes to get to the juicy inside. The thing I remember most about the wild grapes is this — if you peel off the outer skin and turn it inside out, the soft velvety inner lining of the skin is the sweetest, most delicious part of the grape. Not the outside and not the body of the fruit on the inside, but the part right underneath the surface — the part we think is the most sour and often throw away. If we’re gentle and patient and do the work, it’s right there waiting to be savored. Just underneath the protective skin.

Much love to you. Take care.

10 replies »

  1. The toughest part about our knee jerk responses is .. understanding that feeling within us that promotes hyper reaction. Mainly it comes down to how we perceive ourselves… a self-esteem that accepts we are totally human can be the antidote for a hyper sensitive knee jerking condition. And part of that is knowing humans are both loving and cranky… I suffer from this condition

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, well said, Don! Getting to the root of and understanding the reactive-self and not berating ourselves for it but accepting it. And I love this idea of “a self-esteem that accepts we are totally human can be the antidote”. I’m smiling about your candor towards both your loving and cranky self! Thanks for reading and responding. 🙂

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  2. I’ve been with my husband for 22 years too! I love how you talk about softening. That’s been so important for me to learn in my relationships. Getting defensive is my first response to conflict. There’s a part of me that still believes my world can be destroyed and that I will be punished so I go into protective mode. But I’ve learned to not lead with my first response but to soften into it and that feeling that someone has power over me goes away.

    I’m envious that you’re starting to see signs of fall! It’s going to be awhile for us. 🙂

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  3. Ahhh this is such a deeply reflective piece that resonated very strongly. I really liked your truisms as I can relate very strongly to them i.e “I don’t have to fight to be seen” and “I dont have to be angry to feel safe”. It shows how deeply you know yourself and I admire that level of self-awareness. I think it is rare to be so in touch with yourself that you are able to seperate the surface and the depth. Maybe it is something that we as survivors are gifted with as we travel this journey of healing! What a gift it is. I know so much has been taken away but it is something that most people are unable to do. After reading your post I realised how much I fight too, to be heard, to be seen, to prove myself and how much I resent being told to do things. I think it is that little girl in me who doesn’t want anyone to have power over me. I too hope that I will be able to pause mindfully at those crucial moments and look below the surface rather than react habitually. Thank you very much for such an insightful post! Sending a Big Hug to you!

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  4. The most helpful thing my husband ever said to me during a argument between us was ” I am on your side, you know”. It sort of stopped me immediately. Oh. Well…. I realized down deep that is probably what every argument is usually about, frankly…me doubting he is on my side.

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    • Thanks for visiting and commenting, Betsy! What you’re saying really resonates with me. I’m noticing that if I look deeper into the root of most arguments, the arguing usually starts when I’m my most vulnerable self. And of course when I’m vulnerable I feel small and afraid and alone. It’s hard to remember that anyone is on our side when we feel like that. This is a good part to hold on to — where we’re starting from when the arguing begins — because if we’re already navigating from a place of thinking we are unsupported then that’s what we’ll find. Right?!

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