Are all men jerks? Of course. So are all women. We’re all assholes – foolish, narcissistic assholes, every single last one of us. Sexism in every form – misogyny, misandry; bigotry, racism, war, murder, rape, deception, thievery, slander, tyranny…all different flavors and labels for the same reality – humans are wired to be dicks, to themselves and each other, and there ain’t a one of us who, if we aren’t outright swimming in one of these, hasn’t at least dipped their toes in them ALL at one time or another and will consistently do so as long as we are breathing. Like I said in the last installment – we’re all cursed. That’s universal. The individual hows and whys are uniquely personal, and (as I’m going to keep circling back to) every aspect of being human falls on a spectrum.
Despite what any human tribe insists (and humans are wired for connection, so we ALL tribe up with whomever makes us feel most protected), there are no absolutes, no certainties, no “should be’s” no “have to be’s.” Nope. There just IS. This idea is all that remains now that everything else has been burned away. Everything is an AND ALSO
We are each and every one of us sacred images of God, capable of incarnating love and redemption AND ALSO complete idiot assholes capable of great, GREAT harm to ourselves and each another – often at the same time even within the same breath. I am, of course, absolutely no exception.
I am also fully aware that me admitting this out loud is what makes me so damn scary to so many people. Nobody wants to admit this about themselves. We all want to imagine we are immune, so we indulge in that original sin – fall for the lie and partake of the forbidden fruit that somehow we alone know the secrets to “getting it right” and hold the true knowledge of good and evil and how to apply it which manifests by obsessing on how everyone else is getting everything so wrong and trying to control everyone and everything in life but ourselves.
Ourselves in the moment is all any of us ever have control of. As such, I am, in this moment, taking control of my own life, ripping the band aid off, and writing the final chapter of the Exodus from Church World, the grand climax being the very public implosion of my marriage.
Is it the most excruciating and impossible thing I’ve lived through to date? Absolutely.
It really is nothing special. There is no scandal or “moral failure” here. It’s just what it is to be human and to go through life. None of us gets out alive, much less unscathed. We all take our turn at being the oppressors and the oppressed. There are no bad guys or evil people in this story, only sacred, very worthy, very redeemable humans. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I’m under a great deal of pressure from all sides not to talk about any of it and have been shamed and threatened every step of the way for the last 6 or 7 years for not only openly expressing what is happening in my own goddamn life out loud but also my natural human emotions of sadness and anger associated with grief and loss that have been inherent in this process. It threatens the ability to self-protect and pretend of everyone else around me, and when people feel threatened they do very, very stupid, harmful things. It is because I understand this that I do not hate. It is because I understand this that I forgive. It is because I recognize this in myself that I declare there are no bad guys or anyone at fault or in need of punishment (because I surely want mercy and grace for myself). It is because I understand this that I’m still (perhaps delusionally) holding out for a spectacularly redemptive end to this story.
There just IS what is and I’ve got to deal with it as best I can.
By putting it all out there as honestly as possible (what I’ve been doing all this time in all my writing) is to expose the lie (the snake) that seeks to kill and destroy for the powerless nothing it really is. A lie can’t do anything to you in and of itself. You have to believe it and act on it for it to do any harm, and the harm is always self-inflicted and then deflected outward on others from self.
I’m setting everyone involved, myself first, free from the lie so we can ALL stop spinning around in the muck, get up, and get to living.
It is my great relief and pleasure to once and for all expose to anyone and everyone my own unique fucked-up-ed-ness and curses.
The Curse of Desire
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Hello, my name is Jennifer Dickenson and I have attachment issues. I fall under the spectrum of class C personality disorders as a fearful avoidant. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being utterly unable to function in a relationship) I’d grade myself about an 8.5. At least I did before I died. Fear is no longer an issue as there is absolutely nothing left in this life for me to fear. The worst (for me as far as things I fear most) has happened in spectacular fashion, and it needed to be epic in direct proportion to my extreme survival coping mechanisms that I relied on to keep me numb and “safe” all these years. There’s nothing left now that I’m utterly destroyed. No shame, no avoidance, no self-protecting…but let me back up. This is who I WAS for 45 years before I died and why.
Family of Origin
If you have parents and family (no matter how exceptionally nurturing and supportive or exceptionally not) then you’ve got issues, because parents are human holy assholes too. Add abuse, neglect, or loss into the family dynamic and the issues become exponentially more complex and extreme. Point is again, none of us gets into or out of this life unscathed. We all have unique family-of-origin genetic and experiential curses.
It is being faced with my own human holy assholery as a parent that gives me all the respect and admiration for my own parents now as an adult even as I deal with our family-of-origin issues. The family I was born to is exceedingly wonderful AND ALSO unique in its very real dysfunctions.
I have a brilliant, kind, extremely passive and avoidant father. I have a much-more-brilliant-than-she-realizes mother who is not at all passive. She learned from her family of origin that there is a certain “right” way of being and doing and that her identity and worth and therefore her family’s (female – connected through her flesh) depended on staying within that “safe” and “right” way.
I have elements of both. Despite how I come across in writing, my speaking voice and mannerisms in person are very non-confrontational and, for the most part, shy and reserved. I’m actually extremely passive about most things and am most comfortable shying away from a challenge or fight. I don’t like it. I don’t like to be uncomfortable and I absolutely HATE making other people feel uncomfortable. It’s the worst as far as I’m concerned. But you push certain buttons in me that I care deeply about and I get super NOT passive really quick, especially if they are connected to the things that I am connected to through my flesh as a woman.
The easiest, least confrontational path to acceptance for me has always been to substitute avoidance of criticism for love. That’s my #1 survival mechanism/dysfunction from childhood that I carried through and relied on throughout my life. The price for that was to deny my own honest thoughts and feelings, stuff them down to the point of not even being aware they existed, and to put all energy towards being the good girl doing the “right” and “safe” things as dictated by someone else. Anyone else. Just never myself. I handed over my own power and autonomy out of desire for acceptance. No one took it. It’s no one’s fault or failure. It just IS because I’m human raised by a tribe of humans.
We also moved on average of every 2 years growing up. Sincere, meaningful relationships are extremely important to me. I can’t stand surface level anything relationship wise. That’s why I avoid most relationships until I recognize something authentic that makes it worth it to me. I wanted to belong and be accepted SO bad wherever I went, but just about the time I’d start to feel like I was known and accepted by the herd (school and church), it was time to uproot and move again.
Enter the teenage years and awakening of desire for the opposite sex in combination with those dysfunctions and you had a girl with very low self esteem, desperately wanting relationship, but horribly insecure about how to go about initiating one and therefore found herself saying “yes” to any boy who showed interest in her. Surely another one wasn’t going to come along and she’d better latch on to whichever one would want her. Then once in a relationship, she felt a sense of obligation and responsibility for the boy’s feelings – not her own. Remember, she didn’t HAVE feelings or wants of her own. In her mind it was right and safe to place those outside herself.
By age 18 I’d broken someone’s heart because I’d stayed with him out of a sense of obligation for his feelings and not my own for far too long, and I turned to another boy who showed interest in me to break it off with him, not out of romantic love but as another manifestation of my dysfunction and insecurity. But I was right back in the same situation of feeling responsible for the feelings of a boy, so I stayed with him because surely another wouldn’t want me and I didn’t want to hurt him the way I’d hurt the other. That boy, that sacred human, son of a mother whose heart and flesh were ripped apart forever, would be dead less than a year later because he loved me.
The reality of that was too much. I dissociated. I stuffed that horror down deep and ran hard by jumping back into freshman college life as if it had never happened. That is the traumatized, dissociated, nowhere near in my right mind (if I ever had one to begin with) condition I was in when I met Jimmy. I was a girl consumed by her own curses who fell for a boy consumed by his own. We were a codependent match made in heaven, destined from the very start to go through hell together. It could be no other way because we are each who we are. It is our story and it IS a love story because it is a life story. It is a human story.
A year to the day of the anniversary of the death of my boyfriend, Jimmy proposed to me. I technically knew this as it happened, but I simply would not allow myself to consider the implications or significance or absurdity of any of it. The curse of my desire was way too strong at that point – the desire for none of the trauma and horror to be real – desire for this Man I desperately wanted in every way for the first time in my life to be the “right” man who would take care of me and be the one to hand over the reigns of my life to. He never took a thing from me. I in my dysfunction and utter brokenness projected on to him everything he never had the capacity to be. All things considered, I’m incredibly proud of us both. We did the best we could with what we knew as who we are and that was pretty wonderful AND ALSO that old way of being together absolutely needs to die now.
Yes, a man ruled over me for 26 years, not because he is malicious or predatory in any way – HE IS NOT – I handed over my power and control out of my own desires – period.
Breaking the Curse
I know I’ve done a lot of talking about narcissism in relation to Jimmy. This is not a character flaw or moral failure in the least any more than is being an introvert or extrovert. It just IS an aspect of personality. Truth is we’re ALL on the spectrum and have narcissistic tendencies. My husband just happens to be heavy on one end of it and there are plenty of other humans out there on that end with him. He is the dismissive avoidant to my fearful one. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being a true sociopath) I’d rate him an 8.5 when he’s in his right mind and functioning. He has a tremendous amount of compassion and tenderness. It’s just compacted in the 1.5 and difficult to access and operate out of in ways most people conventionally do. But he DOES. He has been good to me and his children. He is a good man, and everything about our life in ministry together has been genuine.
He has his own family-of-origin curses and I know what they are and how they have shaped him, but his story is not mine to tell aside from the parts that are connected to my own. What I can tell you are aspects of his personality that have always been there and are not anything I haven’t always been aware of. Now they just make total and complete sense. To understand the why and the how is making all the difference in being able to let my desires for the husband I’ve wanted him to be die in order to truly love the husband I actually have.
Some of Jimmy’s defining characteristics that I no longer resent and can now accept for being what they are since taking control of my own life and allowing my desire to die:
- Elevated and grandiose thinking of oneself. He is, in actuality, quite brilliant and handsome, so there’s a lot to admire and appreciate. However, when he neglects the 1.5 it gets fucking ridiculous.
- Strong desire to dream and take risks – really big ones.
- Reluctance to see anything through to completion and abandoning projects/people in favor of a new dream/plan/exciting fix.
- Addictive personality.
- Great difficulty self-evaluating from a negative angle or admitting failure. Again, he CAN so he’s not a true narcissist in the clinical sense, but DAYUM is it excruciating for him to do so and he almost never will unless forced to, and if you manage to get him to that point he dissolves into a massive pile of pitiful butt hurt in direct proportion to the amount of dismissiveness and deflection he used to fight it. It’s why individuals high on this particular spectrum are so adept at gaslighting and why they do it.
- Tendency towards delusional thinking and flipping the script in the face of pain or fear rather than acknowledging and dealing with reality.
- Greatest fear is rejection and abandonment – hence all the extreme survival mechanisms to compensate.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough that my husband, though exceedingly opportunistic, is not at all malicious. I also cannot emphasize enough how genuine he has been throughout our lives together, especially in ministry – super especially Four Creeks. He and I both were operating exclusively out of our respective 1.5’s for an extended number of years. That took its toll. He was there for me when I came undone at the beginning of our journey with Four Creeks. I have to do what I can for him now that he has broken…and he has.
He broke and gave up over a year ago. No one could go through what we have without breaking, not even the superman he imagined himself to be. And when superman goes down – he goes down hard. When he is in his right mind at 8.5, he’s functional and loving. When his mind trips and he loses all hope, he goes from 8.5 to 11 into true sociopath territory. He did it in the beginning of our marriage and I knew when he’d done it again a year ago, I just didn’t know exactly what or how bad and I knew I couldn’t afford to until the right time or one of us might not come out of it alive – and I mean that quite literally. Twice in my life have I contemplated suicide, each one in the bookends of trauma in our marriage. Had this come out while I was in Visalia I don’t think I would have survived it. Not there. Not in that desperate place of rejection and isolation. I had to get out here to my family and find the strength to stand on my own first.
The timing has been everything. The only way out was to bring it into the light and expose reality and there was no easy, dignified or sanitized way to do it. I know this man and I knew he COULD NOT do it himself. I knew what I was giving up for myself as well as the condemnation and criticism I was inviting by going public (my biggest fears). But as a woman no longer held captive to her fears and desires I knew when I was ready to stop being a codependent and rise as Ezer. Jimmy is alone and vulnerable and drowning in HIS worst fears right now without me as the codependent he’s relied on to function our entire adult lives together. He needs all the love and support anyone and everyone can possibly give him to figure out how to be in this new reality. We need him to be OK and to come back to some level of sanity and functioning. He has lost nothing but his ability to hide. Everything, including me, is here and available to him in whatever capacity he is able to come back to. Without any reservation I will accept and work with whatever that is.
For those concerned about our kids, they are saving our lives and being absolutely amazing. All four of them are SO over their parents at this point, and it is for them that I am getting this final chapter out so that we can move on together – all 6 of us – in whatever capacity we are able. The 2 adults in their wisdom have removed themselves as far away from the drama both personally and online as possible and are focused solely on their own lives, as they absolutely should be. I am so very, very proud of them. The youngest two are amazingly resilient and are helping me pull my own head out of my ass (especially Libby) as fast as I can. As soon as I get this final chapter out, the focus and momentum is squarely back on them – again – as it absolutely should be and needs to be. There is a lot of exciting and joyous life to experience this year and we quickly need to get to a place of being able to live it.
I have only one more installment for the Curses – The Curse of Man – which is going to reinforce even further just how good a man my husband is and how very NOT shocking or “immoral” anything that has happened is in reality. Then one more piece of art as a goodbye/love letter to the old us and then…? I don’t know. I do know there will be no more talking openly about our marriage or him personally from that point on. The old us WAS for everyone. The new is exclusively ours, whatever that’s going to be. I had to finish the story though. How could I not? I’m narcissistic enough to believe it is of great cosmic significance and needs to be told for not only our own freedom and healing but also for that of many others.