I am by trade an attorney. My first job out of law school was with a tiny firm where I was thrown into the deep end of the pool as soon as I passed the bar. As a result I got a huge amount of great experience as a very young attorney. One of the things I learned quickly was that the vast majority of the practice of law takes place in the grey area, much like the rest of life. In the law if the issue is black or white there is really nothing that needs to be litigated, there is no issue to debate. Life is similar in that it is rarely very clearly all one thing or another; it is shades of both which is what makes it so very complicated and what makes recovery from most kinds of pain so very hard.
In addition to being an attorney I am also a woman, a wife, a mother, a friend, a pet owner, a writer, a person of faith, a cook, and a whole lot more. I have not met anyone who is one dimensional in who they are. We are complicated beings with a lot of roles we play and a lot of different ways we interact with others in the world.
For a long time my husband would tell me that in certain situations where I was not comfortable I would get my “lawyer voice.” I didn’t realize that I used a “lawyer voice” but it was distinct to him and I see now how I had to be very serious to be taken seriously as a litigator at 24 and how that might carry into other situations where appearing confident was important. From this I can reflect on how often we can compartmentalize the different aspects of who we are and how easy it is to know one part of who someone is without seeing the whole picture. In fact I wonder if we can every see the whole picture of who someone else is, think how challenging it is to just to know ourselves.
One of the greatest struggles I find myself facing today, as I walk my path of recovery from the pain of who my parents are is that my relationship with them is one dimensional. It is the relationship of parent to child and I recognize that they are more than just my parents. I have resisted the idea that they have a problem, or that they could have caused so much pain for me because in the other roles of their lives they are so lauded and well liked. How can I be so hurt and angry when I am told that they are such good, kind, wonderful people?
This is not intended as a rhetorical question because I think that there is an easy answer. It is possible to be multiple things in the various aspects of our lives and being one does not mean that you can’t be another. We think of the celebrities we all love to watch who may be able to channel the most amazing emotion through the screen but can not function in their own lives, or the psychologist who can help heal strangers but can not manage a stable marriage themselves. We can all be good at some things and not others, and the way we conduct ourselves in our relationships is no different.
My parents seem to be incredibly engaging people, they are entertaining, they are admired, liked and loved by many. If I am totally honest with myself and the world I will say that doesn’t feel fair. I have been hurt immensely by their choices and I want them to have to understand that in a tangible way. But I also know that they are more than just my parents and who they are in other parts of their lives is not about me – a hard lesson to learn for all children!
The relationship I have with these individuals is not exclusive to other relationships they may have. But in the same way, my relationship and the reality of that relationship is not diminished by who they might be to other people. While I am learning how to be defined by more that just being someone’s child, it is important to learn the related lesson that in all of our relationships we may see only a fraction of what someone is and the truth of any other part is as real as the part we know.
So many of the skills I learned in my first years litigating have been of great value in the rest of my life. Knowing how to carefully depose someone is handy when siblings are fighting and you are trying to get to what really happened. Often the truth of any situation is not black or white, it is both black and white which is why it can be so hard to get to any kind of resolution. As I am confronting the reality of who my parents are I am coming into conflict with who they are as children, friends, partners – and none of these perceptions are complete – but they are all real, and as I learn to honor my reality, to recover from my experience as a child, I can accept that there are other parts of the story and that those parts can exist apart from me – I am learning to live, for myself, and to let live because there is more to the world than me.