Three months ago, my therapist Jill and I began a ritual of combing through my past relationships and choices. Every single date I’ve ever been on and boyfriend I’ve ever had would be examined and analyzed by her from all angles. “We’re seeking to identify any unhealthy patterns that might be present so that we can create new, healthier ones,” she explained. It was a terrifying level of vulnerability.
As the pattern started to reveal itself, I couldn’t help but feel incredible shame. The choices I’d made throughout my past were unquestionably naive and reckless. Seeing it laid out in front of me was terrifying.
Most of my bad choices were bad men. Seeing that admittance written out on the page feels dramatic, but it’s the unfortunate truth. My history doesn’t lie. In looking back at Rob*, the boyfriend who abused me, I used to have a tendency to view myself as a victim and in a sense, I was one; he must be held responsible for his own actions. Anything less would be reckless, the start of a dangerous, steep descent into victim blaming.
But the truth is that I wasn’t passive. I chose to enter into a relationship with someone who was unhealthy. I chose to stay as long as I did. It’s a sobering reminder, but it’s an important one nonetheless.
This past winter, my boss called every employee into his office. In preparation for a game we’d play at our Christmas Party that would allow us to better know our colleagues, we each had to answer questions about things such as the first concert we ever went to or what animal we’d be. One of the questions was, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” This question is fascinating, mostly because I think that your answer says a lot about you. The answers ran the gamut from invisibility to superhuman strength. Whoever wished for superhuman strength probably does cross fit, and therefore thinks that pushing tires up hills sounds like a jolly good time. One person even said that they’d love to be able to read minds. I answered that I’d love the power to heal others. I don’t think this is a superpower I’ll ever acquire, but there’s one I already have.
Choice is my superpower. It’s yours too. We all have it. I’m trying to remind myself of that consistently. Too many of us move through our lives passively, and when it hits the fan, we view ourselves as the victims. Oh, woe is me. In reality, that’s rarely the case. We have the power of choice, yet in that instance we chose wrong. We chose unhealthy.
Or maybe we chose nothing, but that’s still a choice we made — a choice to stay passive and stagnant, allowing things to happen TO us, instead of being active participants in our lives. We choose to stay still instead of laying down the bricks to the kind of world we wish to inhabit.
The power of choice is something we are always exercising, whether or not we’re conscious of it. It’s for that reason I recently decided I was no longer content to sit passively as my life happened to me. I was going to be an active participant. I was going to start taking responsibility for my own actions and make emotional health a priority so that I could make healthy, empowered choices.
There are times in life when bad things do genuinely happen and are completely out of your control. I don’t doubt this. But I also believe that to play the victim when you were the cause of your own undoing is in some ways an insult to those who were stripped of their agency. Choice is a superpower we all have but it’s not just that. It’s also a privilege and a responsibility.
What will you use your superpower for? What kind of decisions will you make with this privilege you’ve been gifted?
My hope is that you choose to be kind in the face of cruelty.
My hope is that you choose the courage to fight for justice in the face of injustice.
That you make good decisions for yourself, taking good care of yourself, and also choose good, emotionally healthy people who want to help you do that.
I hope that you give yourself permission to be imperfect and messy, bleeding outside the lines, and that you give yourself grace for unfolding in a different timeline than what you’d hoped.
You have a superpower. I hope you use it like one of the good guys.