A Lesson in Forgiveness

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In his somewhat less than fully coherent email earlier in the week, Ed attempted to teach me about the importance of forgiveness.  In a brief note of follow up yesterday, he again reiterated his belief that forgiveness is necessary for healing.

There are a few key things about forgiveness Ed doesn’t seem to understand, for example: There are people who should not be forgiven – namely those who would take forgiveness as a sign that they weren’t so bad after all; this way of thinking opens the door to rationalization of their past, and future, behavior.  Ed has never understood the breadth or depth of what he has done; forgiving him before he fully comprehends would be downright self-destructive for me.

The problem inherent to forgiveness is that the power resides in the transgressor’s hands. The psychological impact of forgiveness on the forgiver is determined by whether or not the transgressor has made amends.  Forgiveness without amends leaves the forgiver with diminished feelings of self-worth.  To date, Ed has not sought to make anything right, he has sought only to move on.

Pain is deeper and longer lasting when the transgressor intentionally caused it – repeatedly.  This cannot be overstated; when you repeat a destructive behavior time without number, you did not make a mistake – you demonstrated something real and lasting about who you are.  Forgiveness for this [child abuse] is a process, and it is dependent wholly and entirely upon the transgressor’s sincere acknowledgement and acceptance of responsibility for ALL wrongdoing, and their  forthright desire to make amends for what their behavior caused.

Despite Ed’s belief in forgiveness as a panacea, it isn’t simple.  I am not simple.  My self-respect, peace of mind, and understanding are not based in my forgiveness of my father; and to forgive now would leave me despondent because he has not earned it.  Any benefit I could derive from forgiving him would come through his personal growth and desire to make right what he destroyed.

The kind of forgiveness I’m speaking of takes time and concerted effort to earn.  You don’t close the cycle and end the abuse quickly or easily, and those you have harmed need to know they are valued, treasured, cherished and loved now as they always should have been; they need to know it is safe to forgive.

Forgiveness is sobering, and honest.  And while we embrace the sentiment, “To err is human, to forgive divine,” it cannot be universally applied.  We cannot reap the benefits of forgiveness alone, we need the full and complete cooperation of our transgressor, and therein lies the quandary; those with the capacity to destroy the lives of their children seldom, if ever, see the need to repair.

So you see Ed, the ball is most definitely NOT in my court.

Yesterday’s Email

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Hi Tim,

I guess because it is Christmas ir [sic] Hanukkah – Jewish annual doy [sic] of atonement- that I’m reaching out to you.

First may you Rhonda rachael,[sic] Nicholas and wesley [sic] all have a blessed and joyfull [sic] Christmas and New year.

Next in tune with Hanukka [sic] I want to say I’m sorry for all the angry feeling I’ve had toward you this year and want to apologise [sic] for any of those that have hurt you.

This may sound conrtite [sic] or strange but in listening to a Jewish psycologist [sic]  friend of mine explain the purpose for Hannukka [sic] and its asking for forgiveness, as he explaind [sic] forgiveness blesses both the forgiven in that the guilt and pain is expunged and the forgiver in that forgivness [sic] is the beginning of healing.

And I hope both of these for you.

My reply:

 

 

Ed,

The Jewish Day of Atonement is not Hanukkah, it is Yom Kippur.   Known as the Jewish “Day of Atonement”, Yom Kippur begins on the evening of 11 October. It falls each year on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur is a day to reflect on the past year and ask for forgiveness for any sins. Rosh Hashanah extends to asking forgiveness of God.

 

 

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights in December. This holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E.

 

 

I’m an atheist because I’ve studied religions.

 

 

Forgiveness.  Although is can be said that we will all have need for the gift of forgiveness – both as forgiver and forgiven at some point in our lives, it is far more complicated than the assigned rhetoric or dogma will have you believe.  It is not a single act, but a sustained and ongoing process dependent upon the sincere and devout works of the transgressor, which in turn allows for an open-heart in those he has wounded.

 

 

Forgiveness can only be the beginning of healing when the transgressor admits his wrongdoing, assumes all responsibility for what he did as well as for what it caused, and then endeavors to make it right — whatever that takes, for as long as it takes. Without this, forgiveness is a fallacy; meaningless and empty for both parties.

 

Anger is not a primary emotion, it is secondary – a choice we make, and it is seldom, if ever, valid. Anger provides a surge of energy and makes us feel temporarily in control … and it is far more comfortable to feel in the moment than our true emotions – usually sadness, defeat, fear, anxiety, dread, vulnerability.  You, Ed, have always chosen anger.  The father I remember was always mad.  Always.  Nothing has changed.

 

I do not care that you were angry with me this year, that was your choice.  Everything – from beginning to end, was and is on you; all I did was tell my story.  If you wanted the ending to be different, you should have taken greater care while writing it.

 

And, if you wanted forgiveness for what you’ve done, you’d have taken a far different tactic when you felt threatened and confronted — you’d have remembered that you are the source for all that has come to pass, and held yourself accountable.  You chose anger.

 

I think you may need a reminder; I am not like those in your life now, I know who and what you really are.  I am not fooled by your false wisdom or attempts at intellect, I won’t fall for that calm placating voice and the manipulations of others it affords you – I am the son you cruelly and brutally abused.  I’ve seen and lived your darkness; there is no light or goodness in you that I can find.

 

 

 

Tim

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Reconciliation: A Caution Based on What I’ve Learned

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You begin to heal when you say, “No more.”  It took me a long time to recognize that – to feel the efficacy within “No More.”  It happened gradually  — when I realized the balance of power had naturally shifted because I had grown up. Eventually, I shut the door and never went back.

For me, no contact was the answer, and I maintain I had no choice, but many abuse survivors don’t walk away – for whatever reason, they hold on to dysfunction, often enduring a lifetime of abuse.

The attempt at reconciliation with Ed was a mistake on my part – people do not change.  I still believe people can change, but it takes a level of focus and commitment few possess.  It’s hard enough to make subtle changes – to lose weight, or resolve to save more money; changing the whole of who we are is damn near impossible.  And when dealing with an abuser, the need is a change in everything they are.

So I’ll amend that; I believe we can change aspects of who we are, but we cannot change our essence or our core.  A man who can beat his child – brutally and without mercy, will always be that man …

Real change begins with deep personal reflection, devoid of any and all denial, and progresses to the assumption of full responsibility for what you did and for what it caused. Finally, it entails making amends – not just with yourself, but with everyone you have hurt.  This last part can take the remainder of an abuser’s lifetime …

and those imbued with the capacity to abuse aren’t the kind who invest themselves in taking care of the wounds of others – they remain readily able to inflict pain, but not to soothe it.

Reconciliation with your abuser is a risky proposition, and it almost always fails.  In the trial, we are reminded of the pain – it can be a living hell.

I went to dinner with my father, sat beside him at a ballgame or theatrical production; spoke of trivial things, and not so trivial things, but it never felt right – or OK.  I was always his child in those moments – something I did not want to be, something I never wanted to be, something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy; he was, and ever will be, the father who beat and tortured me, the man I so feared and despised.

I learned a great deal in our correspondence, the written word so revealing of who we are inside.  He was candid, very matter-of-fact in his narcissism and grandiose belief in who he is today – so delusional in his own certainty in who he is:

Excerpt – 10/25/2014

“I have been thinking that one of my favorite Plays , and recent movie, Les Mis, has much meaning to my life with Janet. (Janet, my sister with developmental delays) I’m not good at character names, but I ‘m sure you and Rachael (my daughter) can follow along.. I’m thinking Janet and myself as the characters the ex prisoner and the woman’s small child. If I hadn’t stepped up to take care of Janet she would have remained in the State Hospital system and would have died simply a lost sole and her beauty and love cloistered from the world.”

Very determined to make me believe he was different, he played upon my compassion and empathy – he tried desperately to manipulate my feelings:

October 12, 2014

“Tim,

I came back early from my retreat at the Camaldise Monastery at Big Sur, I usually go off for a retreat at least once a year and alternate between Big Sur and the Monastery of the Redwoods, west of Garberville.

I usually go to get away for a few days where I can just be alone – fitting for the Introvert I am. The first day is mostly meditating and falling asleep as I meditate and simply catching up on needed rest. So why is this important?

During one of these sleeping meditations I woke up and realized I was crying. At 1st, I thought I was happy because of the wonderful “family” e-mail I had received before I left for the monastery. It took only a few seconds to realize that was not it at all, I was extremely sad. It was because into the middle of the ideal family e-mail spanning 20-30 years, there was a period of horrific pain, anger and mental distress for which I was responsible, and the pain hurt

.

I got up, closed the door to my room and sat with that pain, crying some more, then sat there and thought how I was going to say this to you. I came home a day early, thinking the long drive would help me decide how to tell you and arrived late last night. I was too emotionally drained and tired to put this down in words last night so I went to bed and am writing it now. This is how it came out.”

 

When considering reconciliation with an abusive parent, there is a ten-point check list to determine your own readiness, but perhaps the single most important consideration is this:

  • Have we both experienced significant emotional growth and change since we estranged? Or, are we the same as we were at the time of our estrangement?

 

I will say that it is crucial that you have grown and healed, but it is far more important that your parent has grown – and this growth MUST include the ability to accept without comprise all of what they did, all of what it caused – and they must be willing to make it right, whatever that entails FOR YOU! And all of this must be sustained throughout the course of any relationship that follows.  

Be careful if it seems too easy – never have the words “if it seems too good to be true it probably is,” been more true.

Be alert and ready to recognize false remorse, manipulation and gaslighting.

And don’t feel like you have to forgive until you are ready – and if that time never comes, understand that that is OK.

Just as it took time and contemplation to understand exactly how damaging my abusive childhood was, it will take time to fully process the impact of my failed attempt at reconciliation with my father:

It’s painful to realize your parent is a monster …

but it’s even more devastating to recognize that in the years of estrangement, all they have done is sharpen their claws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suggested Friends

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Facebook suggested Pat as a possible friend today; for all the sophistication of that platform, it does not comprehend Complicated or Estranged.

Per the meme above, I have often felt like a refugee from childhood; my childhood was definitely something I had to endure, then overcome.  But until I saw Pat’s picture this morning as Facebook suggested I might Friend her, I hadn’t much considered how she may feel about her own childhood.

I was never close to Pat, so we didn’t discuss her relationship with her parents, and I actually know very little about it.  I know a few facts, for example; her parents wouldn’t speak to her for months after she became pregnant and “had to” marry Ed, whom they despised.  But even as she told me this story, she never indicated how it made it her feel – in retelling she was cold and detached, as though it had happened to someone else.

Looking at it through my now fifty four year old eyes – with the heart and mind of a man who has gently raised three children, not speaking to your daughter because she got pregnant is a cruel, brutal and cold thing to do.  At a time when she needed them more than she ever had before, they turned away.

She HAS to feel something about this – retrospectively, as well as in the moment, but she didn’t express feeling of any kind to me – not anger, betrayal, pain or outrage … nothing. No. Emotion. At. All.

Was she an abused child?  I know Ed was, but was Pat?  My mother’s parents were always good to me, but that doesn’t mean they were always good to their children.  Case in point, I’m told my mother is a good grandmother to my niece – and my aunt tells me her mother was a good grandmother to her children, but Pat was a terrible mother, and my aunt says her mother wasn’t always the best most nurturing mother either.

My mother’s grasp on reality has always been tenuous, my aunt’s has always been razor sharp …

From what I recall, Pat was the dutiful daughter, and she thought highly – at least she behaved as though she thought highly, of her mother.  My supposition is that the relationship – my mother for her mother, may have been based in a form of Stockholm Syndrome …  very much like my sister and Pat.

Something had to be amiss in Pat’s life for her to be able to do to her own children all the cruel and terrible things she did.

  • Abuse is [almost always] generational
  • Abusers aren’t born, they are made

Why Pat is as she is doesn’t matter to me now – it can’t, because I’m in touch with my own why and you can’t ever go back to what made you sick.

But maybe her answers don’t lie only in what she did to me, but in what someone else did to her …

she won’t look, and she’ll never question; she just isn’t built to think critically or in complex ways, so her answers will always elude her;

It’s so much easier to blame than it is to understand.

No Facebook, Pat Shaw and I can never be Friends.

I Will Tell My Story

“Violators cannot live with the truth: survivors cannot live without it. There are those who still, once again, are poised to invalidate and deny us. If we don’t assert our truth, it may again be relegated to fantasy. But the truth won’t go away. It will keep surfacing until it is recognized. Truth will outlast any campaigns mounted against it, no matter how mighty, clever, or long. It is invincible. It’s only a matter of which generation is willing to face it and, in so doing, protect future generations from abuse.”
Christine Oksana

I will not go back to silence, to a time when not proclaiming my truth made me complicit in Pat and Ed’s lies.  I. Will. Not.

This blog has given me catharsis and solace – and an unmitigated view of the events that shaped my young life and led to a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.  It is my story, and I will tell it.

For others – the perpetrators of abuse, this blog is a stark, cold, bleak mirror reflecting the darkness of their soul. It has led to embarrassment, shame, and even confession. It has brought fervent denial, offered in vain; disbelieved by those who matter most.  It has exposed character flaws and vile, repellent acts committed only by the cruel and depraved. It has shined a light on generations of abuse; morally bereft parenting practices that have led to estrangement, alienation and mental illness.

It has brought me peace.

I have been fully well for a long time now; my thoughts clear, my feelings and emotions tempered only by what is real and true – it is good, so good.

I do not do this out of a need for revenge – nothing I could ever do would be enough anyway.  I do this because it is right, and it is true.  I offer no apology to those who would be far more comfortable with my silence – I did not ask to be Pat and Ed’s child.

“So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialized, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. You can say: This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was the fault & responsibility of the adult. I was—and am—innocent.”

The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis 

When we give shelter to those who have abused and tortured, when we cloak their sins and embrace their lies, can we really believe in our own goodness and integrity?