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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

The Power of What We Claim

Quote on mental health - I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.

Last week was rough; it was emotionally draining and, in the end, it felt unproductive.  I was merely the support system, my aunt took the brunt of the storm – she was deeply exhausted when it was over.

It has me thinking about what I did to my family when I was sick, how tired they were – how hopeless and helpless they must have felt at times.  Untreated mental illness wrecks havoc with the lives of everyone it touches.

It is different – being on the outside, being well and trying to make sense of someone else’s illness; I now know the despair and helplessness of watching a train wreck; it’s going to happen, but all I can do is watch.  I can’t stop it.  I’m powerless.

I don’t like being a victim – so I won’t own that terrible, vulnerable dark place in the soul that knows only cries that are never heard …

my sister, on the other hand, seems to have found a home there.  She blames everyone, but is never introspective.  She is always the victim.  She is always the wounded.  She is always the down-trodden.  She alone hurts.  She alone has been ill-treated.  She is unloved.  She is unwanted …

It is all ridiculous, of course, but she has told herself all of this so many times she actually believes it is true.  She is perpetuating her own illness, actually making herself sicker.

She has been a victim – she was our parent’s victim; today, she is a victim only of herself. And her self-abuse is, in many ways, worse than anything our parents did to her.  They made her comfortable being a victim, that is fact, but she chooses to own victim-hood now.

She owns victim-hood, but not her story.  She is too busy wallowing to understand the strength it took just to survive Pat and Ed’s House of Horrors.  Too busy claiming virtue in her pain to realize she beat the odds, once.  Too mired in her self-created loss to feel good about who she has been, and who she could still be.

Owning her story has the power to heal, and set her free.

And it is the only thing that does.

Propensities and Principles – of Reconciliation

“Propensities and principles must be reconciled by some means.”  –Charlotte Bronte

Reconciliation with an estranged family member is possible, despite the bleak statistics … the failure rate is staggering.

I’d read and researched, been up and down with my father in my attempt at understanding – I’d spoken to my wife, children, friends, mother-in-law and therapist.  I’d listened to the advice of my readers …

Somewhere in the process I realized that relating to him now based solely on residual feelings from childhood – my being reactive (negatively) to everything he said, and my not seeing him for the man he is today wasn’t productive.  My anger – justified or not, was standing in the way of problem solving.  And about this same time, I began to understand that I wanted the problem of estrangement solved, and I wanted it all to have a happy ending … if that was possible.

So, I stepped back and away from what happened when I was a child and suggested we start with today. Build a connection now – a new connection based on our lives in the present.  I told him about my family and my life during the years since we’d last seen each other, I gave him hope in the form of sharing a few fond memories I had of him while I was growing up, and I invited him to an evening out with our wives.

 I extended an olive branch …

remembered my own principles; ‘a man should not be defined by his mistakes, but by what he does to make them right.’

And in remembering who I am, it dawned on me:

I had to give him a second chance.

In my anger and pain I hadn’t realized that believing in second chances meant I had to offer something, too – a willingness, an open heart. 

I thought, eventually, we’d have to revisit my childhood – but armed with a new connection, a solid bond, the moment would play itself out differently – it would be less complicated and more constructive – less painful and more resolute – less angry and more understanding.

Maybe my decision was wise, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that I no longer feel a need to speak of my father’s mistakes with him, no need to revisit my childhood and make the man he is today confront the father he was then.  He may not have been the father I needed as a child, but he gets an A+ for effort now.

In addition to getting my father back, I’ve gotten a far more complete understanding of my childhood – something I needed to feel whole emotionally.

I admire and respect his approach – to this day he will not speak to me disparagingly about my mother.  This is, even in my family where my mother has caused a sea of pain, destruction and heartbreak, the right thing to do.   Denigration is not the key to understanding, truth is.

If propensity represents the dark side of human nature, as Bronte suggests, acting on  our principles allows us to be something greater …

and to have something greater:

relationships based in truth, understanding, kindness, loyalty … and maybe even forgiveness.