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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father and Son – The End Of The Story

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At five years old I knew that if I ever had a son I would not treat him the way my father treated me.   With the innocence of a young child I already recognized the abuse for exactly what it was – I even understood that I would grow up one day, and I would remember everything he had done, and would continue to do, to me.  My father was an incredibly short-sighted parent.

I gave reconciliation an honest chance, and I invested myself emotionally to a point where I was risking my stability by continuing to allow him a place in my life.  The depression had returned, so had the anxiety.

When I met him for lunch, he gave me a birthday gift; a bottle of scotch and a very old copy of Tales Of The Arabian Nights – a book he read to me as a child.  The note he enclosed was poignant, and it made me even more sorry I was there to tell him we would never be father and son.

I don’t want complete estrangement now – not like it existed for more than thirty years, but I can’t have a real relationship with him either, it’s just too painful.  He is an old man, but he is still the man who beat and neglected me; he is the man whose reprehensible behavior caused so much pain, heartache and suffering.  For so much of his life he was not a good man, he wasn’t even decent.

I do not regret the last year, or trying to find in Ed a solid reason to give him a second chance.  I really wanted to see him as a different person from the father I remember … if he is I didn’t get close enough to see; in the end I realized he will always be the monster who so cruelly and heinously abused his children.

It’s hard, and I don’t want it to be the way it has to be – don’t want to keep my father at a safe distance; that isn’t the way fathers and sons are supposed exist, or live.  I look at my sons – the way in which they interact with me, and I recognize the bond is unbreakable, as it should be …

but I broke the cycle of abuse, Ed did not.  I worked diligently to give my children emotional security, Ed did not.  I made sure they knew they were loved, wanted and valued, Ed did not.

You can’t start – when your child is fifty-two years old, trying to be a good father; that transformation must begin before your child is born.

I hate the father he was, and

pity the old man I know now.

And I hope …

that one day he will finally understand with depth and clarity everything he did …

he will experience an epiphany that brings him to his knees and humbles every fiber of his being; a transcendent moment with the power to make him see himself as he truly was …

and then deeply feel the pain, humiliation and shame of everyone he hurt …

not just his own children, but his daughter’s best friend.

and then …

I sincerely hope he finds a way to heal.

Because without the soul-searching, and the healing only it can bring, his life is nothing more than a cover-up …

his life today only a disguise that cloaks the sins of his past.

And that isn’t a life at all.

If the last year, and our attempt at reconciliation, was a chapter in the book that is our story as father and son, he now has all that he needs to write the ending …

it is too late for Happily Ever After,

but there is still a chance for honesty …

and depth …

and purpose …

and sincerity …

and meaning.

And as painful and tragic as the early chapters of the story are …

that could still be considered a Happy Ending.

Understanding Today

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I’ve gone back and read much of this blog in its entirety – the last time I did this was before I reconciled with my father.

I feel something – not sure what to call it; it is less than regret, but more than bad, for my part in thirty years of estrangement.  I had to do what I did to know the wonderful life I have known, and thankfully he understands that, but I am still feeling that indefinable something.  

When I stop to consider, I realize what I feel is connected to all he lost – and what is lost to time is irretrievable.

He missed my wedding, the birth and childhood of my children, holidays, birthdays, graduations, family vacations; I missed being there for him when my oldest sister died … the list goes on and on, and it staggers me – humbles me.

The past several months, since talking to my father  has brought me a more complete understanding of my childhood, I’ve compiled a mental list of wrongs committed by mother.  I did not intend for this to happen, did not set out to accomplish this task, but I realized as I read back through the pages of Silence Shattered I have done just that.

It’s odd because I don’t have a need to assign blame – I never have.  My need is, and has always been, to simply understand.

My mother assailed my childhood, left me devoid of a connection to my family for years and years, made me believe things that are untrue, led me to question my father’s intentions, integrity and sense of morality, turned her back on all three of her children  … and she now uses the fact that I have Bipolar Disorder, a disorder she gave me, in an attempt to exonerate herself – to support her denial.

She feels no shame, no sense of remorse.  She accepts no responsibility for the lives she has complicated or destroyed, feels no sorrow in knowing the unbearable pain she has caused.  In her own words:

” I will take this opportunity to just bow out and save myself the headache of dealing with it.”  

That’s what she does, she wrecks havoc with people’s lives and then she walks away – from everyone.  A woman who can turn her back on her children is a cold-hearted bitch who is capable of ANYTHING.

There, I said it.  I’m not proud of myself for expressing my pain and anger in such a crass way, but there it is – and it is appropriate; I, her only son, am a ‘headache,’ not to be dealt with.  Cold-hearted bitch.  She is truly vile and despicable.

My need was to understand:

but I am incapable of understanding a mother who is devoid of love for her own children.

Incapable of understanding hatred so deep and all-consuming she would destroy her own children in order to hurt the man she was once married to.

I can’t remember if she ever mattered to me at all;

I think she must have, because I feel betrayed …

She did not win, did not succeed.  I love – intensely, deeply and forever.  I am not like her.  I cannot understand her.

My father, for all his mistakes, loves too.  Loves his children, all three of us – and his grandchildren, those he has met and those he has yet to meet . He forgave my need to walk away, even comprehends why it was necessary.  In the end, my mother didn’t get what she set out to get – and she lost ALL in trying.   She condemned herself.

If not for the pain she caused my father, me, Elizabeth (and by extension our spouses and children, her grandchildren) and Janet, I’d feel vindicated in my final understanding, but …

there can be no real satisfaction when so much was taken from my father, my sisters and I.

It is, however, freeing and cathartic to know that ultimately …

she, Evil Incarnate, did not win.

For now, that’s enough.

Feel Something

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This comment was left by Pieces of Bipolar in response to These Speak for Themselves:

“In my view, Ed conveniently seems to paint himself as a bit of a martyr – hero and victim. In so doing, he is able to manipulate the events in his favour (his favour being denial). And this is only my personal opinion, but I think that with this behaviour he is actually abusing you all over again. This time mentally and emotionally. How can any father with an ounce of remorse idly sit by as you become so immensely distraught in your correspondence.

The big question is whether people can change. I think they can. I have changed. Anyone can change. Provided they acknowledge there is changing to be done. From what I’ve seen on your blog, Ed has acknowledged nothing. He just keeps arguing with you. Intent on only HIS version of events. He does not hold himself accountable for his actions at all. I am outraged on your behalf. Stay strong.”

 

I feel as though we – my mother, my younger sister and I, were Ed’s Starter Family; we were his lab rats, his guinea pigs and his test dummies.  He didn’t live up to a single moral obligation a father has – he didn’t invest his time in helping us to find out who we were, or discover our passion.  He didn’t put our wants, needs and desires ahead of his own.  He didn’t listen to us – he didn’t teach, instruct or guide.  He didn’t pay for college, or even offer to help in any way; when I was eighteen and his legal obligation to pay child support to my mother ended, he was done financially for good and all.  He failed right down the line … at everything concerning fatherhood.  It was far, far more than just his propensity for violent ‘discipline,’ he was simply and completely inept and not present as a father …

And when he was done completely destroying the lives of his Starter Family, he moved on to his New Family:

And now he sees himself as a martyr, a literary hero – a fairy tale character transformed.  His new family ‘still loves him’ despite what they have learned about him on this blog.  But he didn’t beat them, and they didn’t have to live in fear of his violent anger every day of their childhood – they didn’t have to live through the shame and humiliation of having their father charged with rape.  And they will never know what it feels like to have him avoid dealing with it directly now.  I’m glad they still love him, still care about him – but it is easier to do that when you merely know what he did than it is when you were his actual victim.  Their feelings made him cry, I have no idea how any of mine have made him feel …

I’m thankful for his devotion to Janet – but he had three children who should have known that devotion, that love and compassion … he won’t acknowledge that. Won’t acknowledge his failure.  He obviously knew how to show mercy and tenderness – he wasn’t always a sick, sadistic bastard, but only Janet knew this.

He does not live in reality, and it is disturbing.   He acknowledges that he was a bad and abusive father, but he will not look at it and FEEL – or see who this means he really was, or is, as a man.

It is all about Ed – and it is all shallow and superficial and just plain unexamined and unconsidered.  Maybe he is a different man today, but he is also the man he was in my childhood — and this is all I know of him.  He was unthinking and unfeeling then, and he has given me no indication that that has changed.

He is not the wounded, martyred father.  No matter what he says or  tells people, this will never be true.  Martyrdom is Ed’s fairy tale, his break from reality.  I once believed his martyr routine was solely for the benefit of the people in his life now – something Ed used as a tool of manipulation to skew their thoughts and feelings in his sympathetic favor – now I think he believes this complete and utter bullshit himself, too.  If you lie long enough, the lie will become your truth … and it isn’t a lie anymore if you believe it yourself.

I guess I understand him to a point – if I had done the things to my children Ed did to his, I wouldn’t want to consider and allow myself to feel either.  I would do everything I could to avoid considering those rooms in my heart– because they exist in Hell itself.

but until he finds the courage to feel, he will never get further down the path of reconciliation with me.  I cannot, and I will not, allow myself to build a relationship with the man he was – and until he deals with the gut-wrenching things I have told him directly, until he demonstrates these things make him feel something, I will never be able to see him for the man he believes himself to be today –  I don’t know how to make this any more clear.

It is deeply, deeply disturbing to believe he doesn’t feel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Did Not Teach Her This – Ed, Pat Do You Know What You’ve Done?

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Untitled Work, written by my seventeen year old daughter yesterday, left me in tears … and deeply contemplative.

My daughter is a senior in high school, and she is home schooled – there are many reasons for this; the demands of her rehearsal/training/performance schedule top the list now, but there were other reasons in the beginning; our desire to travel frequently, and the fact that she has dyslexia and needed one-on-one attention chief among them.  We don’t home school outside the system, which can make getting into college difficult, so we have access to incredible classes and resources; on Friday mornings she attends a writing workshop for high school juniors and seniors called, Finding Your Voice.

Finding Your Voice is a nationally acclaimed program, and all instructors must go through an involved training and certification process before they are given access to the curriculum –  it is actually much more than just a college-prep writing class; all the prompts and all the lessons are designed specifically to get teenagers to access and work through their complicated thoughts, ideas, feelings and beliefs through the process of writing.  The curriculum was written and designed by educators in collaboration with adolescent therapists, and for many kids it is extremely therapeutic.

Yesterday’s lesson was aimed at getting the kids to think about someone who causes problems in their life, someone they don’t like – someone they may even hate.  The prompt that followed was simply to address those feelings via the written word.

Before I got sick, my kids knew very little about my family.  They knew I hadn’t seen my parents in many years, and they knew why in brevity; my parents were abusive and I chose not to have them in my adult life because of that – but I didn’t give them details.   I didn’t give details to anyone then, but even if I had I wouldn’t have shared them with my children – that just wouldn’t have been the right thing to do …

My mother, if she dislikes someone, devotes herself to doing all she can to ensure everyone in her life dislikes this person too – she has no loyalty to anyone, no concern for who gets hurt, or  for whose life she turns upside down – and even though I’d have been telling the truth in speaking of her (and Ed) negatively to my children, I did not want to be like her; catty, petty, shallow and vindictive.

And this unwillingness to be like my mother – to model her ridiculous, reprehensible behavior for my children, was in addition to the fact I felt I had to protect them from the very disturbing details of my childhood, which was the right thing to do … until I got sick.

At that point, I could no longer protect them – no one could.

I knew my daughter had been deeply affected by my illness, and  that she now, due my illness, knows the details of my childhood, but I didn’t realize she actually hated anyone until she shared her writing, tears and feelings with me yesterday.  This is the sweetest, kindest child in the world – she is absolutely precious, and to hear her speak with such conviction of such terrible things as hatred was heartbreaking for me.

I did not teach my daughter to hate.  The cycle of abuse – the multi-generational denial and silence and acceptance did that.

I live this life and I am still baffled and confused when faced with the far-reaching, in fact never-ending, affects of child abuse in a family.

I broke the cycle; my daughter is valued, loved, pampered, spoiled, adored – she has been given every advantage in the world, and  her physical and emotional safety has been protected to a degree I cannot begin to describe.  She has been taught to love, to exemplify tolerance, acceptance and compassion …

but even with all that I couldn’t protect her from knowing what it is like to hate people, or from feeling the impact of child abuse in her own life.

Where does the madness of abuse end?