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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Responsibility

“The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change anything in your life.” — Hal Elrod

I write a lot about responsibility and ownership of personal mistakes, behavior and choices.  I hold people accountable for their actions, especially when they hurt others.

In my own life, I hold Pat and Ed directly responsible for the illness I will contend with for the rest of my life – the illness is, without a doubt, the direct result of their reprehensible parenting.

However, no one – including Pat and Ed, is responsible for my choices, behavior and actions.  I alone own all of those things, and I alone assume responsibility for the good as well as the bad.

Having an illness – be it Bipolar Disorder or Alcoholism, does not absolve me, or my sister, of the pain we have caused the people in our lives.  The choices we make are still our own, despite knowing why we make them …

the bottom line is very clear: there is no one to blame but ourselves.

Knowing why I have Bipolar Disorder was the foundation I needed to get well; we can’t fix what’s wrong until we know what’s wrong.  Why matters, it is important – vital even, to our recovery …

but it does not give us people we can rightfully blame for our own repugnant behavior, bad choices, or the miserable state of our life.

Elizabeth – no one other than you is responsible for your life today; you and you alone bear that burden.   You had terrible parents, and you will carry the scars of childhood for the rest of your life; I will never say, ‘get over it,’ because I know you can’t – I know it is part of you, part of your brain chemistry …

but it does not have to be your life.

If you choose to blame rather than get well, that is ALL on you …

Not on Pat …

Or Ed …

Or Jim ..

Or, most especially, Jacqueline.

The Essence of Love

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Strong, self-assured people have boundaries – hard lines and definite limits for what they will accept and tolerate from the people they allow into their lives.  They know who they are, what they want, and where they are going.  They make life look easy – not because they never have problems, but because they always find solutions.  My wife is one of those people.

I came into this relationship with more than my share of emotional baggage, baggage I had no clue what to do with.  It isn’t that Rhonda didn’t have her own issues and neurosis, she did, but she also had her life together, and she was a problem solver, a doer — I was not, my coping skills were nonexistent.  I couldn’t problem solve, and I couldn’t think beyond a limited scope of time.  No one had ever taught me how to live successfully – I was good at surviving, but I didn’t know how to live.

When she asks me now what it was that made me fall in love with her, something I did in English class when we were fourteen years old, I don’t always have a ready, eloquent answer … but when I reflect I realize that I’d never before known anyone so confident, so self-assured, so prepossessing- and those traits were so alluring to me they were almost mesmerizing.

When we began dating shortly before my twenty-first birthday, I knew she was the only woman in the world I would ever love in all the ways that I did – in all the ways I had since I was a sophomore in high school – but I soon came to understand that it was far deeper than that; she actually knew herself, she knew what she wanted from life, and she could cope with all of its disappointments and trials … it was like she knew a secret.

Turns out it wasn’t a secret at all, there was no great mystery – it was all a matter of a very simple thought process; a formula for Problem Solving and Life:

Problem Solving:

1.  Identify the Problem.

2. Determine the Outcome You Desire

3.  Take Steps Toward that Outcome

Life:

“Thinking in terms of scope and sequence, of viewing your life as a whole”  she told me,  “picture it as if it were a movie; now ask yourself, how do I want the movie to end? …  You have to live your life so you know the ending you desire.   Life doesn’t just happen to you, it is created and crafted by the choices you make.” 

My wife’s life philosophy is profoundly existential, and it is ever evolving and growing; she knows what she thinks and believes.  I will never be as deep or as complicated as she is, but I will always appreciate and respect her process, always be grateful she shared it with me and taught me how to adopt it as my own … it made my life work before I got sick, and it allowed me to reclaim my life after I was well.

Our lives are enhanced, even made whole, by the people we bring into them, and sometimes by the people we must exclude from them.  I was sick when Rhonda told me she would die for me, but she wouldn’t live for me … 

I can only imagine the courage and strength it took for her to say those words, and mean them …

in that terrible moment, she simply had no choice.