The People You Can’t Forgive

An online friend’s Facebook post pointed me to this religious article, which although I am not religious at all, contains a few nuggets that spoke to me:

“That feeling of… wanting to assert your rightness or your victimhooddepending on the depth of your wounding — can take… years to dissipate… You have to go through that necessary period of feeling half dead, half angry, half in denial — this is the liminal space in which we grow for some reason.”

This might indicate to some that what I have been going through is normal.  But that assumes an acceptance that what has happened to me at the hands of my family was indeed wounding and traumatic.  Which would in turn mean that they did something wrong to me, that they are responsible, at fault, and we just can’t have that.

My family’s version starts out with where the blame is “supposed” to go, and works backwards from there to find a “reason”.  Thus:  I am wrong for holding this silly grudge for so long.

“When someone that you once trusted — and shared your heart with — betrays you, it feels like someone stomped on your soul. And they probably did.”

“The people you can’t forgive can’t fully be released until you find something better to fill the hole.”

“[Forgiveness] doesn’t entirely work unless we have a larger comfort, a safe and more beautiful enclosure to move toward. If we only empty out, and do not refill with something better, there is still a gaping hole within us.  Without something positive, comforting and loving to fill that hole up… we’re left to depend entirely on willpower — and our willpower is normally very weak, especially on those days of loneliness, stress, tiredness and hunger. So we’ve got to keep our aloneness and emptiness filled with something loving and positive.”

I feel like this is where I am now.  Trying to find something to replace all that I’ve lost.  Trying to find new logs for my new raft.

[Another thing that occurs to me about this needing-something-to-fill-the-hole:  that’s what I was to my father.  The people he loved and worked for had all stomped on his soul.  His wife hated him; most of his kids had been taught by her example, and would rather see him gone than home.  But there was one child of his who hadn’t yet been taught, and who was worth trying to save from that.]

But the really important part of this article is just one sentence:

“If you do not transform your pain, you will with 100 percent certainty transmit it to others.”

This is one of the remaining sticking points.   Everyone else in my family of origin takes the easy way out, to just transmit their pain to others, instead of dealing with it and doing the work to transform it.

Personally, if I were to try to define “sin”, I might start with this.

I have long liked two other quotes that carry this same idea:

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts.” — Roger Ebert

“If you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are an unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are… Therefore, it is your moral responsibility to be a happy, fulfilled person. Your moral responsibility.” — George Lakoff

There obviously has been a lot of pain in my family.

My mother, of course, transmitted her pain to others, to her family.  She never figured out how to deal with whatever her problems were.  Despite all her praying, all her religiosity, she remained bitter and unhappy, even after she was free of the man on whom she blamed all her unhappiness.  She continued to blame and transmit her pain to others for her entire life.

My siblings were on the receiving end of a lot of that pain.  For the most part I don’t think they have dealt with the realities of what happened, with what was wrong, and with the fact of who it was that was unhealthy — and just HOW unhealthy.

I doubt that my sister has ever revisited and dismantled the pain that in her teens caused her to become suicidal.  That has been buried under a shit-ton of “Mom was a saint and Dad was a bastard.”  Blaming.  Throwing your own psychological garbage onto someone else so you don’t have to deal with it.  Specifically, onto Dad, and almost certainly onto me:  the idea that my birth is what caused all the problems, and it is my existence that somehow fucked up hers.

Or, if you start with the idea that anything Dad did was bad, by definition, then the fact that the one child he raised is less of a train wreck than anyone else would be an assault on one of your most basic beliefs, every time you saw her.  And if you’re still angry about The Divorce, yet here is living proof that it didn’t wreck everyone’s lives – that it was, in fact, a good thing for some, and particularly for the two people you learned to hate – well. That would be annoying as shit.

(In fact, you might have a strong need to believe that his paternal, nurturing love for that child was something unnatural, even dirty.)

I have a hunch that my sister would honestly prefer me to have a few more really good failures in my life, so she could point to them as proof of my basic wrongness.  Right now about all she has is that I am atheist, childless by choice, don’t have anything that looks like a “real job” to them, and that I’ve also chosen to reject the treatment of a shitty group of people.  Not a lot to go on.

My SIL Susan had her own tragedy in her childhood.  Her father would go on an annual fishing trip to Florida, but one year when she was about 8 years old, he had a heart attack and died, and never came home.  I have to assume that her pain over that is at least part of what caused her to be so shitty to me at my own father’s deathbed.

But here’s the thing:  you don’t just get a free pass.  You don’t get to fail miserably at even attempting to deal with your own shit, and instead just lob it onto someone else.  That’s not healthy, responsible or fair.

That’s not love.  What it is, is a sure way to wreck a relationship.

But apparently it is how my family “functions”, to use the term loosely.  Or maybe “copes”.

Shit rolls downhill.  My mother blamed me for existing because it embarrassed her.  My sister blames me for existing either because that is what caused everything to fall apart, or because I fuck up her worldview, or both.  Susan blames me for calling her out on her callous behavior and rudeness to me the night my father died.

I’m not sure what exactly I ever did to make all the older women in my life see me as a handy target.  OK, I maybe have an idea.

I HAD A FATHER WHO LOVED ME.   And worse, “didn’t” love them.

My mother was always very jealous.  If she was jealous of my father’s love for me and lack of it for her — WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?  Not mine.

If my mother was also jealous of my sister, and lied to her, and twisted her way of thinking about our father, and deliberately alienated her from him, and my sister believed my mother’s bullshit, and believes that our father didn’t also love her, and that bullshit led her to cut off communication with him for decades — WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?  Not mine.

If my SIL never dealt with her own painful past, and the loss of her own father, and she is so jealous of me for having mine that she has to take it out on me when my own father dies — WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?  Not mine.

As for “shit rolling downhill”, that choice of metaphor is no accident.  The hierarchy of age is a very strong one here.  Age confers rights, and righteousness (although obviously not responsibilities).  My youngest brother has no one to shit on but me (and from the little I’ve seen, his own children, but that’s mostly beyond the scope of my knowledge).  Thus in the context of our FOO, he bullies me, yells at me, thinks he has the right to lecture me and tell me who I am, how I should act, what I can and can’t say.  Now that I’ve removed myself from his ability to do that shit to my face, he leaves shitty comments on this blog.

But the fact is that absolutely everyone else in that house the day my father died was older than me, and most had had ample time to deal with their shit, and had not done so.

They all knew I was facing more grief on that day than anyone else, but they were too fucked up themselves to hold their shit together — Susan foremost among them and Joe not far behind.

In the end, they didn’t give a shit about my pain because they were too invested in throwing their own shit onto me so they wouldn’t have to deal with their pain.

And don’t tell me that it couldn’t be done.  It’s been 15 years since our parents died.  I’m as old now as they were then, and I’ve done it.  It’s been hard, and painful, and cost some money and a lot of fucking work, but I did it.  They’re all older, and supposedly so superior to me — well then, if I can do it, if I can put in the work and go to therapy and figure out what’s fucked up, I don’t see why it would be beyond them.

Except, of course, that they “aren’t the problem” and never will be.

To that I say — PROVE IT.  Prove it the way I did.  Go to therapy.  Spend the money, like I did.  I dare you.  Go for just two or three sessions, explain it all to a professional, and get them to agree with you.

And good fucking luck.  Because I know and you know why you won’t go do it.

But that is the only circumstance under which I will resume contact with anyone in this family.  Go get some help, work through your shit, and then we’ll talk.

My other siblings were, and are, probably just too fucked up to do anything about it.  Well, to do the right thing about it.  I wish they weren’t, but that’s all I can do about it.

In some ways what happened has been a favor to me, to throw off this pile of bullshit, to put down the box of shit my sister has made me carry for her all these years.  At least I get to live the second half of my life unencumbered by all their bullshit and baggage.

This feels like a place to end.  I don’t know if it is really going to be the last post in this blog — but I’ve finally finished at least part of what I set out to do, which is to tell my story.  The whole sad, angry history is finished, all laid out neatly in the sidebar, all making a lot more fucking sense than the story they tell themselves.

All anyone has to do, if they want to understand, is read it with an open heart, and a mind that is ready to accept responsibility, instead of simply shifting the blame.

Shit Together Clear