I will never forget that sound.
The crunching of the packed snow beneath my feet, dissonant with the throbbing in my ears from my racing heart.
He sought me out. He wanted my forgiveness. Wanted to talk to me…to see in my eyes that forgiveness was even possible.
I sought out a safe place to meet him. Though I knew with certainty that he wouldn’t physically harm me, I feared for my emotional safety. My aunt provided that shelter.
Fourteen years prior, he shot my father twice and killed him.
I was two. And in an instant, fatherless.
As I reached to open my aunt’s door, I was stuck between two places. In that moment, with my hand clenching her doorknob, I could move forward or I could retreat. There simply was no in between.
I pushed the door open and the heat from my aunt’s house engulfed me.
He was there. Sitting at the table. I greeted my aunt, shed my coat, and sat opposite him at the table. And I waited.
It wasn’t my turn to talk.
He apologized. His words were much what I expected them to be. I knew the story…the reasons why he did what he did. They had been the best of friends.
I can still see him, rubbing one of his hands with the other, worrying his skin raw.
But his eyes? His eyes expressed his sorrow and remorse in a way that his words never could.
I’m not sure I have ever seen eyes as soft as his were in that moment as he sat there, stumbling over his words, looking to me for encouragement to continue speaking.
I let him speak until he was completely deflated…words expelled like air from a balloon overfilled to near bursting.
There was a familiarity about him. Some part of my brain remembered him.
In that moment I was left to make a choice. To forgive him or to hang onto my anger and hurt, polishing it until it gleamed with bitterness.
It was the moment to choose whether to set him free of his burden or take that opportunity to make him pay. To crush his hopes for a release from even a small part of his guilt.
I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I forgave him.
I made a choice that freed us both.
The easy, predicable choice would have been to hold my anger close, fueling it with thoughts of all that had been ripped from me.
The more difficult choice was to forgive him, to recognize that he was human and that relinquishing my anger would bring me peace unlike anything I had ever known.
His life was already broken. He would never be the person he was before he killed my father.
But my forgiveness? He sat there and asked it of me.
And offering that it to him was truly the fork in my road.
The Road Not Taken — Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
*The decision to forgive this man who destroyed my family was my choice. This was the right choice for me. If I were my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, or mother, I can’t say that my choice would have been the same. That is impossible to know. I can only truly know what is best for me. I love my family beyond words and their strength astonishes me to this day.
The first time I used, I was 9. I stole some of my mom’s appetite suppressants. For the first time in my short little life, I felt like I could do anything. I forgot that I felt like I didn’t belong. Don’t ask me why I felt that way. I am an adopted child raised by a good family, so I should have felt fine. I truly believe that addiction is genetic. With dope, at long last, I belonged. I wasn’t afraid.
Life went downhill from there. I gradually branched out to other drugs. At 14, I was stealing my parents’ cigarettes and booze and smoking pot. At 18, I got introduced to what would become the great love of my life-meth. I really could do anything on that stuff-no job was too big, and my mind worked like a pinball machine with an electrical short-thoughts careened around so fast I never held one long enough to examine it, so I never really thought about feelings of inadequacy or fear.
At 19, I was tired of trying to make it on my own, so I found myself married to an abusive bastard; anybody who’s ever been through that can understand what I mean when I say that it destroyed any shreds of self-worth I had a chance of having. By then, I knew how to fix that-I used more dope. It didn’t matter what kind as long as it helped me shove those feelings of worthlessness into some dark, forgotten corner of my soul.
After 3 years of being smacked around, I fought back, left, didn’t look back, and didn’t quit fighting for a long time.
I went through a string of failed relationships for a couple of years, until I met “the one.” He actually started to redeem the male of he species for me. For a year and a half, I somehow managed to limit my drinking and drugging. Life was pretty good. I was living the suburban American dream.
In the end, untreated addiction always wins. I got involved in some unsavory business, running drugs up and down the interstate. For each time I got arrested, I made it through at least a few more times. I guess sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good, or I’d still be in prison.
My second husband finally had enough, and I got sentenced to prison knowing that divorce awaited me when I got out. Looking back, I can’t blame him. At the time, I was just enraged.
In prison, in a state far from home, I didn’t have drugs but I still had that fight in me, and the ability to stuff my emotions into some dark corner of myself and forget them. It allowed me to survive in a cold and lonely place. When I got out, I did what I always did. I got high. How else was I supposed to deal with my situation? I was 4 states from all I knew, being held against my will by a parole officer who wouldn’t let me move home.
Fast forward to 2005.
I’m on probation for yet another drug offense, headed for an inpatient drug treatment center at the judge’s (and probation officer’s) suggestion. I had reached that point where I used dope to become that static-y snow on a TV with no reception. I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to deal with the mess my life had become and I damn sure didn’t want to deal with the mess that I had become.
I muddled along for a while until I had a using experience so horrific I will never forget it. I had finally used so much dope, trying to kill my feelings, that I had used myself into a corner and it was that dark corner of my soul that I had been avoiding for 27 years.
The dope had led me right into the hell I had been denying from the time I first discovered dope at the tender age of 9.
I got clean, finally. It hurt. Detox can kill, and I guess I considered myself lucky to be alive, considering the way I had used my body for a toxic waste dump.
And I grieved the loss of the drugs. I grieved the loss of the numbness. I was FEELING shit again and it was ookie and I didn’t like it.
The human psyche is an amazing thing, with a remarkable talent for self-preservation. I managed to avoid the real problem: here I was drugless, and the big shitty mess inside was still there. Denial became my best friend. I felt no emotions (or so I told myself.) I damn sure didn’t show them.
For the first two years I was clean, I was involved with another abusive bastard. Got a busted eardrum out of it. During that two years, I did a good job of not allowing myself to feel much of anything, partly out of determination to deprive that bastard of the satisfaction of knowing he had affected me, and mostly because I didn’t want to look at that big shitty fucking mess in my mind and soul.
I did all this while calling myself a member of a twelve step fellowship.
Two years into my abstinence, the pain of my living situation became too much. Denial, toughness, bad attitude-none of it was working anymore. Without the dope to numb my soul, the big shitty mess in the darkest corner of my heart began to fester. So I got honest. Well, a little bit, anyway. Six months later, I was out of the abusive relationship. I was healing.
At least that’s what I told the world.
Until the physical after effects of the corrective surgery on my eardrum became unbearable. They also became a physical representation of all that was wrong with my psyche.
I could no longer use those old defense mechanisms. I could no longer be the hardass, the tough girl who didn’t give a fuck. I gave a fuck and I was tired of being broken.
Aunt Becky, I cried. Like I don’t think I have ever cried before.
I cried for all I wasted. I cried over all the wasted potential, the wasted years, the wasted lives I destroyed with my sick spirit.
I cried for a little girl who never felt like she belonged. I cried for my mother who couldn’t fix her child. I cried for what was left of myself and for the parts of me that were lost forever. I screamed. I cried until my throat hurt, my rib cage hurt, my head hurt. I cried until my entire head was so congested I couldn’t breathe. I cried over all the sadness I had never cried over, I cried over all the pain I never cried over, I cried over all the fear I never cried over. I have no idea how long I cried. It seemed like forever.
And then I slept. I slept the sleep of the damned. Because as I cried, screaming about how I was tired of being broken, I realized that nothing could fix me. I was doomed to this existence of knowing I was broken and the only thing that ever made me feel whole was dope and I couldn’t have it anymore. It had been killing me while it killed my feelings, except it wasn’t killing the feelings anymore. I couldn’t stop using once I started, and once I used I became this horrible beast who got arrested and burned bridges with the people in her life. So dope was out.
I was, finally, alone with the truth. I was rotten inside and nothing could fix me.
At 40 years of age, I’m glad I can say that a lot has happened in the 3 years since I cried that night and screamed my frustration at being broken. I started working the 12 steps of recovery from addiction. I have a sponsor. I have 5 years clean. I have a reasonably good relationship with my mother these days. I am now in a very serious and mostly healthy relationship with the man who held me the night I cried-he is truly a good man. I am in my first senior year of college. I have been well trained in the work I do and have been working the same part-time jobs for 5 years now. I’m good at my job. I have a few friends-true friends.
Aunt Becky, I wish I could give you a happy ending. I wish I could say that I have finally progressed through the 5 stages of grief. I think it’s safe to say I have passed through denial.
Yet I still can’t let go of those old defense mechanisms. It is so fucking hard to express emotions. It’s just as hard to live through them. So I shop. I eat chocolate. I find things to distract me. Often, I stick my feelings in that dark corner of my soul. Even the good ones. I still miss the ability to deny their existence. I don’t know what to do with them, so it’s easier to deny them.
I guess it’s progress, being able to admit I have emotions.
Some days, I get so angry. Why the fuck can’t I be normal? Why oh why do I always seem to feel inadequate, less than, afraid? At least the rage can be empowering, motivating me to get up and try one more day to find a way to heal my sick spirit. If nothing else, rage feels good. It’s so primal.
Some days, I’m depressed. The possibility of spending the rest of my life knowing I am irretrievably broken saddens me beyond belief. This is where I am grateful for my adoptive mother-she’s my REAL mother. Nothing ever stopped her, and rarely did anything slow her down. She always kept going. What an amazing example; I believe it’s the only reason I keep going on my depressed days.
Bargaining. Yes. I do that. I make bargains with whatever’s out there-if you would just fix me, God, I would try to touch another life so some other woman doesn’t ever have to live with the pain I lived with for so long. Just please fucking fix me so I am not afraid, ashamed, and insecure. Make me not hurt and I will try to share it with someone who needs to know it is possible to not hurt.
Acceptance. Not so much. Today, I refuse to accept that I am irretrievably broken. Maybe that is where the twelve steps are beginning to work in my life.
And maybe that’s the happy ending after all.
We’ve all seen the commercials:
“Do you have trouble concentrating or making decisions? ___ [drug] can help.”
“Depression can make you feel like you have to wind yourself up to get through the day.”
“Depression can take so much out of you.”
I have to say that all of that is true. I hate to use the word depression (I think most people do), but things have been rough since my daughter died. I’ve scraped for words to express the isolation, pain, persistent sadness, discouragement, lethargy, roller coaster days, rage, sullenness, futility… but every time those words fall short.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot of things not to do, and a few things to try.
Most important is that a quick fix is a myth. So often I’ve woken up feeling OK, moved through the day’s activities relatively well, actually enjoyed some of the day’s moments, and thought to myself, “Hurray! I’m better!” Only I woke up the next day back in the swamp, feeling worse than before because I was wrong. I hadn’t actually left it behind.
Here are a few ways that have helped me, along with a few things I recommend avoiding.
If you are struggling with depression:
1. If you are a spiritual person, pray and tell God about how you feel and ask for help. Don’t shut God off just because you don’t feel God’s presence anymore. Feelings are fickle things, affected by lack of sleep, poor eating habits, hormones, illness, grief, and more.
I found that praying in the shower was a good place because
1) I could usually count on not being interrupted by my children, and
2) if I cried my heart out, the water washed my tears and snot away (I’m not a pretty cryer.)
2. Talk yourself through the day. I don’t mean talk out loud to yourself – that’s the fast-lane to crazytown. What I mean is this: if you catch yourself possibly over-reacting or taking the actions or words of another person personally, try to stop long enough to remind yourself that you are predisposed to assume the worst right now. Tell yourself, “I need to take my own emotional/mental/physical state into account when I’m reading other people and cut everyone, including this jerkwad, some slack.”
When I remind myself of this, I’m more likely to step back and wait to see if what I am jumping to conclusions and being paranoid (and usually I am). This helps preserve those relationships, and heaven knows we need as many healthy relationships as we can get.
3. Talk to someone about your struggle. Be selective. Keep your circle small, at least at first. Look for someone who is strong because they have struggled through some hard things themselves (not because he or she is a know-it-all). Find someone you can trust. Don’t talk to that girl who starts every story with, “Don’t tell anyone else, but so-and-so told me …” If they tell stories about other people, don’t give them any dirt on you. The right person will listen well, try to understand you, and give realistic counsel. They will be flexible but also persistent, drawing you out even when you withdraw or hide what’s inside.
4. Remain engaged with your family and friends. Make yourself go to birthday parties, cook-outs, ball games… whatever it is that you and your friends and family do together. Go even when every cell in your body wants to hole up in bed. We need people, and you have never experienced encouragement quite like spending time with people who care about you and who love to have fun.
I am so thankful for my husband and friends who have dragged me out of the house. No matter how many times it happens, I’m always surprised at how much better I feel when I go, even when it’s The Last Thing I want to do that day.
5. Give yourself time. This one has been hard for me. I want to be done with this depression. I want to move on, move forward, leave it behind, get better. I’m tired of dragging it around every day. But my counsellor keeps reminding me that there is no timetable on grieving. And if I try to stuff it all away and hide it, that actually makes the whole process longer. I need to feel those feelings and work through my grief, not run away from it.
6. Go see your doctor. Ask him or her to check for any physical problems and talk about how you are doing. It is very common for an illness or untreated condition to affect every part of you, including your energy level and outlook on life in general. They will collect some labs to look for things like low iron, an out-of-whack thyroid, or abnormally high white cell count (indicates that your body is fighting an infection somewhere). The doctor should be able to work with you to identify ways for you to improve your physical health, and present some options for improving your emotional and mental health.
7. Do your homework before trying supplements and/or prescription medications. Talk with your doctor about this. They will help you select the best things to try and often have non-prescription options as well. Taking a pill, whether it is an antidepressant or an herbal remedy, is not going to make you happy. These treatments are designed to give enough of a boost to do the hard work of recovery.
Be sure to ask your doctor and pharmacy about how various things interact. Tell them everything you are taking, including herbals and home remedies, because some things are very dangerous when combined. And if you think you need to change something because it isn’t working, don’t just stop cold-turkey! Call your doctor or pharmacist to see if you need to wean yourself off or if it is safe to just stop.
The best advice I was given about trying meds? Try one thing at a time, and give it at least a month before changing anything. Otherwise you won’t know what helped and what didn’t.
8. Build in some cushion. During the worst of my depression, I realized that my weeks were so tightly-scheduled that I had no slack at all for bad days. You know the kind: it’s all you can do to get the kids fed, dressed, and to school, and when you finish that, you collapse. Forget work, laundry, paying bills, washing dishes, cleaning house, grocery shopping. I got radical, backing out of commitments, canceling activities, and taking a leave of absence from work to build in some slack. It gave me the time I needed to rest and recover.
I hope these tips are helpful. I offer them up as ideas picked up along my own struggle in hopes that they encourage you to keep going, keep trying, and most importantly, get help.
When I was 15, I had terrible ovarian cysts so my doctor put me on birth control. Not that I needed it – I wasn’t sexually active. It was great. No cysts. When I was about 19, I decided to go off the pill. I was taking them but didn’t need them as I still wasn’t sexually active. I knew it couldn’t be great for me so I just stopped taking them.
And then, I never got another period.
After about a year, I went back to my gynecologist and asked about it, whether it was strange or not. He said it WAS very strange and that it did happen occasionally. I may never get another period and may, in fact, be infertile. He told me this very solemnly and with great empathy. He was a good man.
But me, well, uh, I was ECSTATIC! Infertile? Please. Thank you, god. I was never the kid who planned the wedding and the babies and the names. I had three younger siblings I didn’t really care anything about (now I do). I loved to party and this was before the HIV/AIDS epidemic. (YEAH..I know, I said it. This was mid to late 70′s. Figure out how old I am)
I was trying to be an actor and was living a very vagabondish life. I worked about 10 different jobs so I could live and enjoy my life and sexuality. And then one day I felt different. I went to the clinic and yes, I was pregnant. This was after not using birth control for 6 or 7 years. It was a very easy decision for me to make and I had an abortion. I have never regretted that decision.
I lived my life. I used birth control (not the pill, the sponge… remember the Seinfeld episode when Elaine hoards them?)
And then I met Tom. We were friends, fell in love and got married. I realized that, in fact, I did want to have a family with him and that it was going to be wonderful. My life and expectations were turned upside down by the love I felt for Tom and it was so exciting and fun. We were older and after a year of trying, we started dealing with infertility. I was fine. Tom’s motility was low. No boxers or hot tubs. My eggs were a little old. We did inseminations. (Did any of you ever ALMOST make love in the quiet room with your legs in stirrups? To make it more personal? I KNOW you did!)
About a year later, during an insemination break, I became pregnant. There were little lines on the test and it was so exciting! We told everyone. It was amazing. We went to check in and have an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat and well, you all know… there wasn’t one. It was ectopic. I sobbed as they took me in for my D&C because I wanted this baby that I never wanted. This was a little “me and Tom.” It was heartbreaking for both of us.
The next step was IVF. I became a science experiment. I’m not sure there are enough words to convey how much I hated the process. I was going crazy from the hormones, the daily shots of Lupron and the shots Tom gave me (though, I think he got a little pleasure from it). I had eggs harvested and there were a lot. Not many were viable though. There were enough for a transfer and enough to freeze for the next baby.
So we followed protocol and did everything right. There was no baby. It was heartbreaking. Because for the faintest minute, they thought there was a baby… but no, there wasn’t.
We did it once. That’s all we needed. I looked at Tom and said I didn’t want to be a science experiment anymore. I wanted to be a mom and I was already 38 years old. We moved on to adoption. We were together on this decision. He didn’t need a clone and neither did I.
I am so grateful I was with Tom because someone else may not have seen it that way. And that would have been OK but a problem for us. And with Tom it was not a problem. We moved together to the adoption process and that will be my next post.
Because that was a barrel of laughs, too!
In my own life, forgiving others was not something that I was taught to do. I was always taught that I had a lot of sins that needed to be forgiven, but I never saw forgiveness for others practiced until I had to start doing it myself.
Our hurts, our pains, our lives to this point have all been dictated by our emotional selves. This is understandable. I totally get it. It is fine that, for a little while, we are so mad at anyone else that we would love nothing else than to see them have to walk down the busiest street in town, wearing the most ridiculous attire, singing “I’m a little tea pot,” loudly as though they were singing along to their favorite Metallica tune. I get it. I have been there.
Forgiving others was hard for me because I always figured if someone hurt me, it was on purpose.
We choose what we want to recall of our own memories. We choose the uglies because that is what we have been taught through being shown only a victim mentality. I know this one very well. It is not hard to learn a lesson of being someone else’s victim if that is what everyone in a child’s life believes themselves to be.
I love my mother, and I hate to use her as the example, but the truth is that I now know, that while she did not teach me outright to be someone else’s victim, she showed me that by her example. I believed for a very long time, that in order for me to forgive, I had to make sure that everyone in my life knew that someone else had wronged me.
We humans do NOT want to forgive others. We want them to pay the fullest, heaviest price for the sins that they commit against us. In reality, it is not an actual sin against us, but is an indicator to us that they have not actually studied themselves and explored their own feelings of hurt. Even in church, too many people don’t understand what “turn the other cheek” means. Turning the other cheek means to hear the other person out, to allow them, through your listening, to be able to see the sin in their own energy.
The act of forgiving is not as simple as too many pastors in our lives have made it seem. It is hard for people to admit that they are sorry for the hurts they have caused.
When we hang onto wrongs for too long, it is all we can see. You can choose not to hang on to the anger and pain from the past. The best way that I know to begin the healing process is to learn by first starting with our very selves. We have to let go of the past, because it is no longer there. We need to stop believing that people will love us more if we tell them that we are in pain.
It is great to wallow, for a little while, but eventually that shit gets old, and eventually we find out that it got us nowhere. It is only in that act of forgiveness for others who have hurt us that we will also find the strength to forgive ourselves.
All the shattered hearts and broken promises that I thought I was angry about all seem so irrelevant now. I know that separating is probably the best thing for both of us, but it’s killing me. I no longer care about whether I pass or fail in school. I no longer care about graphic design. None of that matters without him.
How could I have been so blind? So stupid? I got so lost in the things that he had done to me that I forgot about the girl he brought to life. I may not be able to prevent the pain he causes me now and again, but I am in control of MY actions, and my actions have been deplorable.
This isn’t me. I don’t retaliate. I forgive, and I move on. When did I lose sight of that girl? His mistakes should have never been repeated no matter how much I wanted him to understand. He’s a man. He will never understand the emotions of a woman. I sure don’t understand the emotions of a man.
It’s probably too late for us. I simply hope someone else can learn from our mistakes. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, and by forgiving your spouse you can make a stand. You can say that you will not allow the darkness to destroy what you both have built, even if you have to build the walls on your own.
The happiness in our eyes has been gone for quite a while. Once they told the world a story of a love that few would ever experience. Somewhere along the way, we forgot how lucky we were to have found each other. I wish I had been better at showing him how truly grateful I was to have him here. And while many might say that I should use these lessons for the next guy, I know, without a single doubt, that there will be no other for me. The attention that I was seeking from others never managed to replace what I was desperately in need of from him. And because of my foolishness, there will always be a break in his heart that won’t heal, and that I am responsible for. No matter how many times I assure him that I never followed through, he will always believe I did. Maybe that’s even worse. He will spend the rest of his life hoping that my words are true but never truly believing.
Dear God, what have I done? I ruined the only thing that was truly pure and beautiful in my life out of pure spite. My life has never had any light in it until he came along. The day I met him, everything sprang to life. The grass was greener; the sky was bluer. Exactly when did I lose sight of that? Was it the first time he slapped me? Was it the day he broke my tailbone? I seem to recall a spark up until the moment that I felt that a single promise from him had become necessary – that no matter how our fights ended, if something ever happened to me that he would not panic and kill our children as well. Anything that was left after that died the moment I pleaded for my own life.
I know this relationship isn’t healthy. I’m fully capable of taking a step back and screaming to the girl before me, “For God’s sake, run!” But I stand by a decision I made one night in our Blessing home: if I intended to love him, then I was going to love him to the end, whether it be tragic or happily ever after. It looks like tragedy is the theme of this play, but at least the heroes in question have lost only their souls and not their lives.