Of all the things you did when I was trapped with you behind that door, within those same four walls day in and day out, hidden from the windows blockaded with invisible bars that I was commanded to stay away from lest I see the outside world did still exist, that life still did go on without me as I lied in that bed awake night after night trying to protect myself from ambush, there are three things that I simply cannot understand. My inability to ever fully grasp how one person could be so destructive and uncaring about the damage they leave behind them everywhere they go almost broke me completely when I was going back and forth trying to figure out if I was ready to forgive your monstrous behavior.
The strange thing about this is that I was never a person to hold on to grudges. I didn’t have it in me. That doesn’t mean that I forgot things people did when they betrayed me or did things deliberately even though they knew they would hurt me. It means that I had faith in people, not because they proved themselves worthy of this gift, but because I love. It’s who I am, and it isn’t something that I can shut off at will. I can’t look at you and tell you that you are the scum of the earth because you cheated on me, that I hate you because you are a liar and also mean it with even the smallest part of my being. And I certainly couldn’t tell you that just because I am angry with you, because I see a need to cut you out of my life, that the emotional connection just dies. Further, I couldn’t even bring myself to say (and truly mean) that I wouldn’t miss you from time to time (if I did, it would be a lie). But you have managed to become my exception. You have become my negativity, and this absolutely disgusts me.
You represent a fall of the worst kind. A fall I consider to be a character defect in myself. (And before anyone tries to stop my self-criticism, I entreat them to hear me out.) You have shown me that it is possible for me to be forever changed by you. That I can be molded even by someone so devious, insensitive, and evil as you. That all the good I somehow managed to hold in my heart has been ripped away from me while I stood unaware that you were still there lurking in the shadows, even in your absence. This has caused a conflict within that I cannot escape, because I cannot resolve it. Because I still cannot reconcile the possibility in my brain — my brain geared toward love and emotion and compassion and consideration and thoughtfulness and encouragement — that such evil, such vile and denigrating filth exists in this world and runs freely through the streets leaving mountains of disaster in his wake. How can this be? How can you exist? How can you be such a monster and have no shame?
The difficulty we often face when taking this monumental step to forgive our abuser is as varied as the abuses we suffered with them. Some may struggle forgiving the abuser’s brutality and the uncaring, sadistic manner in which it was doled out. Mercilessly. Some may find it difficult to forgive not only things they lost but relationships and pieces of themselves that were torn away from them by someone whose only concern was getting power and control that they could wield in their might over the victim’s head. Others still may find it challenging to forgive things they were put through, things they endured, and things they were forced to do as a result of the abuser’s force and manipulation. Things they see as humiliating and inherently wrong. But these were the first things I forgave you for, and even the stealing from me is included in this. These things are not what almost broke me. I consider these all to be par for the course, especially when I recall the lifestyle you choose to live.
This doesn’t mean that I excuse, condone, or justify all the hateful things you have done by any stretch of the imagination. It only means that I came to terms with the overwhelming improbability of me escaping this fiasco without a few dents and scratches and that I was largely unwilling to allow myself to be eaten away at a painstakingly torturous pace by bitterness that your anger and abuse left behind. Above and beyond that, I felt then and still do that I was not willing to give up anymore of life to the likes of you than you have already taken. And so I chose to forgive. A selfish act, really, because I didn’t do it for you. I didn’t do it so you could sleep better or move on without guilt, because you most likely do not care, and I don’t fool myself into thinking you feels any guilt over even the more evil of things you did. Forgiveness was extended for me, and by extension for those around me. I did it so I wouldn’t turn into a pool of gelatinous goo, a useless, wasteful puddle of nothing.
Except for the past several days, this is exactly what I am. And I only am thinking about those days before I offered up forgiveness, because today I feel conflicted, tortured, angry, and unsteady just as I did then. Because even though I am not again facing a decision of this import, the battle over these things that almost had me back away from setting it all free again rages like an inferno in my brain. There is not water enough to put it out, and I simply feel like I am teetering on the edge of madness trying to just hang on until it passes, even though being trapped in the middle of the conflagration has me feeling like it never will.
By far, the most difficult of these three things for me to swallow and forgive was how you cruelly and so shamelessly abandoned your family. Your wife, your two beautiful daughters. And every time I think about this, I have to stop myself, because I feel that anger at you begin to resurface. It’s the monster that just won’t die. I can’t see how you thought I would fall prey to your delusions and excuses as to why you did this to them, especially given the fact that you know under no uncertain circumstances how I feel about a parent abandoning their children and partner to run off and frolic in the devil’s den doing whatever mischief and mayhem you could get you hands on to betray them.
While I do feel hurt for your wife because I can only imagine the hurt and distress she has carried on her heart enduring what must be approaching twenty years of your unspeakable cruelty, my main concern is for those girls you have cast aside like they were garbage and instead choosing to blame their mother for their decision to remove you from their lives so you don’t also have to claim the responsibility for abandonment and all the emotional distress you have caused them. The sad thing is that the last time they gave you the opportunity to claim that responsibility and face what hurt you have caused them, you shut them down. Their words, their pleas fell on deaf ears, and I have to say that I am proud of them for standing up for themselves and caring enough to tell you how they felt. Even after all the loss and pain, they opened a door to let you back in, and you slammed it shut and ran down the street in chase of vapors.
It doesn’t take a PhD to infer that my difficulties in forgiving you for this devastation were caused by influences in my own past. Even though you know just small portion of why this would be hard on me emotionally, I am so glad that I never went into detail about this with you. I am sure you would have used this against me, too, if you knew the confusion and worthlessness I felt as a child knowing my mother did not care to so much as put up a fight for us. I am not complaining or being unappreciative of the childhood my father was able to provide for us, but it’s hard to heal a wound when you are cut open by a parent who handed you off and emotionally walked away. There are so many battles you fight your way through, but that feeling of inferiority stays with you for years if you never learn to face it, and it can do irreparable damage to your self-esteem. Unfortunately for me, you picked that up on your radar before it so much as made a blip on the screen.
Watching you cause this kind of damage on those girls hurt me more than I ever dared let on. I detested you for being able to do so and all without a care in the world as to what you would be doing to them. Perhaps now that I am hopefully a little wiser, I know that it was so troubling to me because I never really forgave her for doing to us what you did to your own children. I fought long and hard to forgive you for this, because my own demons prevented me from being so generous with you. But it wasn’t really you I was being generous with, was it? You know full well that I never excused your behavior with your children, and I took my share of punishment speaking on their behalf.
The hate I felt for you for this one thing alone was enough to permanently derail me, and I wasn’t willing to let that become my reality. So I forgave you, but I still detest what you have done. Now, however, I have chosen to focus on the relative stability those girls have without you in the home constantly tearing it up. I hope now, as they grow through the last of their adolescent years into young women that they have come to understand that the way you have tossed them aside had absolutely nothing to do with them. I hope and pray that they know, in their heads and their hearts, that it was always and will be always you. That your treatment of them and their mother was not an indication of their worth but a lack of your integrity, love, mercy, and compassion. And nothing more. They are thankfully nothing like you.
The second thing that was hard for me to reconcile and move past was realizing how fully you have affected and tainted how I interact with others. I understand that certain amounts of trauma will persist, and I will struggle to overcome the emotional damage that you have left behind. But what I cannot accept is how the damage manifests and accordingly affects my behavior. Of the most unsettling of these is the fact that you have so thoroughly impacted and damaged my ability to trust others around me. Why should I look at people who are innocent and well-meaning with an untrusting eye? Why should I doubt everything they say? Why am I constantly analyzing things people do and say as though they are out to get me and I just don’t know it yet? Truly, if you tear apart and analyze anything enough, you can always find a flaw. Of all the madness you could inflict upon me, you do this?
This one thing has more impact on how close we are able to get to people and how strongly we are able to forge connections with them on the deepest levels of emotional relationships. And this is how you damage me! Were I to find that happy medium where I could not be too trusting that people take advantage of me yet not so untrusting that I feel like I must play detective to make sure they are okay to be let in! Strangely enough, even scrutiny can’t save me from the monster rearing its head, and I fight this battle against mistrust every day. Some days it gets tiring. Some days, I just don’t even want to try. But out of fairness, I try to give everyone the benefit of doubt until they prove they don’t deserve it. Sometimes, I fail gloriously. The past few days have been some shining examples of failure in that respect.
You would love if I was never able to get this under control, because then you would still have accomplished one of your goals even though I removed you from my life. With the strength of iron, you would have been able to prevent me from even truly being connected to someone, happy with someone, and in love with someone for the rest of my life. Your sick, twisted version of “If I can’t have you, no one will!” So instead of playing into your cards and letting it permanently lead me to live the life of a hermit so I wouldn’t even have to be bothered, I took a deep breath, and I let it go, and I forgave you. This doesn’t mean I don’t have to fight against the urge to mistrust, but I have the energy freed up to persist the fight and wrestle it into submission every time it comes back around.
The third thing was forgiving myself for being human. An odd statement to make, I know. But I was raised with the overwhelming expectation that I was to be superhuman, and somehow manage to mask my imperfections with…. perfection of the superlative kind. The trouble with this was that as a child, I had no idea this was not possible. I assumed if they expected it of me, then it must be something I could achieve. Expectations never settle in and stay where they are. They have a tendency to rise like warm air. But this didn’t keep me from chasing, not when I thought if I just got this one last thing right, then I’d be a good child. Worthy. Someone to be proud of. Unconditionally accepted.
What an Achilles heal to have. Being imperfect. The burden of no one ever allowing for me to make mistakes or feel emotion. What am odd forerunner to you. All the time I grew tired as a child chasing after everyone’s approval and still I continue it with you. For whatever reason, I just could not bring myself to accept that no matter what I did, you were never going to allow it to be enough. I was never to clean the right way, cook the way, read the right books, study the right language, like the right music, be intelligent enough, be thin enough, or be pretty enough for you. You were always ready, right there with an object of comparison to bring me down, and I internalized it all and lamented at my inability to anything other than less than perfect. Human.
Even now, I still battle this on varying levels. I extend myself to others when I don’t have the strength, the time, or the energy. I still have a difficult time in accepting the fact that even though my brain thinks she can manipulate everything in her favor without causing me undue suffering or stress, this is not always the case. Also, the persistence in thinking that I cannot be emotional, have feelings, stumble, falter, or waiver in any manner hangs around. I can only hope with time this is another influence of you that will wear away, and one day I will be free of it altogether.
It’s difficult to see that day when I have spent so many of the past several days being triggered. Unfortunately, many of his drug contacts seem to be in the darndest of places at the same time as I am. It was enough for me to see several of them over a few days’ time, but what set me off and spun me out of control happened in the one place where I had come to feel I had sanctuary from him in every way possible. And in the most innocent and unintended of ways, with people whom I have no reason, desire, nor cause to fear, that peace was shattered, and my security was robbed. All it takes is for one person who shares his likeness wearing a pair of glasses almost exactly like his, one glance, and two and a half hours of fighting off a chain of panic attacks, and I am in meltdown mode. It wasn’t that I did not find the strength to keep myself together, because I did. I even spoke to the person out of respect, but it has absolutely nothing to do with him and was completely out of his control.
But a part of me can’t help but feel conflicted, angry, and distressed that something like this is happening over something that happened so long ago. And that along with it I get spun back to a familiar place I try so hard to forget. A place in time, in my mind and my heart, where I almost lost myself because of things like this and you. A place where I doubted my own faith in my ability to love and trust and endure. I find myself shattered and angry and hurt to find myself here again because of such a simple thing. I find myself obsessing about the anguish I felt at even thinking about forgiving you and questioning whether or not you even deserved it after everything you had done to all of us.
But I am okay with the torture I endured in deciding to forgive you. Because even though trying to reconcile these heinous things almost broke me, even though I almost lost myself to the anger I had for you, I managed to overcome. Just as I somehow always do, and just as I will now. Even though right now, I don’t feel like I will.