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Continue Blaming or Forgive? Reflections on Both
No one can deny that others influence us, from early childhood through today. There is a difference in saying, “My friends thought it was a good idea to rob the store or use the drugs, and I went along with them. It references the influence, rather than, "My friends made me rob the store and use drugs, and it's their fault."
We are all the product of both nature and nurture. There is much debate about favoring one influence over the other; however, the reality is that both influence us.
However, I have never heard a person say, "I hate my mother or father for genetically affecting my eye color." And yet, they will quickly talk about how much they hate their parents for the messages or harm from childhood.
Exercises in Forgiveness
My Choices Cost Me My Children
My self-serving choices in my addiction cost me my children. There was not enough room in my life to use and be a mother; therefore, my children went to live with their father.
Oh, I was embarrassed, sad, and disappointed in myself; however, I was unable to make my actions the reason for their move. I could not take personal responsibility for my choices.
I created the illusion that my children were better off with their Dad and step-mother to some people. To others, I presented it as though my children were shallow, self-centered, and materialistic, and that was why they went to live with their Dad. Once again, blaming someone else for my shortcomings and my addiction.
Motherhood in the South
Trying to escape my addiction, I moved to Georgia. At the time, I did not realize that regardless of where we are, our addiction is right there with us..
The south puts motherhood second only to Jesus; virtues must be on display at all times; rather like the imposing figure on the cross prominently displayed in churches. I am not denouncing Christian morality - love thy neighbor, do unto others, and you are your brother’s keeper are all valuable qualities that have intrinsic worth.
It is more a comment on the unrealistic demands placed on women within a particular culture. I did not meet expectations at all. I tried to avoid the subject of children, knowing I would lack the requisite Southern mother attributes.
Since I ran away in March, I had a reprieve until the school year ended. Surely, I could come up with some plausible excuse for why my children were not with me by June. It did not happen.
We Should Have Been Arrested: Developmentally We Were
I hung out with adult children of my parents' friends; all of us lost, broken, and committing the crime of buying drugs. Not some teenagers that we might make allowances for; after all, they are just learning to make right decisions. No, we were all in our thirties, only looking for the next pleasurable encounter.
Living at home with my mother and father, I experienced my failures. My mom rarely found anything of value in my behaviors even growing up; she had obsessive-compulsive disorder and believed that people must be doing something at all times – preferably something that involved crafts and hands. I have five thumbs. It works well for typing and texting. However, those were not available outlets in 1984.
Growing up in Silence, We Do Not Learn to Communicate
So, do I blame my mother’s lack of demonstrated love for the reason I became a drug addict? No, however, I do recognize that the silent household, I grew up in, influenced me to create incredibly negative messages about myself.
Those messages, created in response to the silent looks of disapproval or the seemingly greater interest in her hobbies, fell into the following categories:
- If my Mom will not talk to me, I must be bad.
- I think she loves my sister more than me, they are both artistic.
“Mother was,' June thought, 'a beautiful little ornament that was damaged.' Her broken edges cut her daughters in ways both emotional and physical, and only sharpened with age.” ― Karen Abbott, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
When children, even the chronological adult children do not perceive the love from parents, there will be self-esteem issues. I struggled with reconciling how unloved I felt. I often wanted to blame my mother for my feelings. If I blamed her for my feelings, then I would have to assume responsibility for how my daughters felt - abandoned and neglected and probably, unloved.
If I took the blame, then in effect, I would be no different than my mother.
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” ― Lewis B. Smedes
Forgiveness and Amends
When I got into recovery in 1988, one of my goals was to make amends with my daughters. Making amends to children means that we have to acknowledge how wrong we were, what was going on with us at the time, and then ask what the injured party needs to continue the relationship. It is not, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not just other people we need to forgive. We also need to forgive ourselves. For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done.” ― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie
Are there people that you need to forgive to move foward in your life?
Are there people you owe an amends to in your life?
Forgiveness: You Cannot Get What You are Unwilling to Give
Sitting in meetings, hearing others share about their childhood, often fraught with sexual abuse, neglect, and violence, I began to form a different concept of my childhood. Not directly comparing, only looking at it in ways that did not include blaming my mother.
As I started writing a life history, I saw patterns to the times that she did not speak. She would fix our meals, and then retreat to the basement with her hobbies. My sister and I would eat the food she prepared in silence at the table.
These episodes of distancing herself and silence seemed to follow arguments with my father. Since he traveled most of the week, there was the lingering unsaid and unresolved disagreement after he left. It hung in the house; echoes of arguments, then silence.
When I risked questioning my mother about these episodes of silence, I genuinely heard her love when she told me that she was afraid to say anything to us after an argument with Dad. She thought that she would say something harmful to us because of her anger at him.
I had no idea that this was the reason for the silence – she did not want to hurt us and loved us. This difficult, but necessary conversation, let me know how wrong I had been to judge her actions and how desperately she wanted to prevent us from being harmed.
I knew at that moment that I would have to forgive her to begin to gain forgiveness from my children. “In this life, when you deny someone an apology, you will remember it at the time you beg forgiveness.” ― Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut
How We Forgive and Move Forward
Years of Verbal Silence
My daughters are two distinct people; they are the product of nature and nurture, yet each processes differently. I did not get forgiveness in equal measure. I do not know why I expected them to forgive me in the same manner any more than I would expect them to select the same dress, given a choice.
Their forgiveness is as different as they are, and I was shortsighted to expect anything different.
For one child, the conversations are still, even after twenty-six years in recovery, a matter of carefully chosen words. She listens to inflections and subtle nuances, and some conversations are not comfortable.Yet, there are conversations and for that, I am grateful.
The silent, unsaid is always under the surface rather like the echoes from my childhood. I do not know and may never know what if anything can heal this wound. I only know not to add to the pain today.
“There’s a small window of opportunity to apologize sometimes after you’ve terribly wronged someone. It closes. Sometimes forever, but it never opens wide enough again for a good breeze.” ― Darnell Lamont Walker
So, even if the people you most desperately want forgiveness from in your life cannot give it at this time, or do not give it in a way that you think is fair; do not blame them and fall victim to self-pity.
Subsequent Generations - Succeeding Better
Regardless of the differences, each of my daughters has given me the privilege of a second chance, as a grandmother. Nana has never been high or the drunk; Nana does not take off and not show up for important events like soccer, football, chorus, ROTC, PTA, or grandparents lunches.
These children in turn let me be a silly child. They listen to stories, they tell me about their day at school or their first crush, or their goals in life, and I marvel that they see me through eyes not jaded by my past actions.
“It's like this old patchwork quilt my momma used to have...Each piece on that quilt meant something. And some of those pieces were the damn ugliest things you've ever seen...
But some of the pieces were so beautiful they almost hurt my eyes to look at when I was a kid...That's the best you can hope for, Danny.
That your life turns out like that patchwork quilt. That you can add some bright, sparkling pieces to the dirty, stained ones you have so far. That in the end, the bright patches might take up more space on your quilt than the dark ones.” ― Brooke McKinley, Shades of Gray
Rejoice in your second chances at life in recovery and learn to forgive them, and yourself and be able to move forward in your life.
© 2013 Marilyn L Davis