The Power of Forgiveness

To be clear, I don’t know what the power of forgiveness will yield in this case. I know what it has opened for me in the past, so I am filled with hope and not really sure I have expectations. The thing is, I let 40 years of fear, anxiety, and anger go yesterday. It was years in the making and nothing short of a miracle. I wasn’t sure I could do it even a year ago. I knew I was going to do it eventually for the past 10 months.

The catalyst was all the crap which occurred last fall with my job. Pulling myself up from that abusive situation, understanding better who I am, what I am capable of, and where my power resides changed everything. So it was from that experience the thought was born this piece is possible. I had other opportunity, but it didn’t really gel for me. My mind and my heart could not clarify my intentions. Was this about hurting the monster that hurt me? Revenge. Was this about starting something or ending something? Both. Did I expect I would gain something or lose something in the process? Again both.

I needed to clear space. I could feel it in me building up. Years of being victimized by the violence my step-father put upon me. I was a kid. I had no idea what I had done wrong, but it must of been bad. Was it my being gay? Was it because I was so much like my brother who’d been tagged as a bad seed? Was it because I deserved to feel the sting of his fist and his words? None of this was clear to me as a child, but I know as an adult none of it was mine. It was projected upon me by the emental illness of another person. Well really the mental illness of several people came into play. I was just on the stage when the lights came on. I became a player in the play and I could not find the stage door to get out.

For many years I tried to figure it out. In the process I changed who I was to protect myself from the violence and keep safe the idea that there was love for me in this world. I lost myself. I changed the way I spoke. I changed my body language. I resolved all the violence around me could be solved and made safe if only I was not me. It’s taken me so many years to find those parts of myself again. I am still looking for so many pieces, but I got a little closer yesterday. My mother, step-father, and I were working on putting together a tv stand/cabinet in the living room. This has sat on the porch partially constructed for 8 months. I am not good with these things, but I felt it couldn’t hurt to try and bridge the gap. I was terrified at the prospect of working with my step-father Phil. I can remember so many times working with him and it spiraling into anger, fear, and violence. It didn’t feel like that was going to happen, but the memories of it having had happened were enough. I was sweating like it was 200 degrees the entire time. Every word of his from behind. Every negotiation of power changing hands. It all felt like it had the potential to topple us over a cliff. It was just the memories and the potential. It was a lot.

I had told my mother earlier that day I wanted to talk to Phil about the abuse he laid upon me as a kid. I wanted him to hear from me what the effects were. How I had repeated that abuse in his absence mistaking it for love. How I had shut everyone and everything out of my life in an effort to feel safe. Safe in my skin. Safe in my home. Safe in the world. None of it really worked. Most of it reenforced the abuse cycle. Relationships were complicated. Allowing myself to love felt like leaping off a cliff without a support or parachute. It sounds like an over exaggeration, but I assure you those feelings were there. I had engaged equally dysfunctional relationships. I had allowed strangers to the opportunity to dole out abuse upon myself in an attempt to be loved. This was love. Yes?

No. Of course not. But try to tell the little kid inside me. The patterns were deeply engrained. Don’t drink. Drinking leads to violence and you are him. Don’t love because if you love fully you will also have to abuse that person. No one wants to be that guy. Over and over and over again. I pull myself back inward. I withdrawl. I steep my life in loneliness to avoid all these forms of violence. The loneliness does not protect me. It forces me into the arms of violence. I knew finally after last fall and the events of February (written about here in my blog fully) that if the cycle was going to end I’d have to find the courage to end it. I became certain I was courageous enough after everything that had transpired with Ojai USD. Now I had to figure out what the motivation would be so my side of things could stay clean. So I could prove to myself it is possible to be brave, truthful, and not be part of the violence.

When I told my mother what I was planning to do she looked me in the eyes and told me to do what I needed to do. She did not defend his actions. She did not negate my feelings. She let me know that she would be there for me before, during, and after. I honestly couldn’t tell you her exact words. I just knew it to be true and there were noises around the feeling, there was a genuine hug, and the sense that things were falling into place. It would happen while we were building the cabinet. What a metaphor. She would fall back. Disappear. We would talk and what was to happen would happen. Sure. Sure. This was going to be real soon.

We started the building. It didn’t happen as I thought. We were finding our way. We were talking about tools. We were finding information. Asking questions. Helping. Guiding. Supporting. Making an effort to fix something that was partially constructed. Scratched because the frustration of putting it together 8 months ago became too much for him. Too much for my mom. It rested in the sun room waiting to be rescued and made useful. So we moved it. We deconstructed it. We looked at a manual that really did not match the task. What were the clues? We constructed this as a team. Mom did not fall away. It honestly was for all of us to complete. And then it happened. We were a functional family working towards a common outcome. It was the first time in my life I had ever felt that. The cabinet was complete and we all exhaled. Phil walked out to the garage. My mom fell into reading on her cell phone. I stepped outside and into the garage.

Phil began to talk about the next project he wanted to tackle. I inhaled and exhaled the words. “I need to talk to you Phil. This is not about you, but about me. I need to tell you how your drinking, violence, and behaviors affected my life. Are you ready to hear what I have to say?” He let me know he was ready. I let my breath go.

When you hit me I felt like I deserved it.

When you hit me I felt like that was how love was expressed.

When  you hit me I was scared. Terrified you would not stop.

When you hit me it told me that I was not enough. I was wrong. I was a failure as your son.

When you hit me I felt like I needed to change something about who I was to avoid getting hit again.

When you hit my brother I thought that meant I needed to remove every bit of body language, intonation in my voice, or action that could be related to him. I made my twin brother disappear from myself. I killed him to save myself. I killed part of myself to make myself palatable to you. I became the opposite of anything related to him hoping you would love me.

When you hit me and I finally fought back I thought it confirmed that I was everything bad and I would lose control. I walked away from my family. I left my mother because I thought I would be like you and hurt her next. I felt like I was everything I feared in you. Everything I had heard bad about my brother. I took everything inside of me and put it on the floor. I walked away and did not talk or interact with who I am for YEARS.

Eventually I stopped making art. Why? Well because I kept coming out in the art and I was not good. So the art was not good. THe art was a portal to evil. The art made it clear to everyone else I was not worth love. I needed to abandon art now or everyone would know. I disappeared further.

I invited bad men into my life to repeat the violence. When they weren’t bad enough, I pressured them to be worse so I could feel loved. When they didn’t become you I walked away. I rejected their love to prove to myself how bad I was.

It’s not all you. There were all these elements of my brother Kevin’s mental illness. He tortured me too, so that supported all my theories. There were things with my uncle. There were things with a cousin. There were things with all these other men. Some known. Some strangers. It doesn’t all belong to you, but it was rooted and made evidence by your actions. You were part of the choir of men who made me disappear.

Pause.

Through his tears he brought the words forward. He had planned on talking to me that same night. He had dreams about the abuse he inflicted on me. He acknowledged it all. A few moments he pulled back and made some excuse or tried to put it into historical perspective. I stopped him and brought it back to me and my experiences. What it made me feel like. How I was struggling with moving forward in my life. How if I did not forgive him and myself there was no space in me for real love. The ego is strong. It was a lot to lay on the stage, so we tugged back and forth, but the message was clear. He heard what I said. He took it in. He felt perspective. I did not take on his feelings. I remained firm. I remained compassionate. I remained firm. I remained empathetic. I did not own his pain. This was about my pain and my desire to move forward.

It ends with a hug and an agreement. It is quite possible more will come up and I need to be able to express that when it does. Yes, he agrees. I may call, write, or talk to him about these things, so he needed to continue processing and try to remain open. Yes, he agrees. We needed my mother not to be the middle woman in our relationship. It was no longer her responsibility to manage our relationship to keep me safe. He was responsible for his actions and I for mine. Yes, he agreed. We hugged.

I went into the bathroom and turned on the fan to muffle the explosion of tears. I threw up. I went into the shower to wash the tears away. I sent a message to my mom to come to the back. She walked in and immediately pulled me into her hug. We wept together and decided to leave the house. We got in the car. My head pounding. My stomach turning. We drove to the Island Burgers and ordered food. I let her know I would be ok. She let me know I would be ok. We ate and talked about other things. Returning home I went to my room. I broke down. I fell asleep in my tears and slept better than I had without melatonin or something to keep me down through the night in over 20 years….30…40 years.

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