Today’s writing prompt: Something you have to forgive someone for.
My brain over the last couple of days, contemplating this post:
Hmmmm. I don’t want to talk about the horrible things people have done to me. I’ve spent enough time writing on my blog about that stuff. Then again, there’s plenty I haven’t written about: What about the men who have been violent toward me? What about some of the things my ex-husband did that I haven’t talked about? What about the bosses who treated me so badly in my 20’s? What about all the childhood wounds my mother inflicted that I haven’t mentioned? Now that I think about it, there’s plenty of stuff there! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy!
And then it occurred to me that the reasons those things were going to be easy was because I’ve already forgiven those trespasses (as we Catholics were raised to say). To write about them would be an easy way out precisely because the forgiveness has already accomplished. There is no vulnerability, no discomfort. And I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of this challenge. I think it’s supposed be a little hard, a little uncomfortable.
So it was back to the drawing board. When I dug around in the darkest corners of my heart and poked and prodded at the growly resentments that lurked there, I realized that one hurt bit back the hardest, and therefore demanded to be the reluctant subject of this post.
Someday, somehow I need to forgive myself for decimating my children’s intact family.
To be honest, some days it seems like I’m almost there. Like the morning I was driving Bryn to school last year and she voluntarily suggested that we are all happier now than we were before the divorce. Or the times when my oldest, Sabrina, tells me that she can totally understand why her dad and I just couldn’t make it together. Those moments are blessings, salves to my aching soul, delicate threads of hope for all of us.
But then there are the other days.
Days when I wonder at what my girls might have been had I not made the decision to end our family as they knew it. Days when I wonder at the long-term wounds I created with that decision. Days when I wonder how much adult therapy it will take them to build healthy lives and relationships without carrying the detritus of our broken family with them.
Some of those days are burned into my memory – guilt branded onto the flesh of my soul. Like the morning I watched 5-year-old Bryn haul her little wheelie suitcase down the stairs (“thump, thump, thump”), crying and asking why she had to switch houses every week. Or the many times (so many times!) when Sabrina hugged me tightly and told me she didn’t want to go to her dad’s and why couldn’t she just stay with me? Or the Christmas when Bryn pointed out how unfair it was that they had to spend Christmas morning after opening their presents, packing up all their belongings to switch houses and have a second Christmas that afternoon.
But those moments, as heart-wrenching as they were, do not compare with the nightmares of possible damage that will manifest in their teen years and beyond. The fear that they will act out their damaged souls through self-destructive behaviors that lead to pregnancy, addiction, or simply sacrificing their amazing potential in some other way — that fear haunts my nightmares in every possible form.
And those fears are looming ever larger lately.
Since last spring, my ex-husband, Bryce, and I have been struggling (so far unsuccessfully) to deal with Bryn’s growing tendency to lie and, on some occasions, to even steal money from family members. Even as I type this, my whole body flushes with shame, because — let’s be brutally honest here — no matter how much we say it isn’t so, when someone so young goes off the rails, we lay the blame for the bad behavior with the parents, not with the child alone. If she is wandering from the right path, it is surely because she was not provided with the proper guidance of how to stay on it.
Bryce and I have done all that we know to do: we have tried to talk to her, we have sent her back to the therapist she saw and came to trust after our divorce, we have provided incentives for better behavior and punishments for the bad. And still she struggles.
And every time she stumbles, I hate myself.
I understand that she might have had these problems even if we had stayed together. Her therapist said as much to us during our separation when Bryn was 5. But it doesn’t feel that way to me. I am hyper-vigilant to any possibility that my decision seven years ago doomed my children to damage I cannot fix. Bryn brings home straight A’s in advanced classes, is a successful competitive gymnast, and has nice, studious friends. But as soon as there is the slightest suggestion that she is struggling beneath that well-adjusted facade, I panic. And the self-loathing kicks in.
I knew before her therapist told us so that Bryn is acting out against some emotional trigger, seeking attention and trying to be heard, and I have my suspicions as to what that trigger is, but until Bryn is comfortable admitting it, I am unable to advocate on her behalf. So instead I sob when I’m alone and wonder if she’d be crying out in this manner if her father and I had stayed together… if I had found the selflessness to allow her the luxury of an intact family during her childhood.
But I didn’t. And life doesn’t give you do-overs.
These are the only times ever that I have come close to regretting my decision to divorce her dad. I can’t help it. I love my girls and can’t help but assume the responsibility for their pain. I cannot see what that alternative future might have held, so I am confined to this future — that I created and imposed on the rest of my family.
I know that we forgive, not for the sake of the forgiven, but to achieve our own peace. I would love to have that peace in my heart, but so far, I cannot say that I am close to it. I don’t feel that I deserve it, and so I cling to the blame and resentment with an intensity that hits me from out of nowhere and strangles my heart Every. Single. Time.
Maybe someday I will forgive that desperate, sad, lonely me of 7 years ago.
Or, then again, depending on what the future holds, maybe I won’t.