Category: compassion

Drowning in the Dark – Finding Your Way to Forgiveness

It has been a long time since I last wrote, but as my son approaches his very first birthday, I’m feeling a little uptick in energy that means my fingers are itching for something new, and Facebook is just not cutting it.

But, the thing I want to write about today isn’t my son or daughter and their adorable antics – it’s about forgiveness, and a point when I thought things were at their darkest. My sister recently wrote a post about forgiveness and asked me about a dream I had after a tragedy in our lives. You can find her post here: Until I was Free.

As background, well over a decade ago, my husband and I were married. It was one of the happiest days of my life. It wasn’t perfect, because my mother showed up that morning and told my husband she wouldn’t be at the wedding. I was in my room getting dressed, but I heard her, I could hear the panic in her voice, but before I could come out to plead with her, Nick had used his compassionate powers of persuasion to convince her she had to be there. After the wedding, my mom’s illness became worse. She would show up at our house and rant and yell. She left voicemails for me telling me I was the devil incarnate, demonspawn (her most used adjective for me) and she wished I had never been born. Nick began screening and deleting these voicemails, because it had become just too much for me. It was bad enough watching my mom slip away mentally, but to be the object of such hate was more than I could bear.

Our honeymoon was the first chance for me to escape. For three weeks, I didn’t have to worry that I would be woken up in the middle of the night by the woman I called mother yelling under my window, the rattling of her trying to break into my house at 3:00 a.m., to do who knows what. It took a while for me to unwind, but I think it was about 1.5 weeks into the honeymoon before I felt I could breathe and let go of all that hurt, fear and anxiety I had been clutching close to my chest. For the first time, I felt like the world was actually going to be okay. And I reveled in the beauty of Greece, the food, the relaxation, the different culture, and did I mention the food?

When I returned, my world was turned upside down. While I was off re-learning to enjoy myself on my honeymoon, a friend from high school, Lucas, had killed himself, and murdered Skye, someone else from my high school. I wanted to say he had “taken someone else’s life”, to dance around the sheer brutality of it, but that’s what it was. It was murder.  It was suicide.  

I was simultaneously racked with guilt and angry at Lucas. I had known Skye in high school and from ballroom dancing – he was a rare soul who just radiated kindness and compassion. I never saw him without a smile on his face, and I never saw or heard him speak an unkind word about anyone, no matter how deserving.  The reason I was racked with guilt is pretty simple – I had grown up with mental illness in my life. I knew the signs. I knew when someone was drowning in a darkness of their own creation.  I saw Lucas lashing out at people, I saw the spark in his eyes slowly disappear until it was entirely consumed by an emptiness. It was the same aching emptiness I saw in mom’s eyes when she sank into a depression, and would hurt herself. I once found my mom sitting on the stairwell to the basement with a kitchen knife in her hands, crying. I was maybe 12 or 13 – that’s when she confessed that the scars that run up and down her arm that she had always told me were from her attempt to take a knife away from my autistic uncle when they were children – she had lied. She said that sometimes she would “hurt herself so she could feel something – anything.” As a kid, I didn’t know what to do when someone I loved was hurting, so I took the knife away and held her and told her I loved her. I made her promise me to never hurt herself again. We never talked about the knife again.

Lucas‘s emptiness was also deep, but he would hurt others so he could feel. I started to see the pattern, as he became less charming and more focused on mounting verbal attacks, in tearing me (and others) down so he could feel better about himself. 

I recognized this on some level, but, I think 20 year old me couldn’t cope. So, after he had verbally abused our brother, and I found him licking the ear of a sleeping under-aged friend, I blew up. I just couldn’t take it. For the first time, the mousey-Raven blew up and, more surprisingly, held her ground. I confronted him, told him his behavior was inappropriate. When he tried to tell me I was over-reacting and being hysterical, I stuck to my guns, I remembered my self-defense class and identified exactly what he was doing that was inappropriate, and when he still wouldn’t believe me, I swore. If you know me, you know I *hate* being angry, I hate confrontation of all kinds, but I yelled at him: “Get the FUCK out of my house.” He said his friend lived there, too, and I said “I don’t give a fuck, so long as I live here, you are not welcome. Do not talk to me, do not speak to me, get the FUCK out, and don’t come back. If you don’t get out now, I’ll call the police.” I literally walked forward, yelling at him to get the fuck out of my house until I had backed him out of the door and slammed the door on him. Then I ran to my room, shaking and crying. This all took place in front of our friends, whom I think were totally surprised, and possibly horrified, because his behavior was so commonplace. It was just Lucas being an asshole.

I remember that scene vividly, and when I found out about the murder-suicide, it all came back to me. I had cut him out. My other friends hadn’t – they still saw him, but I had not done it in a constructive way.  Some time after I returned, a mutual friend called me and conveyed that Lucas had a parting message. He had taken this friend out before the tragic events and asked him to convey to me how sorry he was for the way he treated me. That he’d recognized I had been a victim, and he’d taken advantage of it. He wanted me to know how sorry he was if he’d ever hurt me, but that he could see I was doing much better now. 
I’ll admit, that didn’t help my guilt. I knew Lucas was mentally ill. I’d seen it in Mom, I’d seen it in others, I knew the signs. So, I was mad at Lucas for Skye, I was mad at him for all the hurt he’d caused everyone around him, but I was mad at myself for not recognizing the signs, for kicking him out/shutting him out, because I didn’t know enough to take him aside and say, “Lucas, this isn’t right. What you’re doing, isn’t right. You need help. I can’t give you that help, but I can be here for you while you get it. Please, start seeing someone, and I will support you. If you don’t, THEN, I’m afraid you are no longer welcome here.” But, in all fairness, I was young and silly, and hurting myself. 
So, when I learned about what happened, I felt terrible. My friends told me there wasn’t anything I could have done – that if I had continued to be in his life, I, too, might have been hurt. What I did then – it was self-protection and I needed to do it. But, at the time their words fell on ears that weren’t listening. 
After a few weeks of intense guilt and crying myself to sleep every night thinking about the hurt and pain that would drive someone into that kind of darkness, I drifted into a fitful sleep. I was suddenly in Monroe Park, where my siblings and I used to play as children. I was my 11-year-old self, and holding the Express (my favorite kitten who had died in an accident when I was a kid), surrounded by  other kittens playing in the sun-filled grass. It was magical. A warm breeze teased the grass and I felt an intense wave of peace roll over me. As I pet and cuddled my sweet kitten, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade, I saw feet in front of me, and I looked up in surprise. It was Lucas, standing above me. His head was surrounded by a halo of sunlight such that I could barely make out his features, but I knew it was him. As he stepped closer, he gave me a huge smile, the likes of which I hadn’t really seen since high school, and held his arms out. I stood up, and he embraced me and said “It’s okay, Rachael. I’m okay.” I felt those words to my very core and I woke up with them ringing in my ears. Somehow, the heaviness was lifted from my heart.  I realized that he was gone, but all his pain was gone, too. He had taken a light out of this world that we couldn’t bring back, but I needed to stop dwelling on his pain and his hurt. I needed to stop drowning in the darkness his world had become at the end.  
In that moment, I understood. In that moment, I forgave him and I forgave myself. 

On Darkness, Negativity, and Other Broken Things

Okay, I had intended this blog to be solely my writing blog, something to help keep me motivated in my endeavors to write… But after quite a few responses offline and conveyed to me by TMiYC (The Monster In Your Closet) about my previous post (When you know a friendship is toxic), I now realize that there may be some merit in actually posting my own personal musings. Or perhaps all that internal dialogue may be useful to others… (And, yes, I used “dialogue” intentionally – it would be a monologue if it was one voice, instead of a myriad clammering simultaneously:”Why did you say that?” “Why did you x?” “Should you have done y instead?” “What if this choice has z effect?”)

Perhaps this blog can help quell those doubt-filled voices in my head. Or air them out to dry, so they’re out in the open and I can see them for what they are and not let those niggling doubts drag me down. Especially since I am a mom and my choices now effect that precious squealing ball of happiness that is currently napping spread-eagled in her crib.

Since I posted about NPD, I have felt as if this huge weight has been lifted from my chest. But that has more to do with my being open and acknowledging that I have negative feelings about someone. And that’s okay. For some reason, I have always hated speaking negatively about anyone. Whether they deserve it or not. I do want to be really clear about something – the friends I have, the real ones who are not NPD? You will never meet a more amazing, loving, thoughtful group of people. These are the people who banded together to bring me and my family food when my mom was dying, who took me to coffee, went on long walks, or just hugged me and let me cry during that period and YEARS before that when I finally confronted the fact that my mom was struggling with a mental illness that could no longer be ignored. Some of these friends may be a generation or two older than me, but that age difference does not change the fact that they have my admiration, love, and respect. Nor does it change the fact that they rock my socks off.

My discomfort about “rocking the boat” was really my fear of making a messy, awkward situation for my friends. Combine that fear with my discomfort saying anything negative about others? There is so much darkness and drama in the world, and I hate to cause any drama unnecessarily.

Perhaps it may help if I laid all my cards on the table. I was the victim of abuse. Sometimes, it seems so long ago and far away, I feel like it happened to a different person. A different little girl.

I watched my dad beat my mom on several occasions. I hid under the bed when he broke the bedroom door down to get at her. On one occasion, my cheek got cut when my mom tried to grab a wire hanger from the closet to defend herself (and she didn’t realize I was hiding in the closet at the time). I witnessed her get beaten while she was pregnant, and only later learned that I would have had one more brother had it not been for that attack. I am 32 years old and I still cringe when I hear people raise their voices in anger. 

Add that to watching my mother slowly lose her battle with a mental illness that made her increasingly paranoid such that I often lost friends because they looked at her wrong… Well, you can bet that I will probably be the last one to speak up if something is bothering me. I am so used to compartmentalizing, because, heck, how the hell was I supposed to know what was normal growing up? I got used to playing the peacekeeper with mom – stepping in and telling her that her long-time friend and my godmother was not trying to insinuate she was a second class citizen by saying or doing x, y, or z. No, the pastor didn’t intentionally look at her at x point in the sermon. He was looking at everyone. It was gut-wrenching stress for a child, but it was what I knew.

Then there was the other thing – the thing I used to never mention for fear of people finding out just how broken I was. Starting in the 3rd grade, I was molested by a family friend. For years, I told the court and my mother that he had threatened to hurt my mom and siblings, and that’s why I didn’t tell anyone that it was happening. This man came into my mother’s house (before the mental illness had really even done more than make her unpredictably irritable) and pretended to be a friend to her while assuming the role of the gentle father to me. My mom was elated. Finally, a father figure was taking interest in her second daughter ! The daughter whose actual father never remembered her (the same father showed up on her 7th birthday to take the older, favored daughter shopping for My Little Ponies. (Thank you, TMiYC for sharing them with me!). This guy, hereafter dubbed “Pervert” (as an homage to my mom who yelled this loudly while pointing at him whenever she ran into him on the street, in the library, or at a restaurant), used my mom’s brokeness against me. After that first time, when he touched me (and I knew it was a “bad touch” because my mom had told me about it), he asked what it would do to my mom if she knew what he’d done? How would she feel if she knew just how unwanted she was, that he chose me over her? Wouldn’t it hurt her, break her to know what she had let happen to her child?

I was very good at putting on a game face. My mom didn’t suspect a thing for years. Pervert and mom drifted apart naturally, and I couldn’t have been happier. I got to be a kid and do kid things without feeling like I was living double lives. My mom had finally kicked my dad to the curb, and he had finally been forced by the State to pay child support, so my mom wasn’t terrified of losing the house.

It wasn’t until I was 10 and at the Country Fair when Mom went to go get me lemonade and returned to find me sitting cross-legged on our blanket, looking up at someone with absolute terror etched across my face. She dropped the lemonade and dragged me and all our things immediately back to the car with no more than a “Get away from my daughter” as a greeting to the Pervert. Over a course of several days, she asked me repeatedly and quietly, “What did he do to you?” When I insisted he didn’t do anything, she refused to believe me. I had no idea what to say – what was I supposed to say? When I was 7 I started lying because I was afraid to hurt you? You were happy for the first time, and dad wasn’t hurting you anymore and all I wanted was for you to laugh and smile, because when you were laughing and smiling the world could be whatever we dreamed it could be?

In the end – I broke. I told her everything, with the slight tweak on my own little lie. And I watched with a broken heart as her world crumbled and shattered around her. She had given up everything, worked multiple jobs at the same time, buckled under her own feelings and accepted food stamps (she hated charity), pushed to get each one of us into alternative schools so we could have every opportunity, and then this. The Pervert was right. Where Dad had failed, he had won. She broke and she broke hard. Did she hit me when I finally confessed, like somehow the D.A. convinced her she had? Hell, no. She held me, cried and said “I’m so sorry, my poor baby” over and over again. The crying didn’t stop for several weeks. The number of times I heard “I’m a terrible mother” coming from her room, sometimes punctuated by a dull and rhythmic thud as she hit her head against the floor, well… That broke me. For many many years, I carried a guilt around with me. I blamed myself, not the Pervert. I should have told her after that first time, my so much smarter ten-year-old self tried to tell my seven-year-old self. It was the years of letting it happen that was what destroyed her. I had broken my mom where my dad had failed. Little me and my big lies.

Counseling helped, and boy did my mom choose a good counselor. But nothing helped quite so much as the entry into my life of one person who believed in me so fully, and whose gentle support and guidance helped me learn to believe in myself.  I don’t know how a 17 year-old boy possessed the wisdom, grace, humor, and comfort to bring the solitary Rambler out of hiding, but he did.  I am forever grateful to the love of my life, my husband, for that.

As a sidenote, I never did tell my mom about that big/little lie. Even as I held her hand and she breathed her last breath., there was always that lie between us. The guilt created a huge gap that I didn’t know how to bridge. Right before she succumbed to a three year bout where she gave in to her mental illness completely, and barely recognized us, my mom had walked up to me and begged me for forgiveness. I blithely hugged her, laughed and told her she didn’t need my forgiveness. She was my mom, I loved her, and she had done nothing that needed forgiveness. She looked at me with such sorrow, that it haunts me still. She begged that someday I would find it in my heart to forgive her, and everyone who hurt me, because forgiveness was so important. I wish I had said the words she so needed to hear. I didn’t understand what she wanted me to forgive, but she needed it. How hard is it to say “I forgive you”?

Anyways, this is a rather dark post because I have, like so many people out there, lived through some dark times. It has made me who I am. Am I emotionally scarred? Sure. We all have our scars, whether we choose to hide them, bare them, or flaunt them. I used to cling to positivity like a lifeboat. I had to believe people could change.  I hated how much people talked about my mom, and rather than lending a helping hand, they pulled her down with criticism. I hate to feel like I could be one of those people, standing on the sideline and judging someone as they struggle. It just feels ugly to dwell on anything negative. Add to that all the doubt of “is this just me being sensitive because of all this baggage?” The simple truth of it is that there is ugliness out there. Just as I try to deal with in my novel, there is darkness out there. It hides within us all, and we get to choose how much of it we let in and influence who we are and who we will be. While I may often choose not to comment on those glimpses of shadows I may observe in others, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. It doesn’t change the fact that I know it’s there.

I know now that speaking about it won’t make me a worse person. If anything, it makes me a stronger person.

 – The Rambler laid bare