To Forgive or Not to Forgive

Forgiveness has been a central theme of my life for as long as I can remember. While my childhood had a lot of happy memories there were also a lot of bad ones, too. I had a traumatic childhood. I grew up being scared of the person who was supposed to protect me and for good reason.

I wrestle with forgiveness every day. Whether it’s to forgive those who have done something to me or to forgive myself for the things I’ve done to others.

Forgiveness rears itself in my life in unexpected ways, especially when I try to suppress my feelings. One day, I was at a drop-in improv class and I was doing a scene with an older gentleman. We started the scene, he said “hello!” and I responded with “Dad? What are you doing here? Where have you been??? My Mom and I always wondered where you were!!” The gentleman doing the scene with me didn’t skip a beat and said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there then. But I’m here now. Let’s start there.” I’m telling you, I nearly started balling right there… It wasn’t my intent to bring the topic of my father into an improv skit but it happened anyway. My father was never a part of my life. He left my mother when I was two. I only met him for the first time when I turned forty. There are so many feelings I have there that are unresolved.

Another time I was out with my friend, Natalie. We were at a party in Downtown LA. I was stupid high off of edibles and they hit me about an hour into the festivities and right after I complained, Natalie, these gummies aren’t working, like, at all. When I’m high I tend to wander. I found a guy sitting by himself, he was deep into himself introspection at its finest. He didn’t want to be bothered. Naturally, I sat next to him. I asked him what was on his mind. He told me about a startup he used to work for. It failed some months after he left the company (with much begging and pleading from the founder to stay on board). He felt deep-seated guilt over it all because he blamed himself for that startup’s failure. You see, this guy founded his own startup which was being incubated by the host of the party I was at. He felt guilty that he was succeeding where his other colleagues failed before.

I looked this man in the eyes, I put my hand on his shoulder and I said to him, “Do you forgive yourself?” He looked at me and said, “Yes, of course, I do!” I pressed him further, I squeezed his shoulder a little tighter and said, “Say that you forgive yourself.” The man took a deep breath and began to stammer. He stood up quickly, putting his hands over his face and excused himself. I made the poor man cry. I didn’t mean to. I was projecting on to him. I wanted to forgive myself but instead pressed this poor guy to do it instead.

I really am an asshole when I’m high.

Forgiveness. I haven’t forgiven my mother, my father, or myself. And I have to tell you, it’s exhausting. I’m so tired of it and yet I don’t do it. Perhaps this is all too familiar to me and I’m afraid to move on. I’m afraid of what comes after forgiveness.

My father passed away earlier this year. I was numb to the news my Aunt (my father’s sister) delivered early that morning. My father had a troubled life. He was a drug addict, it took him one hit to become addicted to meth—his mother disowned him and threw him out of her house when he was sixteen or seventeen. His own father was an abusive drunk. My father didn’t have a real fighting chance in the world. He would lead a life of crime, culminating in murdering his wife in 1994—an absolutely heinous crime. Though, his life growing up was bad there cannot be an excuse for his crimes, especially murder.

He was released from prison in 2011 or 2012, I think. It was 2015, I believe, when I met him face-to-face. He hadn’t earned anything from me and I also didn’t ask him for anything. What did he have to offer me? I still have so many feelings wrapped up with him, feelings that will largely be unresolved. I don’t think he deserves forgiveness. Is it my job to do that? I don’t know. If I do will I feel better? Again, I do not know. I have so much to unravel there.

He lived a painful life and he wrought even more pain on so many others with the things he did.

My mother raised me the best she could. She was young when she had me. She didn’t have all the tools necessary to raise a child but she always had a roof above my head. As noted above, I grew up scared of my mother—she had the worst temper and had a way with words that could cut anyone down.

If I’m being honest here I haven’t forgiven my mother. Not really. I’d like to make my peace with her while there’s still time. Our relationship is strained, it’s not great and it’s likely never going to be great. When I’m around her it’s hard for me to not think of the ways she made me feel when I was young. It affects how I am around her and it’s not something I can easily switch-off and most times I can’t switch things off.

I carry much of the survival mechanisms I adopted trying to stay safe of my mother’s anger—it’s why I’m fiercely self-sustaining. I know there’s no one for me to count on, at least that’s how it feels.

Why recount this stuff? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with what’s in my head. I talk it out with my therapist and it helps. I’m hopeful that writing about it all, too, is helpful and that it can help me move past this.

Maybe next time we can talk about why Cat’s in the Cradle wrecks me every time I hear it…

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