The Awesome Power of Forgiveness
I wept like a heart broken child just now. It’s not a cute and shocking metaphor. I was literally wracked with sobs, convulsing in the fetal position on this couch in the San Francisco Bay Area until about 30 seconds ago. This requires some context.
I’ll tell the whole story some day, but here’s a summary.
My dad was a great guy, and a perfectly normal 9-to-5 suburban suit. That’s why the news that he had died of a cocaine overdose hit me like a ton of bricks. Actually he mixed coke, a $20 bottle of Merlot, and a shitload of Percocet.
I had been on the phone with my mom all week from Florida, because he had gone missing after a fight with her. I hoped he was driving across the country to sleep on my couch and cool off. Instead the Ohio Highway Patrol found his sun-baked body in the back of his wine-red Denali at a rest stop just a few miles away from his house.
I was 21 when I traveled to Ohio for the funeral, and to take care of my Mom. My wife and children were perfectly supportive, but that kind of loss is like an abyss. And my heart, tattered as it was, ripped through when I found my mother emaciated and covered in boils from the aggressive staph infection.
The faster a drug takes effect the more addictive potential it has. Both my mom and dad had been injecting a water and cocaine solution into their arms for many months. They used clean hypodermic needles (available at pharmacies for diabetes injections), but one can only perforate one’s skin so many times before introducing infection. I’m told my dad was close to death just from the infection alone.
Mom spent the first few days I was there for the funeral completely inconsolable and bed-ridden. When she came downstairs at a decent time one morning, chipper as June Cleaver, it scared the shit out of me like watching a zombie lurch across the room headless.
She aggressively declined to acknowledge her drug use. After looking into interventionists, we had to depart after the funeral, leaving her behind with her coke and my two teenage siblings.
Without her consent, there was nothing I could do, so I went home and went about the business of grieving for my dad and for them as well.
A month later, she called.
The Tempest Approaches
“Pete, I want to go to rehab. Will you come watch the kids for me?”
I was standing on her porch 36 hours later. But after a week, mom still wasn’t in rehab and had changed her mind completely. I took my brother and sister aside.
“Guys, Mom’s doing bad, I don’t know when she’ll get better, but she can’t take care of you anymore. We have to take care of each other.”
With tears in her eyes, my mother allowed me to fly both the kids home to Florida.
So at 21, I bought the only house I could afford that could fit me and my wife, our two kids, and my siblings, plus my home office. And I started tearing at the walls right away.
The worst year of my life followed. I dropped out of the honors program in college, tanked my first company, went into deep debt, drove my marriage to the brink of destruction. My brother was days away from college, but my sister was out of control. Mom undermined my efforts to help the kids at every turn. She was deteriorating into a paranoid waste case, with freely available life insurance money to fund her decent into delusion and misery.
Then one day I could not find my brother or sister. They had disappeared. After many hours searching that day, I called mom.
“Mom, I haven’t heard from the kids all day, none of their friends know anything, I’m worried. Did they call you?”
“The kids are with me here.”
“Here? Where’s here, are you in town?”
“Here in Ohio.”
I hear my sister laugh at me in the background, as I realize what’s happened.
Fuck you Pete: all you did? Fuck you. Marriage in shambles? Fuck you. Boys all confused and fucked up? Fuck you. Crushing debt? Fuck you. Can’t finish school? Fuck you.
I can’t explain the utter despair I felt in that moment. I knew my siblings were rightly and truly fucked. I knew my brother would never make it through school. I knew Mom would be an addict from then on. And I knew that my idea that love mattered and doing the right thing made a difference was bullshit.
If I hadn’t had a family to take care of, I might have killed myself after that. I felt so completely empty, like I wanted to cry forever but I had no emotion left to spare. Emotional rock bottom.
After a few days staring a wall, I wrote my mom a letter. I said she had destroyed me, and I was cutting her off until she was clean and sober. That was 5 years ago, and I haven’t been in contact with any of them since then (more or less, summarizing here).
In those years I’ve gotten over things. I talk about my mom with a shrug: she fucked me over, but whatever, that’s what addicts do. I’ve moved on, built a better life for myself.
This year in particular has seen me accelerate down this path of allowing my light to shine brightly from within.
I’m here in the Bay Area doing sessions, and staying with my grand parents. My now-adult sister happened to choose now to send my grandmother a nasty e-mail that I think is out of line. So I stew for a day, then write her. I poured out my story and my feelings to her, a harrowing but compassionate e-mail. And I was on a roll, so I did the same to my mom. Totally candid, totally from a place of longing and love.
And today my exchange concludes with real forgiveness. Here’s the very end of what I wrote to my mother. Truer, more sincere words have never been written:
I forgot to mention something that’s important. I love you, completely and unconditionally. I’ve let go of whatever hurt and heartbreak I harbored. There’s no room in my heart for that anymore, I’m too full of gratitude and love.
I wrote to you once that what you did almost killed me and I wasn’t sure if my heart would ever recover. It did feel like it almost killed me, but my heart recovered, stronger and more fierce than ever. There’s a fire inside me, an intense passion and love that devours sadness and fear. It’s hot and bright like the sun inside my chest. Just like when I was a kid, I want to save the world. I’m working on it now.
But I just want you to understand that I forgive you, and I love you.
And then I pressed send.
And then I stepped aside, and I wailed like a black-laced widow. I clutched my chest, and felt the pain clawing its way out through my throat. Between choking and sobbing, “I love you… thank you…”
I love you, thank you.
My heart overflows with love, with gratitude for my lessons, for my blessings. Today the black gunk buried deep behind my heart was overwhelmed by the unconditional love I feel. By a raging, unstoppable torrent of utter gratitude.
A voice told me months ago, Healer, Heal Thyself. Today I’ve been baptized in tears.
Thank you. I love you all.
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