Sunday, March 15, 2009

Forgiving is Not Condoning.

I don't know how many times I've sat in an Al-Anon meeting, and heard someone say, "I just can't forgive them, for this or that reason." When I started this 12-step journey, I believed that if I were to say: "I forgive my childhood batterer," I was, in effect, stating: "What she did was acceptable." I saw condoning as an intrinsic element of forgiveness. I couldn't see how the two could be separated, they were so intertwined in my thinking.

As has so often been the case, it was a little offhand comment which started the arduous process of disentanglement. A friend in art school, himself a victim of emotional abuse in his younger years, (born gay into a very wealthy Chinese family, he was the modern-day equivalent of a remittance man, supported in style over here, so his family in China wouldn't lose face) was trying to console me after one of my occasional family encounters, and said "Happy people don't behave that way."

Simple. Clear. Obvious. (Wilson was wise far beyond his years.) Two decades or so later on in my life, I recalled this comment, during a conversation about the batterer with my sponsor, and I repeated it with almost a feeling of wonderment. Up until that moment, I honestly do not believe I had ever tried to place myself in the batterer's shoes instead of my own - I only ever seen her as unrepentantly evil. I decided I was going to at least open my mind to the possibility that she was a deeply unhappy person, and see if I could find anything to support this in my memories.

I tried to rexamine my childhood through an Al-Anon filter, praying for guidance, and the ability to see with clarity. (I'm condensing the process for the sake of brevity, this took several years to accomplish, because it was painful to let go of the rigid thinking which got me out of my childhood with my sanity intact.)

I came out of the other side of this, with an understanding that what I'd been trying to ahieve, was to see her from the viewpoint of an adult living in a place of safety.
Up until then, she'd always been a raging whirlwind, seen only by the terrified upward gaze of a cringing child, catching glimpses through arms held up to protect my face.

I gained significant understanding of what drove her, of what she felt she had lost early on and could never hope to regain (a younger sister dying at the age of 7 from diptheria, and it being made abundantly clear to the surviving child that both parents wished she had died and the sister had lived, and other traumas in her childhood during the war)

Understanding allowed me to reach a place of forgiveness. Not condoning. Not excusing. Forgiving. Until I forgave, I couldn't cut the ties between my adult self, and that tiny quaking child I had been. Until I forgave, I was tethered to my past misery by a slender cord of anger and resentment.

Forgiveness allowed me to feel peace. Yes, I suffered what I did, but now I see the past as "a far distant country" I once visited, not as a monster waiting under the bed to leap out and get me by the ankle.

1 comment:

  1. I like to think that I had compassion and understanding for all that happened. Everyone is wounded in some way and every person has character defects. I can accept the things that happened in the past and move on. Those things are done and finished. Thankfully, I don't need to dwell on them in the present.