is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?
With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity. -Nancy Richards
Sunday, November 30, 2008
I was born in 1957, in an era unlike today, when the subject of family violence was not discussed. I was in my early twenties before I even heard the phrase "child abuse." While I was growing up, I didn't know that there was a term for what was happening to me. There was no internet; the media didn't tell stories of abuse, and society at large held the "goings on" within any nuclear family as "none of our business."
As a child, and as a young adult, my pleas for help were met with silence, blame, or the typical "get over it" advice. For many years, the wall of silence I faced succeeded at keeping me compliant.
The door to recovery began to open when at thirty-five, I entered therapy and I found a few close confidants who were willing to bear witness to my pain. I will be forever grateful!
And still, my recovery was largely solitary. After suffering through decades with the old adage, "forgive, forget, and get over it," I knew there had to be a better way. I read survivor stories. There were very few back then, but for the first time, the validation I received from these stories offered a soothing balm to my injured soul. I was not alone!
In time, I needed more than mutual commiseration. I wanted tips from survivors on how to heal; time to heal, and mostly, I longed for self-preservation, and for permission NOT to forgive.
I became frustrated with the small availability of survivor stories during the eighties. The books I found were either the "This is what happened to me," variety without any blueprint for hope and healing, or the "Celebrity" sort of books that irritated me with, "I was abused, but I have forgiven, and now I have a great life," without showing concrete or realistic reasons/methods for forgiveness or the healing process in between.
After decades of abuse and finally the heartbreaking estrangement from my entire family, I decided to research and write the book I was looking for. A book based on the premise that forgiveness can be premature and wasn't necessary in order to heal. In fact, at that point in my recovery, trying to forgive had actually caused me a great deal of psychological damage.
I spent weeks at the library looking for books and articles to support my contention that forgiveness wasn't necessary. There were "slim pickins" back then, but I did find some material. The small dose of validation I received that it was okay not to forgive, gave me a huge sense of relief! It also afforded me the freedom necessary to focus solely on myself and what I needed in order to heal. It was liberating to say the least.
I had no idea where the writing of this book would take me. My first draft was titled, Mother, I Don't Forgive You: A Necessary Alternative for Healing. I still like that title; it speaks to an important part of my journey.
I encourage others to write. Writing helped me heal and healing helped me write. I wrote nearly non-stop for about four years, the last two of which I simultaneously sought publication. At first, I purged myself of a whopping 500 typewritten pages that read more like the diary of a mad woman than anything else. Yet, that first draft helped me process my recovery with greater clarity. This clarity, in turn helped me write more succinctly, which subsequently helped me understand my recovery better and so on. This process helped me refine the text down to about 100 pages that were more powerfully written.
While researching my book, I read some wonderful titles, including, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, by Susan Forward, Divorcing a Parent: Free Yourself from the Past and Live the Life You've Always Wanted, by Beverly Engels, and Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth, by Alice Miller.
These books aided me in my recovery a great deal. Yet, they didn't offer me the complete process I was looking for from a survivors perspective.........
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I recall the pain I felt as I watched other families gather together in what appeared to be loving harmony, or at least a sense of belonging. I felt ripped off! Throughout the first years of my family estrangement, I suffered through the holidays, and other significant events nursing my wounds, while I tried to cope with my feelings of exclusion and rejection.
After a few years of allowing myself the space to mourn my losses, I filled my holidays by honoring new connections.
If you are recently estranged, take heart that the pain of estrangement and that of dealing with the holidays does lessen with time. Mourning is a necessary part of the process. When we are done mourning the old, we make room for the new.
The following is a reprint of one of my very first posts:
The pain of family estrangement is often heightened during the holiday season. I clearly remember the anguish I experienced during the initial stages of my fourteen-year estrangement from my entire family of origin. The abrupt loss of my mother, three brothers, and grandparents - months before the holidays - left me paralyzed. The prospect of spending the holidays alone - without any family, or life-long traditions - seemed daunting. What would I do with my two young children? My therapist stated matter-of-factly, "You will create new holiday traditions."
This simple statement seemed like an impossible task.
The first year, I did nothing. I wrongly assumed someone would come to my rescue and invite my daughters and me for the holidays. The next year, I took matters into my own hands, and invited another family we had know for years, for Thanksgiving and Christmas day. They were happy to accept our invitation, because they didn't have any family in the area. This began an annual tradition that provided my children with a new "family of choice."
Granted, the first few years were still difficult. I continued to mourn for my family rather than to appreciate the people right in front of me; however, in time, I realized that I had built new traditions that were far more fun and loving than the old. I made sure my kids anticipated the same holiday activities each year - cookies, music, decorating, planning a menu, and performing community service. Community involvement gave us the sense of being a part of something bigger than we are.
Today, I look forward to the holidays with great excitement and we all look back over the years with warmth, and laughter, reminiscing about prior holidays and the fun we have had together.
My mother's sister is the only family member from whom I was not estranged. The second year of my estrangement, she began including my children and me in her annual Christmas Eve celebration, and has for every year since. I will be forever grateful for her love, support, and our shared history.
My circumstances taught me to appreciate the loving people who are in my life, and not to take my blessings for granted. I've learned through this experience not only to reflect on that for which I am grateful, but to express my words of appreciation to those who have enriched my life.
The Holidays can be the best - or worst time of year.
Wishing everyone peace, love, and the sharing of old, and new traditions!
Monday, November 17, 2008
In my own situation, my mother never showed any interest in my children; before, or after our estrangement. Although, even if she had, I wouldn't have felt comfortable leaving them alone with her. When my daughters were little, this caused me a great deal of anguish. Since my father died when I was young, I mourned that my children would never know what it is like to have a loving grandparent.
I had such fond memories of my own grandmother that I was sad that my children would miss experiencing this important human relationship. However, my children did spend time with my grandmother. So much so that they thought she was their grandmother. This made it all the more difficult when my grandmother, whom we loved dearly, cut us out of her life for good. I couldn't understand how a loving grandmother could reject her grandchild and great-grandchildren.
In other words, I come from the perspective of longing for the grandparent relationship for myself and for my daughters, while my mother and grandmother did not want a relationship with their grandchildren.
I also understand when, in cases of abuse, a parent does not allow their children to see their grandparents. Many adult children are clear - certainly those who have experienced sexual abuse - that they don't want their own children left unattended with their parents. Yet, they often find themselves legally or emotionally embattled with their parents over visitation with their children.
Other families walk the fine line between wanting their children to receive the good their families have to offer, while guarding against harmful circumstances. Unfortunately, many of these families often find their children "in the middle." receiving confusing messages from both sides as to who was right, who was wrong and who is to blame for the estrangement.
And then there are grandparents who have been cut out of their children's and grandchildren's lives and they don't know why. They mourn for their children, the grandchildren they love, and the grandchildren they will never meet; precious time, never to be replaced. My heart breaks for these individuals as well. Although I haven't had this experience, I feel a shared empathy through the universal loss that comes with estrangement.
I've heard of many different circumstances causing a family cut off: intolerance, sexuality, choice of mate, In-laws, family dysfunction, abuse, etc. Usually, the cause of the rift has been building for years without adequate communication. Then, a single event "appears" to have caused the rift.
No matter which way you cut it - estrangements are painful stuff!
To those receiving copies, thank you for your interest and for sharing some of your stories with me!
I hope that you find Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation helpful on your journey!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
You can reach me through the e-mail address on my profile page.
All my best,