The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me in the sunshine of my prosperity – Ulysses S Grant
Growing up in my family, forgiveness was never an option. Although my mother often spoke the words “I forgive but I never forget,” I knew implicitly that her memory was sharp and every infraction was stored in her mental filing cabinet BUT she did not have the capacity to ever truly forgive. She harbored anger and resentment towards me and my siblings for every misdeed, every step over the line, every sideways glance. And, she taught us that crossing the line was unacceptable and unforgivable. Misdeeds were punishable by a lifetime of resentment and isolation. In my teens, it was commonplace for my mother to ignore me for weeks at a time as a result of an argument or her displeasure over my behavior. Then, as the temperature warmed and the ice started melting, we would return to some form of interaction but there was never closure, never a reassurance that I was still loved. It was erratic and black and white. Today I love you, tomorrow I do not. The next day, perhaps I will welcome you back.
As an adult, this behavior morphed into months, even years of disconnection. Anger the beast and you will be frozen out, disowned, disregarded, unwanted, unaccepted. She would surgically remove me from her life. One day I was a beloved daughter and the next a pariah. This pattern of behavior traveled throughout my entire family with my sister and I spending years not speaking to each other and then trying to reconcile, only to replay the same behaviors and fall out for many more years. I had to give up. I raised the white flag and surrendered because the emotional battle tested me beyond my limits. Despite mastering the ability of turning myself off when the battles began, as I matured and began to try out more healthy dynamics with my own family and friends, I realized that the price tag for engaging in the impermanence of these relationships was too high. I could no longer endure being bathed in the sunlight of the love of my family and then watching the deterioration that would ultimately result in rejection and isolation once again. So, I walked away. I cut the ties. I ended the torture. I realized that the good was not good enough to support the bad. The risk was too great, the reward too small.
In a perfect world, I would have the ability to compartmentalize that portion of my life and, once I walked away from the dysfunction of those primary relationships, I would leave that behavior locked away in the room with them. However, as a human being, I am a product of every piece of my life and my cells are infused with the shrapnel of all of my tours of duty, leaving me challenged to constantly be aware of my behavior and attempt to isolate every situation to allow it stand on its own legs rather than resting on the foundations of history. Sometimes I am really good at that and sometimes I pretty much suck at it.
As I have shared before, relationships are challenging for me. Trust is an enormous struggle. I want desperately to have intimacy of all kinds but I have yet to figure out how to navigate through the rough seas that accompany that degree of closeness. Even the most blissful relationships hit bumps. No matter how much you try to pave the road to avoid them, there are potholes and speed bumps that appear – sometimes out of nowhere – that slow you down or test your driving skills. For me, those tests often break me. More often than I care to admit, I fall into the hole and struggle to get out. I am challenged to figure out how to pull myself back up and can’t find the right way to ask my ally – who might feel like my enemy at the moment – for help. I fall into that same black and white pattern of behavior. I operate from my unconscious core. For every time I think I have managed to rise above my roots, I find myself succumbing to my history. I play out the same behaviors that I abhor. I behave like the imperfect human that I am.
I can count on my one hand the number of people who I truly trust in my life. The people with whom I have relationships that are worth fighting for. The ones who can shatter me. And those are the people I struggle the most with. The level of vulnerability that exists in those relationships often overwhelm me. The rules of engagement scare me. They are etched in my soul and I grant them the power to love me and destroy me and hope that they will opt for the former…most of the time. I know we will stumble and fall and I just hope that we can always pick up, hug it out, and move forward. I pray that there is no winter of discontent, trapped in the forest, cold and abandoned.
With each of the people in my inner circle, I have tripped. We have battled, sometimes in a bloody fashion. We have hurt each other, we have broken each other down and, in every case, we have relented, recognizing that there are few people who come into our lives to touch us in such a meaningful way. We acknowledged that our connection, our love, our bond was too valuable, too precious to allow to be destroyed. Several years ago, I fell hard with one of them. I watched as a relationship slipped through my fingers. I sat by idly, playing out the same tune that was the soundtrack of my childhood. We fight, we hate, we ignore, we isolate, we cut out the disease and never look back. However, this time it was different. There was no disease. There was no reason for hating or ignoring. There was a disruption. There was discomfort. But, unlike my own family, this time there was so much love at the foundation yet, unfortunately, I was unable to feel it or see it. I was incapable of honoring the value of the relationship. I operated on auto-pilot and handed the wheel over to my demons. I walked away not looking back and assuming this was another stitch in the pattern of my life.
One of the aspects of life that inspires me is the belief in a greater power, a greater force that guides you through life. If you have the ability to tap into it and listen hard, you will find the truth for your life. After I walked away from this relationship many years ago, I started paying attention. The pain of the fracture was so great and the loss so significant that I knew I needed to learn. I knew I needed to understand more. I realized that part of my challenge was that I was not traveling my journey with consciousness but, instead, unconscious acquiescence. I looked for familiar clues and traveled the road following a trail of breadcrumbs. Instead, I needed to brave a new path. I needed to wander into the woods and find a new trail that took me where I wanted to go, not back to where I had come from. After this relationship abruptly exploded and, once I took the time to lick my wounds, I decided to wander off into the forest and find my way. And miraculously – or perhaps, appropriately – my travels took me on some windy roads, visiting a lot of destinations but led me back to where I was supposed to be. Right back into the warm embrace of this relationship. Right back to the love and comfort that so eluded me because I was operating from an outdated guidebook. When I allowed myself to open up and explore the truth of what makes me happy and who I want to be, I knew that this void was not one that could be filled by anything other than the real thing. I knew that this relationship was far too important to be disregarded or discarded. It needed to be mended. It needed to be reconciled.
Unlike my previous endeavors with my family, I confronted my fears and trusted that I could be honest. I pushed past my steel armor that protects me from emotionally engaging and allowing myself to get hurt and put my vulnerable self on the front line. I tried on some new behaviors and the payoff was rich. I learned, I grew, I was rewarded with a prize that I already had but did not understand the value of. I was – I am – grateful.
Last night I sat with my friend, ensconced in warmth and love. I looked at her and her family and knew, deep in my soul, that this was where I belong. I felt the energy that exists in only the most magical of places. I understood, perhaps for the first time, that forgiveness is possible. That it is ok to trip and fall and the courage it takes to ask for a hand, when the correct hand is being outstretched, can be met with acceptance and love. I looked at her and her family and knew that they had carved a place in my life and in my heart that could never again be eradicated. We had tested our relationship. We hurt and struggled and found our way back to each other because that is where we were meant to be. Like a good marriage, we fit together like puzzle pieces. There was no pushing or shoving to make the pieces meld together. They seamlessly connect and the picture falls into focus clearly and beautifully.
I regret the time we were apart. I will never forget the pain or the disappointment that accompanied the break. Yet, I will cherish the power of our bond. I will be forever grateful for the learning and the healing that came not just from the reconnection but from distancing me from my past. I am buoyed by the confidence that my cells can be cleansed and I can, even at 46 years old, adopt new beliefs and behaviors and that I am blessed to have my precious inner circle to help me along the way. I feel loved. I feel thankful. I feel happy.
To my friend, I offer a toast. Here’s to the highs, the lows, the love, the pain, the bounty that comes from sharing a life together. Watching our children from those early days of infancy to their adult lives when they share their families with us. Here’s to dancing at their weddings, snuggling with their babies, rocking in our chairs as our hair grays and our hard edges soften. Here’s to starting our day with bloody marys and ending with a glass of champagne to toast enduring friendship. I love you. And, bring on the bumps. We can handle them.