As I have written the past few months, I have been gifted with very kind and encouraging feedback. Strangers have started to subscribe to my blog; I hope it is because there is something that touched them or encouraged them. But my family and friends have, at times, expressed concern – that my sharing, my openness and recollection may be stirring more pain within myself. Their words are, I am certain, coming from love, and I appreciate and understand their responses.
It’s absolutely true that writing from the heart is sometimes very difficult; it takes a lot of soul searching, and sifting through repeatedly, trying to determine what is the hoped for “wisdom” that I might share from my experiences. My goal is not to evoke sympathy or pity, but by honestly opening up about some of my history, to provide you, the reader – whether you know me, or never meet me – something that you can grasp and use, that you can say – yes, yes, there is a truth here, a discovery that has meaning, in your life, now. My reward – your gain from the price I paid.
I have realized the past few weeks that one of the most difficult entries I shared needed … a sequel. A follow up to show that what I laid bare in those words back in May led to something better, in my life – peace, in my heart, and hopefully in time through that for others in my circle, through how we care for one another. Ripples in the pond between our joined lives, wherever they may connect.
The title of that May post, taken from one of my father’s letters to my Mom, revealed bluntly some of the less than wonderful, far from ideal facts about my relationship with my Dad. Some aspects, not all – there were chapters to our shared lives that there is no point in shining a light on here, which impacted not only me, but other family members. Our shattered natures often lead to chasms, and in my case, there was a period of several years where, except for my Mom, my direct family was not present in my life. But despite those moments, which were desperately painful in many ways – in time, there was healing. Today, I realize how important it is to share some of how that came about, with you – for whatever meaning it might have in perhaps not your own relationships, but possibly someone you love, or someone you have yet to meet.
We do things to protect our bruised and wounded hearts. We hide, we bury, we put on emotional masks and learn to present the self we want others to see, to love and accept. Yes, in my case there were elements that had not only to do with the deepest parts of how I connect with others, but also very old, and very fully woven into my spirit, habits of thought and feeling. In my work with the first counselor who helped me come to a place of greater acceptance and understanding of grace than what I had been taught, I grew into new freedoms. In time, I sought out another counselor, one who could relate more fully from his own experience and insight to my history; his name was Patrick. He passed a few years ago, but he gave me a gift to share, and I will do my best, today.
I make no apologies for my upbringing in faith, knowing full well that many have different backgrounds, beliefs and understandings – finding comfort in accepting that I will never have all the answers, and don’t need to beyond those which work for me, and bring me to a place of continuing to grow in caring and acceptance of others who enter my life. Patrick was not a particularly spiritual person; in fact, I would go so far as to say he might have described himself as agnostic. But he accepted that a huge portion of the challenges I faced to growth was reconciling what I had been taught, what I desired and felt, and that finding some balance between those was critical for my own peace of mind. He respected what was important to me.
What came as a surprise to me was his insights, in time, into my father’s alcoholism; Patrick was very experienced in addiction treatment, theory and related issues. I did not feel that addiction was a problem in my life; I had been studious to avoid drink for many reasons; I was well aware that studies indicated there were genetic factors that impact predisposition to intergenerational addictive behaviors. Eventually I came to realize that there were other escape routes that I had learned to embrace, that did not provide the answers I sought; they were not to be found in a bottle but had their own power over me. I suspect we all face those illusory mirages of hope at times; our culture, and many others, is filled with stories of miracles and magic that at their best create unrealistic desires for wish fulfillment, and at their worst, deception and destruction. Sometimes even in the “answers” that we turn to for hope, disappointment lurks. Turning from those false solutions to truth is not an easy process.
I did not think that my father’s alcoholism was an ongoing issue for me; by the time I began working with Patrick, it was maybe 6 years since Dad’s passing; I was “out”, I was making friends, and dealing with the stresses of everyday life. But Patrick recognized in me the echoes of the ravages of disfunction, and the coping habits which at the time seemed to protect me, which actually were now working against a fuller life. He recommended an extremely technical volume on addiction, and I am thankful for his faith in my intellect to work through it – I began to see that my own behaviors were built in some ways on a foundation of just surviving those problems that impacted me deeply at a young age, but which I still carried long after those years into my ongoing life – and they were not working for me, but against me.
But what really surprised me was his suggestion that I spend a week at the Betty Ford program in Palm Desert, CA.
Now, before you jump to conclusions (I sure did, initially), know this – he felt it would give me insight to attend “family week”, not the program itself – a sort of “day camp” for those whose loved ones were in the residential program could learn about their own behavior and how to support their family member after they left the facility. Of course – my father was not in the facility – but Patrick knew the administrator and after discussion with them, I agreed to attend for a 5-day program. We reviewed a lot of material about the nature of addiction, but also heard presentations by experts in the field, about codependence and how the family unit is impacted, short term and long term, by the damage and pain they seek relief from.
I felt out of place; I was newly “out”, trying to deal with a lot in my own personal life, and facing some pretty severe challenges in my career as well. The others in the program, well, they were pretty – “normal”, I guess – parents, spouses, children. I did not feel connected with them at all. And then, there was the fact that I was the only one who had no family in the program itself; once again, in more than one ways, I was reminded of my differentness, my outsider status.
One of the key components of the week, for everyone but me, was for them to sit down with their loved one who was a residential participant, and have an honest discussion – sharing their feelings; being open; being vulnerable; trying to find a bridge ahead for everyone in the family, patient and supporters. I was impressed with the program, and more so with their courage – but again, I felt – weird. The administrator had told me that participating in one of the central aspects of the program was up to me …. Did I want to have an opportunity to talk? Not with the other participants – we did some of that, for sure, in the program; but … with my father. No, not in some “séance”; but in a way that would allow me to express what I felt, what I carried inside, that I never had with him, fully, in real life.
In the last year of his life, after the passing of both my stepmother and mother, we had built bridges; my Dad had accepted my coming out, and as I will share more fully in another entry one day, he supported me in ways that no one else in my family could, or perhaps would, as we both dealt with our individual grief as best we were able. In a way, we healed together. After his passing, and all that had happened in my life in the years since, I didn’t think there was ground left to cover; but I talked with Patrick – and decided I needed whatever I could get from this program, from this experience, that I could take with me into the future. For me.
So I said “yes”. After the other “family sharing” times were pretty much complete – I sat down, surrounded by a circle of strangers who knew a little, but not much, of my life and challenges – facing an empty chair. I cannot tell you today exactly what came out of my mouth, or shall I say my heart – it was painful; there were tears. There was release. But I promise you this – for me, my Dad was sitting there. He heard me; we connected. As I told him from those deeply wounded parts of my own childhood spirit still hovering inside me, as they do for us all, the pain of what had happened began to be, somehow, released; and being surrounded by, as some might say, “clouds of witnesses” whose own journey might be not entirely similar but not entirely different – I knew, finally – I was not alone. There was nothing wrong with me, back in those years, or in that moment where we connected, somehow, even across the barrier of eternity.
And from there … I moved on; I grew, and still am. I tell you honestly, even just in writing this to you – there is healing. There are still tears, but I know now tears are not my enemy.
At the time, I did not talk of these events with hardly anyone in my life; family reading this now, may be disappointed I did not share with them. But I am sharing with you because …. In writing about my father’s pain; his issues, his failures – first, it was important to say there was more to him than those disappointments. There is more to all of us, even though we too have let others down; we have caused our loved ones disappointment. I was given a chance to find some peace in a way I would never have thought possible. Yes, there were moments of reconciliation while he was still living; but in a way, I believe, my experience illustrates that it is never too late to reach into our own hearts and search, through sludge and mire, through all the lies we embraced and the shadows we hid behind – to walk forward, in forgiveness.
As I get older, retired now, much of my life now consists of quieter times, especially staying at home and not seeing our family and friends as much; perhaps particularly because I am somewhat the family historian, and going through old papers and photos brings up memories. I appreciate the loving concern of those of you who read some of my entries and wonder if sharing these moments might not be worth the cost, emotionally, to me in writing them. My answer is a resounding YES – if only one person out there finds some encouragement, some hope in what you are facing today because my words somehow ring true for you – yes, yes yes. I did not always have someone in my life at the darkest times; I know what loneliness and desperation are. There is HOPE. I found it – believe me friends, you can too. It is there, waiting.
One does not have to be a member of the Christian faith, or part of that heritage that has become buried under countless traditions, arguments and myths – to see the wisdom of the words that have been called “the beatitudes”. I am sure there are similar passages in other faiths, perhaps some that have meaning for you that I will never hear. Those words, spoken on a hill to a crowd that came with their own hopes of miracles, freedoms, or promised deliverance – that did not, for most, come to pass they way they expected, and for the Teacher, led to a painful end of life – they hold for many a kind of mystical poetic power beyond understanding. This is why I am reminded of the passage in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”. These few words are quietly nestled between similar blessings for those who are pure of heart, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. And yet – of all these words now called the “sermon on the mount”, of all the characteristics that are described and the outcomes promised for those who embrace them – I only now realize that only the peacemaker has the blessing of joining in harmony with the very nature, the essence, of God. Children, of God.
Over the years, I, like you perhaps, have questioned most of what I was taught to simply accept, including translation, historical accuracy, documentation and the impact of mostly now forgotten ancient traditions in interpreting what we call “scripture”. But for me … I believe there is a special kind of peace in seeking reconciliation. With those in our life now; with those no longer in our life; and with that Power, however we define it, that exists outside the scope of our comprehension and understanding, for now at least, perhaps forever. We may sense those aspects of a larger spirit that we struggle to put into words, in whatever language – faith, hope, love, forgiveness; reaching out, to make peace, when we can – in what little way we are able.
We cannot always reconcile, or find peace, with everyone in our life; it’s not fully within our power. But our willingness to seek it out, is. The realization that the making of that effort is of itself a reflection of the very nature of the Eternal, of our spirit, and that which exists outside time itself – came to life for me, facing a seemingly empty chair, in a room filled with strangers I never saw again. Perhaps there is a chair you need to face – even if, like mine, empty for now.
Today I know and appreciate the love – imperfect but real – of my father in a way I was unable to grasp before those moments of healing. We each have our own seasons and paths in life; we must choose for ourselves as best we can and trust that in time good will come of it. I know there remain bridges to be built, and I have hope they can and will be. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this moment of my journey, as I continue hopefully to grow. Perhaps my words will give you hope, as well. Blessed be, indeed, the peacemakers, all of us, children of God.