When I was around fifteen years old my dad decided to have an affair. He broke up our already dysfunctional family, devastated my mom and scarred us all for life. Consequently, seeing the absolute sh*tstorm he’d stirred up for himself, he fell back to drinking after having been sober for seven years. My father’s not a happy drinker to say the VERY least. He’s abusive in every way and form that you can think of and one of the most insufferable human beings you’d ever have the misfortune of meeting. So not only did he wreck his life and our family, he came back and served as much physical and emotional damage as he could to my mom, my sister and me.
Prior to any of this happening my dad and I had always clashed. He’s always been the sort of person who was totalitarian in his ways. He wanted things done a certain way and sometimes even when you met all the requirements it still wasn’t enough. He was unhappy and miserable on the inside and that misery spread out to everyone he came into contact with.
So after his affair blew up and he started drinking again and being abusive to my family, I decided to cut him out. I didn’t even consider it twice once the opportunity presented itself. At least five years passed by before I had any sort of contact with him again.
In those five years, people would always tell me I needed to forgive him. They’d repeat the old adage that he was my father and that I would regret it if something happened to him and I hadn’t patched things up with him.
In all honesty, this sort of talk only fueled my anger more. I hated that everyone made so many attempts to understand him but no one seemed to even try to understand why I was so angry and why I wanted nothing to do with him.
I felt that my feelings were being invalidated. He’d hurt us so much, why should I, in turn, grant him forgiveness? If all I could do to hurt him back was cut him out, be angry with him, then how could I not? How could I–or anyone–allow such a toxic person back into our lives?
All people saw was a young girl who was slowly poisoning herself on the inside. And maybe they were right. Isn’t that what the quote says? “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” But I was young and had an extremely limited view of the world.
I don’t know what people expected of me back then, but I know with certainty that I could never have gotten past it sooner than I actually did. I had to grow, mature, go through many things on my own, learn many lessons of my own to be able to look at my father and not feel like he was Satan in the flesh. I could never have understood back then why it was important to let go of my anger, and how it was more for me than it was for him.
Of course, forgiveness is important. But sometimes I feel like the pressure I felt from other people to forgive my father only made me want to cling to my anger more. I wish there had been someone there to say my feelings were reasonable. I wish someone had been there who would’ve invited me to talk about what I felt and why I felt it. I wish there had been someone to help me work through my feelings bit by bit, to allow me to unravel on my own and maybe help put things into perspective. Telling me “He’s your father” only fueled more feelings of unfairness. To me, that translated into “Just because he’s my father?” No amount of blood or genetics was ever going to lead me to a place of peace where me forgiving him was concerned.
In the end, I forgave him not because he was my father, but because I’d separated him from the failed father figure he was and set him against a backdrop of millions of other broken and lost human beings trying to find their way.
And that only came with perspective handed over to me through time, growth and development. No amount of badgering was going to help me get there faster. This is why I believe that people need to forgive in their own time. There’s a lot to process there, depending on the gravity of the offense committed against us. Sometimes we just haven’t gathered enough information or enough perspective to get there. Maybe we haven’t grown up enough to know how to let go of pride. Maybe we just haven’t learned how to let go. The majority of these are lessons that come with time. They’re moments that need to be experienced, that need to dawn on us. Forgiveness simply can’t be genuinely achieved unless the pieces are all there.
Those trying to help should maybe invite us to try and understand. They should be patient with us and see for themselves that our anger comes from many unresolved feelings. Hold our hands. Let the person who’s been hurt know that their pain and their anger have a real basis. That it’s okay to feel angry, betrayed and disappointed. And if you really want to help them let go of resentment, teach them that it only hurts them more if they hold on to it than it does the other person. Help them heal themselves first.
It also took me a long time to understand that it’s normal to sometimes revert back to those feelings of anger. That it’s normal to have off days when memories return fresh to hurt us again. It’s not unusual to go back to wanting to blame, point fingers and remind them that they hurt us in the past. But I’ve grown so much since that first spark so many years ago that I know how to tame my own fire now. I can choose to go back to those feelings, stew in them and do nothing but curse my father’s name, or I can choose to let it go and move on with my life. It’s simply just not worth it. The best way to free yourself from toxic people and the toxic circumstances they put you through is to never waste another ounce of your precious energy on them again.
My dad and I still don’t get along. I don’t think we ever will but I’m okay with that. Our connection has been permanently damaged but I’ve come to terms with that as well. I’m at peace knowing that my life is in my hands. I was a casualty of his actions, and yes, in many ways it shaped who I am as a person today. But whatever happens now is up to me. My happiness and well-being are up to me. Life, after all, is about how we keep moving forward. It may have taken me a while but I’ve gained enough perspective now to understand that staying angry is just another way of staying stuck.