Sunday, February 19, 2006

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.*

Forgiveness isn't the same as reconciliation.

Today's post will be one of my most personal ever on this blog.

This is something that a lot of people overlook. They think that forgiveness means patching it up, playing nice again, completely letting go of whatever happened and resuming the relationship as is said offending incident never even happened.

Which is, in some cases, not only unjustified but foolish.

I know this isn't exactly the "christian" thing to say here. Believe me, I know what it is to be under the pressure to put on the smile and pretend everything is okay, but I really believe a lot of people abuse scripture an expect that everyone should forgive their behaviour when they show no evidence of genuine repentance.

That's something I've experienced on multiple levels. Something a lot of you don't know, and something I dread having come up in an interview, is that I'm a Bible school graduate and spent three years in full-time christian ministry. How I got there starts with my upbringing.

I wasn't raised in a particularly happy home. Even as a child I was remarkably aware of the undercurrents and the tension in our house. I knew how to duck from backhanders, and by the time I was 7 if I accidentally broke something I would send myself to the corner or my room.

For me, one of the greatest curses in that house was being super-sensitive. I was keenly aware that my sister was my mother's favourite - this is an open point of discussion between my sister and I, no dark secret. My dad never wanted daughters - we were both supposed to be Douglas - and when I was a girl he didn't even bother coming to the hospital. Despite the fact this was the 70's and my mother was kept there for four days.

And oddly enough, my parents never thought better than to tell us shit like this.

Life was always a series of time bombs. There were my mother's multiple suicide attempts. The times my parents had knock-down, drag-em-out punch-kick-and-pull-hair fights. Not to mention that he used to rape her.

The times I came home from work as a teenager to find Mom dancing drunk on a picnic table shouting 'God will forgive me.'

I distinctly remember when I was 16, my mother flipping through the newspaper and casually saying, "Your uncle died." I was astounded, shocked. Uncle Charlie?

Nope.

Turns out she had another brother, a much older half-brother, that she'd never mentioned, that I'd never met. He was born before my grandparents had married, and nobody knew who the father was. Until then, when Grandma finally came clean that her brother had raped her, and my Uncle Joe - whom I never met - was the byproduct.

Mentally and emotionally I was one completely fucked up teenager. You'd expect full-out rebellion, right? And my parents got it, only not in the way they expected.

When I was 14 I had a nervous breakdown and was placed under the supervision of Children's Aid. This stemmed from incidents at school, where I was beaten up by a gang. I grew up in a tough town and had an anomaly. I wouldn't hit back, which made me a prime target for bullies.

So, at 15, I was transferred to a different high school in a different town, for my own safety. And by the time I was 16 my rebellion was in full swing - I had joined the church.

When it comes to religion, it's nobody's business what I believe. It's personal. Not even the born-again Christians want to claim me amongst their numbers anymore, and I couldn't care less. So this isn't about what I believe, spiritually.

But I'm glad that I didn't end up doing drugs, getting pregnant or drinking. When I look back on it all, it could have been much much worse.

It still wasn't perfect. Things came to a head when I spent three years in ministry work. The administrator I worked under could give lessons to the devil about how to gossip. Not to mention that a student was raped there by another student, and the school's response was to persuade the girl not to press charges.

"Forgive."

What about facing the consequences of your actions?

Now, Heb. 9:22 says "and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."

I know the point of the passage, but apply the broader principle. In order for a sin to be washed away, something has to die.

And sometimes, it's the death of a relationship.

With my parents, it happened several years ago, and in stages. The last time I was ever in my family home with them was 11 years ago this April. My dad had a loaded gun. The tension was high.

And a few weeks after I left he was arrested after he strangled my mother half to death.

That was also when I learned the full truth about my dad's sexual deviance. I'm not getting into that here. But it was something that sent me reeling.

I spent so much time growing up thinking I was genetically destined to be a freak.

At first, going to church gave me a security blanket away from my parents, and I know a lot of wonderful people - some I still know - from that time. I met some people who genuinely cared about me and tried to help.

But I also knew people, like my employer at that Bible school, who slandered every other person who walked onto our property and she was such a hypocrite, she had an affair with one of the other staff members.

We were all supposed to forgive that and keep working there with our mouths shut. Anyone who said anything got reprimanded.

It was a hypocrisy I couldn't live with, and in the end she asked me to leave. I was relieved, but it took me a long time to make peace with what happened and be able to visit friends there without hating the place.

I've never seen my dad since the last time I was in the family home. I've seen my mom a few times, but not for over 8 years now. Ultimately, my dad got out of jail, my mom went back to him and then she tried to take my niece without consent. My sister and her husband moved out here to get away from my parents, and we've put the past behind us as much as you ever can.

"Learn from the past but don't let it control you."

This was something Kevin said to me early on in our relationship. He, too, knows about family issues. I always believed I'd never get married if I couldn't find someone who understood the family problems. Every time I dated a 'nice Christian boy' from a 'nice Christian family' I heard the same thing from his parents - we don't think you're the right girl for our son.

It taught me a lot, being so tainted not even those who preach about acceptance and forgiveness and loving all of mankind and not judging didn't want the likes of me in the picture. And I didn't even swear back then.

Over the years I've had to learn to accept who I am. I've also had to learn to deal with criticism because I don't have a relationship with my parents.

Bottom line for me is, it isn't safe. Physically or emotionally. I did everything in my power for years to try to fix problems in that house and all it did was keep me from moving on with my life and starting to heal.

I always want to find the best in people. I always want to believe. I've actually, if anything, been too quick to forgive, too quick to be fooled again.

Which is something I don't do as much anymore.

You might be wondering 'why this post, why now?' I know it's one of the most serious ones I've ever done. But I've just been through an exceptionally painful few weeks, because of the actions of some people I thought were my friends. I've hinted at it, talked generally about it here, had a lot of support from you guys.

But things reached boiling this past weekend and I've had to make a difficult decision, not to return to my writer's group.

I spent the first 24 years of my life playing at pretending things were okay, trying to hold it all together while I was living in emotional agony and fear. I finally got to the point where I decided I wasn't going to let myself be a victim any more, that I wasn't born just to take this shit.

I still have lapses, but as soon as I start getting the doormat feeling it brings a lot of old feelings back. It isn't something that will ever entirely be gone - it's more like something I've been able to put a lid on, but if things get heated that poison boils over.

I never find these decisions easy, but it has come to this for me. I can't pretend things or okay, or that I can just overlook what some people have done.

And the chief person I've been having problems with carte blanche refused to deal with it any way but her way, which meant I either had to put myself under her terms when she's the one who owes me an apology, or as she put it, "drop it."

I will not put myself through the emotional self-abuse and I've had to find my own path to healing on this. When someone I considered a friend demonstrates this kind of behaviour towards me, things will never be what they were before. Ever.

Now, in 6+ years of marriage, I know a thing or two about forgiveness and reconciliation. When both parties are committed to working something out, they don't come at the other person with an ultimatum. They find a way to address it that allows both sides to feel safe, save a bit of face, and meet in a neutral space.

So, I'm not incapable of healing old wounds, of putting the past behind me.

But I am unwilling to let someone who has done something extremely hurtful and wrong to me dictate the terms on which I can approach them about this problem. I'm not going to be manipulated, I'm not going to be abused, I'm not going to be a doormat.

(PLEASE see the post below - there's something interesting there!)

* I would like to dedicate this post to the person in my writer's group that has reminded me that every trust can be betrayed and that cruelty knows no bounds. Thank you for making what should be a happy time for me be completely undermined by one of the most petty, callous acts I've experienced in a long time.

24 comments:

M. G. Tarquini said...

I hope making this post has helped you, Sandra. To that person in your writer's group who has been so petty during what should be one of Sandra's happiest times - shame on you. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Now get on with your celebrating, Sandra. You've tons of people who do support you and are happy for you. Keep your eye on that and leave the doo-doo heads behind. You've plenty to say and I'm hoping you'll continue to let us see you in your writing.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I have every intention of resuming said celebration with CABANA BOYS and MUCH LIQUOR, as well as random shouts of WAHOO and FUCK ME!

But I feel a hell of a lot better having purged this toxin. Writing has always been a sort of therapy for me.

Boo to the doo-doo heads! Yay Bunions and other sources of sweet irritation in my life.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And Kim, that isn't an invitation. Just an expression.

Kate said...

You're right about forgiveness and right to stay away from people into this sort of power game. I'm sorry you have to leave your writers' group, but if this is the way you are treated there, it's their loss, not yours. I hope you can be happy despite the efforts of people who are mean, jealous and/or moral imbeciles. There are lots of other people who are happy for you and want you to be happy.

Bernita said...

Proud of you, Sandra.
There's no other word.

jason evans said...

I trust the friends will outweigh the harmful people in your life. You did the right thing.

P.S. You must be incredibly strong to have survived your parents and your childhood. Every success and day of happiness must be all the sweeter for it.

Boy Kim said...

Totally agree with everything MG, Kate, Bernita and Jason said.

Shame on the fuckwits. Not so much a case of fuck me, more a case of fuck them. As Kate said, it's most definitely their loss. May their next bowel movement produce a hedgehog.

Proud of you? Yep. Inspired by you? Yep. Honoured to count you as a friend. Yep.

"And Kim, that isn't an invitation." Geez, you should know me well enough by now to know I don't respond to invitations. Commands and demands are a different water-boiling device full of marine creatures though.

Keep rocking, Sandrabbit.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Well as an official Sarah Weinman Cabana Boy, I say celebrate away!

Trace said...

I'm sorry your so-called friend fucked you like he/she did. They don't deserve to ride the bottom of your shoe as the shit they are. Fuck them.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Kim, sniff sniff, someone break out the Chicago classics. I'm an inspiration - wow!

Usually an inspiration for evil and murderous thoughts, but hey, that fits doesn't it?!

Seriously, wow guys, thanks for the support and the encouragement, and thanks to the several who chose to email more private thoughts instead of posting. I appreciate all of it, really I do.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that an act meant with nothing but the best of intentions can become your achilles heel. I would never have thought a gesture meant only out of kindness and consideration would lead to yet another serious problem with this person, one of a number I've been dealing with issues with for a while now.

I don't know about passing hedgehogs and riding as shit on shoesoles, but I'll leave it to the karmic gods of the universe to mete out whatever is due on it.

I just won't stand around and be kicked anymore!

And now I'm wondering if Bryon comes with a toga...

Sandra Ruttan said...

And thanks to Kim, Bernita, Jason, Trace, Mindy, Stuart and a ton of others - the people who've been genuinely happy for me and supportive.

I've gotten my greatest congrats emails from some people I've never even met in person - wow. That's so incredible.

You guys rock!

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Sandra - Wow. I've been under a lot of stress lately, and I really needed to read something like this. (You can ask M.G. - she's still recovering from the scars of our last blow-out). This post has brought me to tears. Yes, writing is source of therapy for me, too, and it's been nothing but wonderful to have found writers like you who are so vulnerable and open and welcoming.

Thank you for being so honest. As a writer, I'm learning that hiding my past will only make things worse, but by writing about it, I can actually start to heal.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, but of acknowledging that I did you wrong, feel the pain I've caused you and regret that I've caused you pain, then asking you to forgive me because I still want you as a friend and that losing you as a friend would devastate me.

Writer's groups may come and go, but a true Bunion is here to stay - can't get rid of us without major foot surgery!

Cornelia Read said...

Oh, my dear Sandra--

Good for you, and I am proud to know you!

And as Leonard Cohen once said,

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets through."

Hugs to you,

Cornelia

Sandra Ruttan said...

Dana, hugz to you!

Cornelia, thanks so much. Our talk really helped me sort through how to deal with this, and I felt at such peace about it I slept like a baby when I made my decision Saturday night.

Usually I'd lie awake, toss and turn and eventually make myself sick. So this was a great sign, to me, that I was doing the right thing for my own sanity.

So thank you!!!!!

JamesO said...

Wow Sandra, that is one brave blog. I thought I was sailing close to the wind when I started up about my experiences at boarding school as a kid, but I've led a wonderful and stress-free life by comparison.

There's two ways you can come out of such situations: bitter and twisted, determined to take it out on anyone who gets in your way; or well-rounded, appreciative of the good things, friendly and wise. I think we all know which way you turned out.

I think you've made the right decision with the writer's group. If there's someone there poisoning the whole thing, others will probably leave too. When the group dynamic breaks down like that, the whole reason for going is lost. Give it a little while and they'll be asking you to come and do readings or give talks. Then you can get your own back;}#

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hi James,

I appreciate the sentiment - really, I do.

But I think I'm content just not to have the stress of this mounting on me anymore. It's been building for months, and I've been trying so hard to keep it beneath the surface and keep the "personal" problems from clouding the group and tainting it for me, or letting it spill over into the public arena. And it isn't just with one person either.

But by having one of them publicly flog me, and to boot misinterpreting what I said without clarifying, and then further to that tell me off in a private email and say there were only two options for where to go from here - no, I don't think so.

She insists she doesn't know what I'm talking about with the info disclosed, but I kept all the emails where I addressed it with her. Always keep your own back...

Still, I've heard every published author in our group trashed behind their back by someone. I'm not perfect either, but I knew as soon as my book came out it would be my turn. I'd already decided to be a member in name only and not attend meetings next year if the location wasn't moved out of crackhead alley after having some problems leaving meetings, but they just gave me a completely stress-free out.

And since most of the members are unpublished and the attitude is"crime writers of canada is for published authors" then I don't need to waste fees on two groups, do I?

I'm not going to worry about them. I have a wonderful career happening, I have really wonderful, supportive friends, even if they do live in Wales and England and Scotland and California and all the various corners of the planet!

So I'm going to count my blessings and leave them to their problems. The greatest gift is a load of stress off my mind!

Cornelia Read said...

I want to copy something here that I wrote about five years ago, to a friend I met through a product review website called epinions.com. I was thinking about the study I describe in it when we were on the phone the other day, Sandra, and then never brought it up because we just talked about so many other things.

This was a comment in response to an essay my friend Dwight wrote about how he struggled to overcome the painful stuff in his own childhood, and how much it mattered to him to do better by his own son:

I wish I could remember more of the following story--I'm going to make it sound like an urban legend, the good woman who told it to me had the real details on it, it's just that I heard it ten years ago...

At any rate, the gist of it has stuck with me, because I think it's very "true."

At a university in England, the Freshman students who were to study psychology (you usually only do one subject there, and must declare before you enter school) were all asked to report to a large conference room. They were told immediately that they were not to speak for the entirety of the "exercise" which was to be their first assignment.

The assignment was that they were to group themselves into small clusters, choosing the people with whom they felt the most comfortable. They had several hours to accomplish this, but were not allowed to speak or gesture.

When the students were satisfied with their groupings, they were asked to speak a bit about their backgrounds and introduce themselves, one by one.

All the children of alcoholics were standing together. All the children who came from relatively comfortable and supportive families were together, etc. People had found one another by look and posture and demeanor--and a thousand other clues that needed no words.

I certainly think that epinions has a quality of that experiment--we group ourselves with those we find congenial, and yet in this case, we share only words (maybe a picture or two). I also believe that the impulse to write, and write well, often arises out of this need for acceptance, for a willing ear, for proof that we survived and aren't the bothersome little shits we might have been told we were long ago.

This little group values language because we have learned to make it calm and protect as much as it has been used against us to tear down and destroy, and we are careful with it, because when properly handled, it has proven itself as our way out of trouble and pain.

What is truly wonderful about this is that reading, too, can save you--because it lets you know that you can make it, that you can survive long enough to get to a place where it really is okay, and that you're neither crazy nor stupid nor alone.

To create a piece of writing that can do that for a stranger is a gift, and it's what makes good writing matter.


***

Sandra, I think your post today is just such a piece of fine writing, and that it matters a great deal.

More power to you!

R.J. Baker said...

Sandra,

It's well known in business that if there is a sign of the fish on the car run for the hills - the fish tend to screw you worse than the heathens. It's really a diservice and I hope they get they deserved rewards were every they end up.

Enjoy your successes, bask in your triumphs, don't think of the past. Move forward. Onward. Upward.

I appreciate your being there for me and hope I can be there for you, if ever you need me...

RJB

Sandra Ruttan said...

Cornelia and RJ, thank you.

And WOW C! Wow!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Sandra, sorry I got here late...My heart goes out to you girlfriend, I can't even express how much.

I don't care if those strange, freak or what ever kind of christians they called themselves dismissed you. That was not of God.

It may seem strange to most of your friends for me to say this but I see the hand of God all over you.

There's no other reason that you survived such torture and brutality. Those people were hypocrites of the worst kind. But you did say that you met some genuine people. I thank God for that.

You came through the other side of the storm. you've got a wonderful husband who understands. You are now a published author with a bright career....Wahoo!

And you said it yourself...you are going to count your blessings!

God never promised us a fair life, He only promised to be there with us....I thank God that you came through it with the sanity that you have. You are strong! You will be a success...And for those who would try to bring you down...

I have my own little saying...and I sometimes feel God wincing when I say it but...The Bible tells us to forgive 70 x 7, and I usually tell people, "After 490, I'm gonna' clean your clock!"

I hope God blesses every book you write and I'm adding you to my prayer list!

M. C. Pearson said...

Hi again Sandra. I totally agree about the forgiving but NOT forgetting. After being a house-parent for at-risk youth and teaching that every action has a consequence whether it is good or bad, I can never truthfully say that God forgets sin or anything for that matter. Yes, He forgives, but He never forgets. I'm sorry you've had such a horrid experience with some Christians. Yep, we are all sinners and none of us are perfect; but we need to LOVE one another. Jesus told us to LOVE our neighbor and even our enemies...it saddens me that people who claim to follow Jesus never loved you as you needed to be loved. I'm so happy you found a husband who can relate to your experiences and love you even more. Please know that not all Christians are hypocrites...I'm not perfect and I thank God he has forgiven me. I know He will never forget when I sin.

It's like you said, you learn from the past...never forget it.

May God bless you and your writing career!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey M.C.

I totally agree with you. Just because you forgive something, it doesn't mean you keep going back for more abuse.

Then all you're doing is giving the 'sinner' the opportunity to keep doing what they do instead of facing consequences that might lead them to repentence.

And there are guilty in every single community out there. I only reference Christians because of my experience, though lately I've had some examples that have turned me off of paganism, Buddhism and a few other 'isms'.

But that's just their example, and it doesn't tar the religion with the same stinky brush, unless you let it.

Psalm 73! Eyes on man = depression, because you'll find a bad example if you look for it!

XO
Sandra

Boy Kim said...

What could you possibly have against prisms?

M. C. Pearson said...

So true, babe. So true. I'm proud of you for leaving the group. It must have been difficult. I'm so excited about your books! YEAH!