TRIGGER WARNING: sexual abuse, physical violence, drug use
This card can be read in a couple of ways. Is there someone/something you need to forgive? Do you feel the need to be forgiven for something you’ve done? Or perhaps the person you need to forgive/be forgiven by is unreachable and the forgiveness must be self generated? Whether forgiveness is being sought or granted, it’s often a non-verbal act that doesn’t require anything but acknowledgment, acceptance and release.
My mind drifts back to my last 2 years of high school, which were undoubtedly some of the darkest years of my life thus far. They were also the last years that my mother was alive. She was a breathtakingly beautiful, yet gentle, rather quiet woman with very few opinions, even fewer words and an oversized heart. I physically favored her greatly in my younger years. Big chestnut eyes, dark brunette hair, and an ear to ear smile with missing middle teeth that somehow always remained even though home was never safe. I knew she had been shattered mentally from the inside out, yet her heart survived. A lifetime of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, having children way too young, and then raising those children as a single mother, had created a void and a rift between her heart and her spirit. From my earliest memories, I remember her void being filled with a number of relationships, all with abusive and misogynistic men who only wanted her beauty and never her liberation. They left their mark on her in the form of scars and bruises both emotional and physical, and even some on me and my sister, and as each of them departed, her void grew larger and larger. Every time she blamed herself. She never believed she was enough. The void was also filled with tiny stark white pills that she had been prescribed for the pain management of DDD (Degenerative Disk Disease,) something she had been diagnosed with my freshman year of high school, which would leave her fully unable to walk by the age of 45 at the latest. The solutions were few, being a very complicated spinal surgery or to live out her years constantly taking narcotic pain medication. She chose the medication and as soon as the Workers’ Compensation kicked in, her void reappeared bigger than ever with a desperate hunger for the OxyContin. The disease left her relatively bed bound, but I look back now and wonder if it was the disease or the addiction. The pills inside of her began to take on a personality of their own. It was a very clear shift, her pupils would shrink to the size of a pin prick, and all that remained was a hollow grey. She would lose her memory and forget who I was, asking me nearly every evening, “Who are you and why are you in my house?” to which I had to explain that I was her son and I lived here with her. It was gut wrenching. Every single time. As much as I wanted to help, not that I even could, there was too much fear as I witnessed her do too many absolutely horrific things that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to purge from my memory. The moment I saw her chug an entire bottle of bleach sitting on the kitchen floor, the countless times in the depths of the night where I would wake up to her whipping a wire hanger across my face saying over and over again in a timbre I couldn’t recognize, “I know the truth about you!” or the late nights she would take off all of her clothes and wander through the streets where we lived, completely nude, only to loudly rap on the door around 4:15amto be let back in. It became routine and oddly comical. I learned how to sleep with one eye open and my observation skills became so unbelievably sharp that I to this day swear my senses literally sharpened. Slowly an ache in my gut began to form, an ache that signaled she was not long for this world. I held on because even through the absolute terror, she was still that sweet, 5’ 2” woman who sang me to sleep every night of my childhood with “Open Arms,” by Journey, calling me her little brown bear. I left home at 18 and went to college about 12 hours away in Montclair, NJ, and after my first year, I went away to work for the summer. I barely spoke to my mom throughout the school year and even less in the summer. The times we did talk, it was always later in the evening and her speech was slurred and I often had no idea what she was talking about. I don’t think she could’ve faced me sober. Those talks would result in passionate heated arguments, usually with her trying to convince me she wasn’t high and me screaming at her, saying how disappointed I was, how terrible of a mother she was, and how she desperately needed to get help. The clock was ticking and at the end of that summer, I received the call that I knew was coming but dreaded on a soul level. She was dead. She had taken her own life and was found on the bathroom floor bleeding out after collapsing from swallowing an entire bottle of oxycontin and hitting her head on the edge of the bathtub. What a tragic way to die. No note, no explanation, no ghostly visitation explaining that she loved me. Just silence. Deafening silence that her void now transferred to me, and about $10,000 worth of debt from phone plans, leases, and cable bills that she had signed up for using my social security number in the highest of her highs. I guess I expected a Princess Diaries moment, where she died and I found out I was actually a prince and my massive inheritance was on the way. That’s what I thought I deserved after having to live such a labored and heartbreaking life with her, most of the time being her parent and pushing my own childhood aside. I was angry. Beyond angry really. I was vengeful and I wanted to scream at her all over again from beyond the grave. But I couldn’t. Not only for the dimensional limitations, but also because as angry as I was, I just wanted her back. I still loved her more than words could ever express and it killed me because I couldn’t figure out why. To have one more slurred speech conversation, to be angry in real life at her one more time was all I wanted. The crushing reality was that the anger I felt wanted genuine forgiveness. It wanted a lighter load to carry. It wanted a cosmic explanation of why me? Why did I have to see her like that and why couldn’t I have been spared? I asked myself these questions for a long time after her death, almost daily. I’d wake up filled with despair and with anger, adding new questions on top of my old questions, drowning me a little more each day.
Time became my best friend and my worst enemy. I knew it was the only way I would heal even though the days spilled into nights and the nights into black holes. I reached my own suicidal thresholds, so filled with complete apathy that I couldn’t muster any reason to live. She was my entire life’s purpose for so long, well, at least keeping her alive was. But how many times do you need to drag your drowning and unconscious mother out of a bathtub to realize that her will to live no longer existed? How do you make peace with that? How do you forgive that? My remedy was time and years and years worth of sleep. Allowing the days and nights to bleed into each other and making sure that I had someone to occasionally check in on me to make sure I was eating, drinking water, and seeing the light of day. Grief and forgiveness are so similar, one ultimately leading to the other. And in my opinion, there are actually 6 stages of grief. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. I went through them all, even though it feels like one big blur blended together. I sobbed through denial, stared into the sun through anger, bargained with Death, slept through depression, sobbed again during acceptance and finally took a deep breath inside of forgiveness. As I suspected, the years passed by and the weight really did get lighter. The questions I started to ask looked more like, “Why her?,” and “Why couldn’t she have been spared?” I grieved for myself and I grieved for her. But in a very real way, those questions and that double grief was forgiveness for me, to see her suffering in a way that she didn’t cause herself. I also think asking questions in that way granted me the forgiveness I wasn’t sure I even deserved. While I may have been a part of her story, she was suffering in a way I’ll never know. She made that so by making the choice to contain all of the pain inside of her, and yes, I occasionally got shocked by the waves of pain. But the moments I yelled and threw verbal daggers back at her, it was all my teenage brain knew. It was fight or flight, a desperate cry screaming, “Why are you not protecting me?” I wanted to hurt her as much as she was hurting me. And that became a toxic cycle I have repeated in many of my adult relationships. There’s no need to justify what I said to her, because in my deepest dreams, we’ve talked and she still smiles every time she sees me. Because leaving the human plane means you enter directly into the expanse where truth is the only currency. There is innate forgiveness inside of acceptance, and to start we must move out of anger. We are all victims, even the most dangerous villains. We’ve all been hurt, defeated, broken, and abused, but now we have a choice. Is it easier to carry the emotional weight forever and wear the mask of the victim, or to drop the baggage, finally unpack it, take off the mask and let yourself breathe fresh air? Neither is wrong or right. But at some point the latter will take over by force and liberation will be demanded. I decided to see my mother as doing the absolute best she could and remember that through the demonic possession that was an oxycontin addiction and a broken heart, she still loved me more than she could ever properly express. I saw her wheels turning my whole life, trying to make the “right” decision not only for her kids, but for herself. I know now that to know forgiveness, I had to stop being angry at her and at what I thought was lost. Nothing was lost except for her life, which I choose to honor now. And that’s the hardest part in my opinion, to change your own narrative. But it is possible, as are all things. And in the deep breath I take inside of this story, I do feel forgiven. And I think she does too.