Sunday, October 17, 2010
I’ve mentioned before that, seven years ago, the woman who is presently my sponsor and I dated for a period of … oh, it was a little shy of six months. We were exclusive for a part of it, though there was no agreement between us to be such; and then we weren’t. But I wanted us to be. When it finally became clear that things between us weren’t going to work out, at least not any time soon, I was the one to “officially” break it off—although in retrospect, I expect she was way more okay with that than I was.
In typical alcoholic fashion (meaning, childish and self-centered), I didn’t feel so much like taking any responsibility for why she might be reluctant to make any kind of commitment to me. I was disappointed and hurt. I remember one night, after spending a good portion of it practically chewing my pillow in grief and frustration, I actually hauled out a pad of legal paper and made of list of her qualities that annoyed me (sorry, Sponsifer!) My purpose wasn’t to be a bitch; I just wanted to feel better and not take her loss so hard. Being able to rattle off ten good reasons she wasn’t, and shouldn’t be, “The One” gave me at least a little comfort.
But you know, that wound up not being enough. I felt better only temporarily.
We were trying to be friends because that’s what good lesbians do: we break up and try to act like we’re above it all. I am an adult, we say to our pals; I can be friends with this person who hurt me. I will rise above it. Meanwhile I’m still grieving and seething on the inside.
I don’t recall the details, but I do recollect that the next time my ex and I talked on the phone, I accused her of something—some motive, some agenda, who knows?—that had made its way onto my list. She paused and then said, so slowly and clearly that I remember it as if it happened just yesterday:
“Joyce, don’t monsterize me. Please. It wasn’t like that, and you know it.”
That made me clam right up.
Because, of course, she was dead right. I was trying to make myself feel better about our break-up by mentally turning her into a monster. The truth was, I still loved her; I wasn’t over her yet; I needed more time to heal. I went on to spit nails for a few more months and finally was able to stop characterizing her to myself as Evil Incarnate. The fact that Chelle entered my life at that time also helped.
Seven years later, of course, my ex and I are now good friends; as I said, she’s my sponsor in AA; she’s a great listener and a valuable ally; I like her partner; she likes Chelle; and we’re all buddies. The story has a happy ending.
But I’m thinking today about the human inclination to turn into demons the persons who have hurt us. (If you chuckled while reading my story, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) We all do it. It’s human. The thing is, when is it time to knock it off? And if you can’t knock it off and get past it, letting it go, what does that mean about you?
Very few people are complete and utter ogres. That is a fact. (Mark sociopaths right off your list; they don’t count.)
That leaves the rest of us. The entire world is not comprised of monsters.
We find that what normally happens is that time heals all wounds (and wounds all heels), and we stop thinking about those who hurt us as little red devils put on the Earth to torment us and us only. We finally are able to admit, “Yeah, okay, I did this or that” or “I wasn’t the biggest picnic in this or that way” or “Yeah, I could’ve been better about [fill in the blank].” Once we do that, and mean it, we’re able to forgive, and we’re able to move on. Not all relationships can be salvaged, but we can at least let them go.
The other option is to not get over it, but when we choose this option--honestly? We hurt no one but ourselves. We deny ourselves an opportunity for growth, painful as it may be to look in the mirror and do a fair self-assessment, owning our part of things. We also sin against the spirit of another human being by believing bad things about them. The part of ourselves that actually knows we’re being unfair regarding them won’t be assuaged, either. It will insist on being fed more of your own angry placebo: thus, you obsess; you find you can’t let go, and your anger simply grows (I’m thinking of William Blake’s poem “A Poison Tree”).
And as your anger grows, you may find yourself acting out in increasingly bizarre ways. I know someone who used to drive by her ex’s apartment every night, just to see if she had any company over. Whenever her ex did, that fed this person’s self-righteous indignation about “what a whore she is.” (When, for all she knew, the poor woman was just working on a biology project with her lab partner.) I know another person who once drove an hour out of her way, across the Bay, just to scope out a restaurant owned by the new girlfriend of an ex of hers. She wanted to ensure that the place was “the dump I thought it would be.” This same person was absolutely positive that, whenever her ex did the most innocuous thing, that it was aimed directly at her, solely to annoy her. (Meanwhile, I don’t think her ex had any clue about half the evil that was ascribed to her.) Yup, we obsess; we make ourselves the center of the universe; we think and do mean-spirited or even cruel things, believing it will make us feel better; and the irony is that it hurts no one but ourselves. We wind up being the ones who look like the damn fool. Additionally, our friends become concerned about us, or, worse, they may eventually shrink from us, concluding that we're not quite right in the head.
There’s a saying in AA that I really love: Hanging onto resentments is like drinking poison while wishing the other guy would die.
There’s another saying that I think I first heard in a Jungian Thought class when I was an undergraduate: We hate most in other people the things we hate most about ourselves.
In doing my Fourth Step, I’ve had to look at more ugly or foolish parts of myself than I care to admit. But as I’ve written on this blog numerous times, the pain of it all has been well worth it. The people in my past whom I have “monsterized” are all people to whom I owe amends (even if they did some crap, as I said, no one is a monster). I actually made an amends last week to a person I once thought I’d never talk to again. She accepted my apology so quickly and so graciously that it took my breath away. A monster? Hardly.
The human capacity for forgiveness is an extraordinary thing. You just have to get honest with yourself.
Try it, if this post is speaking to you for whatever reason. You’ll be glad you did.