So, my friends might ask, how come you are revisiting the past? On Christmas day, while looking for something else, I ran across a piece I had written fourteen years go, and thought it was lost. Over the years, I have lost this piece, found it, lost it again, and found it again. This time when I found it, I had the immense feeling I should share it – I even typed it out fresh in case I decided to share. This piece is of that tender stuff people are made of, between being lost and found – “the soft vulnerable underbelly” of sorts.
When I was about 8 years old, I remember being on my next door neighbor’s swing, and feeling pure joy as I looked at the sky and trees. Feeling a presence I could not see, I was making up a childish joyful song. Not singing soft or loud, just comfortable in my voice and the words I was singing. I wish I could remember those words, for surely they would be innocently beautiful. I am the Lord’s beloved child, because I have felt the presence of the Spirit of the Lord my whole life . . . through beautiful times, troubling times, and as a victim of physical or mental abuse. Even before I understood what it was, the presence of the Holy Spirit came between me and any meaningful depression. The Bible tells me that I was chosen before time began to be a child of God. It matters not what has transpired, I have been blessed beyond measure.
In my thirties, I experienced total forgiveness for those who had abused me, especially my parents. Forgiving myself for the victim role I played in the charades of my co-dependent marriages, would take longer. Learning about the children in alcoholic homes would prove to be paramount in letting go of the victim role I played over and over again. When I was 17, I learned that my oldest brother was my half-brother. He left home when I was a small child, and I remember treasuring his visits, because of his dynamic and generous personality. From a psychological perspective the remaining four siblings, significantly younger, fit the textbook child-types for growing up in alcoholic homes. Child one is the nurturer, replacing the absent (even when physically present) parents for younger siblings. Child two is the rebel, openly defying and blaming both parents for the abuse and turmoil. Child four is the detached, finding any excuse and feeling justified to be absent from the home.
I skipped over the third child – me – the fixer. Being the fixer is the role I kept repeating in my adult life. Many repeat this role many times in their lives, never finding the desperately needed outcome . . . a mutually loving and healthy marriage. Making something right that is doomed to fail, is like running as fast as you can into a brick wall, and expecting a different outcome every time you do it. I used to think this was a female problem, but have come to learn that there are also men fixers married to abusive women. The fixer basically believes with their heart and soul that if they love enough, it will fix everything – eventually. The fixer tries to be everything to everyone, not realizing that they are completely losing themselves in the process. Their spouse, children, extended family members, and friends accuse the fixer of being perfect, as if perfection was even possible, or a bad thing if it were possible. The fixer becomes very adept at hiding their faults; a very tiring and relatively fruitless endeavor. All of the people in the fixer’s life also learn very quickly that they can manipulate the fixer with guilt. This is a particularly bad dynamic for one’s children to learn.
It is not impossible for those involved in a very dysfunctional marriage to make it last, for my parents were married almost 50 years when my Dad died. Not my parents, but others have sought help individually or together, and made their marriages better. The mental and/or physical trauma in my ex-marriages, coupled with my increasing determination to get it right, made them, in my opinion, unsustainable. I should mention here that I had zero tolerance for an unfaithful marriage partner. This being the only truly accepted reason for divorce, with each unfaithful husband, I felt less and less guilty for giving up. (You don’t really need to know – Liz was married at least a couple more times than me – and Erica many times more. For those old enough, you will know the references; for those younger, whatever you need to imagine is okay with me. More than one mean female has accused me of having more husbands than my fair share.)
If we are to understand the Lords infinity of forgiveness for all who seek Him, can we willingly do less? I did, finally forgive myself. When that happened, I finally let go. Such a seemingly simple act, I am amazed I didn’t do it sooner . . . just let go of that need to fix everything broken. Suddenly, there I was, and I didn’t have a clue of who I was without this huge crutch. I spent the next few years settling into being thankful for each day, and just being me without much thought about what that meant. I wish I could take full credit for finally getting marriage right. I take credit for learning all I could about why I kept repeating the same mistakes, but the Lord gets credit for the glory of this amazing marriage. I bent my knees, and I prayed for the Lord to pick me a husband seventeen years ago, and the rest is seventeen years of living happily ever after.
Today, we are just days into 2013, and I prayed for all of the people who have held back forgiveness from loved ones, including themselves. I had no idea of what it would do to me before I did it. I forgave, and my whole world started improving from that day forward. I will vividly remember for the rest of my life where I was when I sat, a broken human being, crying, in my car reading a book I had just purchased. My family doctor had written the name of the book on a prescription after I fell apart unexpectedly one day when he asked me if I was okay. I was not out of the woods yet, but I knew I was headed in the right direction.
One of the bonuses of forgiveness was to finally hear the words from my father, “I love you.” More healing words, the world has never known. My parents had always held power over me. I spent more time with them than any of my friends from nineteen until about forty-five. They were party people, and my Momma just believed she needed me there for the good, and the bad. Not being ones to travel much, everyone was surprised how often my parents traveled to Shreveport when I lived there. The party can take place in any city, and Shreveport had a horse track with a club level that was festive enough. After forgiveness, the parent – child relationship changed into friendship. Everyone should become friends with their parents – for too soon, you will become the one they depend on for help. I miss sitting in lawn chairs at their home or in the kitchens at their home and the beach house talking for hours like only good friends are able to do. Finally, the laughter abounded.
So, my friends might ask, how come you are revisiting the past? On Christmas day, while looking for something else, I ran across a piece I had written fourteen years go, and thought it was lost. Over the years, I have lost this piece, found it, lost it again, and found it again. This time when I found it, I had the immense feeling I should share it – I even typed it out fresh in case I decided to share. This piece is of that tender stuff people are made of, between being lost and found – “the soft vulnerable underbelly” of sorts. Today is almost two weeks later, and I will just have to weather any criticism I receive, because the deep feeling that I am supposed to share is greater than my fear. I know I share things most of you would not share. It is difficult to find the proper words to express why I feel safe in sharing with those I know well, as well as those I have never even met in person. When you love, and are loved as I am, by my husband and by the Lord, so many human fears just vanish. I will eternally not feel comfortable in personal social situations (freakishly awkward at parties – yes, even as my Momma constantly drew me to it); but as I write to an imaginary you, I am aware of your potential trust, and I just fly with it.
I miss my Momma and Dad. If you still have your parents, and you are withholding love or friendship – If you are among those who are holding back forgiveness, I am writing to you -
and sharing the following . . .
A DIFFERENT KIND OF CANCER
As any loving, dutiful child would do, I had told them, “Any time you need me, just call.” I had been telling my parents this for years. To their credit, they never drove me totally crazy. Of course I saw them and talked to them on the phone several times a week, but as could be predicted, there came a time for calls of a more urgent nature.
My father is a very stubborn, single minded, frail seventy seven years. Whereas my mother is a very stubborn, single minded, strong seventy three years. The frail and the strong are characteristics which were worn by the opposite party as recent as fifteen years ago. It is odd how something like that can change. These two have spent almost fifty years fiercely fighting about mostly unimportant things. They do, however, have a deep and abiding love for one another. They can stop in mid-fight if the other one is suddenly in some sort of need to administer whatever support is necessary. Woe to the person(s) who gets in the middle and takes sides with one or the other.
My heart truly breaks for these two people at this stage of their life. My father was diagnosed with cancer about two months ago. After all of the diagnostic tests were run, my father said to me, “Treatment has come a long way. I have elected to have very aggressive chemo. I am going to lick this thing.”
I had spent the prior three days with this “thing” occupying most of my thoughts. I was fearful for him and what he was about to face. I very cautiously said, “Dad, are you sure you are healthy enough for chemotherapy?” My dad had a stroke several years before which left him much less than perfect use of his right arm and leg. He suddenly seemed to forget all of his very chronic ailments and the restrictions the stroke had left him with. “Of course I am healthy enough. Do you think the doctors would let me do it if I wasn’t?” This logic was hard to argue with. I still had a bad feeling about it, but knew better than to push the point. I also knew that it was his decision to make and no one else’s.
The first round of chemotherapy was split into three consecutive days. My oldest sister, my oldest brother, and I each took a turn taking him for the treatments. For those three days all seemed to go well. Other than being tired after each session, he did not have any other symptoms. Over the next several days, however, he became as weak as a newborn kitten. At nine-thirty at night on the seventh day my mother called, “Honey, can you take Daddy and me to the Emergency Room? Your Dad’s fever is almost 103 degrees, and the doctor said for us to get right over there.” We arrived at the hospital at five after ten. He was finally admitted to the hospital’s Oncology Unit at twelve-thirty a.m.
He has been in the hospital for the last three and one half weeks, and I cannot shake a horrible feeling of dread. I am familiar . . . extremely familiar . . . with the feeling of dread. I was raised in one of the millions of families tainted with alcohol and abuse. The dread for me was a constant underlying fear that exists constantly, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty five days a year.
Some time in my late twenties, I started to understand that the dread was not normal. I had been right to assume all along that forces in my life had not been normal. For years, though, I had walked around not knowing that constantly waiting ‘for the other shoe to drop’ was also not normal. Eventually, I sought counseling to get rid of the dread.
I have been free of the dread for about ten years now, and life has become a beautiful and wonderful adventure for me. You can imagine that after being rid of this malady for ten years, I was extremely agitated about its return. I was mystified at why it had chosen to return, as if it was something apart from me that had attacked me. Suddenly work, my own immediate family of four, my parent’s problems, and this dread thing were all jumbled up and strangling me. When I did manage to sleep, I was dreaming about events that I had long ago put to rest.
During my working hours my mind seemed to be split in two. One half was definitely not concentrating on work. I, aka Ms. Compulsive Perfectionist, was making careless and costly mistakes at work. Looking back on the evenings at home, I was keeping my family at arms-length and longing for solitude. As I slowly began to realize that I was changing before everyone’s eyes, I knew I needed to resolve this whole dread thing quickly. For three years I have had the marriage that my personal dreams are made of. I certainly did not want to damage this part of my life.
The logical place is where I always begin . . . The childhood traumas when recalled to memory did not feel especially bad. I was the child that had forgiven my parents years before. Once there was forgiveness, I remembered all of the good things – not just the bad. During the course of my adult years I always tried to do the right thing in every situation. Funny how when you try hard to do the right things, you can still horribly screw it all up so many times. One day you realize that you are just as flawed as the next guy, and perfection is not attainable. Your next thought process takes you to those who have screwed up before you. Well, well, well . . . I decided I would just have to forgive them, and eventually me. Life certainly is complicated, and oh so wonderful when you discover forgiveness. It opens up all of the good in life that is possible.
Now that I have reflected on my childhood, and healing, I still have no answer. Why is the dread attacking me? One more try. There are still events from my childhood and early adult years that I have totally blocked. These are actually the middles of events. I can remember the beginnings and some endings, but not the middles. So I examined how I currently feel about this. Nothing, for many years I have had absolutely no curiosity at all.
I went to visit my Dad. I wanted to see him, and I was still hopeful for an answer. He looked so helpless. He could fight this thing and live, or he could lay there and give up and die. He seems to have given up. His physician says he is capable of walking, feeding himself, watching television, reading, and playing on his computer (all of his senior favorite things to do). He has chosen to do nothing.
My first inner mental response to this was, “Oh, how cowardly you are. You, who criticized and pushed others hard to do whatever you wanted them to do . . . you, who mentally and physically bullied your family, do not have the oomph to get up and live? I’ve never seen anyone so afraid!”
I very quickly put myself in check. I reminded myself that I have never faced death head on. When it happens, I do not have a clue how I will react. If I have not learned another thing in my life, I hope I have learned not to judge others. Well, back to the problem at hand. These may be profound realizations, but do not hold the answer to my problem.
What to do now? I have an acquaintance (close to friendship) who happens to be a clinical psychologist. Not wanting to overstep the bounds of free clinical advice and hopefully a long-term friend, I stated my problem somewhere within less than a ten minute conversation. In his infinite wisdom, he told me that the past would always be a part of who I am. He said that the time was coming to say good-byes to my Dad. The end of something, whether it is historically good or bad, is still the end. My Dad’s passing will be the end of a relationship that had a powerful impact on who I am. Well, this certainly rang true for me. I was excited because now that I had this new understanding, the dread would surely leave me once again . . . I do not quite know how to tell you this, but it did not work! So life goes on. I continue to function. When I see my Dad, I feel compassion and love; I also feel the dread.
My Dad has just been sent home to live until he leaves us. He is making a little more effort to live now. He actually gets out of bed for many meals. Sometimes he sits in the kitchen with my Momma for as long as three hours. He even sounded like his old self on the phone a couple of days ago. He is very childlike though. Sitting on the bench near his bed, I visited with him for a while. He took his teeth out and handed them to me because they were bothering him. If someone had told me six months ago that Dad would do something like that, I would have laughed because they were crazy. Now, I laugh because he reminded me of my grandson. As I kiss him on the forehead and say goodbye, I feel at peace with him. I want to mind-meld or soul-meld with him and give him some of my life-force. I do love him.
Yesterday, I called a very good friend of mine for a lunch date. Her childhood holds many similarities to mine. I relayed a thirty minute version of my dread problem to her over Mexican food and Margaritas. She could clearly see that this thing was consuming me, and she sympathized. A good friend is a treasure. It is ever so strange how one person can see something so clearly that another can only seem to grope for. Perhaps Margarita logic is exceptional.
She calmly smiled at me and said, “Juanita, you’re afraid that after your Dad dies it will be okay for you, your Momma, and your sisters to talk about the abusive years of your childhood. You, for one, faced it head on and put it all behind you years ago, but they didn’t. You are ‘dreading’ it all coming back into your present life so much that it is consuming you.”
As the goose bumps took over every inch of my body, I felt a release the size of Texas, and I remembered. As children we were taught that people did not discuss personal family matters, even with each other. To do so was a shameful and disgraceful thing to do.
In a whisper, in the dark, my nine-year-old sister said, “Juanita, are you awake?”
At the age of six, I whispered back, “Yes.”
In my sister’s first truly angry voice, the voice that would dominate her teen years, “It’s okay Juanita, he’ll be dead someday and we’ll be able to talk about everything.”
“Okay, someday we’ll talk.”
Like a fifty pound weight the dread left as suddenly as it had arrived, as I let go of the fears that had dominated my childhood and young adult years, one more time. I do not know how many times we have to work through the fears that partially define who we are. I am thankful for the years I have had without fear and the pivotal point in my life defined by forgiveness. The Lord is faithful for those of us who love Him and seek His forgiveness, and understand His lesson of forgiveness.
Juanita has forty five years experience as an Accountant. During her last twenty eight years she specialized in the start up phase and / or the recovery phase of businesses from two million in revenue per year, to fifteen million per year. Her sphere of successful influence ranges from accounting, to operations, to the backroom marketing effort. Streamlining and organizing out of control businesses is serious fun for her.
The art of raising a family while working was of supreme importance to her; and she chose a route of self-education coupled with some college. Her endeavors in self-education range from philosophy and history, to Christian studies outside of mainstream religious organizations. Much of her college dollar was spent on enhancing natural management skills and writing skills.
Although Juanita has lived in many regions of the country, she is settled near the Gulf coast in her home state of Texas.