Thursday, November 24, 2016

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I still remember the day when I told my mother I no longer wanted to be at home. I had had enough of so much pain, sorrow and the constant yelling everywhere. I saw my mother cry bitterly as she took the final decision to get a divorce. I was ten years at the time.

My father had always been a very strict man. He used to believe that his ways were the right ways and that everything had a logical order, he even considered himself “successful” because he had his own house, his own car, a high paid salary and a family. He indeed was a success at his office, since he had the guts to get everything done, but his own workers didn’t seem to follow him for the right reasons. They described my father as a man who liked to give orders and to keep things under control. He even told jokes at the expense of others to keep things “cool”, but in reality, those jokes were hurtful and humiliating. I don’t remember my father having any friends, nor saw him inviting anyone to our home for Christmas.

Father was always working hard, two shifts for five years. He later told me he did all that to give us a good future, but he was never present. I don’t recall him playing that much with me nor taking us on vacation. In fact, he used to beat me with a belt if I didn’t get good grades at elementary school. He used to bury in my head the thought of “be better than anyone else”. He wanted me to be as competitive as him, as successful as him. He wanted me to become like him.

But that wasn’t the whole reason why my parents divorced. My father, thinking he could do whatever he wanted, cheated on my mother with five different women, thinking my mother was not good enough for him anymore. Later in life I understood that it was him who felt not good enough.

One day he got very drunk and began calling me names like “Little cockroach” because he knew I would never be as good as him. That’s when I lost it. At ten years old, I jumped towards my father and blindly hit him in every part of his body that I could reach with my tiny fists. My mother came running from the kitchen and had to separate us because, since my father was a mountain of a man, he was easily giving me the beating of my life. That was the last straw for my mother.

That night she kicked him out of the house and I could never see him again for a few years.
After that day, we were shocked, but felt a small piece of relief. Eventually we finally found peace. The divorce helped my mother to mature, to become stronger and wiser. She had always been there for me and my kid sister. I grew up with the love of my mother who played the role of a father as well. My raising made me think that, if I ever had children, I would never let them live the hell I lived.

Time heals all wounds, or so that’s what they say. The age and many life experiences gave me the strength to finally see my father once again after so much time at a very sad family event. He was all by himself. None of the women he used to cheat with were in sight. We spoke few words, gave him my condolences and departed. It had been weird to see my father again after so much time.

One day he fell sick with kidney failure and was about to die. I went to see him at the hospital and it was really shocking to see the once strong man reduced to a thin ghost of a man wrapped in a hospital gown. There was no one around to help him but an aunt. No friends, no other women, no one. He was all alone. I spent days and night taking care of him at the hospital, we would joke around and remember the few good things we shared during my infancy. I soon realized my father was just another child that was hit and humiliated during his childhood. His parents had raised him the same way he was raising me, therefore, he grew up with those values carved in his heart.

That’s when I realized it made no sense to continue hating him for the horrible childhood he gave me. Life was already giving him a very tough lesson. Loneliness can be worse than death itself.

My father eventually recovered and left the hospital. To this day, I still speak to my father and pay him a visit at his house from time to time to see how he is doing. He is still the prideful man I knew in my infancy, and is still expecting me to become better than him. But this time, his words don’t hurt me at all.

This part of my life made me learn these valuable lessons:

1) Forgiveness doesn’t mean to forget: Some people say “Forgive and forget”, I would say instead “Forgive, don’t forget, but don’t let the memory of what happened control you”. I learnt this the hard way, sadly. Some days I would get very angry and some other days I would feel hopeless and unloved. This eventually pushed the few people that really cared for me away. I couldn’t change the past, and I didn’t like the insecure angry woman that I had become. I had to vent out that pain and anger.

One thing that helped me was to write down all the things I wanted to say to my father, then I would read the letter many times as I needed and finally, I would burn it. Watching the fire consume the letter that had all my frustration helped me ease the burden in my heart. Some days, when I felt the ugly feeling again, I would just put my hand over my heart and say a prayer and repeat the same mantra to myself over and over again:

“I am here, I will help you. We are in this together, I will protect you”

I never knew the power behind those words, but after repeating that sentence to myself, I would feel the anger go away.

We have to vent the anger (As a metaphor would say “Empty our cups”) in private (To avoid hurting the people that love us) in order to make space for love and peace. We learn from the pain and there is no way we can easily put it under the rug, but we can control the feeling it gives us when remembering those moments.

Don’t let the memory of the past inflict you pain in your present life.

2) Forgiveness doesn’t mean to include that person back into your life: Forgiving someone does not always mean to have that person back into your life like nothing happened. There are people whose sole presence is toxic in our lives. These kind of people need to be loved from a distance, may be your father, your brother, your once best friend, your ex. Life is too short to make it harder and painful by allowing them back into our circle of peacefulness.

3) Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning someone’s actions: What happened to my father might be viewed as karma by some people but for me, it is hard to call it that way. When I learned about his troubled childhood, I realized that’s where all his behavior came from. His parents raised him the same way as he wanted to raise me. I finally understood why he did what he did. But, that wasn’t excusable. What he did was wrong and was not acceptable. No matter how bad your past was, you can’t go around inflicting pain to others thinking its ok. I know a lot of people who had a very sad, painful childhood and they turned out to be wonderful parents. Pain can give huge lessons to make us a better person.

And finally,

4) Forgive to set yourself free: the most important lesson in my life. I was the target of bullying at school because at that time, children that came from broken homes were looked as troubled kids. I hated my father every single time someone made jokes about my divorced parents. Later in life I blamed my father for all my failed relationships. I hopelessly looked for approval from the men I dated in my life, only to be dumped like a hot frying pan. I was destroying myself with hatred and pain. All this turmoil made me lonely and miserable. Eventually I learned that I was the only person responsible of my life, and that blaming my father was a very coward thing to do. If I wanted to have a happy life I had to let go of the pain. It wasn’t easy, it took me years of self-discovery and soul searching to achieve this, but finally I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Trying to find something to inspire me, I came across with one quote that really struck a chord to me:

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”

I was poisoning my life, my few friendships and my own self. I was missing the big things in life because I had spent a lot of it hating my father and my problems. I learned not to repeat the mistakes he did, and to pay attention to my own behavior. The past can be painful but it certainly can’t define us. We make our own present, we are our own person.
We can’t erase the past, but we can choose to let go of the pain in order to live a happier, fulfilling life. The road is not easy, in fact there were days when I felt I was taking one step forward and two steps backwards, and some days I would just curl up and cry. But I kept moving because I really wanted to get out of that place of isolation, I focused on myself, found new hobbies, spent time with family and eventually, good friends came by and my life felt finally lighter and at peace.

At the end, I learned that forgiveness is not about the other person, is about ourselves.

This story is written by Cerise M. Chapman. You can read more of her stories from her blog - Morning Coffee Notes

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