A child stands alone at the foot of a grave, tears streaming down his face. He doesn't fully comprehend the meaning of his loss or of the profound struggle waiting for him. He is frozen in time, eyes fixed, with only one question on his lips:
Although the circumstances of every human may vary wildly, one aspect remains the same: we have all been hurt and we have all hurt others. Many of us hide our scars well, often times even from ourselves. I am by no means attempting to lessen the trauma of some or to elevate the struggles of others. I myself am very fortunate to have never suffered the horrors of war, the ravages of plague, or the bitterness of famine; my heart breaks for those who have. The reality is that even seemingly small events can shape us in very profound ways. Even the most sheltered person cannot escape this fact.
For me one of these events was the death of my father as a child. Though the memory of my father has faded and melted away like wax from a burning candle, I cannot escape the impact this has had on my psyche, or how that event irreparably altered the course of my life. In the blink of an eye, the image of who we are and who we could've been can be shattered and we have no choice but to pick up the pieces and try to carry on.
I struggle with a mental illness. For years this was something I thought was shameful, something I tried to hide from and deny even to myself. It wasn't until the monster inside me grew too large to control that I finally had to come to terms with it. The denial cost me my career, the respect of my family and friends, and nearly my life. If you find yourself struggling in silence, please seek help now, there is no shame in admitting weakness. There are some obstacles which simply cannot be over come on your own.
When I started to come to terms with my own situation, I started reading books on the subject. One such book is Self Esteem Third Edition by Matthew McKay PH.D. and Patrick Fanning. The techniques in the book revolve around the idea of the pathologic critic as described here (p 15, 16):
The critic blames you for the things that go wrong. The critic compares you to others--to their achievements and abilities--and finds you wanting. The critic sets impossible standards of perfection and then beats you up for the smallest mistake. The critic keeps an album of your failures, but never once reminds you of your strengths or accomplishments. [...]
The pathological critic is busy undermining your self-worth every day of your life. Yet this voice is so insidious, so woven into the fabric of your thought that you never notice its devastating effect. The self-attacks always seem reasonable and justified. The carping, judging inner voice seems natural, a familiar part of you. In truth, the critic is a kind of psychological jackal who, with every attack weakens and breaks down any good feelings you have about yourself.
For me, all the guilt and shame I have stored up inside serves as fuel for this critic. In my mind I see the critic as a masked official delivering flagellation. Every crack of the whip is a recollection of another failure, the cords digging deeper and deeper until all that is left is a bloody pulp where my self-worth used to be. At first I tried to hide myself away, withdrawing from people, situations, and my own thoughts. This was only a temporary respite, and only gave the critic more ammunition to use. The beatings continued. Other times I tried to turn and fight, took the instrument of my torture and attempted to lash out in a fit of rage. This too, proved futile. Ultimately the critic was a part of me and this temporary revolt would eventually subside. The beatings would continue.
Nothing, it seemed, could stop the cycle. Time went by and the self flagellation continued. It wasn't until I recalled some words written down long ago that I found another option. We are told that humans have the "fight or flight" response to a threat, but the truth is there is a seldom mentioned third option; one that is so radical it can not only change a person but at times, the very course of history. When the ritual beatings began once more, rather than give in or ready for a fight, I took a different approach. I rose to my faced my attacker, embraced him and whispered in his ear "I forgive you." In that moment the ritual was shattered and the critic was stunned, unable to continue. The mask fell from his face and revealed that of a child. That old familiar child frozen before his father's grave, tears streaming down his face. In all those years it wasn't retribution he was seeking; with every crack of the whip, every gushing wound, he only wanted one thing: forgiveness.
"Sorry for all the hatred."
"Sorry for the lost time."
"Sorry for the mistakes."
"Sorry for not having the answers."
"Sorry that there are things in this world I cannot fix."
"But you don't have to be alone anymore."
"I'm here for you and hand-in-hand we can continue onwards..."
I find myself before my father's grave once more with that familiar child, so scared of what lies before him. Together we stand as we bid farewell to that old tombstone.
"Goodbye father I hardly knew. I'll never forget you, but it's time for us to move on."
The child turns to me for the first time and smiles.
"Where do we go from here" He asks.
"I don't know" I reply, turning to the horizon "but there's gotta be somewhere better than here."
I'd like to briefly apologize to those I have hurt and to those that I have hurt and either forgotten or did so without realizing:
To my brothers and sisters at HA, forgive me for disappearing without an explanation.
To my friends from Chicago and Rochester many of whom have moved on with their lives. Forgive me for shutting you out and pulling away.
To my friends from college who have moved on with their lives. Forgive me for not keeping in touch.
To my friends in Utah, forgive me for pulling away and pursuing a different life in a different place and not keeping in touch.
To my younger brother, forgive me for not being there for you as an older brother and forcing you to face the darkness of this world alone.
To my older brother, forgive me for using you as a template for my own life rather than taking up my own mantle and using you and your wife's kindness as an excuse for laziness.
To my Mother, forgive me for being such a childish disappointment and leaving so many things unsaid.
To my grandmother, forgive me for neglecting you and letting you waste away in despair and never saying a final goodbye.
To my grandfather, forgive me for not being half the man you were in your own life.
To my father, forgive me for the time that was stolen from us. For never getting the chance to learn from you what it means to be a man.
To myself, forgive me for all those wasted years of abuse.
To those who read this. Forgive me for these rambling words. It has been a while since I've written anything and this was probably the hardest thing I've ever put to words.