#1000Speak: Forgiveness Sucks, So Let’s Try Something Different – Updated

Here I am again, awake. I have what may be the world’s worst insomnia. Tonight I’m not worrying about money or children or husbands, and it’s not noisy people. I was actually asleep, but a bad dream woke me up.

I moved to Seattle to take a job after no luck finding one in my home state of Nevada for a year. It should have been my dream job, stepping up to the big leagues of paralegal-dom after many years working for country, but good, lawyers. It should have been a whole new vista for me, an exciting new professional experience in an exciting new city in beautiful new country.

It was the job from hell. Seriously. In my 40 years in the work force, I could not imagine a more horrific experience. I suspect my boss was a true narcissist, and I’m dead certain she was emotionally and mentally abusive. In current nomenclature, I was bullied mercilessly. The three months I worked at that firm was the longest, most horrific time I can remember aside from one marriage I’ve worked hard to block from recall. It should be noted that the dynamics of an abusive intimate relationship and an abusive employment relationship are extremely similar. That job and that woman damaged me. I needed counseling to get past the worst of it.

I’m still damaged. What woke me up a little while ago was a dream that I was right back there, working for that harridan again. I woke gasping, with the electricity of a panic attack running through my veins.

Great.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve moved on with living my life, and I’ve accomplished a lot since then. I stayed in counseling for a year and unpacked a lot of things. I made the decision to return to school, excelling at that and enjoying it, and I have another job I more or less enjoy too. It doesn’t challenge me and the pay is middlin’, but I don’t bring any work stress home at night either, and that’s worth a lot. I am the only person in my office; I run the whole damn state for my company and for the most part, I like that solitude and independence just fine. If some jerk brings donuts into the office when I’m cutting out sugar, well, I have no one to blame but myself. To further my healing, I considered writing her a letter but opted instead for scathingly honest review on Glassdoor, and if it saves even one person from what I went through, I’m glad.

And yet, here I am dreaming about that horrid woman, and still losing sleep to her, three years down the road. What gives?

I was lying there, having burned one of my precious few anxiety pills and trying to read a bit of War and Peace in the hopes I could return to sleep, when I realized it.

Forgiveness.

And then: Why should I? That bitch hurt me. She’s hurt lots of people, that I know of; I was far from her first. Why does she deserve anything from me?

And the truth is, she doesn’t.

And I know the platitude, that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for you, and I kinda believe that, but then again, I don’t believe it at all. To forgive is to absolve the person of what they did, and I’m just not going to do that. She’s accountable, past and future, because I know she’s still doing it to others who were looking forward to a terrific position just as I was. When I was there I saw payroll records for three other legal assistants in the eight months before I arrived. Add me, that’s four in a year. She’s accountable. I might not be willing to confront her any more directly than an anonymous online employment review, probably because I loathe conflict with a flaming purple passion, but it’s what I can do.

No, what popped into my head from the depths of I-don’t-know-how-long-ago was another definition of forgiveness I heard once attributed to Oprah, I think it was, and I’m not a fan of Oprah, but I’m a fan of this definition, because it works:

Forgiveness is giving up the wish that things had been different.

And as I lie there still unable to go back to sleep but also unable to unscramble the letters on the pages of War and Peace, I realized that’s what I need to work with.

I am not making the buckets of money I did, briefly, at that firm. I do not have the nice house, and the nice new car and maybe a truck for the Tominator, and long weekend trips up to Vancouver and Whistler and a canoe for all the lakes around here. I do not have a 401(k) and killer health insurance. I do not have the prestige of high-end law firm experience in a posh downtown office tower. And that’s what I should have had. It’s what I’d worked for, for so long. It’s what I was offered when I left my family behind, left my home with my Mother’s Day rosebushes tended lovingly in the yard, and dragged the Tominator and Dream Girl and my stuff up here, and I should have it. I was robbed.

Yeah, I know. Shit happens and who said life was fair, suck it up buttercup. But underneath it, as superficial as it sounds, I am angry about that. Still. I moved up here for professional and financial advancement but here I am, scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, as I have for most of my life.

But on the other hand, as I struggle through many of my days, one of the first things I count when I’m reminding myself of all I have to be thankful for is that I no longer work for that Medusa. I may not have what I should have had, but I have enough, and I’m away from her, and I’m nowhere near anyone remotely like her, and that should be nothing but good.

I don’t have to absolve that woman of anything, but I can give up my wish that it had worked out. I can do something radical, even, and wish for something good tomorrow instead of in the past.

New entry on tomorrow’s to-do list. Make that today’s to-do list; cruising up on one a.m.

I’m going to try to get some sleep now. And even if I don’t, even if tomorrow – no, today – is another day I have to wade through in a sleep-deprived fugue state, I know one thing I can work on toward my own brand of forgiveness: I can wish forward instead of wishing behind.

It’s a start.

Update: Yesterday I was scrolling through job listings, thinking it might be time to go for an upgrade, and I see this Hagatha is advertising for a new victim paralegal. The ad doesn’t list the firm but I know her writing style, and the location is the same. Oh, God, all I can do is pray for the poor sacrificial virgin new hire. Another one. A therapist can make a career out of this woman’s employees.

The Only Way to the Other Side is Through

“…It is the time of burning, hate exposed.
We shall have to live with only Kali near.
She comes in her fury, early or late disposed
To tantrums we have earned and must endure.”
In a previous #1000Speak post I wrote that I hate certain people. That seems a jarring juxtaposition with the concept of compassion.
I was talking about the period of time after I’d left a horrible husband and was just trying to make it through divorce proceedings without my children and I being eaten alive by the machinations and manipulations of a vengeful, angry man whose lawyer rated just this side of shyster. I was talking about the arrival of Kwan Yin and my life, and a beautiful, affirming experience that has stayed with me all these years. And I wrote “I fucking hate those people,” and I didn’t edit that sentence out despite the theme of the post…compassion.
But…compassion doesn’t have room to fucking hate someone…does it?
It does.
I also wrote about being determined to take the high road and to stay positive, to refuse to be drawn down to the level of petty spite and tit-for-tat shenanigans that so many divorces are composed of. It was a lofty goal, and one I kept to, and I was proud of myself for not taking one action or speaking one word I could regret.
But divorces take a long time to be finally over, even after the ink is dry on the papers, when there are property issues and especially when there are children. Long after our particular divorce was final, my ex kept it up. I won’t go into it other than to say if there was a Stupid Pet Trick he could pull, he pulled it. Anyone who has been through an acrimonious divorce knows of what I speak. Every time, I sighed and laughed it off, continuing to take the high road — until that one big one that I just couldn’t laugh off.
Really, after crap like this has been going on for years now, how can it not become a bubbling pit of noxious green in a smoking landscape? What’s surprising is that it took as long as it did. Because what I saw, finally, was that I had not escaped the abuse at all. I’d merely escaped close physical proximity. As long as there was anything binding us together, he was going to keep trying to control and manipulate and inflict injury every chance he got, and it didn’t matter to him if he hurt his own child in the process.
Boiling point reached.
One evening, I blew. I mean, blew. I ranted, I raged, I threw things (sorry, but when I let my temper go, it’s the kind that only the sound of breaking glass can assuage), and before I knew it, I was screaming, “I hate that goddamned son of a bitch!”

Finally the storm blew itself out and I collapsed onto the couch. I was hoarse, shaking, out of breath, and utterly appalled at myself. Who was that horrible woman, screaming her fury and shredding an invisible face with her hands and stomping all over invisible guts on her living room floor? This was not the person I wanted to be. That was not the emotion I wanted to be filled with. This was not the evil I wanted to be reduced to. Feeling disgusted with myself, like a failure, I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep. Again.
But then something happened.
Public Domain.

When I woke up the next morning, the sky seemed bluer. The birds sounded sweeter. I know it sounds smarmy, but it’s true. My kids both seemed happier, for some strange reason, and so did I. I felt lighter, almost like I was walking an inch above the kitchen floor as I poured cereal and coffee. I felt freer. As I checked backpacks and kissed  my children out the door to the school bus stop, I knew we would be all right. And we were. As simplistic as it sounds, it’s true: things got better.

And then I knew that I hadn’t lowered myself at all. What I had done was to release something that had been inside me, eating at me this whole time. Anger and hurt are like an infection under the skin. No, not like – that’s what they are. Pretending it’s not there accomplishes nothing; it only makes you sicker without you even knowing it, until all of a sudden it brings you down. If you don’t acknowledge its presence and lance it and get the poison out, the infection will spread. You will not be free of it until you admit that it’s there and get rid of it. The earth stops shaking and rumbling when the volcano blows. No sacrificial virgin required.
I had no need to feel guilty, either. I’d been afraid that my negative feelings would do damage if I let them out, but I had it backward. They do damage when you don’t let them out. (Reminds me of a doctor I used to see, who told me my ulcers would ease up if I’d just learn to be a bitch.) My anger hadn’t hurt my ex at all. But it had set me free to do the work I needed to do, to clear the landscape and build anew.
Kwan Yin’s gift to me was many things. It was a nod from the Universe, that I was handling things and myself correctly. It was falling and skinning my knee and being drawn onto the comfort of a lap, with no minimizing, just “there there” and all the hugs and reassurance I needed. It was a call to serve, to have compassion for those in my life and for those I don’t know at all and will probably never meet again. And perhaps most of all, it was a reminder that I deserve to be taken care of too, and that means shining a light into dark corners and getting the bad things out. Doing what we need to do for us: self-compassion.
I sat down to write this #1000Speak post on building from bullying based on my own recent experience with workplace bullying and the Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell, and that is when I realized that I haven’t built anything from it. Not really. I’d sought counseling when I was in the middle of it, and I’d identified it, and I’ve escaped it. I’ve made enough progress that I am no longer a stew of anxiety, worry and fear thrumming through my veins like electricity and tears always ready to brim and sleeping one or two hours a night, if that. But I haven’t gone much beyond that. I’ve found refuge in school and a job where my talents are utilized and appreciated, but I haven’t built. In spite of getting out alive and moving on, I still feel helpless, I still feel worthless, I still feel sad. I am still afraid.

The poison is still there.

Photo: niecyisms

This is the part that really sucks: Even though I didn’t do this to myself, and I am where I am because someone else behaved in a cruel way toward me, it’s still me who has to do the work to get out of it. And there is work to do. Bullying and abuse hurt. They harm. They cause injury and lasting pain that most of us aren’t capable of just bouncing back from. A band-aid doesn’t cut it. And even though it isn’t fair, we, the injured ones, are the only ones who can do the work to make ourselves right again. They do the damage, but we pay the price if we want to get back straight.

It’s not fair. Who ever said life was fair? It has to be done. Cruel people knock us down, but it’s not until we allow them to keep us down that they win.

“…Kali, be with us.
Violence, destruction, receive our homage.
Help us to bring darkness into the light,
To lift out the pain, the anger,
Where it can be seen for what it is–
The balance-wheel for our vulnerable, aching love.”
      ~ May Sarton, Invocation to Kali, from the collection Grain of Mustard Seed (Norton: New York)       1971

My beloved Kwan Yin is always there for me, always, but now it’s time for Kali, time to tear down some noxious walls and dig up some poisonous weeds. Then I can build.

Walking You Home

“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

I was flattered when I was invited to take part in #1000Speak, and I’m honored to be here. As much as I myself suck at it sometimes, I’m all about compassion, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of something even bigger than the blogosphere, to be a drop in the rolling wave of human kindness, to be a part of being the village.
Then I thought about what I wanted to write about compassion. What did I want to say? What is the point that I want to make?
I can effortlessly write a bonkzillion words about domestic abuse, about bullying, about homelessness, about energy reform and caring for this beautiful blue sphere we call home. I can rant about racism and intolerance, because my loathing for bigotry probably makes me a bigot about bigots. I have a lot of topics that are absolutely deserving. But which one? They were all so tempting.

I had to bark my mental shins on the coffee table about a dozen times before I finally had the sense to see it.

Everything I’d thought of, the ones that came easily and immediately to my mind, none of them counted. Not for this post.
It’s easy to be compassionate when it involves a cause we care about, something we have a personal stake in for whatever reason. I’m an endless well of compassion for targets of bullying or abuse. I’ve been there. Poverty and homelessness are causes that come naturally to me as well. Bigotry, as I said.
But those things aren’t a challenge. And what I can’t help feeling about #1000Speak is that while it should be humane and uplifting and inspiring, it should also be just a little bit hard. It’s like the parable about the rich man and the beggar who both give a silver penny: which one gave more?
The answer, then, is to look in a place where it’s not so easy.
It can be hard to admit that there is a certain someone, a certain class of people, whether it’s the homeless, or battered women, or a particular race, or illegal immigrants, or fat people, or addicts, or people who like peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches, whom we think are not as entitled as we are to…anything, really. It’s the people we consider to be pathetic wastes of oxygen at the least (Kim Kardashian, anyone?) or consider to be evil personified at the worst (such as The Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell). And those hard places that I’m loathe to even admit exist, those are the places I should be looking.

Go ahead. Set aside the justification, and you know it’s there. They’re only homeless because they don’t want to get off their lazy asses. They must like being knocked around or they wouldn’t stay. They can stop if they really want to. They have no right to mooch off of honest hard-working people. Their skin is a different color from mine or they worship the wrong god or they love different people than I do, and that makes them evil and it’s my duty to hate them. You know how the tune goes.

That’s the one. That one, there. The one that really makes you wrinkle up your nose, brings disgust welling up out of your gut, really makes you feel like that doesn’t belong in my face, in my space, on my planet. The one that you just can’t find it in yourself to be kind about, no matter how hard you try.
It’s time to get past that “no matter how hard you try” part. In the words of the great Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
And looking, I see it. Just scroll up a few paragraphs and it’s right there. The ones I ultimately have no patience with, no sympathy for, would like to see jettisoned off into cold blue space, are the abusers and the bullies. If I’m going to be a part of this movement that’s worth anything, if I’m going to walk the walk like I talk the talk, then I have to own it. Bullies and abusers: I fucking hate those people. (And yes, the expletive is necessary. It is a small verbal indicator of my abhorrence, and it means something here. That’s what words are for.)
The Queen of Digression now digresses. Several years ago, I had taken my children and left an abusive husband. I was living paycheck-to-not-even-paycheck, anxiety and depression threatening to overwhelm me amidst the stalking and death threats and his suicide/manipulation attempt in my living room. I was determined in spite of it all not to give in to my natural Scorpio tendency to lash out in a fury of righteous vengefulness and utterly decimate him – legally, in open court. I was determined not to sink to his level and to keep to the high road. I kept reminding myself that he hurt me because he himself was hurting and empty. I took more deep breaths and counted to 10 more times than I can count. I deflected, I cast protection, I cried myself to sleep, I prayed. And as I slogged through day after changeless day, I had never felt so alone.
Until the night, after several months of this, I had one of the most realistic dreams I have ever had.
I was looking down at myself, watching from above as a flower and words that I knew to be poetry, in a language I couldn’t read, were tattooed onto my lower back. I felt the needles, I saw the vibrant colors, I could smell the scent of the living flower being embroidered into my flesh. I didn’t need to understand the poetry to know it was the lyrics of the cosmos. The whole dream was heartbreakingly beautiful, and I felt at peace as I never had in my life. I woke weeping, tears of comfort and release, with the sure knowledge that everything would be all right, that I was loved and Someone Up There was seeing me through all of this. Along with the images, I had a sounds-like in my head. I called in sick to work (sorry, John) and fired up the computer and consulted the Great Google with my sounds-like, and there she was.
Kwan Yin, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in Sanskrit. Kwan Yin is a Buddhist goddess of the sea and of compassion, the Mother of Mercy. A bodhisattva, she is often shown sitting on a lotus blossom, symbolizing the purifying of the soul as it struggles through suffering up to the godhead. One of her epithets is She Who Hears the Cries of the World. She is said to have 10,000 arms, to comfort all who suffer. If you call her in need, she will answer.
I learned some time later that the tattoo on the base of my spine was meaningful too. That is where kundalini energy is coiled inside us like a snake, the spiritual energy that purifies our spirits and helps to unite us with truth and divinity.
That dream is one of the most profound things that has ever happened to me. I’d had virtually no knowledge of Buddhist practices and had never heard of Kwan Yin. I did not doubt at all that she was there, that she had answered a call I hadn’t even consciously sent, and that she was calling me in return. Because one truth I was left with was that I was very right to have compassion for a man who had treated me as though I was merely a possession and not even fully human. As hard as it had been, and would continue to be, that was the only right way to treat him, because in the grand Universal end, it matters. And the other truth I was left with was that it matters because what I give for others, for him, was also there for me. As alone and broken as I felt, I was cared for. We are all children of the Universe, and we are all worthy of kindness.
All. Even Kim Kardashian. Even The Demon Boss from the Seventh Level of Hell. Perhaps especially her. This is where it gets so very hard, for me.
Back to #1000Speak and the point of this whole post. Compassion is impossible alongside judgment and condemnation, and to refrain from judging and condemning can be one of the hardest things ever. As I think back to the cruelty I’ve seen people exhibit, and the satisfaction some of them seem to take in it, I am certainly not inspired to want to be compassionate toward them. It actually makes my stomach roil a little just to think about them. And this is the part where I stub my toe and hop around on one foot, cussing at the Universe. Who am I to call them pots without making myself into a kettle? I’ve been a waste of oxygen many times. I’ve been cruel to others in order to feel better about myself, too. Oh, yes I have. And that makes my stomach roil even more, to admit that I am one of them.
But there is compassion for me. I am getting better at being compassionate toward myself, and I know why I behaved as I did, and if everyone else is just as human as I, then anyone else is entitled to be imperfect as I was. If I am entitled to compassion, so are they. I am reminded that I need to grant all of these people the same grace I extended to my now-ex, the same grace Kwan Yin gifted to me that night. I need to remember that people abuse other people because they are trying to feed their own hunger for love, trying to fill their own voids of emptiness and lift themselves up. Their reasons were my reasons.
This is what it all comes down to. My experience is theirs, and theirs is mine. If I look closely enough at them, I will realize that I am gazing into a mirror, and will see my own self yearning back at me. We are all walking different paths to the top of the same mountain.
Make no mistake, this does not mean I have to invite these people into my life. Just because I recognize the need to save an endangered species doesn’t mean I’m foolish enough to share my house with one, like, say, an alligator. I deserve better than The Boss Who Shall Not Be Named, and I’m not going to stop reading Ronald Takaki so I’ll have time to be a Kardashian groupie. I cannot link to my ex (“Throw Your Darts HERE!”) because he has been excised from my life, and rightfully so. But that doesn’t have to keep me from looking upon them with something more than derision or venom. For some, it is even possible for me to say the few words or perform the one small act that can help them see, help them feel, help them know that they are not alone and that solace and and empathy and a twining upward to the Sun are there for them, too.
It is true that what we put out is what we get back, that we reap what we sow, that like attracts like. When we extend ourselves to others, we create a ripple in a Universal pond of energy, and add mojo to the big circle of connection that runs like the strands of a silvery web, one to the other.

And we are all just walking each other home.

 Daniel Racovitan, used under Creative Commons license