Sunday, August 29, 2010

Treacherous Journey

I met with my writer friend Jasara yesterday and we had another one of our three-hour marathon conversations that leave us satisfied and full, more so than the food we sometimes share. 
Ever since I met Jasara ten years ago when were in our first year of college--me returning after many years, and Jasara just starting--I have felt like I was communicating with a younger version of myself: very different people, and yet, uncanny similarities. 
After a few years hiatus from regular communication while she got her masters in English rhetoric, we now offer each other support for our writing, as well as other life issues. Included in all our numerous musings yesterday was a conversation about our families. In response to something I said, she asked:
"Which pain is worse--the pain of watching your mom deal with the knowledge that she did not protect her children, or the pain of denial?"
I thought about her question all the way home from Ellensburg last night and the following is an expanded version of what I said.
The pain of knowing has been mom's pain, and her burden to bear. But the pain of her denial was all mine. 
Which to honor? We are told to be good girls, to be forbearing and forgiving and allow the other person their view of the world. But it felt as if my emotional health, my perception of how things really were, depended on my breaking through her wall of denial.  To hold on to denial upholds the "ignorance is bliss," euphemism. But denial separates you from the truth--and the people you love the most.
For years I sometimes not so gently led mom toward the truth.  If I hadn't I would have survived, but I wouldn't have survived the relationship with her. There were times I felt as if my anger would overwhelm us both. My fury was at her telling me how things were when I knew that wasn't how things were at all.  The cognitive dissonance was sometimes too much to bear.
When I first heard her say, "But he was always so good to me," I was shocked. When she said it again, I was furious.  I finally had to say, "Mom, don't ever defend a perpetrator to me again. Ever."
She said, "But I thought God brought him to me." I responded, "If God brought him to you, what does that say about me?"
When I broke the no-talk rule four decades ago and she responded as she did by asking me why I was trying to hurt her, her denial created a rift that took four decades to heal.
But ultimately, the big payoff.  As I quested after emotional and mental health, she too, got healthier...even into her 90s.
I have enormous compassion and respect for her willingness to ride this out with me because more often than not, people are not willing to take those risks.
People leave, die, ignore, drink, do drugs, or simply remain firmly entrenched in denial because it feels so much easier.
That's where it gets tricky. We have to know when to let go and let them off the hook and allow them to be where and who they are, even if they don't change. And I've had to do some of that. She has the right to her perceptions and truth, too.
And ultimately, our emotional health rides not on their decisions, but on ours.
It's for these reasons that I write as I do. Telling the truth in the hope that others on a similar treacherous journey will be set free from denial, or the devastating consequences of denial.

1 comment:

Jasara said...

Ours is the most rewarding kind of relationship. When we dig and sift for three hours over good food, I feel rejuvenated, like I've just looked life in the face and said, "You're not too much for me."

I like the way you are pairing truth and forgiveness together in many of your pieces. There are some who would associate truth-telling with bitterness, but you've communicated that the opposite is possible.

Thank you for being honest. We could all use more of it in our lives.