I’ve been thinking for days and weeks, probably months, on and off, about what I can only call reconciliation. I’ve tried to find a different word, for no actual good reason that I can think of, but it still always comes down to reconciliation being the perfect expression of what I am describing.
In many ways I’m still reeling from a multi-year depression during which I treated a number of people who are dear to me in variously shitty ways.
I’m realizing that I have very selective memory for those years. As in, it is extremely easy for me to pull up the shittiest, most horrifying memories of my behaviour, including how it felt in the body, and it is extremely hard for me to remember the sweetness that I know was there too during those very early childhood years for my kids. And, oh my god, it is really, really hard for me to stick with some of those horrifying-to-me memories. They loom up like icebergs out of the fog, trigger body intensity, and fade back down into the ocean of my subconscious, leaving no fundamental change or learning in their wake.
What I am left with is this: how do I reconcile this person that I am today with that very same person that I was then. Because it’s all me. I was there then. I did that. And I did that, and that, and that.
Once, just before Tristan was going to start preschool for another year, I took him and Emily to the London Drugs in Tillicum Mall. We were looking for a thermos for Tris. Emily already had one. Hers was from the Planet Organic posh things store on Fort Street, bought a couple of years before this moment. I figured, heading to London Drugs, that we might be able to get one cheaper there because our money situation at the time was dire. I didn’t know, then, how much that dire financial stuff was running me on one of my highest stress levels pretty much all the time. If I paid no attention to the body intensity around it, then it must not exist, right? Please understand that I had no stress resilience to tap into. No. I was maxed pretty much always and constantly teetering on the edge of rage.
So we were looking at kid thermoses. All of my value systems were crashing into each other as I contemplated what was on offer at London Drugs. They were cheaper than the ones at Planet Organic. They were also made of shitty plastic and had cutesy or fierce cartoon characters of the type that I can’t freaking stand all over them. My intensity started to rise. Do I save ten bucks and transgress some of my values? Do we walk out and go somewhere else?
I might have been ok in this situation, personal decision-making angst notwithstanding, had it not turned out that Emily started whining that if Tristan got a new thermos with a character on it, it wasn’t fair and she wanted one too.
I definitely didn’t want to buy two of the fucking things. I felt like we couldn’t afford two. So we walked out. But instead of being able to absorb all of my kids’ intensity around this, and explain to them my reasons for wanting to leave, I freaked out. I started blaming our leaving on Emily and going on rants against shitty plastic and stupid characters to my poor kids. And I let the intensity grow and grow even after we got in the car. I was still blaming them, only now I was shouting, and I was driving erratically – speeding up too fast and slowing down too suddenly.
I was scaring my kids.
I was scaring my kids and letting them feel themselves to be in danger from their mom because I was so fucking unhappy deep inside that I couldn’t afford to just buy Emily a second thermos. Or buy another high quality thermos from the posh “eco” store. That we were, as a family, in such a chaotic financial state that this was a huge deal. And my friends, I didn’t understand for a long time that that inside feeling was what I was reacting to, because I was still running scared from feeling my own feelings pretty much all the time. It was easier for me to blame than to feel.
How could I have stopped and tended to my kids’ feelings when I was running so hard from my own? When I was, daily, hourly, drowning in the shame that seemed to be available everywhere I looked? And: I punished myself for not being able to willfully overcome or ignore my feelings to be the kind of mama that I wanted to be all of the time. I had no middle ground for myself.
This is what I mean by reconciliation. How to eat all those experiences that loom in my body and set all my nerve endings jangling so that there can be calm around them. How to know that yes, that was me, and to find that I’m still able to breathe. How to take the love and softness that I now often do have access to for myself and carry it back there to that one incident and so many others like it. How to remember the sweetness that I know was part of my life back then and let that into my body memories too.
I have some memories that my mind makes an instant U-turn from. Whoa! Not going there right now. Not all of them have to do with my kids. But slowly, slowly I am eating those memories again. Trying to digest them and take them into my body so that there are not so many U-turns.
This is indeed the reckoning and the owning of our shittiest actions. That mind-bending realization that we can consider ourselves good people and still have done or condoned or allowed by our inaction the shittiest of things.
It seems to me that the skill of reconciliation is a gift to life. It seems to me that when we do this on the most personal level that we can then carry it out into the world and that this feeds our capacity for compassion. “Yes, I see that you did that. It hurt some people. But I recognize that I have done similar things, or can see in myself that in similar circumstances to you, I might have done that too. I see your humanity. I see that you can change because I know myself as a creature who is able to change.”
This is not self-punishment. This is the simple fact of being able to allow deep in your body that those actions and experiences were indeed done and had by this very same person that you now are. Self-forgiveness or healing may effortlessly come from this, though there will likely be some discomfort first.
In any experience that we have, whether we are the major action agent or not, there is going to be stuff for us to digest. It just seems to me that sometimes the very hardest stuff to eat is the stuff where we acted wrongly when we were in a position of power, or where we created a power dynamic in our favour and then abused it.