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Step 8

Greetings all,

Humble thanks, as usual, to those who kindly gave of themselves and responded to previous posts.

Step 8, according to the OA 12&12, means I must forgive every person who has ever injured or wronged me.

Now it may seem more than a little premature to talk about Step 8 when I am only on Step 2. However, this Step bothers me a good deal.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, the summer day when I was 9 and my mother said she hated me because of something I had done that my father blamed her for. I remember when I was 11 and she told me she would have been happier with a daughter instead of me. I remember all the times she used blackmail, telling me if I didn't intervene on her side in her next fight with my father she would have nothing further to do with me.

I remember when she brandished a knife at me when I was 16. How she would resist or push me away if I tried to hug or kiss her. I remember how desperately I craved even the tiniest amount of affection or softness from her, and seldom got it.

I cannot forget when I was 14 how, in a rage, she demanded I mix her third drink for her. She told me if I loved her I would make it. So I did, and she got drunk, finally collapsing on the living room floor. I remember desperately praying for the rage to end, just temporarily - and it did! She suddenly got up, as angry as a jaguar but sober, and washed the dishes, all the while cursing my father at the top of her voice.

I remember how just minutes after entering the house, she would snap at me for not having vacuumed, or swept the floor, or watered the plants, or what have you. She would call me an idiot, or babe in the woods, and clouds of gloom would settle over the house.

I remember when I was 13, doing my homework, when my mother called me upstairs and demanded why I hadn't greeted her when she came home, and was there any reason she should stay in the house. I remember how terrible I felt and started to cry.

I remember driving with her on weekends to the mall, when she would angrily demand explanations from me for my father's behaviour, and when I tried to get her to soften her position how furious she would get. I remember cursing myself for even the slightest misstep of word or deed.

I remember having to listen to her curse my father whenever he was not around. I remember the yawning despair hearing one person I loved desperately tell me how much she hated the other person I loved. I remember the abyss of emptiness I felt.

I remember how I once told a teacher a small hint of the problems at home and how savagely my parents reacted. My mother called me a traitor, religious fanatic, and hypocrite, and said that she and I were finished. I was 13. I got out only by writing a (false) letter of retraction filled with remorse, calling myself a villain and liar. My teacher was mystified by the letter but there was nothing he could do.

I tried so desperately to win my mother's affection. I bought her big Mother's Day cards. I wrote letters to her at work. I called her the "World's Greatest Mother" all the time. I went almost ballistic with worry if she was sick or ill. I went wild with joy and dashed to the door when she came home. Nothing doing. She considered it all a fraud, and meanwhile my father got jealous.

If I cried, she cared not one whit. "Don't think you can soften me by crying" she would say. If I was sorry for anything I said or did, that would not do. "Sorry is a meaningless phrase" she would reply in a voice that gave no hint of forgiveness.

My father doted on me. I was his Honeyboy, his youngest son. He would often recite the phrase like a mantra. I cuddled him, comforted him, even slept with him. No sex, but nonetheless how many teenagers sleep with their father? Yet I could not restrain his wrath. Many times I cowered helpless while his rage at my mother stormed unabated. I pleaded with him to quieten. I tried to drag him upstairs. I could not. I used to pray about, hoping desperately his rages could end. I plotted strategies, which seldom worked.

Once when driving home from vacation at midnight he was raging at my mother over something. I was 10; I tried to cry, as loudly as I could, to get him to stop. Instead, he blamed my mother for the crying and accused her of "torturing that child". My strategy had backfired and I cried louder still.

Sometimes a stray remark I made would result in a fight between my parents, for which they would blame me. I remember the awful sense of black horror I felt as they warred, and I felt responsible.

Nor could I use force to stop him. He was older and weaker, but he had the trump card: money. "I pay the bills." This phrase ruled the house. In any dispute with my father this would silence me. I had to be grateful for all the "sacrifices" my father made. He was a blind man, valiantly struggling to support a "termagant" wife and children who were precious one moment, ungrateful the next.

I was made to feel ashamed of myself, guilty and desperate, if I ever got angry at anything my father did or said. It was unthinkable for him that I could have any legitimate cause for anger. He raged at my mother involuntarily, he claimed; she was so "savage" that his tirades were only self-defense. If I tried to remonstrate with him, I would either get a tirade or a guilt trip.

How much he suffered, he would say. He was diabetic, he was blind, he had an unsympathetic employer, his wife was bent on his destruction. And if his children didn't comfort him, they were added to the enemies list of the day.

I could never win any dispute from my father, never obtain an apology, never see myself vindicated, even if I was right. Always my father demanded compassion, for he had suffered so much, and my troubles were so trivial. I should not wallow in self-pity, I was told. I should not make him suffer.

So if I wanted to cry, I muffled it. Or I waited until I had a chance to hide downstairs and cry unseen and unheard. Often tears had gone by that time. If they didn't, I remember how alone I felt. How much I wanted a shoulder to cry on, someone to comfort me, a voice that cared, a hand that could have helped. I remember how alone I felt as the tears soaked into the carpet, how desperately I wanted just one person to listen to how I felt.

But I never told anyone. The incident at 13, and others like it, had told me that my parents would never tolerate their reputation "slandered". Nor did I fully realize just how deeply I was being victimized; my parents told me they were the ones suffering, and they needed me, they said.

When I was 18, I wanted to go away to the country's best school for the discipline I wanted. My father had no intention of letting me go anywhere except the school in our city, which was below average in my field. Many were the discussions we had on it. I desperately wanted to leave home, have an independent life, follow my dreams. I didn't want to take care of my parents anymore. My father said he would die if I left home.

Suddenly my father apparently reversed himself. If I would leave home, he said, why not go to the U.S. Ivy League? Filled with a sudden enthusiasm, I hastily sent away for application forms, wrote the SAT test, scored very high, then realized it was all a promise that my father had no intention of fulfilling. The dreams died. I told myself that I had no choice; with a blind father it was my duty to place my life on hold and stay at the local university and continue to take care of him. But there is still a residual pain, deeply felt, when I see young people living away from home and going to campus and enjoying their free and independent lives.

I have left home now, and have told both parents I want to be left alone. But the flashbacks continue. The accumulated memories and pent-up emotions of rage, despair, torment, and pain are a daily companion. Often I feel in the grip of a demon, cold-bloodedly picking me apart with long, sharp fingernails. Feelings swirl over me like colossal stormclouds, at my desk at work, on the bus, in my bed, at my mealtimes, and most of all at my bingetimes. No rest do I have, no relief do I find.

And Step 8 tells me that I must forgive to be healed. It says that I should not seek apology or redress from my parents, just make amends for what I have done. So once again, I am the one at fault. As I have done hundreds of times before, I must, says the Step, crawl back to them and miserably apologize.

I would rather die.

(I'm not speaking metaphorically here. A few days ago I went so far as to mount the balcony before I relented and called a suicide prevention line).

Oasis, Aug. 20, 1996.