Ned Breslin with a deeply personal story about the ways in which he’s learning to heal from past trauma.
I wrestled emotions I had never felt before. Emotions buried deep in the darkness of my heart, hiding from the physical, sexual and emotional violence that seemed to mix so neatly with the liquor that filled my alcoholic father’s glass. My addict mother’s cocktail was slightly different, helping her turn her head as the violence reigned down while simultaneously giving her the strength to stand up the next day, wash my soiled clothes, and fold them neatly on my bed before reminding me:
“He is your father.”
My boot traces the crack that will eventually become too much for the lonely broken floor tile to withstand. This tile will eventually collapse and be replaced by a new tile that will try to withstand the constant pounding that seems to be a tile’s lot in life.
I hope the replacement tile will be stronger….
Despite this, I find that the tile gives me comfort as friends around me try to wrap their hearts around “forgiveness.” They heroically try to match word with emotion.
My heart keeps my eyes focused on the tile and that crack. I shift in my seat ever so subtly, hoping my body language does not appear disrespectful to those opening their hearts. It’s just that my boot soothes my heart as it moves, unsettled, across the crack in the floor tile.
It took me years of hard work to forgive myself and to come to an unsettled but livable peace within. The damage I caused myself, and more importantly my wife and my daughters, has been significant and deep. They inexplicably still stand with me, their love rewriting the narrative on abandonment that is tattooed across my body. Holding me up despite the pain and trauma that has spilled into their lives because my healing journey has been too bumpy, too slow, with too much collateral damage along the way.
I had to forgive myself for forgetting, for locking away the horror so deep inside that I could not make the connection between violence and danger anymore. I had to forgive myself for trying so hard to constantly get back “in” with my parents and brothers when I should have kept running. I had to forgive myself for abandoning myself, in sharp contrast to how my wife and children now stand with me.
My foot unintentionally settles into a gentle rhythm, seemingly caressing the broken tile and causing no further damage. The tile seems to respond to the fondness of my touch. It settles, appreciating the warmth from my boot that displaces the cold, even if for just a short while.
And I breathe peacefully as my friends’ words on forgiveness seem to find their own rhythms and fill the room.
I close my eyes to the harmony exploding from my friends’ hearts to see my mother fading behind me. I immediately know what is happening and a smile crosses my face.
I have been on this walk before. My stride is strong and purposeful, athletic and graceful. Liberating.
It was easy leaving my father behind. I was serene as I crested the hill and my father faded from my sight and my consciousness. My heart expanded in this moment, new blood nourishing deep scars….
My brothers took longer to fade but fade they all did. I walked away from each in my own way. Not my brothers as children mind you, as they were boys who suffered tremendously in their own ways, and I do love them. No, I walked away from broken men whose decisions made it clear that they had no place in my life. My spirit continues to inhale fresh, clean air and continues to heal as I have given myself the overdue space to leave them behind.
But walking away from my mother has been the hardest. I kept waiting, hovering on the broken tiles next to her, hoping she would look at me just once. That is all a beaten boy ever wants from his mom. But she never shifted her gaze to me and thus never really saw me. She looks elsewhere, dispassionately, as always.
So I crest the hill and leave her behind, finally finding peace in the knowledge that her gaze will never settle on me. My steady stride helps me reconcile within myself that I never really had a mother. Sure, a woman named Wendy brought me into this world, but she never played mom.
And as she fades my soul unexpectedly explodes with joy….
This is not forgiveness, as forgiveness is not on the cards. No, this is letting go….
My eyes open to the sight of a tile smiling up at me and to the sound of my friends’ words transformed to music in my ears. I smile back at the tile, raise my head and connect faces to the beautiful voices of healing men who are, in their own ways, letting go too.
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–Photo: Stefano Corso/Flickr