LEARNING TO FORGIVE
Imagine Being Homeless
Growing up homeless brings with it many trials and tribulations. Being homeless doesn't just mean you are without a home. Many times homelesness means you don't have a home, food, clothes, a place to hold all of your stuff ( so you have to carry everything you have around with you), a place to shower, and with places like Starbucks forcing you to buy something in order to gain access to their restrooms, you don't even have a place to relieve yourself.
Imagine not being wanted ANYWHERE. You don't have a place to go. In the city of Irvine, California homeless people are picked up by the police and deposited outside the city boundaries in order to keep up with appearances. Mercy House, one of the biggest homeless prevention non - profits in Orange County, CA has been trying to build a homeless shelter in the city of Anaheim, California for the past few years. Yet, the people of Anaheim are pushing back as they don't want drug dealers and alcoholics in their city; God forbid having that anywhere near Disneyland (their bread and butter).
Employers turn up their nose and look down on you at the same time when they see you carrying around your suitcase with everything you own. Fellow employees talk loudly behind your back about how much you smell and how your clothes are always either dirty or wrinkled.
There are programs out there yes, but not enough. Programs run by people who will never understand unless they've actually been in the situation. Programs with people who are over worked and under appreciated just trying to get through their day. They've got no time to empathize or show compassion. They've got way too many people to see with similar circumstances; so they all must be the same. It's just the way it is.
Imagine that. You have no where to go, employers don't want you, your stomach's growling, there's not a kind person in sight, and it's been so long since you've had a shower your skin is starting to rash all over.
Nothing is ever set. There's no security in being homeless. You are constantly looking over your shoulder, constantly worrying, constantly being shunned and belittled when people force you to jump through hoops for the smallest amount of help. It's degrading, it's in humane, it's terrifying.
Now imagine being in this situation and having two kids. Multiply all the above by three. You are going through all of that, feeling all those emotions to the third degree, and on top of all of that, you have to watch your kids suffer every night. Your heart breaks with every no because you know what the repercussions will be for your children.
Imagine having no help. Your family would rather watch from afar than lend a helping hand. Your children's fathers are acting like children themselves. You didn't bring these children into the world own your own, yet when your children look up at you, you are the only one there. You are all they see and so it all falls on you.
It's enough to make anyone go insane.
Now, imagine being a kid in this situation, watching your mom struggle. All you want to do is help, but your just a kid so you don't know how to help. You're angry, sad, confused, embarrassed. Plus the kids at school won't stop bullying you because you came to school wearing the same thing you were wearing yesterday.
You're immature so you take it out on your teachers and classmates by acting up and disrupting class. Once you get older and you start to understand more, you turn to the only person who's supposed to take care of you and wonder what's wrong with them. You take out all of your frustrations on them. You know it's not solely their fault but your father is still nowhere insight, off living his best life with his other children. It's just a mess.
I know it's hard. It's hard to fathom. But it's real life. It's my life.
A Strained Relationship
For fifteen years it was just me, my mom and my brother, LeLand. Hotels, motels, shelters. A new place to live every week. A new school with new faces to learn every few months. Adjusting to one meal a day or living off of ramen noodles in order to stretch your dollar. Being confined in one small, usually dimly lit, hotel room all day.
The longer it went on, the more I looked at my mom and wonder why are you doing this to us. I resented her. I blamed her. When people asked me how on earth we were homeless for so long, my response was always my mom would rather do what she wants to do, rather than what she needs to do.
My mom isn't on drugs. She has a drink every few years. She doesn't sleep around at all. She just had a fantasy that everything was supposed to work the way she wanted to right away. She wanted a job that paid $20 with full benefits off the bat. She would rather stay in the $100/night Marriot hotel than a $60/night Motel 6 because she didn't trust the tubs in the smaller hotels and wanted to be able to take a bath.
We started arguing when I was nine. She would have me miss school so that I could help her. I only attended half of fifth grade. The other half I was "home schooled". That's when I stopped being a child and became her right hand man, her wing man. At first, I protested this change.
At 13, when we had moved all the way to California with $60 in our pockets...my $60 that I had earned working for my grandmother's friend over the Summer, I realized that we could be doing better. Why quit your job and take everything you had to buy greyhound tickets? We had just been given a place to live, a house, for free in Cleveland. At the very least, we could have waited and saved up a deposit and first month's rent. Marriott is too expensive, we could get twice as many days at Motel 6. A job is a job. Do what you can so that we can get by.
At 15, when we had been kicked out of yet another shelter I realized that my mom wasn't completely healthy. Upon telling me that they were kicking us out, the manager of the shelter asked me why they found my mom's phone smashed to pieces when they moved our stuff out. I didn't tell him how she thought people were listening to her and watching her through her phone and she smashed it in order to make them stop.
The next year, she pulled a knife on me in my grandparents house. We had escaped California and sought refuge with my grandparents for a few months. We were in a bad spot. I was angry and taking and blaming her for uprooting us yet again. She was feeling all the emotions and upset with me for making things difficult and not just supporting her.
My senior year of high school, we were back in California but now I was working. All of sudden, I was supposed to support the family with my $4-600 a month. When I refused to pay for Marriott and offered instead Motel 6, my clothes were bleached, I was forced to sleep on the floor and give my bed away to LeLand, I was called the devil and Satan for not supporting my family in it's time of need.
When I moved on to campus at Chapman there were many altercations behind the scenes. My freshman year she talked me into letting her stay in my dorm. My roommate ratted me out and she was escorted off campus. My roommate moved out and she weaseled herself back in. A few months later I got a notification that a new roommate was moving in the next day. I asked her to leave and she wouldn't go. She called the new roommate and asked them if she could stay. I tried to kick her out and let her know that I would get in trouble and she wouldn't leave. I had to empty my bank account and give her everything I had for her to go.
My sophomore year she was escorted off of campus by public safety while trying to physically attack me and calling me a bitch a tramp and a slut in front of my residents ( I was an RA). There was a physical altercation my senior year where she forced her way into my dorm room and attacked me in front of a Pizza Hut delivery guy.
All the while LeLand was just stuck in the middle of all of this. In fact, the last straw for my mom was when LeLand and I filed a joint petition with the courts for me to take guardianship of him. This was the ultimate betrayal.
Ever since then, my mom and I have been on this weird on again, off again relationship. I forgive her for everything she's ever done and go back to her wanting to be a family. She blames me for the fact that she is still homeless, calls me the devil and tells me I'm mentally ill and I separate myself from her again. Over and over again. Back and forth.
Discovering the Cycle
During the Summer of 2016 I wrote the first chapter of my book, When Life Serves You Lemons. It was in the process of detailing my mom's origins and setting up the beginning of our cycle of homelessness that I realized something. I've actually spoken about it many times with the Phorbe Queendom and even in this early blog post!
My mom is actually a good person. She has a big heart with big dreams and she loves LeLand and I deeply. But my mother has not been herself for a very long time. Seventeen years in fact.
It all stems from our family history. My mother grew up in a very abusive household where she was hit in the head with frying pans for "misbehaving", the refrigerator was chained and locked, and other horrible, horrible things. Her way out was college, but when she got pregnant with me she flunked out and was forced to move back home. My father didn't want me, our family criticized and belittled her for flunking out and getting pregnant out of wedlock. She had a difficult pregnancy.
When she began to struggle, our family and my father reluctantly stepped in to help. Their version of helping was calling child protective services, taking me for long periods of time, and telling her what she should and shouldn't do rather than actually letting us stay with them and giving her some time to get back on her feet. When a family member did let us stay for more than a few nights it was only because of us kids. In our face they were saints, but to my mom the berated her and made her feel like shit.
For years my mom fought by herself, determined to get back on her feet. Until the water incident. As I've explained to the Queendom before. We were allowed to stay in the family home, the house my mom grew up in. During that time, my aunt who lived next to us (the house was a side by side duplex) shut off the water on our side of the house. For four months she kept the water off and wouldn't turn it back on.
No-one in the family was willing to step in help my mom in this situation. The police were useless, the water company turned their backs, and even worse, no one in the family was willing to talk to our Aunt and have her turn the water back on. For four months we had to buy distilled water to cook with. We heated water on the stove and put it in the bath to clean ourselves. We used buckets to carry our waste outside and dump it.
"The pressure of raising two kids alone with an un-supportive and abusive family in a flawed system cracked my mother’s mental state. Before this time in our lives, you could see the determination in my mother to succeed. She would work sixteen hours a day to provide for LeLand and I if she had too. She was determined to create a better life for us no matter what obstacles life threw at her. But this was too much. My mom became deeply depressed and would stay in her room all day. She couldn’t afford to send me to school anymore, so I was “home-schooled”. Whenever we needed groceries or to do laundry, she sent me to do it. One day she tried to break out of her depression. She landed a job interview and left LeLand and I at home, because she couldn’t afford daycare. As soon as she left, my aunt called the police and told them that my mom had neglected her two children at home. This whole situation literally broke my mom. " Excerpt from "The Best Imaginary Friend A Queen Could Have
My mom actually sent letters out to the family where she discussed contemplating killing herself. Our family broke my mom and she hasn't been the same ever since.
Yet, to this day, I watch her call her mother and sister every day on the phone. Knowing that they don't fully support her, knowing that they put up pretenses and pretend like they care, but will never really acknowledge all the damage they've done and will never apologize for hurting her. I watch her talk to them every single day until one day the pretense slips and they say something that really hurts her. She'll stop talking to them for a few months. But soon, she misses her family, or the idea of family and starts talking to them again.
I watch her complete this cycle over and over again and I see myself with her. I think about how both of my grandparents had traumatic up-bringings too and it just breaks my heart. When will this cycle end?
With me. Right here and right now.
A few years ago, I saw a YouTube video in which a woman described forgiveness as birds flying over your head. She said you can make the decision to forgive someone one day, but then the next day, you could remember what they did and all of a sudden you feel that hurt all over again. Think of those memories of what a person has done to hurt you as birds. You can't stop birds from flying over you, but you can keep them from nesting on your head. Forgiveness isn't a one time thing. Sometimes, it's a continual process. Something that you may have to do multiple times.
I truly felt what that woman was saying and made the decision to forgive my mom then and there. But the thing is, I never really truly forgave her. Instead, I distanced myself from her because I was afraid of being hurt again. Truthfully I ran away from forgiving her because I couldn't see past the pain I was in of being hurt.
It's heartbreaking to have your mother look you in the eye and truly believe it when she calls you the devil. I didn't know how many more times I could experience that. So, I ran.
Right before my stay-cation I was listening to the #MarriedMillenials podcast where they spoke about an act of true forgiveness. They told the story of Oprah going to a friend, Miriam Williamson, and seeking council on a friend who had just betrayed her. Miriam Williamson told Oprah that the best way to begin forgiving that person and move on with her life would be to pray for that person's happiness for 30 days.
I started praying for my mom's happiness every day on August 19th. In praying for my mother every day, I have remembered something important.
If you've been with Phorbe since the beginning, you would have read the post on how to seek advice. In it, I tell the story of how I sought advice from a mentor after my mom broke into my dorm room in front of the pizza delivery guy. She was trying to get to LeLand. She had came a day early to pick him up and take him back to their shelter but LeLand genuinely didn't want to go. She was banging on the door, but we wouldn't open it. However, when the pizza guy came, we were forced to open the door and that's when she pushed her way in and attacked me.
After relaying this story to my mentor she said:
"For years, it has been you, your mother, and your brother against the world. She had no one else, but she knew she had you two. When you went off to college, you broke free from her control and thus you became part of the world she thinks is trying to bring her down. That hurt her. When you kept the door closed in her face with both you AND LeLand on the other side she saw the last bit of her control slipping away. For a brief moment, she saw both of her children keeping her away from what she wanted and that broke her."
To my mom, the last people she would have expected to betray her were LeLand and I. When I went off to college and sturdy abroad she began to think of me as insider. When LeLand and I filed our guardianship petition, she saw me corrupting LeLand and pitting him against her too. For years she was able to count on the both of us and all of a sudden we were gone. Just like the rest of her family.
In her eyes, we abandoned her and this hurt her and continues to hurt her to this day. Lashing out at me is her way of trying to make me feel a fraction of what she is feeling. She doesn't really mean it.
With this realization, I have come to see all of my mother's recent attacks at face value. Beneath that, I see a woman who is tired of fighting and just wants to be okay. But fighting is all she's ever known, so she doesn't know any other way. She's actually taken a big step this year and checked into a shelter by herself. Something she said she would never do. She is trying to find another way. She really wants out of this homeless situation.
And so, I have decided to let go of my fear and jump in to truly forgiving her. In praying for her happiness everyday, I have realized that that is all I ever really wanted. When Lee and I filed our petition, I thought I was doing something beneficial for the both of them. Lee wouldn't be homeless anymore and without children to worry about, she could finally get back on her feet. Now, I understand her and in doing so, it is my mission to show her that she can to lean on LeLand and I for support.
This upcoming Sunday, I have initiated mandatory Sunday dinners for the three of us. We will be spending four days of my birthday week together having fun and enjoying each other's company again.
Of course, I know this process will take time. LeLand and I will have to set boundaries and we will deal with birds flying all around us. We plan on going over some boundaries and ground rules at our first dinner and hopefully some options for family counseling in the near future. But both Lee and I are excited to rekindle our bond with our mother.
I believe that knowing what I know now, forgiving my mom, looking past the drama and a little bit of family therapy can truly rebuild our family into something that is stronger and better than ever before.
It's a beautiful day to conquer the world, so go forth and slay!
ORIGINALLY POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 14, 2018