“If it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone.” -Gregory Alan Isakov
Listening to the song Second Chances in my earbuds today as I shoveled out from a snowstorm, I noticed this line for the first time. I thought yeah, how true. We all mess up sometimes, especially with the people who mean the most to us. In fact, it’s one of the ways we learn, evolve, and develop empathy. With the people we love and care about, we generally give each other second chances. Sometimes even third and fourth chances. Hopefully, we communicate in healthy ways and work on our issues together. At the same time, we learn to live with certain traits or behaviors that annoy us. Because on balance, it’s worth it. And hopefully, our loved ones do the same for us. If they didn’t, if we didn’t…well, like Gregory says: we’d all be alone.
I wish it were just this simple, and there was a time when I really thought it was. Once I admitted to myself that what happened to me as a child was sexual abuse, I was ready, even eager to work through my trauma: to examine why it had happened and how I could take care of the deep wounds I was carrying. I needed to heal from the trauma, understand how it affected me, and grow wiser and stronger as a result. I assumed that my family would want to walk this path with me.
It didn’t work out that way.
At first, my mother and I stumbled along together. Clumsy with emotions, we both tried to live with this newly acknowledged truth, and we both made mistakes. It was messy and real, at least it seemed that way. But over time, my frustration grew as my mom and others in the family seemed to brush the abuse under the rug, to silence the expression of my needs and feelings, and – as I stuck to my stances – to ostracize me from family events. There were periods of time when it seemed impossible and so I stayed away.
Then I’d try again with my mother. Therapists were seen, apologies were made and promises extracted. I poured out my feelings and challenged her to embrace the whole messy truth with me; the reward being a truer, closer love for each other – warts and all. I focused on her positive traits and recalled the love I had received from her as a child. When her promises fell through, I made my hurt and frustrations clear. But I also made a conscious choice to love and keep her, despite her limitations.
I’m all for second chances. But they weren’t enough for me and my family. There was only so much I could live with. The acceptance of my abuser’s treatment toward me, the refusal to protect minors from adults in the family with abusive histories, the secrets, and invitations that were kept from me, and the eventual, hostility were more than I was willing to bear.
Finally, I walked away – with crushing sadness, but also a sense of relief.
Afterward, I felt deep grief: for the family I once thought I had, for the trust I lost, and for the unconditional love that I hoped to discover in my mother–the one person I thought should have loved me most. This wound too is healing more each day. My heart is a bit battered, sure – but I’m okay. Better off, even. I have many other loved ones who support me and give me strength through life’s ups and downs. We give each other second chances – because we deserve it.