Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
How can I forgive my parents the damage that I realize they inflicted
on me? Not just with the obvious impacts of living in a household
organized around parental alcoholism but also because they made me
think I was “a bad girl,” a characterization I realize that I took in much
too deeply. I’m not. But at age 35 I can still hear their voices.
We all get told many stories when were young. There are the ones we
think we’re being told, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones others
(parents and more) act like are true even if they are far from who we
really are or think we are at the time. These stories all help shape and
define us even if they are stories we run away from me instead of
embracing. Some people’s stories were told with seeming love and
support, but got taken in sideways or in ways that people felt
constrained by having to enact them to satisfy family (e.g. my smart
son the future doctor, who might have preferred to play jazz clarinet).
Other people who have had bad stories beaten and raped into them go
on to become the most tender loving people, while others stay stuck in
pain all their lives. Inside we’re all battling some version of these
stories, regardless of how they were defined or delivered.
Every family is organized around some story. A parent’s mental
problems, alcoholism, abuse, fill in the blank. But whether the scarring
and stories come from ignorance or are willfully inflicted, part of
becoming our adult, healed selves is wrestling with them and coming
to our own understanding of who we really are. If you really want to
grow you will make it through this passage, on your own or with
trained help. But please distinguish between the stories that came at
you, and the better stories that you are making and have already
made for yourself.
Two practices of the High Holidays might help. Perhaps do a private
tashich ritual around this, and talk it out at a riverbank the way you
might in a therapist’s office. Then during the appropriate prayers, try
to forgive your parents, and also forgive yourself for ever believing the
stories they told that are not true for you. None of this is easy. But
you can become happier.