About 6 months ago, I said to a friend that I could never forgive my ex for what she’d done. “I’m not Ghandi” I said, “…and I never will be”.
And I honestly thought that would never change… Especially so soon after I’d said it. Maybe I needed to hear myself say those words in order to fully understand what they meant? I’m not sure… But whatever the reason, I am thankful that I do now understand the relief that comes from letting go of old grudges. ‘To improve is to change”, as a wise old soul once said, so I’d like to think I’ve improved in recent months. My relationships have got better and my children seem happier and healthier, and the negativity that anger and indignation held over me has slowly fallen away.
Broken relationships can be devastating for all sorts of reasons. More so, as we all know when children are involved. My ex-partner left with our kids 6 years ago, and I was brought face to face with the lowest point point of my life so far. I grieved for my loss so badly that I contemplated suicide regularly. I would become transfixed by tree branches and high points in the house. Imagining how I was going to tie the noose. What I was going to use – a power cable, or a rope, or a bed sheet… How it was going to feel when I strung myself up. How long it would take before the aching and suffering was over.
There is a realization that comes with this way of thinking – like when you’re standing on the edge of a tall building looking down, knowing that all it would take is just one step, and there would be no going back… Unfortunately, many of us don’t make it past that point, and my heart aches for those that don’t. So I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones, because I held tight and waited for the suffering to ease, and one day it did… Just when it felt like I had hit rock bottom and that all was lost, an immensely powerful feeling came over me, like molten gold.
Now, just in case you are thinking that maybe your situation might be worse than mine, I’d like to tell you a story… But before I begin, you should know that there is a problem with stories. The problem with stories is that well, they are stories! They are second hand, and all you have to go on is what I tell you – after all, if you weren’t there, how do you know if I am telling the truth or not…? This is a problem that I did not fully understand, until my ex-partner schooled me one day during family court proceedings. Away from the courtroom, I confronted her and said, ‘you cannot keep lying like this – you will be found out’ to which she replied, ‘Ted, there are two sides to every story’… And you know what? She was right! The truth, and facts can be manipulated, distorted or ignored, even by those people whose job it is to protect and serve us. I have seen it all play out with my own eyes, but because you weren’t there, you will just have to take my word for it! I was physically and mentally abused by my ex regularly. When I finally drew a line and said ‘enough was enough’, she went on to publicly accuse me of all the things she had done to me. I was flabbergasted and indignant, and convinced that her trail of dishonesty would be uncovered… And, I expected that those with the power to serve and protect my children and our rights would be there to make sure the right thing was done by us. But I was wrong.
I have witnessed the Family Court quite literally break the law, and exonerate my ex of her wrong-doings. I have witnessed collusion between members of the court that should never be colluding, and I have witnessed a judge look over his glasses at me and say that I would be able to bring my children up over Skype as well as I could in person, as justification for his decision to allow my ex to take our children to the other side of the world.
I was broken by this experience. My faith in humanity, society and civilisation were shaken to the core. The decision to allow my ex to relocate left me completely bereft. With no energy, money or faith left in the system to appeal the decision, and no good outcomes available to me at home or overseas, my situation had become a tragedy where every available path appeared to be beset with unhappiness, hardship and suffering. And that is how I found myself standing at the edge of oblivion.
So, before judging me, and imagining that your situation might be worse, don’t! Your situation is different, that’s all. And in the end, it doesn’t matter, because the point is not to wallow in the detail of how we got where we are – that only traps us in a loop of self-pity. The real question for any ‘survivor’ is – how can we make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in? Well, the first thing you will need is patience. Nothing is going to happen overnight. Take time to make the correct decisions for you and your children. Do not act on impulse or emotion. Emotions are valid and it is important to experience and process them, but don’t let them be the only thing that informs big decisions. Vent to friends and family, then sit down with a cool head. You may want to blame others (or yourself) for what has happened and that’s OK, but don’t let it consume you. Remind yourself that you have chosen to make the best of a bad situation. Remember the positive feeling you get from knowing that you are always aiming to do the right thing, despite provocation or self-doubt. This feeling will be your guiding light when times are tough. And if you slip-up now and again, don’t be too hard on yourself. Many people don’t make it this far, so dust yourself off and aim to do better next time.
Finally, remember this – the wheel of karma may turn slowly, but it always turns… One day, your courage and positivity will be repaid in spades, and here’s the thing – even if that day never came, you’re already winning on the day you choose to do the right thing in the face of adversity!
So, back to the story… Everyone’s circumstances are different of course, but in the end I decided that the correct decision for me and my children was for me to stay at home, and visit them for a month each year. Which, like all plans, sounds OK in theory! In practice, it has not all been plain sailing… For example, one year my ex informed me two weeks before my arrival that she was taking the children overseas for 8 days during my 30 day trip. What could I do? Involving the courts across different jurisdictions would have been expensive, stressful and probably ineffective. Most importantly however, it would have risked making the entire trip unpleasant for the kids and I. I could have got angry and hurled abuse down the phone, but the end result would have been the same – an unpleasant trip for all, with me and the kids as the biggest losers. So I held my tongue, maintained civil communications and ended up having 3 more fun weeks with the kids than we may have done if I had chosen any of the other options available to me. Fighting fire with fire never works.
And, what do we do for the rest of the year? We Skype! Skype twice a week keeps our relationships healthy and strong. It is the reason why there is little to no transition time when I see them physically during their summer holidays – instead when I arrive we hit the ground running… We talk about things that we do online when we’re together physically, and visa versa. And there is lots to talk about, because we do lots. When I first started using Skype with the kids, there was very little in the way of help and guidance for distance parents using Skype, so I started keeping a diary of what works and what doesn’t.
Over the years that diary became bigger and bigger until one day I decided to turn it into a book, in the hope that it will help other parents who may be struggling to make the best of virtual contact with their children. So that’s what I did – the book is called ‘The Distance Contact Bible’ and it is available for you to buy on Amazon. It contains over 70 sections of indoor and outdoor activities, and general advice for making Skype fun, and maintaining meaningful contact with your children. The power of positivity has helped me turn lemons into lemonade, and what is more, the proceeds of the sale of my book will go towards the cost of my children’s education. So, in the end, hopefully everybody wins!?
The final piece of the jigsaw A few months ago, something strange started happening. I started to not remember. I do not mean that I started to forget things. What I mean is that some things just didn’t seem that important anymore. We get so bound up in memories of the past, and our plans for tomorrow that we lose sight of the only thing that we really have got – today. The examples we set for our children will stay with them for the rest of their lives. One summer holiday when I was a boy, my Dad stopped to pick a dirty old can that he saw on the beach. I asked him why he did that, and he said “Always leave things a little better than you found them.” I understand now, that the power to forgive is not reserved for the super-people of history like Ghandi. The power to forgive is something that mere mortals like us can do too. And if you struggle at first like I did, try not remembering… It’ll give you a nudge in the right direction 🙂