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forgiveness is the new black

forgiveness is the new black

December 28, 2006

I have been searching for the words to write about the Christmas experience with my mother. I could just write that it was fine. We ate ham and potatoes and opened presents while the children ran around. And I drank wine. But there is more to say.

I had several ah-ha kind of moments during the day, several times where I quietly reflected on things that my mother was saying or doing, several times where I wondered why her words were saying more to me than she intended. Several times I mentally patted myself on the back for holding my tongue, whether or not I actually deserved the self-congratulatory pat.

At one point I was standing next to my mother when she noticed a painting of mine hanging on the wall. She got up close to it, saw the signature on the bottom right hand corner and exclaimed, “I didn’t know you painted!”

I didn’t even have time to stammer out my answer before she began talking about how she has taken up painting. And how her mother had been a painter. And how interesting it was that we were all so much alike.

I bristled at the comparison to the two of them. I am not like you, I wanted to shout. The old angry me would have. The old angry me was was only concerned with being heard (loudly), being right (even if I wasn’t), and well, being angry.

I was the master grudge holder. Anger was my little black dress, perfect for any occassion. Dress it up, dress it down, accessorize it with sarcasm or insults thinly veiled by humor.

I have always heard about this elusive thing called forgiveness that other people talk about. How healing it was to forgive people who have hurt you. Oh yes, their entire family might have been slaughtered and cannibalized but they have forgiven the person. And they feel so much better now that they have let go of their anger.

The old angry me laughed at the notion and said, Fuck that! I am angry! I have a right to be angry! And you will acknowledge my anger even if I have to beat you over the head with it and make myself miserable in the process.

But somehow I discovered this Christmas that the old angry me no longer fits. Much like that well loved little black dress that is no longer flattering and maybe a bit uncomfortable that I keep hanging in the closet. I try it on every now and then before deciding ultimately to wear something else.

This time I didn’t point out to my mother that I majored in Studio Art with a concentration in painting in college. I didn’t say that any worthwhile and semi-involved mother would have known that. I didn’t say anything but acknowledge that yes, I do paint. And amazingly there was a freedom in offering that grace. Who knew?

I know she sucked as a mother. She knows she sucked as a mother. There is no reason to remind her at every opportunity.

I’d like to come off as being completely selfless, but honestly every time I wear the “old angry me” I am also wearing the “victim” as well. The two are woven together so tightly they cannot be unraveled.

I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. And that small shift in thinking is what has allowed me to to extend grace and forgiveness.

And isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas? The offering of grace and forgiveness when none is really deserved.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I had a better Christmas than I thought I was going to have. I gave the best gift to myself.

Posted by Chris @ 11:55 am  

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  1. Toni says:

    Pat yourself on the back for being the bigger person! I have mother issues as well, and try with all my might NOT to be like her…..

    It is her loss that she doesn’t know you, or the grandkids. Glad you had a Merry Christmas!

  2. Angie says:

    Beautifully said.

    I see my family in much of what you said, and can only hope that in time they will come to understand as you now do.

    I’m so happy that your Christmas was better than expected, you deserve it!

  3. jessica says:

    the great thing about a sucky childhood is you welcome adulthood. Because nothing life throws at you really fazes you and it makes you try like anything as a mother to make a good childhood for your own. I wonder if it is harder to transition into adult life when you have had a great childhood? Time will tell. I was estranged from my mother for about a year - I was enraged all the time and could no longer even talk to her with all the unsaid things bubbling and brewing. I would hang up the phone and then go spend $250 on useless stuff at Target or stand in the pantry and consume 1000 calories in about 7 minutes. Letting go of my anger has helped tremendously. She is what she is. I am not going to change that. Thanks for sharing.

  4. owlhaven says:

    Good for you. Really.



  5. Frazier says:

    Beautifully said.

  6. alice says:

    That’s really wonderful! You’re metaphores are perfect. Our visit with the In-laws was kinda like that. Ugh!!

    Big hugs, you are wonderful.

  7. Beck's Mommy says:

    I’m glad it went better than you were anticipating. Families can really suck, but sometimes they just aren’t worth the angst.

  8. jody2ms says:

    Good for you Chris. I was hoping that it would not be too difficult for you.

  9. Cheryl says:

    Beautiful indeed !!

  10. eli says:

    Tears streaming downs my cheeks, Chris.
    I can’t begin to write what this post speaks to me…

    Thank you for sharing your life.

  11. Stephanie says:

    How good and wonderful for YOU! :)

  12. kelly says:

    well said and well done.

  13. Michele says:

    Both for your grace and your graceful writing.

  14. steph says:

    Merry Christmas to you!

    someone said once that you can’t control others, you can ony control your reaction to them.

    you did/are doing the right thing.

  15. Lori says:

    Excellent post. I’m so glad the day went better than you’d expected. That in itself is a great gift for all! Happy New Year!

  16. Karly says:

    Good for you Chris. I’m very happy for both of you. Glad you had a merry Christmas!

  17. Daisy says:

    Congratulations — I wish I had a stronger word, but that’ll fit. You’ve accomplished a great deal emotionally. Many adults never reach that point. Merry Christmas, and have a truly happy and content New Year.

  18. Jen says:

    Beautiful !

  19. Wicked Stepmom says:

    Good for you! You should be proud of yourself.

    You’ve given me lots to think about with regards to my own life and role as “angry victim.”

  20. mary anne says:

    Well done Chris,
    I know personally how difficult it is to put aside the hurt and disfunction an abusive parent can cause. You have good insight re being an unwilling victim by allowing what your mother says and does to anger you.
    A good friend (with a less than wonderful family situation) once told us, he makes an effort to accept the parent who caused him such grief because:
    “our children see how we treat our parents and learn from us how we should be treated.” Breaking the cycle of abuse is never easy for the abuser or her victim. You have so much good in your life to draw the necessary strength from. Enjoy your wonderful life Chris Your mother will never know the unconditional love you’ve found in family. How sad for her.

  21. Kim says:

    My therapist always says “You can’t forgive someone until they have honestly apologized for what they did to you.” I’ve thought about that a lot, and if that were true, how could we forgive anyone? Seriously, when do we ever get that from any situation that requires heavy duty forgiveness? The forgiving is for you, not the other person. I’m happy to hear that you’ve been able to do it. It’s very hard, and I’m working on it myself. Sometimes I think I might even enjoy the anger and bitterness a little bit, isn’t that terrible? Anyway, it’s good to see that it’s possible to let go. :) I was happy to read that. And you MUST have minored in writing, right?

  22. Jodi says:

    So true! Once you learn to accept and forgive you grow as a person and YOU become a better person for it. Congrats to you!

  23. Chris2 says:

    WOW…that was profound. I guess you had your “AHA” moment. Good for you! You really are the better person for it and your children will be too.
    My mother was a raging alcoholic and I’ve dealt with all the anger stuff and decided one day to just let it go. “It is, or was what it was” I am who I am because of it all and I do believe that I AM a better person for having gone through all the bullshit with my mother. Of course I would have liked to have had a “normal” upbringing the entire thing was out of my control.
    So, you go girl!!! Happy New Year to you and the family. And you do have a beautiful one!

  24. peepnroosmom says:

    Well said.
    I’m so glad Christmas went better than you expected.

  25. Heather says:

    It’s so funny that I would read this post today when just last night, I took every picture I have of my mother and put them away in a dark closet. I wanted to throw them away or get really dramatic and burn them, but I figured it would be just my luck that I would burn all my pictures of her and then she’d die or something. I guess that says a lot about our relationship.

    She keeps treating me like she wishes I didn’t exist, even though I’m an adult. And I keep living in fear of disappointing or hurting her. She has this amazing ability to make me feel guilty for things she did wrong when I was growing up.

    I’m so glad to hear that maybe forgiveness is possible because this is painful. Especially now that I’m raising my own chid. It brings it all to the surface everyday. Every time I make a parenting mistake, I cry and cry because I’m afraid I’m going to be like my mother.

  26. Cathy C says:

    I never thought of it the way you put it, that being angry and being a victim goes together. That is very true. Your post makes me think I really should forgive someone so that I can stop being a victim.

  27. Kellie says:

    Wow! This post impacted me in such a personal way (as I have family-anger issues as well). You’ve made me rethink some of my anger “stuff”…thanks so much, reading your blog really helps put things into perspective. Cheers to the new year and keep being the strong amazing woman and mother you are!

  28. Erika says:

    Chris thats really great hun.

  29. Robyn says:

    Perfect post award nomination!!

  30. InterstellarLass says:

    Hmmm. I think I could be your long-lost-slightly-bigger-in-the-fanny twin sister. I too wear my anger well. I deal better with it at some times than others. I feel more like the new Spiderman…trying to rip the costume from my body, but it sticks. But I like your analogy better.

  31. Liz in Australia says:

    That’s just awesome. Like a lot of other commenters, I have some anger issues still hanging on from my r/ship with my mother. I love reading about these moments of self-realisation because they often speak to me very profoundly. Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad your Christmas was so much more than you had anticipated.

  32. liz says:

    Hugs and kudos to you.

  33. Heather says:

    Chris, you have accomplished what most of us dream of. I know it wasn’t an easy road to get there but I am impressed and long to be there myself someday soon. Congrats girl. Now, have another glass of wine to celebrate :)

  34. Ruth H says:

    I’m so happy for you. Grief is a terrible burden, and that is what that type anger is, grief and regret. There is no way to redo your past life but there is a way to let go of it. I think your happy young family helps. YOU are now the mother generation, not just the child with hopes and aspirations, so it is time to let that old one go. I’m glad you can. And I bet your children will only remember happy times because you made happy times for them, knowing full well what the alternative is. And I would love to see some photos of those paintings.

  35. onetallmomma says:

    The best gift of all. Good for you. Merry Christmas.

  36. CaliforniaGrammy says:

    That took courage, Chris. And you stand tall now, with a grand pat on the back. Good for you. You will be so much happier now that you have forgiven you mom. I’m amazed, however, that she didn’t know you paint! Absolutely amazed, but I forgive her, too.

  37. meritt says:

    What you said is ‘almost’ where I am emotionally as well. Ironically (???) I just finished a post about what I did today…. I attended the retirement celebration for my father. I think you and I had some similarities growing up. I think our Mothers are similar…. and my family had a major ‘thing’ about 3 years ago that I am just now putting away that little black dress called hatred and thinking about putting on the forgiveness dress.

    In the mean time I too am learning to bite my tongue… and today I was thinking (often) how far I’ve come in not only being someone UNLIKE my Mother, but also someone that can listen to what she is saying and bristle inside, but keep my snarky thoughts to myself.

    I guess I’m growing up. I just had to get to 36 to get there.

    PS: “MY” song re; my mother is “FIGHTER” by Christina Aguilara (sp). When I play it I feel stronger. Maybe you can too.

  38. wordgirl says:

    I identify with you so much. We must shop at the same place, because my little black dress of anger sounds as though this is a possibility. I carry a grudge forever. I read a quotation someplace that says, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”

    That sounds a lot like what you were going through…and a lot like what I go through when I think that it does me good to remember every slight. I can see why you are angry and you certainly deserve to be, and when someone doesn’t bother to know you the way you desire to be known, it’s seems as though it’s the only logical emotion. But anger is destructive and, if not for your mom, the letting go of the anger (at least a tiny bit) is better for you. And now…I wish I could follow my own advice.

  39. Nicki says:

    I really tried to put away that little black dress this year in relation to my in-laws. I seem to have put the one for my parents away. I’m just finding it hard to forgive people who are so blatantly incosiderate and selfish all the time. Maybe next year at this time I will have mastered it. Although, I’m really happy to hear you have.

  40. mommyHAM says:

    I figured out the anger/victim connection long ago - psych major - but it still surprises me when I hear people piece it together, just a little gasp of incredulousness… This fits me to a tee, though: the old angry me no longer fits. Much like that well loved little black dress that is no longer flattering and maybe a bit uncomfortable that I keep hanging in the closet. I try it on every now and then before deciding ultimately to wear something else. - I’ll be back when I’ve linked this post to my blog, b/c to be sure I will…thanks, and congrats on the journey.

  41. Elizabeth says:

    I have told my daughter that you don’t really get a little bell or light that goes on to tell that you are now an adult, it just evolves over time, but I don’t know if that’s always true. I think there is a point where you shift your perspective a bit, as you have, that seems truly adult to me. But, I don’t think it comes at 18, or 21, or even 30 most of the time. So maybe it’s not just “adult”hood but some new unnamed stage of maturity that comes later. Thanks for sharing - I’m sure I’m not the only nosy busybody who has been wondering how you were doing.

  42. Tonja says:

    Chris, what a great Christmas gift to yourself! Awesome post!

  43. rachel says:

    what a wonderful christmas gift! I’m glad you feel more comfortable with forgiveness - you are a wonderful person.

    I’m so glad that you had a much better time than you expected. And thanks for sharing with us - I was very curious.

  44. Deb says:

    Wow, thanks Chris…truly profound for me to hear as well. I kept thinking about you with your mother there and wondering…..

    Congratulations on the growth, it looks good on you!

  45. jm says:

    Damn. Just…damn. That was a gorgeous, profound and amazing post.

  46. Susan says:

    You most certainly did. Honestly, forgiveness is for YOU, really, not anyone else. It’s easier to forgive than to hold on to a grudge and carry that pain around forever. (What’s that saying? Something like holding a grudge is like taking a drink of poison and waiting for the other person to die?) Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but sometimes… well, it’s just worth the effort.


  47. Novaks8 says:

    I was thinking of you over the holiday.

    Glad everything turned out okay.

    You are an inspiration!

  48. Sock Girl says:

    That was an extremely powerful post. Thank you.

  49. Tricia says:


  50. Kira says:

    Beautifully said.
    And understanding like that is clear as crystal when it comes, and like ancient Latin right up until that point.

  51. Rae says:

    That’s a really great way to put it- anger as a garment… what a difficult thing to overcome, especially if your mom has any kind of denial about what your relationship is actually like. Good on you, Chris. (And I didn’t know you painted!)

  52. Brigitte says:

    I hope that one day I can achieve that same level of maturity, and quit waking out of sound sleeps in a sweat, with my heart palpitating over some stupid, minor incidents of over 30 years ago.

    You are a strong and courageous woman . . . and we knew you were talented at writing and mommy-ing, but an artist, too! Have you been able to pick up a brush since mommyhood occurred? (and you know we want to see an example now)

  53. cassie-b says:

    I don’t know that I have ever forgiven my Mother, but I understand more now. And that makes it easier.

  54. TB says:

    Sounds like you gave yourself a priceless gift, wonderful! A while how expensive Christmas was getting and how your children have everything. I’m willing to bet that this gift that you gave yourself will be treasured by them also. Great post, as always.

  55. Toni says:

    While I’ve lived in this space for some time, I’ve never seen it so eloquently stated. And I’m happy you gave yourself this gift.

  56. Robbin says:

    Wow! Good for you. We can’t be made to forgive - we have to decide on our own to do it. It is so hard and so freeing all at the same time!! What a great example to your kids.

  57. elron says:

    *Standing* *applauding* … it is rare that someone can paint so vividly with words, and through the hues you choose, we can clearly see what forgiveness looks like in all its glory. I’ve never seen any of your ACTUAL painting, but if its half as good as the painting you do with words and phrases, then you are doubly gifted.

  58. Mir says:

    Good for you, sweetie. I’m glad you were able to do that. So proud of you.

  59. Lani from The Wooden Porch says:

    Good for you! Well said there. I totally agree and have been there too.

    But it is good to be reminded. I have some forgiveness I need to do to.

  60. stacey says:

    very well said and even better well done, you deserve that for yourself. ((hugs))

  61. Angela says:

    “And amazingly there was a freedom in offering that grace”
    And look how profound you are in the process! I love this. Forgiveness is SO HARD and it’s offered as a solution so tritely. But I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and one is much more enjoyable. I’m glad you’ve discovered it.
    And really, you MAJORED in an art area and she didn’t know….?

  62. Jean says:

    Beautifully expressed. You have my vote for perfect post. Thanks for your willingness to be ‘real’ here.

  63. kim b. says:

    I found that some people can never say they are “sorry” My family is over flowing with the non-sorry type people. Mother/daughter relationships can just be sucky. I try my hardest to be different with my daughters… You have written a beautiful moving entry… Have a blessed new year.

  64. sandra says:

    You rock, Chris. This is so well said — what a wonderful metaphor. I’m proud to know you. And I’m so glad that this turned out to be a Christmas to be happy with all around.

    Years ago I used to think that forgiving someone was tantamount to excusing them. It was hard for me to see through that denial. You just don’t believe that forgiveness really is all they say it is until you decide to try it on. And then it fits. And you’re happier, the world is bigger, and everything feels softer. Every year with my Mom gets better because of this. Amazing stuff.

  65. mommyHAM says:

    As promised….I did link you, and now I’m letting you know:

    A new take on forgiveness….

    Courtesy of Chris at Notes from the Trenches…

    The whole post is a must read, but for those of you who like to read the end of a book first, here’s a taste (a taste of the things I related the most to!):

    I bristled at the comparison to the two of them. I am not like you, I wanted to shout. The old angry me would have. The old angry me was was only concerned with being heard (loudly), being right (even if I wasn’t), and well, being angry………

    Hope I did that right….

  66. Jennifer says:

    Yay for you Chris! All the best for you and your family in 2007.

  67. Meg says:

    Wonderful job, Chris. It’s tough being the bigger person, even when the “crimes” of our parents are small. To forgive in light of your situation is truly a gift to yourself…

  68. Jordana says:

    You are such an amazing person to me. Hooray for you!

    And I’ve always wondered when I read you say somewhere that you were an artist, what kind of art you did. I always guessed photography, since your pictures of your children are so beautiful (and not just because they are such beautiful children). I hope some day you will share a painting with us.

  69. Stevie says:

    I want to print this one and tack it to my wall. Like so much of your writing, it’s just beautiful.


    …you paint? Let’s get ourselves some pictures posted to the blog, girl!

  70. ~maybe writing~ » Blog Archive » To remember for follow-on study says:

    [...] My favorite blogger has written the most beautiful post on a subject that lingers like fog around my head.  It’s there, and it’s visible, but try as I might, I can’t ever seem to get a good handful of it .  Chris has grasped it, and has shared her insight.  Maybe studying this piece will help me to get some fog down from the sky and into my hands. [...]

  71. nabbalicious says:

    Congratulations, Chris. I’m glad you were the bigger person here and came out of this feeling better and stronger. You rock!

  72. Joy H says:

    Beautiful, beautiful post. I can so relate to the ‘little black dress’; now I need to work on the grace and forgiveness. I want to be you when I grow up :)

  73. Bettsi says:

    Wow, so many comments. I don’t think I have anything to say that will be new to you, but I need to say, “good for you!” Truly good for you. You have spent the last how many years giving love to your children. Love is the dress you wear now and it is very beautiful on you.

  74. Bettsi says:

    One more thing, please, please share some of your artwork with us!

  75. Michelle says:

    Wow, you are amazing, what a wonderful woman, I admire your courage and grace. Well said and well done. XXX

  76. Jurgen Nation says:

    I love this post; everything about it.

    “The old angry me laughed at the notion and said, Fuck that! I am angry! I have a right to be angry! And you will acknowledge my anger even if I have to beat you over the head with it and make myself miserable in the process.”


    “I know she sucked as a mother. She knows she sucked as a mother. There is no reason to remind her at every opportunity.”

    are exactly what I’m going through with my own family, and I shouted “YES!” out loud reading them. So many people trumpet “forgive and forget, life is too short!” and like Angry Chris, Angry Stacy mentally told them to fuck off, that there was no way they could possibly know how much hurt I’m harboring. It’s time to let go. I don’t know how to forgive, but I just want to be a better person. And I think I realized this past week or two (coincidentally over Christmas, but not because of it) that you don’t have to completely let the other person off the hook to move on, you know? I always thought that moving on or “forgiving” was letting them win. Nope. We’re the ones who win.

    Love you, girl.

  77. Miss Peach says:

    Beautiful and poignant. Congratulations, Chris!

  78. Alex says:

    Thank You