Nearly three years ago I took a job that scared the absolute shit out of me. As a Victim Advocate in a probation office, I would be required to attend the treatment groups of sex offenders. I knew how to work with and for victims, but I had no clue what to expect from working so closely with sex offenders. I imagined a dark room full of seedy, smarmy child molesters and rapists, something akin to an AA meeting in a cramped church basement--big, sweaty men in rickety chairs, an old coffee pot brewing in the corner, and the air thick with cigarette smoke. Of course, the groups are nothing like that. In fact, they're quite sterile, professional, yet relaxed...boring, really. Getting to know the men in these groups, and, in many cases, their family and friends, I was reminded that real monsters are less common than TV and the movies would lead us to believe. We are all human and, thus, all fallible....and, perhaps, all forgivable.
On top of learning to see others in a more holistic way, I have learned in my work with sex offenders that healing and growth cannot begin until one truly takes responsibility for his own actions. The first step in taking responsibility is being honest. Denial can run rampant in the sex offender community, as one might imagine, but we are lucky in that we can utilize polygraphs with deniers. Can you imagine? How cool would it be to be able to use a lie detector test with the people in your personal life? From your significant other to the office gossip, you would be assured that you were being told the truth at all times.
Of course, it's impossible to hold those in our lives to complete honesty, so sometimes we have to accept that they won't be honest and, therefore, that they won't take responsibility for their own words or actions. I've come face-to-face with this reality lately. Even when confronted head on, some remain unwilling to tell the truth, which simply triggers what I've named my "bullshit alarm" to sound. I've found that the alarm is particularly sensitive to misplaced blame and the refusal to acknowledge one's own behavior. Is it really that hard to say, "I screwed up," "It was my fault," or "I did it, and I'm sorry?" Is it worth it to keep up the charade? At what cost do you make that decision? And isn't it just plain exhausting?
No matter what choice those around me have made, I have decided to be honest. Don't ask me a question unless you want to hear the truth. My choice has been both a blessing and a curse. It's brought me closer to some and has driven a wedge into some of my relationships. I stand behind my choice, though, and don't see how I can live an authentic life without being authentic. I've attempted to model honesty in my personal and professional interactions, and I have been proud to see some follow my lead and embrace honesty, but I have seen others react with withdrawal, whining, and even venom.
I've struggled since the other day with what to do when someone seems unwilling or unable to own up to his/her role in hurting me. A big part of me feels that I should remain adamant that I am unwilling to forgive and forget without that person taking responsibility for his/her role. Another part of me argues that by holding out for that person to make a move which seems highly unlikely and uncharacteristic only allows him/her to control the situation. If I take responsibility for my own actions, words, and deeds, I need to take responsibility for my reactions to others. By waiting for another person's decision, I am not fully taking responsibility. In fact, if I can forgive, even when it seems unforgivable, if I can move forward, even without closure for the past, if I can remain in control of my own feelings, even when others may not handle them with care, then I am truly living a life of responsibility...responsibility for myself--for my thoughts, my feelings, my actions, my words, and my impact on those around me.
I'm not perfect. I am far from being the person that I would like to be, but I continue to try. I only hope that others will recognize that and will try just as hard.
"The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed." ~Lloyd Jones