The Ghost of Grudges Long Since Past

in mental-health •  last month

A brief history of something that happened in late 2013/early 2014...

  • I was working in the school district doing IT
  • I was dating a young woman, "Hannah" (for the sake of protecting her identity)
  • "Hannah and I had been set up by a mutual "friend" named "Roger"
  • "Roger's" then-fiancé was also working in the school district
  • There was also a teacher named "Ginny" with whom I had conflict

Let's start with Ginny. If there is one thing that you should never do, it is mess with your IT guy. Well, she made the mistake of talking smack on me, and so I decided to keep things purely professional - no asking about her family, how things were going, or any of the other social niceties that I usually included to make the workplace a bit more human. Nah, she got the bare minimum - I would go in, turn the wrench and fix the things, and then I was O-U-T. The departing conversation was more or less as follows:
Me [matter-of-factly]: "All fixed."
Ginny [in an icy tone]: "Oh, thank you."
Me: "Yup."
Ginny [dripping with sarcasm]: "Have a nice day."
Me: "Yup."
[Scene]

Hannah and I had been together for a little over a year, and while she and I were OK on her own, Roger was known to meddle. It was his thing - he meddled with everyone and in everything. Roger just couldn't seem to help it - he purposely made comments to my brother in public that would make him (my brother) uncomfortable; he routinely tried to do the same to my youngest sibling; on more than one occasion, he embarrassed me, which is admittedly difficult to do, but damn, did he manage to do it.

My "friendship" with Roger was rather one-sided. He was a "tough guy" type, and he would systematically bully me, as the nerd and (mostly) gentlemanly type. I know what it means to be bullied - I endured years of it in school, from the mundane to death threats in college. I know what it is. And I tried to take it in stride - Roger did not exactly have the best childhood, and I will leave it at that, since it is his private and personal story - and I tried to be a Christian and to be forgiving and all. But after a while, it began to grate on me and it was fairly obviously to even a brain-dead chimpanzee that Roger was severely misguided in how he thought true friendship worked, and that I was pretty gorram sick and tired of being treated like crap.

Hannah wasn't much help in that regard. There was a particular night that Roger had a small get-together, and Hannah and I were there, along with a bunch of Roger's friends, none of whom I had met before. Hannah and Roger proceeded to tell stories about me, most of which were not flattering, and I was grabbing my coat and heading to the door. I was in no shape to drive, despite living only a few miles apart from each other, so I decided that walking would be far more prudent and burn off more energy and some of the anger. So I left my keys for Hannah to find and pulled on my coat. All of Roger's friends stopped me as I was leaving, each wearing a look of sympathy or empathy, and all offered me words of condolences as Hannah and Roger were perfectly OK with humiliating me.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and things between Hannah and myself had deteriorated drastically. We were done, I was done with the fact that while she was NOT an alcoholic, she was a heavy drinker, and that was not healthy for either of us. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving (USA), and my phone rang at 7:00 am or so, the caller ID reading one of my cousins, Angie. Angie and I almost never talk on the phone - we DM/PM on social media, we have texted, but phone calls are exceptionally rare. Of course I answer, because even at 7 in the morning, pre-coffee, I am still a gorram human being and I love the crap outta Angie. She's sobbing, she's a mess, and I know - I just know - that someone has died. Her mom found her dad (my mom's brother) that morning, and Angie asked me to call my family and pass the word along. Angie's dad and I were not particularly close in his later years, but only due to distance and a bit of time. Every time I did see my uncle, it was almost like old times - he was the coolest guy in the world, as if God had sampled every cool dude from all of history and dropped a bit of those guys into the form of my uncle. Plus, we had lost my aunt a few years before, and that remains a devastating loss today, so losing another one of my mom's siblings was just... Ouch.

That's when Roger, with whom I had not really spoken in weeks, pokes out of the woodwork. See, Thanksgiving, for those who work in the public schools, means a 3-day work week, with Wednesday usually being an early dismissal day. For IT, that meant doing an entire 5 days' worth of work in 2 and 1/2 days. With the funeral, that meant that I had to do 5 days' worth of work on Monday, with the funeral arrangements on Tuesday and Wednesday. So I am stressed, as my supervisor in the school district was being a right git about everything - as if I was not contractually entitled to bereavement, and as if I had direct control over the funeral arrangements or even the death of my uncle - so I was honestly well beyond stressed. Plus, there was the usual family drama that comes with everyone getting together and all. Not to mention the actual death of my uncle and the grief that was coming with it. Roger decides to poke the dragon and tell me that Hannah was off galavanting or doing something or whatever, and I frankly did not give a flying rat's arse what she was doing. I was rather upset, so I mouthed off a bit - clearly not my finest hour, and I regretted it the moment the words came out of my mouth. Hannah, despite our differences, did not deserve to have me say the things that I said about her. She and I addressed that shortly thereafter, and she was rather gracious about it, which is a bit more than I deserved, to be fair. Roger, on the other hand, had no problem telling her all about what I had said. So I went through all of the funeral and Thanksgiving until Sunday morning, when I woke up to have several text messages from her regarding what I had said.

Yeah... I was pissed.

So I called Roger, and he was upset that I had woken him up. I gave him an hour to get up and get back to me with information. The hour came and went, and then I called. And called. And texted. Finally, he texted me back with some lame excuse or another, and I said that I had enough of his crap and that he was to leave me alone. We did not talk for several days, close to a couple of weeks.

That's when Ginny comes up to me one morning. As I said, she and I have nothing to talk about, no contact with each other outside of the bare minimum of professional interaction, and even that she managed to lace with ice and sarcasm. When she approached me that morning and said that we needed to talk, my guard went up. Ginny then told me that she was hearing things about my personal life through mutual acquaintances and friends, and she gave me enough information for me to figure that: (1) she would not and could not have known these things otherwise and (2) the whole of it pointed directly back to Roger.

That was when I decided that I was done. Beyond done, really. Things were rapidly getting out of hand, and Roger's then-fiancé was, unfortunately, dragged into it, which made work that much more uncomfortable for everyone. It got to the point where more and more things were being said, and my personal and private life were bleeding over rather vociferously into my professional life - and it was doing some real damage. So I decided to call Roger and put an end to this. I got his voicemail, naturally, so I left a message: "You will stay away from me and my family. You will not talk about me. You will not ask my brother awkward questions in public to embarrass or humiliate him. You will not bother my youngest sibling. You will not even say hello to my mother if you see her at church. You will keep walking, you will walk the other way, you will stay away from me and mine. There is no 'or else' - this is just what you will do from now on. Stay away from my family."

It worked for a spell, until January 2014. He did not seem to think I was serious, or that I was "over" it. But I was not "over" it, and when I heard again that he was starting to bother my family, then I allowed the same chain of communication to get word back to Roger that he must have misunderstood me when I said that he is to stay away from my family. I was ready to go scorched earth on him - he was a hair's breadth from ruining my professional life by tossing my personal and private life out there for public consumption. And if he was to ruin my professional life, I was damn well going to make sure that I was not the only one who was going down. Fortunately, he backed off, and while that did not undo the damage, at least he did nothing more in the way of harm.

I cut off all contact with Roger and his then-fiancé. My professional relationship with her echoed that of mine with Ginny. I praised her, really, because she had the integrity to stick by her future husband, and that is a stand-up move.

Honestly, there are no real heroes in all of this. Even in deciding not to allow myself to be further victimized by a guy who systematically bullied me for a few years, I did not handle it in the best way possible. In fact, it was the first time in 11 years that I had embarked on a revenge campaign. He poked the dragon, and the dragon roared to life with a rage and fury that would frighten Captain Ahab.

The next year was a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Some people tried to force us to make peace, and while it was not the most Christ-like behavior on my part, at first I refused to make peace. I had the Traumatic Brain Incident (TBI; see https://steemit.com/mental-health/@phoenix32/the-strangest-of-days-or-how-a-traumatic-brain-incident-altered-my-life-inexorably), which was life-altering, and I had to focus on that rather than deal with Roger and his game. When I was finally able to make peace with him, I set out conditions - a mediator who was friends with both of us, who would maintain a neutral stance. Roger refused, as he was (in his words) "31 not 13". Well, that settled that - he clearly was not serious about fixing things if he was not willing to meet on a level playing field. Hannah and I had sort of gotten back together, although that died out later that Fall. It took until late October for me to be at peace with all of it, to let go of the anger and the grudge and the hurt.

That did not mean that I was going to allow Roger back into my life, as I found out that he was still running his mouth about me; while I was over all of it, I also took precautions to keep the negativity out of my life - blocking phone numbers, emails, and social media accounts for Roger, his then-fiancé, and Hannah. Part of what helped me let go of the grudge and the hate and the hurt was a three-fold process. The first part was that I had been approached by the school district to work with the marching band, and it had been unheard of for a non-teaching staff member to assist in a coaching role. The second part was when I applied for and was then offered a position in the private sector. The dirt-digging that the company did would have turned up everything that had been said and done, and there was no fallout from it, by the grace of God. The third part was the distance and the time that was necessary for me to find the forgiveness in my heart - if I was being constantly inundated with all of the social media posts and with all of the other nonsense, finding the peace in my heart would have been difficult or impossible.

So I was done with it all. No grudge, no hate, no hurt, no rage. For 4-5 years now, I have not wished them harm, ill, or badness, and I have prayed for them to have good lives of peace and joy. And yes, I have kept them out of my life - if I am allergic to dairy, why would I eat cheese and drink milk? The same principle applies here. I don't hate the cheese, and anyone else can enjoy it - I would not prevent someone from enjoying something they like just because I don't want to be near it.

A month or so ago, I went back home from the seminary for a funeral for my friends' mother. I saw Roger's wife there, and it was the first time that we had actually exchanged looks, much less had a conversation. At the end of the repast, as she was saying goodbye to everyone, she came to me with a note that said something about "patching things up" and all, and she gave me a hug and said that we should talk. I told her that I do want to get together and catch up, and asked her not to take it personally if it doesn't happen until May, when my semester is over and Holy Week and Easter have passed.

Seminary life being what it is normally, and then the fact that this semester has gone on so long until now without a real break, and then toss in the fact that our break consists of being the parishes and helping out with Holy Week and Easter before we can even get real time off, I have thought and prayed on it, but I did not really act on it until the other day. I unblocked Roger and his wife on social media. It did not take long for him to send a friend request, which I sat on for a spell as I was busy. Once I accepted his request, he sent me a series of messages about meeting to patch things up and stating something about me holding a grudge for so long. He also does not seem to grasp the part of things that upset me in all of his actions, and while I am a bit of a stickler for details, information, and facts, there is nothing to be gained by rehashing all of this and setting the record straight. I want to move forward with my life, not live in the past and be mired in the hurts and hates of yesteryear.

Soliciting opinions here:

  • Is it "holding a grudge" to keep people out of your life if they have continually and continuously hurt you with no sign of remorse, even after forgiving them?
  • Is it wrong to want to protect yourself even after forgiving the person or people who have hurt you?
  • Is it worth it to rehash the past, or is it better just to move forward and try to start anew?
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Damn, what a rough read. I'm so sorry this happened to you, man.

For what my opinion is worth on your questions, here goes nothing.

  1. No. It's no more 'holding a grudge' to keep toxic people out of your life than it is 'holding a grudge' to stay away from the place where you were attacked by a bear. Avoiding harm, whether mental, or emotional, or physical, is avoiding harm. You need have no ill will towards an individual to still want nothing to do with them.

  2. Of course not. Once again, self-preservation is an instinct built into all life forms, and it is the natural way of things. One need not be miserable to be a good person. Forgiving someone and keeping them at arms-length (or even further) are two entirely separate actions which are utterly unrelated. 'Forgiveness' and 'friendship' are not synonymous. You don't have to treat them like they are. :)

  3. It's only worth rehashing the past for the good parts. Cleansing your life of the toxic elements is one of the most important things we can do for our mental health. Rehash the past if you feel there's something you can learn from it, or to reminisce about enjoyable things. Don't revisit it just to beat yourself up. Every moment you spend looking behind you is a moment you spend missing the beauty of the here and now. Just like driving, you want to check your mirrors every so often, but keep your eyes on the road in front of you.

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Hey @modernzorker, thanks for the affirmations, it's good to know that I'm not off-base.

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I'd like to think I've learned something in my four decades on this planet. I may be wrong, but here's to crossed fingers and hoping for the best. :)