I’ve always been called judgmental. I’ve been told that unless I have walked a mile in another person’s shoes, I have no right to judge. I’ve been told I’m heartless and that I should just forgive.
I do not.
This is a story of two kids from a bad family. Really bad. Drugs. Neglect. Malnutrition. Surviving on nothing. Their father – a very talented poet and musician – soothed his aching ennui with all sorts of opiates and alcohol. Their mother wasn’t much different. They lived in a hovel. They were dirty, and their teeth were rotten. They did what they had to do to survive.
Then one day, their grandpa came and offered the parents a deal: get clean, go into rehab, we’ll watch the kids, and you can have them back after you’re well. The parents declined. So their grandpa did what any decent, loving, caring person would do – he rescued the kids and took them to their aunt’s house. The aunt wasn’t even 30 years old at that point. She and her husband had a little boy of their own, who was only about 3 years old. They were starting out, but they were doing OK, and they opened their hearts to two kids they did not know.
Those kids became my daughters.
When I was little, I used to idolize my brother – my dad’s son from his first marriage. I loved him so much! He taught me how to read. He opened my heart up to a world of music and poetry. I was proud of him beyond all reason. When he was on TV back in the USSR playing guitar and singing, I ran around to all my friends in kindergarten and bragged.
I’m writing about this now, because I need to get it off my chest. I need to put it down on paper (on in electronic form, as the case may be), because I’m tired of explaining to people why I’m really not heartless or horrible, why I really do understand addiction, and why I never, EVER forgive it.
I found out my brother was an addict much later in life – after we left the USSR and were forced to leave him behind, because he was legally an adult and stayed with his mother. When I was stationed in Germany, I found out my dad was forced to spend retirement money to get my brother and his wife out of a Russian jail, where they were incarcerated, along with their young daughters, on drug charges. When I came back from Germany in 1998, I met my then-9 year old niece for the first time, when she was visiting my parents for the summer. Their family had moved to Israel from Russia, and she was allowed to spend the summer with my parents. I had never met the younger one, but my dad told me horror stories about their living conditions. I felt sorry for them.
A couple of years later, I found out things got really bad for these kids. They were living in squalor, doing what they could to survive. I offered to take them in – to adopt them and give them a life they couldn’t possibly have in Israel with their addict parents. I wanted so badly to save them! To give them an opportunity to grow up healthy and happy, with a chance at success.
They came to live with us at ages 11 and 5. I have to give a lot of credit to my ex. He opened his heart to these kids. He didn’t hesitate to love them. He made the decision along with me to give these kids a chance.
The Redhead also opened his little heart. He was told he was getting sisters – that things would change a bit at home, but that he would still be loved as he always was. Our family would just get bigger. It was a huge adjustment for him, but he embraced them in the purest way possible.
I didn’t understand then – just like I don’t understand now – why everyone thought it was such a big deal. I still strongly believe that given the choice, anyone would save these kids! They’re kids. Nothing their parents did was their fault. They deserved the chance to flourish. Why not help?
But yet, all my parents’ friends thought it was such a mitzvah! They thought it was such a huge deal! They showered us with support, furniture, clothes, toys, etc. for our new kids. It was overwhelming and very kind how many different people stepped up to help! The girls wanted for nothing.
We got them both counseling. We felt ill-equipped to handle the explanations about their parents by ourselves. We didn’t really know how much they understood about their former lives, or why they were forced to come here to the United States and live with strangers.
It wasn’t easy. Anyone who tells you that adopting two brand new children and integrating them into your family is seamless is lying.
There was a language barrier. The eldest one spoke Russian, so I was able to communicate with her. The youngest babbled in an odd combination of Hebrew, Russian and incomprehensible baby talk. She was never taught – at 5 years old – how to speak.
There were lice, there was malnutrition, there were rotten teeth from said malnutrition. There was the fact that the little one didn’t know how to use utensils, and just grabbed any food she got off her plate with her little hands like a savage and shoved it in her mouth.
There was stealing – hoarding really. It’s a survival mechanism. When you are used to doubting if you’re going to get another meal, or aren’t sure if anyone will come home to care for you, the tendency is to hoard whatever you find.
There was bad personal hygiene, and lack of any kind of acknowledgment of authority. They wouldn’t do their homework, because they “didn’t want to.” They didn’t know how to brush their teeth or wash themselves. All that had to be taught.
There were fights. When the 3 year old Redhead took a pencil from our younger daughter, she stabbed him with it. She didn’t know it was wrong. She didn’t know that you could really hurt someone. She had no concept of life or harm. She just knew survival.
She learned. She adjusted.
The older one…
That was worse.
It started out with outright lies. All the time. The child didn’t and couldn’t tell the truth – not even about the weather. She was cold and calculating – even when she learned English and began to integrate into our neighborhood, our town, and her schools. When I lost my baby daughter at 32 weeks, was hospitalized and had to deliver a stillborn, the entire family was there to support us. She coldly looked at my dad, and asked him if he would take them to the fair that was in town. Not a shred of remorse or sympathy. She smeared feces and menstrual blood on the walls of the bathroom. She sneaked out in the middle of the night. She became sexually promiscuous. No amount of counseling and love and understanding helped. She felt entitled to everything she was given and demanded more. When she was caught in a misdeed, she blamed her background, with a cunning “You know my past. You know why I do this,” as if bringing up her painful history would somehow make me too ashamed to punish her.
Her past became her excuse for everything. She had no remorse beyond being caught or punished. She stole allowance from her brother and sister, started seeing a pedophile who was 10 years her senior, with a rap sheet and a history of corrupting young girls, manipulated adults around her into having sympathy by cutting her wrists, and then parading around with sweat bands on her wrists to draw attention to what they couldn’t see, but were to assume were scars from her ennui. When confronted, she dropped hints about her life with her parents – hints that intimated she was sexually abused, used as a drug mule, etc. She never said it outright, but whenever she was caught in yet another lie, shoplifting, or sneaking out, the hints invariably came out.
Feel sorry for me. I’ve been abused. I’ve been sexually assaulted. It’s not my fault.
When she finally got a part time job to pay for the car for which my ex co-signed against my better judgment, she told us she was waiting tables in a restaurant. When she disappeared for three days without phone contact, we found out she was stripping.
The drugs and the booze followed. Worse yet, she got pregnant, and was apparently doing drugs while pregnant and while breastfeeding.
And then she started giving drugs to her little sister – the little sister who idolized her – the little sister, who was still confused deep inside about why her real parents abandoned her – the little sister, who was conflicted and sad and emotionally vulnerable – the little sister who was nursing demons of her own.
She obviously did not want to be the only miserable wretch ruining her life, so she gave her little sister pot, and Percocet, and Methodone… She almost destroyed the child, screwed with her mind, talked about hiring a lawyer to take her away from us, telling her she was the only real family she had, and that “blood was thicker than water.”
Some tell me that She Who Must Not Be Named was destined to become the kind of twisted, manipulative human being she became.
I was told, she was hardwired by life with her drug addict parents.
I was told she couldn’t overcome her past, and therefore I should understand and forgive the present.
I’ve known people who came from truly traumatic and hurtful situations, beaten, forced into drugs, and worse. They clawed their way back out of the mire, with fewer resources and opportunities than she had – with no counseling, no help, no loving family giving them every chance to change. They came back from addition – sometimes with help from friends and doctors – but they came back to live productive, loving, fruitful lives.
This one… she had everything – People who loved her, who got her help, who cared enough to insist that she go to school and learn personal responsibility, and who gave her a real childhood! She had a family who forgave her time after time. She had a family who spent thousands of dollars to make her healthy, who ensured she had all the help and support she needed.
And yet, she chose drugs and lies. She chose to try to ruin her sister. She CHOSE not to take advantage of everything she was given, and instead to demand…
…to demand respect she did not earn, to demand support and money, to demand a path back into her lives, and to emotionally blackmail us with her child, threatening we would never seen him again, if she did not get unfettered access to our lives.
The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.
She made hers. They were fully informed choices, made with the presence of mind to understand the consequences.
She chose to start doing drugs – knowing full well about her parents’ history. She chose to get pregnant. She chose to snort Percocet and God knows what else.
She chose not to fight, but to surrender. She chose the easy way – demanding money, support, love and respect she did not earn, and holding her kid as hostage to get it.
She made the conscious choice to try and pull her sister into the muck with her, because misery loves company, and “blood is thicker than water.”
And it’s not addiction that forced that choice on her. It’s the evil in her own soul.
No. I have no sympathy. Those choices were made with full knowledge and intent. Those choices weren’t dictated by drugs or demons. They were fully conscious, manipulative, logical, calculated choices made specifically to gain the unearned – no matter what the cost.
To those who say I should forgive, I say, “No.”
You don’t forgive evil. You don’t forgive conscious choices made without regard for anyone. You don’t forget the intentional efforts to destroy other people.
That’s not addiction, and that’s not drugs. It’s choices. Cold, calculated choices.
Addiction may eventually become a “disease,” but the initial choice to pick up that pipe, that syringe, or that bottle is yours. It’s a conscious choice. It’s also a conscious choice not to fight, but rather take the easy way out, no matter whom it harms.
My Sarah fought. She fought the demons. She overcame them. She won.
She is a United States Marine, dedicated, focused, determined to succeed, and so proud!
She fought like hell. Her path was fraught with fear, tears, failure and defiance, but she fought and she won in the end.
My pride in her is not just the pride a mother feels for a child who has dedicated her life to serving her country and protecting the freedoms and opportunities this nation provides.
My pride in her is also the pride a mother feels when she sees her child bloody her knuckles, shred her soul, and win the battle for her life in the end. She accomplished this. She put her heart and soul into clawing her way out of the darkness, and she made it.
The other one… there’s no forgiving that. There’s no forgiving the choices she made, the destruction she has wrought, and the heartache she intentionally caused.
They were hers. Solely hers, and no one else’s.
Through this journey, I learned that forgiveness is a trust – that it’s not an entitlement, but something to be earned. It’s not a good deed, and I have no interest in it.
Forgiveness is gained through the choices one makes.
You can condemn me for casting her out. I don’t care.
You can call me judgmental. I don’t care about that either.
I will not condone evil or sanction it with my forgiveness.