“Rebecca, give me your key”…words that permeated beyond any argument I could come up with. Indeed they reverberated so deeply that I couldn’t even formulate a clear thought. Instead, there was only an overwhelming emotion of regret and fear. Regret for my actions and fear that I had crossed into an unknown territory that I‘d never been in before, and that I thought I might never return from. It was in this moment that I would become quite literally obsessed with “the key”, for in my mind, it represented something that I now and would continue to desperately desire above anything else, and that was…forgiveness.
It was 1988 and I had, (after 2 years of abstinence from alcohol and drugs), relapsed again and with that came the often predictable: self-absorbed, confrontational and entitled attitude that was always resting just below the surface, especially being directed towards my mother. Two years earlier, (before the first treatment experience), one means I had used of maintaining my addiction was “borrowing money” from where my mother kept it put away. Though at the time I didn’t view it as stealing…it most certainly was.
Now this aspect of my past was not something that my parents or my sister had ever talked to me about. I believe, (that like most families), at the point that I received treatment, the desire was for me to simply “get better” and so the past was left in the past and was never spoken of to me. But I knew the things I had done and I knew that my parents knew the things I had done. So when I returned to my mother’s open hand, the key that I had previously been allowed to have to their home, I knew that my past was now once again my present. In addition to this, they laid out for me the boundaries I would be expected to follow. You see, my parents, (who were not in denial about what I was doing and what it meant), knew better than I, just exactly what I was capable of in active addiction.
I am forever grateful for their wisdom and their ability, (in love), to confront me head on in the way that they did, as it most certainly contributed to the period of relapse being considerably shorter. As I entered into treatment again, my focus was on getting that key back, desperately desiring the terrible feeling its absence caused, to go away. So I worked the plan of recovery as it was given to me and managed to get my first year clean and sober. In addition to this I had gotten a job working for the treatment program I had gone through, which I believed would be favorable in my retrieval of what I had lost. The day after I got my medallion I hopped in my car and headed to my parents’ house, fully anticipating the return of the key and once again being in what I saw as “good standing” with my family. Upon arriving, they congratulated me, gave thanks to God, we had dinner and visited. All the while I wondered in what glorious way they would present me with the key. Well, the end of our time came and they walked me to the door and out to the porch. They gave me hugs and waved goodbye as I made my way back to my car – head spinning with confusion and heart racing from sadness. Forcing a smile I waved back as I got in and drove off. Once away from their house I could no longer hold in what was now an explosive outburst of tears, as my mind seemed to scream out, “They will never forgive you!”
Arriving to my home I called someone close to me who worked with me daily in my recovery efforts. I told her what happened through breaks of sobbing hysteria. Once I was done, awaiting her reply, she very calmly and quietly said, “Is that why you got clean…to get a key?” I replied, “No”. She then said, “Well then tomorrow is another day. What are you going to do with it?” I replied, “The next right thing”, (something she had taught me as a way to live this new life). For the next 12 months I stuck with that and sure enough I celebrated 2 years clean and sober. Still focused on once again obtaining the key – I got my medallion and headed straight to my parents’ house certain that NOW the past would be the past and all would be forgiven. I arrived and there was much rejoicing. We went through conversations and dinner…and eventually the walk to the door and out to the porch, with them waving goodbye as I went to my car, ears now ringing as I felt adrenaline surging through my body. Closing my door and straining to smile and wave goodbye I got past their house and began yelling out in anger to myself, “Ohhhh you guys think you are sooooo perfect! You don’t make annnnyyyy mistakes! You will NEVER let this GO!” I called my friend again and screamed out in anger giving her every detail, including my thoughts about them. When I was done she once again, very calmly and quietly said, “Is that why you stayed clean this year…for your parents to do what you wanted?” To which I begrudgingly replied, “No”. Then she said, “So what are you going to do?” To which I said in a defeated tone, “The next right thing.”
Three years past…no key. Four years past…no key. By this point I had been through a divorce from the person I met in treatment, who had relapsed and lied to me, stole from me and in the end, took everything I had, leaving me with nothing but debt. Needless to say, I had come to realize that I had only known him a short time and those things had REALLY hurt – how much MORE had I hurt my parents…especially my mom. Within myself there came a peace and a thankfulness that my family still even talked to me, loved me and allowed me to be “in” their home at all. I quit looking to receive the key and though it hurt, accepted within myself that some hurts are so bad, (as what I had caused), that things could never be fully be restored…and that was ok.
Five years past…Six years past…Seven years past…and I hit Eight years clean and sober. Going home to celebrate together the gift that God had given in freeing my mind, body and spirit from active addiction and the mental obsession had become an annual thing. I arrived to their home and was met with hugs and we all gave thanks, later enjoying dinner and conversation together. Towards the end of the evening before I left, my mom and I were sitting at the kitchen table alone together. She said, “I’m so happy for you Rebecca and I am so proud of you.” At that point she presented a small gift box that was wrapped in dark burgundy colored paper with a light golden colored ribbon that crossed the box horizontally and vertically and in the center had two pieces of ribbon that were curly on all four ends. Looking at her puzzled, (as gifts were not a normal part of this particular annual event), she, (now teary eyed), said, “Just open it”. Not knowing what I would find, my heart began to race as I pulled away the ribbon and wrapping paper, to find a white square box approximately 3” in width. Pulling off the tape, (that my mom is known for), that held down the top, I lifted it off the box. Seeing its contents, I felt my breathe catch as spontaneously, my head dropped with tears pouring from my eyes. A heaviness rushing over me, I could not make my head lift…I could not look at my mother’s face. Gazing in the box, (through tear filled eyes), I saw two keys, one with happy faces on it and one with sports balls on it…my back and shoulders moving while attempting to contain the rush of sobs now consuming me as I tried to formulate words to say. Reaching across the table, I felt her take my other hand in an effort to console, (her touch like no other), she spoke my name in the most loving way, “Rebecca…”
Gathering myself, I managed to look at her and say, “Mama, you don’t need to give me this. The truth is that I can’t promise you I will never relapse again. Besides, I understand, I really do – how much I hurt you. I’m just thankful you have me here at all.” At this point my mom, (crying and looking at me in a way I had never seen before), said, “Rebecca, when you stole from me, you hurt me in a way I never even knew I could hurt. I was afraid that if you ever hurt me that much again that it might be able to change how I felt for you as my child and I just couldn’t take that chance.” For the first time in all of those many years I realized that the key had NOT represented a lack of forgiveness OR a way to distance me from the family…but rather had been the only way my mother could think of to “protect our relationship” – indeed the key represented my mother’s “love for me”.
Even as I write this now, it causes my throat to burn and tears to fill my eyes as I remain filled with immense and humble gratitude for the blessing of my family and their love. That day I placed those keys on my key ring where they remain even now, almost 18 years later – an ever present reminder of love, forgiveness and God’s grace which enables complete healing and reconciliation.
© 2014 Rebecca Balko