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How A Surrogate Gave Me The Apology My Mother Never Could

Last month I wrote about the one tool that has the power to heal deep wounds. 

It's called LISTENING TO LEARN and if you read that article, you know I found it nearly impossible to do.

Listen to someone who couldn't see my point of view?  Someone who was in direct opposition to me?

You may as well have shoved my head into the toilet and commanded me to BREATHE UNDERWATER.

It took a lot of willingness and course-correction to actually develop this skill.

And while I'm proud of that, I'm not writing today to celebrate my listening achievements. (I'm still working on that, by the way.)

I'm here to tell you about the time when someone opened her heart to me, closed her mouth, and LISTENED with everything she had—helping me let go of decades of bitterness and emotional pain.

But first, a quick bit of background:

In 1971, my parents moved to a Bible Institute on the isolated prairies of Alberta, taking me and my sister with them.

Back then, it was the largest Missionary Training Centre in Canada.

Imagine an army barracks with its own school system (everything from pre-kindergarten all the way up to Bible College) and you'll catch a glimpse of my childhood.

The Institute was based on an authoritarian system with a top-down hierarchy that put children on the bottom rung.

And what I experienced and witnessed there (and after) went directly against the church's message of love and forgiveness.

Corporal punishment was used to to break children's spirits and force them to submit to the will of the parents.

Signs of independence were commonly met with force.

The loss of self was devastating.

By the time we reached adolescence, many of us were experiencing learning difficulties, health issues, anxiety, depression, dissociation, and other symptoms of trauma.

I was 16 when I left home—late, compared to other kids who had already been kicked out by the age of 14 and disowned.

Most of us turned to drugs and alcohol.

None of us made it to adulthood without severe emotional problems that made sustainable relationships impossible.

And yet no one from the church stepped up to say, "I'm sorry."

None of the parents admitted to any wrongdoing or took responsibility for our psychological issues.

They insisted our problems were our fault, because we had turned from God and had chosen a wrong path.

Instead of owning their contribution to the tragedy, they saw themselves as long-suffering parents who were simply dealing with rebellious teenagers.

I spent decades trying to overcome the mind-fuckery of that.

To this day, my mother remembers the Institute fondly. 

And while we do have a relationship and enjoy happy times together, there's still an impenetrable wall between us.

For years, my heart longed for honest acknowledgment from her.

And for years, this longing kept me caught in a terrible loop.

Because although my mother loves me, she doesn’t have the awareness or the capacity to hear the truth of my experience and own her part in it.  She can't authentically apologize because she doesn't see that she's done any harm.

So I reached out to a surrogate.

And chose someone to stand in for her.

To be clear, this wasn't done through therapy.  I have a wonderful therapist, but I needed to do this in my own way, with someone from the church—a parent with beliefs similar to my mother's. 

This person had only heard my mother's side of the story and viewed my troubles (two failed marriages!) as a normal consequence of sin.

(IMPORTANT NOTE:  I've done a lot of trauma recovery work and knew I could take care of myself should I be triggered. I don't recommend this approach unless you have strong, healthy boundaries.) 

I asked this woman if she would be willing to sit and listen to my experience.


She sat for 4 hours and listened to me as I spoke my truth and the truth of my siblings.

She breathed very carefully the entire time, keeping her eyes on mine, her body language soft and open.

I could SEE her sincerity.

I could FEEL her empathy.

I could SENSE her compassion, her presence, her willingness to just sit in the discomfort without trying to fix anything.

This woman was not a trained coach. She just was willing to sit and be the face of love for me.

She listened, not to formulate an argument or a rebuttal.

Not to find a foothold so she could somehow convert me.

She listened to learn, connect and understand.

Once in awhile, she murmured.  Her eyes teared up.

But she never interrupted me.

She didn't try to explain how hard it is to be a parent.

She didn't justify the actions of the church.

She didn't sputter and get red in the face.

She didn't use scripture to silence or shame me.

She didn't try to rush me to forgiveness.

She didn't explain her own position or stick up for Christians.

She just LISTENED.  

And the pain and mental anguish of 40 years disintegrated right there in the room.

I can't describe the relief.

And while I don't know if an emotional surrogate is right for you or anyone else, I do know, with complete certainty, that LISTENING TO LEARN is the most powerful tool we humans have when it comes to healing the Pain Body.

If you ever have the chance to do that for someone, I hope you're able to. It would be the biggest gift you could ever give them, yourself, or the world

Sending you so much love,

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