Forgiveness quotes? No more please, I’m up to my ears in them. According to the rumors, it’s one of the ‘greatest gifts you can give yourself’; it’s the ‘final form of love’; forgiveness is something that ‘only the strong can do.’ Blah-blah-blah. The one thing nobody tells you about forgiveness – the most important – is that it’s hard work. Messy, confusing, and … painfully slow. It’s like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in loafers (not that I’ve ever done such a thing but I’m sure you see the point.) And more often than not, forgiveness is an entirely one way process.

How many people have I had to forgive in my life? I’m not sure exactly, but it’s less than 50 and more than 30 (the list includes members of my own family). They could all fit happily on a bus but one that’s driving in the opposite direction. Very few of these individuals have stopped and apologized for the hurt they caused. But accepting that some people are incapable of taking responsibility for their behavior is one of the toughest lessons we will ever learn.

There is one person in my life that caused more damage than anybody I’ve ever known. Let’s call her Tanya. We were in a relationship for four years – though ‘slow motion car crash’ might be a better description. We both had childhood issues but as an introvert and an extrovert, we dealt with them in very different ways: I suppressed my pain whereas she transmitted hers on a regular basis. If her needs were not met, she would instantly go on the attack. It was always my fault: ‘Why can’t you be more spontaneous?! Why can’t you make me laugh more?!’ My low key personality was too much to stand. ‘Sometimes I want to shake you!’ she would shout, often putting me down in front of friends. Behind closed doors, things were worse: When your partner starts a row in the middle of sexual intercourse, it’s clearly time to get the hell out but even that wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. Boundaries? Nope, I’ve never heard of them.

Tanya had the most extreme mood swings of anybody I have ever met. Trivial incidents – such as my buying the wrong brand of margarine from a supermarket – would lead to unhinged rages. Arguments would often go on for days; though I see now that these incidents were merely triggers for something deeper.

Tanya’s anger was always followed by crashing despair, and she would take to bed and cry for hours. Seeing her in such despair meant I had to put my aggrieved feelings to one side. When I did find the courage to challenge her, Tanya would absolve herself of any wrong-doing. There was always some external explanation for her outbursts: she had been stressed at work; her mother had been ill; I hadn’t paid her enough attention. I attempted to end things a few times but she always begged for another chance. She promised to change and like a fool, I believed her.

Tanya’s behavior became more extreme: ‘I’ve invested 3 years in this relationship’, she once shouted, ‘you owe me a child!’ Her demands were always tempered by low level aggression. I said I didn’t want a child with her, kick-starting another epic argument. The stress of living with someone so volatile took a toll, and I started staying up after she’d gone to bed, nursing a bottle of wine for company. Towards the end of our relationship, I visited a psychic who knew nothing of my personal situation yet noted, with astonishing perception, that there was someone in my life who was ‘draining the energy’ from me. Tanya was clearly ill but she was also a vampire. It was like living in a toxic pressure cooker.

Why did I endure this misery? ‘I stayed because I was stupid; because I thought it was a test of my ability to love; because part of me wanted to rescue and make her happy. If you look up the word ‘Co-Dependent’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of us both though neither will be smiling.

After 4 years of pushing, pulling and going round in hellish circles, our relationship ended in spectacularly combustible fashion on Valentine’s Day 2006. ‘I don’t see any love, only frustration!’ she yelled. Having been driven to breaking point, I decided I couldn’t take anymore, and flounced out in the middle of the night (I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic). I went to live at my parents but even then I wasn’t entirely free: There were desperate phone calls in which Tanya pleaded with me to call round because she was dying of loneliness. Cue more anger and tears. ‘Why did you leave me?’ she would say. She had been abandoned by her father, and now I had abandoned her.

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