A Flipswitch Moment: Blame and Control

Usually life is a continuum. But occasionally you run across one of those flipswitch moments. The trick is—are you open to them?

A friend of mine, some time ago, told me this:

My dad was an alcoholic and a smoker. We loved him and resented him at the same time, because he would be there for us one moment, and then the next moment, not at all.

Eventually he got lung cancer, and we figured that was it. I ended pretty much staying away from him during his illness; I was just too resentful. And then he had surgery, and made a completely unexpected recovery. He quit drinking and smoking, and we were delighted. Though still suspicious.

He picked smoking back up soon enough, and then the drinking. And after a few years, the illness was back, and I knew he wouldn’t beat it twice. He told me once, “You know, I’m not an alcoholic, I really could stop whenever I wanted.” I hated him for that lie. 

As the end came, I got more and more bitter about his irresponsible actions toward all of us, and his refusal to take any blame. He never apologized. I went with my siblings to see him in the hospital, but I hated it.

A nurse pulled me aside. She said, “He only has a few days left. He doesn’t have the emotional or mental energy to change at this point. If you’re waiting for your father to apologize to you for all that he’s done to you in life—now is the time to give that up. It’s never going to happen. Now the only one who can change is you.”

I shivered, because I knew she was right. The next day, I was able to forgive him. He did the best he could; it wasn’t very good, but it was his best. I told him I loved him, and I did. I was able to give up the rest. And I’ll always be grateful to that nurse for giving my future back to me.

My friend was open to the flipswitch moment.

Are you?

7 replies
  1. Vickie Turley
    Vickie Turley says:

    This really hit home for me as I too had to forgive someone near and dear to me. The problem was, it was many years after he died and he wasn’t there to ask for forgiveness. That is hard to do – to forgive someone who doesn’t ask for it, or doesn’t recognize they need forgiveness.

    For me, it’s a control issue, as your title suggests. If I forgive him, and he’s not even on earth any longer, have I given up my control? Or does this give me more control of my life and my destiny?

    I decided the latter. Since I have forgiven him, I have been able to let go of that bitterness, the anger, and the shame, all that has kept me from being the complete adult I was meant to be. I have been able to be happier, to enjoy the greatness of the earth, to enjoy watching my grandchildren come into my life, to enjoy watching a book come out of this jumbled brain of mine.

    Control is such a powerful thing – but it can absolutely stop you from growing. So be careful with control. And be a forgiving person. I want to think that others will forgive me when I mess up – so how can I not do the same?

    Thanks for this reminder, Charlie.

  2. Lance E. Osborne
    Lance E. Osborne says:


    Thank you for being such a beacon when it would be just as easy to dim the light and rest.
  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Your post resonates deeply within me, Charlie. Forgiveness has been, and still is, a huge part of my journey.


    It wasn’t until deep into my adult life that I discovered what forgiveness was. Thanks to my personal/spiritual journey that continues to this day, I live a life that is lighter, happier, and more honest, sincere and authentic….and forgiving


    I grew up in a dysfunctional family – dysfunction that was quietly abusive, emotionally barren, unhappy, vapid, confusing, frustrating, and sad. Having repressed and suppressed the hate, anger, rage and the like, I went through my teens and early adult years wondering why the world was so fu**ed up.  In denial, I thought I was just fine – completely unaware of how I was unconsciously acting out the feelings I had buried.


    I thought I knew what love was, companionship was, happiness was, meaning was – all one big subterfuge, although I looked like I was playing a good game, going through all the motions. Inside – a barren wasteland. I was silently angry, hateful and rageful and very sad. (and, might I add, as I learned, this is common especially in families where members say things like "Me? My childhood was happy. We never raised our voices. We never got angry. We never argued…..).


    Early on in my process, I was challenged by the question, "Can you find it in your heart to (love, forgive…)? The short answer was "no!" Why?


    First, I never knew I had a heart – the spiritual kind. I had a deep longing inside from very early on to find it, but I never knew how. I could never access my heart – much as I tried, prayed, etc.


    Second, I had been wired to tell the stories I told myself in order to feel right, happy (a faux happiness), safe, and that everyone else was "the problem." This is the way of the victim, the fearful, the abandoned, the rejected and these stories were not only hard-wired into my brain but their attendant emotions lived deep in my cells. Being in my mind and never in my heart was the nut I needed to crack. I’m forever grateful for the folks who helped and help me in this process.


    Working over the years in my process, I discovered my heart. Then, the hard part was learning how to forgive my self for beating my self up for my real or perceived faults, shortcomings, weaknesses, and all that. This was is the toughest part. (I’m not there yet but I feel I’m getting a B in the course). Once I spend time with me and learned how to love, really love, my self and forgive myself, then it was on to others, family members, relatives, teachers, clergy, friends, bosses…forgiving them became easier and do-able. And, I did and I have.


    What I’ve learned about forgiveness and me:


    One lesson I learned is that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have – everyone, even the abusive parent – my stories and judgments about them notwithstanding.


    Another lesson is that, hard as my early years were, they happened FOR me, not to me. Frankly, I have a good sense that I would not be where I am today in my personal and spiritual growth if my early years were truly, so-called "happy."


    A third lesson with this understanding is I was/am able to forgive those who, for years, I held  grudges, and against whom I felt anger, resentment…Now, I have let all that go. I learned that forgiveness is not a mental thing; it’s a heart-felt thing. And, today my heart smiles more than it ever did. When I try to make forgiveness a mental construct, it’s snarly, always stuff left hanging around, and incomplete – an opportunity for me to see "what’s left" that I’m refusing to look at.


    That I, a man, can have a heart, access it and depend and rely on it. That I have had a lot of anger, hatred and rage in me for years and even greater denial. That my "happy-go-lucky" persona was just a "front," a veil that obscured a hurting, lost and longing heart and soul (me). 


    Finally, that the truth about my pain and suffering, and my deep-seated anger as a result, needed to be "outed," explored, gone through and not around, and that the truth can and did set me free. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude for the folks who have supported me on my journey.


    Like I said, I’m not there yet, but I’m getting a B in the course. Now I can find my heart and can find love and forgiveness for my self and others there as well. It’s a nice place to rest.


    Oh, and that light switch? My experience tells me it’s a dimmer…shining a little light, then a little more, then a little more on the "issue" of forgiveness – at least that’s the way it’s been in my life.


    Thanks again for this post.

  4. Mark Slatin
    Mark Slatin says:


    Wonderful message.  Reminds me of the definition of resentment someone told me once as drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. 

    IMHO – we’re all God’s creatures and He loves all of us, inspite of all of our shortcomings…  even your friend’s Dad.


  5. William J Reynolds
    William J Reynolds says:

    I think all families are "dysfunctional"; it’s just a matter of degree.


    I believe that most parents try to do their best; being human, they come up short. With age, experience, and perspective, we can come to recognize and understand that. Or not. It’s up to us. Once we can accept that our parents were imperfect people trying to do the best they could, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing–and at a job that you pretty much have to make up as you go–then we can be about the task of imitating them in the things that worked and learning from them in the things that didn’t.


    Knowing that we won’t do it perfectly either.


    Great post! Thanks!

  6. John Gies
    John Gies says:

    Thanks Charlie,

    Great post and reminder that at the end of the day the only thing we can change is ourselves. And it is through changing ourselves that we in fact do change the world.

    I remember in High School a similar experience, Grandma came to live with us after several strokes (due in large part to smoking) My mother would not allow anyone to let her smoke. I remember Grandma pleasding with me for a cigarette.

    If I had that year to live again, who cares, the only difference it would have made is she would have been happier.

    Thanks again, and take good care,



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