I’ve been on the receiving end of some fairly strong cyber-calumny over the past few weeks. Google my name, and you’ll find it. I’m not asking for defenders or for legal advice (I have both, happily, in spades.) But I am interested in answering a question I got the other day:
How do you deal with the fact that so many people don’t think you’ve changed? How do you deal with all that animosity coming your way?
First off, I know there are worse things than being called names by folks who don’t know me. I have it easy. Second of all, I do come from the “if you’re not making enemies, you’re not doing your job” school of activism. You can tell a lot about people by the nature of those who hate them most.
There are people I hurt so badly that they have made it clear that they cannot forgive me. I have been told more than once in recent years that my “conversion” is a sham, that underneath this facade of a life transformed I am still the same old slick Hugo, self-indulgent and perhaps even sociopathic. They’re waiting, they tell me, for me to fall, to fuck up, to slip. I do not exaggerate or flatter myself unduly when I say that there are a number of people who would experience considerable schadenfreude if I were to be revealed as a charlatan and a fraud! I have earned some of that enmity through some really nasty behavior; the passage of time, my professions of redemption, and sincere attempts to make amends have not caused all whom I injured to forgive me.
I know that a lot of people love me. Even more are indifferent to me. Some dislike me for no apparent reason. And a small number really loathe me, and they do so with justifiable cause. Most of the time, I don’t think about this last group — but sometimes, in my darker moments, I do. And sometimes, I feel a wave of regret and sadness breaking over me. It hurts.
As it turns out, there’s also another group of people: folks who’ve never met me, but are convinced that the leopard can’t change his proverbial spots. They don’t believe in the possibility of redemption and transformation, or at least they suspect that mine is fraudulent. Their wrath doesn’t hurt, as I’m confident that I haven’t done anything to injure them and owe them no amends.
In two weeks, I’ll mark 13 years of sobriety. I can answer proudly for my behavior from July 1, 1998 forward; I’m far from perfect, but my boundaries and my ethics have been solid. For what I did before that date, I have made amends to the best of my ability to all whom I hurt. I’ve had forgiveness from most, and am at peace with the inevitable truth that there are those who cannot and will not forgive me.
So while I will take legal advice when needed to protect my reputation, I embrace the obvious reality that some people will not trust in the story of my transformation. I’m genuinely okay with that, and I appreciate the support and concern so many have shown.
It may be apocryphal, but I’m told that Marlon Brando used to say that if he was in a room with 99 people who loved him and 1 who hated him, he’d have to leave — because he could only focus on that one person’s enmity. Before I got sober, I identified with that completely. One of the great blessings of recovery has been to get to the point where I can be in the presence of those who (rightly or wrongly) loathe me without being consumed by the reality of their disregard.