Sober Chronicles | The frog in me

by Marc Lee Shannon

I’m a frog. 

I know what you are thinking. Maybe Marc has lost it a bit,  but let me explain. I’m speaking about a story that I love and the symbolic meaning of its characters. A simple tale about learning to accept the nature of people when they teach us who they may be, and hopefully, not having to learn that lesson repeatedly—also, the healthy but complex art of forgiveness. 

Come along for a bit of a ride, won’t you? 

The “Scorpion and the Frog” is a fable about some people who cannot resist hurting others even when it is not in their interest. It goes something like this…

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a babbling stream. It’s too treacherous to cross, so the scorpion nicely asks the frog to carry him across on its back. This makes the frog a little suspicious. 

It asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” 

“Because if I do,” the scorpion says, “I will die too.” 

That sound reasoning relaxes the frog’s nerves, so he allows the scorpion to climb aboard, and they shove off across the flowing water. Halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog directly in the middle of his back. 

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The frog, beginning to sink from the onset of the scorpion’s poison, manages one question with its dying breath: “Why?!” 

“Because I am a scorpion.” 

In other words, it is my nature. It is what I do, who I am. 

You may think I am about to preach that we should always be on the lookout for those who may want to cause us harm. Well, maybe. But more so, I am here to talk about forgiveness. 

Sitting with a fresh cup of coffee on my son’s 3rd-floor balcony in Wilmington, N.C, I have a lot of thoughts rushing through my consciousness now:

How I got here. How I became a parent of three beautiful children, how I fracked things up before my recovery from drugs and alcohol, and how they still love me. How I am moving forward these days as new chapters enter my horizons — many, many thoughts of where I have been and where I am going. Mistakes I have made. 

All of us have known Scorpions — people who hurt us like it is their nature, carving a path of pain through the landscape of our lives. They rock you and then roll on, seemingly oblivious to the deep well of torment they created in the wake of their tornadic toll and wave.

I am a Frog. 

I always have been and probably always will. Silly me, I want to believe that something in other humans sees my honorable — formerly Catholic — intentions to not cause anyone harm, and failing that, they’ll recognize I am wrapped, as if in a blanket of comforting isolation, by a super Karma force field that protects me against their actions.

Ummm no. Nope. Does not work that way, dude. 

So, how to forgive? That is the real work it takes to clean up the mess in my emotional kitchen.

What I know is that resentments towards those who have harmed us act like rust, eating away at the steel of our emotional reserve until we disassemble like the fender of my 1967 Chevy Biscayne, which sat alone and uncovered in the garage after high school. For recovering persons, and I guess all of us, resentments are like trying to kill rats by eating poison ourselves — we’re the ones who suffer most.

So, forgiveness. The teachings I’ve studied say all harm comes from ignorance or suffering. I think I have learned, but often need to continue learning, how these three prongs lead to forgiveness.

Ask for Forgiveness — When I have caused harm to anyone, I must make amends. Face up and friend up: “Hey, I’m sorry. I did that, but it is not what I wanted. Please forgive me. How can I make this right?” My mess, my job to clean it up straight away. 

Offer Forgiveness — When I am at the peak of my zen zenith, I can separate the actions from the actor. “Hey man, what you did, that was not cool, but I will let that $#%& go.” Face it, hurt people hurt people. Find compassion for the actor because when people are messed up to each other, it almost always comes from their own dark closet of despair. I can forgive the actor, even if the actions are not forgivable. This is an area I will need to keep working on.

Forgive Yourself — The most challenging point for me on this pitchfork of the forgiveness triumvirate is to make amends to myself. I did some really messed-up things in the throes of my demons, and when I look back, I can hardly believe that I made some of the choices that I did in the prison of addiction. But I am not doing those things any longer, and that is no longer who I want to be or who I am today. In a way, that person is my teacher and my guide — the actor I will never allow myself to become again. Not going back, no way, never.

I guess I will always be like the frog in the parable — someone who wants to believe and trust, who takes the risk of being stung by a predatory arachnid. 

But here is what I know: The Scorpion is not good or bad; it just is. They wear the armor of those that need to attack and defend. To me, it is very much like the parable. In people who have hurt me, there is often a great need to protect and dispose of those in their path.

Again: Hurt people hurt people. 

The ones who are hurting the most often hurt themselves with their very own pincers. It is what they do. Not good, not bad. Just what they do. In the end, maybe the only salve for that sting is to practice forgiveness with compassion. 

The one person this Frog needs to compassionately forgive the most is typing this sentence. 

I’m going to get to work on that today. 

Steady on.

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