This past Valentine’s Day, I received a boatload of sweetness from friends and family. I was a little down, a lot sick, and had expected to feel quite lonely. People who love me just showed up, unbidden – texts, emails, phone calls, knocks on the door, warm hugs. Over a truly lovely lunch with a friend, peace took up residence in my heart.
As the afternoon began to slip into evening, I sneezed, coughed, blew my nose, and stepped outside to feel the brilliant sunset. There, in a flowerpot overcome by weeds, was a happy little pansy. Now, it was too early for this pansy to be blooming… But that doesn’t change the fact that it was there.
I began to ruminate – the past rolling through my mind like a movie. I had felt so wronged, such a victim of my own vulnerability, so misunderstood, that the past 7 months had been shocking. Every major event – my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, had followed a bit of a formula:
1. I woke feeling unloveable and sorry for myself.
2. The people in my life showered me with love, affection, their company – without prompting.
3. I ended the day feeling grateful, amazed, extremely humbled, and a little surprised.
The more I thought about this, the more annoyed I was with myself. I was annoyed because my pity-party was the direct result of not forgiving. I was clinging to my hurts. I was hoping that another person would come along, notice them, and make them disappear. (Ideally, anyone whom I have blamed for my emotions.)
Forgiveness is a challenge… I’ll rephrase that: actual forgiveness is a challenge (the kind were you give up your list of grievances).
I would rather not know how it feels to love someone, lay next to them in bed, and have them calmly state that they are pretty sure that I am evil and they would never choose to love me.
I would be happy to live without the experience of making someone a cup of tea, snuggling up to them and having them hit me for being “a clumsy bitch.”
I would feel a lot better if I were free of the memory of being told I was lazy, and useless so many times that I began to say it about myself to preempt hearing it spoken by another.
It would set me up forever if I could live life with the security that my being angry and upset with someone meant that they would talk to me, and listen, instead of deciding that they will never speak to me or see me again…
We all have a list of some sort. Stories that we hide, that we heal, that we allow to define us.
We move forward. We live our lives. Years spread out before us and pass us by. We assume that time is the best healer. Maybe we numb ourselves as we run out the clock. Occasionally, we even get the opportunity to say, “I forgive you,” to one of the monsters in our closet. It is in that moment that we may realize all monsters have their list as well, and the way they chose to react to their own story is what caused them to damage us… So, to whom have I done damage? Perhaps I am a monster in someone else’s closet.
This realization is healing. It is important. But there is more to actual forgiveness.
When I am drowning in pain, when I feel like it would be easier to bury my heart under piles of rocks than to share it with another person, when I am sobbing on the basement floor with cat hair sticking to my cheek, thinking that death might be better than the ache in my chest… when I am wading through the bog of blame and regret that is my story, I often leave out the most painful part. The most important detail:
I blame myself most of all.
“I should have known better. I should have left sooner. I should have seen it coming. How could I have been so stupid?! Why was I so careless? Could I have been more -beautiful? -kind? -giving? -thoughtful? Why was I so naive? How could I have let that happen…?” My shame is a tangible thing. My disappointment in myself brings me so much discomfort – a part of me would rather not know that I had a choice… that I have a choice.
Conventional wisdom, popular psychology, self-help books, many religions, even my friends, say that to truly love another you must first love yourself. I propose that this is also true of forgiveness.
“The weak never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
It is important to know that there are many ways that this can be done. You will find what works for you. It may be different every time. It is okay to be without a road map. It is normal to feel lost in this process. You should know: it will most likely take time and practice.
Our culture does not prepare us for being a loving friend to our own damaged heart. Be patient with yourself. Be understanding. Be kind. Be gentle. Most importantly, you must choose to forgive yourself.
Once you choose, you have begun. Move forward in a way that feels right for you. Here is a method which works for me (if you feel stuck, it may prove useful):
Please forgive me.
I love you.
1. I’m Sorry. Say this to yourself. Allow yourself to own the part you have played in your circumstances. Allow yourself to own your feelings. When you take responsibility for your feelings you empower yourself to change them.
2. Please Forgive Me. This is you, asking yourself to let go. Whatever it is you have done or have failed to do, this is when you decide that you are no longer willing to carry it as a burden. Give it up. Commit to releasing the guilt, the shame, the anger – whatever is clawing at your heart.
3. Thank You. Appreciate what you just did. It is an act of bravery when you dare to examine yourself and work toward forgiveness. You just wrangled your courage, it may have been difficult. Thank yourself – have gratitude that you are willing to try. Many people give up on themselves without ever trying. Give yourself some credit and some support.
4. I Love You. Say this to yourself – try to mean it. A part of why we deny ourselves forgiveness is a lack of love. I feel love as a mixture of tenderness, affection, kindness, appreciation, and a true desire to be of service (it has no limits or conditions). Whatever you would add or subtract from that definition is just fine. The point is this: you deserve love. Feel it within yourself. Give yourself permission to love. Begin with you.
Remember, in Labyrinth, when Sarah speaks those magic words that banish the Goblin King – “You have no power over me!” That is the moment when things, for her, get better. Reclaim yourself. Whatever your story, whatever your list of grievances, whomever you blame, let it go.
Yes, it has become a part of your identity. You may have no idea what you look like without your victimhood… it may be uncomfortable, scary, you may feel like you have no idea who you are without the weight of all of the anguish and anxiety. It’s okay. Take a breath. Move at your pace. Be thoughtful. Ask others for help. Be gentle with yourself. Commit to who you would like to be, and remember to choose that person when you feel challenged.
“Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.” – Bobby Sands
Part of letting go is giving up any hoped for apology, it might even be accepting that justice is not always ours to see. Release yourself from the poison of waiting for these things. You deserve a happy life, a life that you choose every day. You deserve to forgive, to love, to laugh, to be sober, to be happy, to be healthy. You deserve to feel your life, free from fear. You deserve that choice – it is already yours.
We still get hurt – forgiveness is not an inoculation against the pains of living in the world. Rather, it is a way to be resilient. It is a way of healing the heart. It is a tool that helps us to love – because even if we deny it outwardly, we want love.
My hope, is that your journey will be full of peace, love, and the very best of others. When it is challenging, I hope that you will find the tools to help you on your way, and strength in the memories of peaceful, loving moments, when you experienced the best of others. Remember not to give up on yourself – that you are deserving and have choices. Ask for help when needed. Remember to love. Remember to forgive.