That Bullshit about Forgiveness

Almost 3000 miles I’ve pounded out with my own two feet. That’s what it took to get to the destination of forgiveness.

You’ve heard that bullshit about forgiveness, haven’t you?

If you’ve ever been hurt or angry or hurt and angry or brought to your knees, then someone somewhere has certainly lectured you on forgiveness…and how light and happy you’ll feel when you forgive…and how not forgiving is like carrying acid inside you that eats away at your center instead of the center of the one who hurt you…and how forgiveness is something you do for yourself…and how forgiveness is about setting yourself free…and how forgiveness is not about condoning the awful thing done to you…and if you’ll only forgive, then you’ll find a peace in its place in your heart.

Yeah, that bullshit.

And if you find yourself being lectured, it’s usually coming from someone who isn’t still nursing a gaping, gushing wound that  is daily yanked open and salted. They may have deep wounds but not the same as yours.  Yours, to them, is so much easier.

But no one sees this kind of wound and they weary of even knowing it exists. Their response to your trauma becomes a secondary wounding.  If it were a shotgun blast to the heart, they wouldn’t say, “Just ignore it.”  They wouldn’t say, “Just let it go.”  They wouldn’t say “Just forgive and move on.”  No, they’d put their hands on the hole in your flesh to keep your insides from spilling out,  and then they’d help you bind it up, carry you to a physician,  sit up all night with you until you stopped moaning, check in on you for days/weeks/months/years to make sure you’ve healed.  Not this kind of wound. This kind of wound you have to nurse all by yourself, in your darkened closet, in silence.

They wouldn’t tell you that that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger because you already know the heart will never work the same way again, and that its ability to trust may never be regained. It may still pump life, but there’ll now be a certain kind of caution in its mechanics so that it will never bleed for anyone again with the same abandon.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had.  It’s crazy what you could’ve had.

I need this.   I need this.

So let me tell you about that bullshit about forgiveness, and what isn’t bullshit and what bullshit is.  Because this is a story about healing and getting there when I couldn’t have dreamed it possible in the the last year and much more.  This story comes with epiphanies, both before and after the act of forgiving, but it doesn’t come with handy on-off buttons for forgiveness. It comes with understanding, releasing, and release, all without a manual from the wide audience that demanded letting go.

I’ve walked (and run, jogged, and sprinted) hundreds of miles since the fall of 2011 for my health and leisure, but since I was brought to my knees, I have gotten back up and walked almost 3000 miles, sometimes stumbling and sometimes running, but always pounding out my sorrow and confusion in every one of those footsteps on an almost daily basis.  That’s how far I had to travel to the destination of forgiveness.  Almost 3000 miles.  In freezing cold, in sleet, in warm rain, in thunder and lightning, in heat waves, at sunrise and mid-afternoon and midnight.  Almost 3000 miles to reach a place of peace.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had.  It’s crazy what you could’ve had.

I need this.   I need this.

It’s hard to explain this wound to anyone, especially those family and friends who love me.  They’re all so good at reassuring me that some people aren’t worth my tears.  It’s not that I disagree, but my feelings were real and not something I could just “get over” in a few days’ time.  It was the worst I’ve been hurt in a lifetime of many hurts.

But it’s a heavy burden to carry, both loving and hating someone and feeling those feelings swirling every day.   At times I’ve described it as an open wound but that’s perhaps not the best metaphor.   It’s been more like being cast into a sea of water 6 feet deep, just barely over my head.   Being held to the murky sea bed  by a cement block around my ankle.  No matter how much I stretched, I could not reach the surface.  No matter how often friends on the banks either cajoled me to “let go” or berated me to “let go,” I couldn’t release myself the weight holding me down because the weight would not release me.  The top of my head, my intellect, was above the waterline.  My hands, flailing, reached above the surface.   But I was still underwater, still weighed down, unable to rise above it.  I could not float.  I could not splash and swim and buoy myself up.   I was just below the surface but could not reach precious air and…breathe.  Anytime I came close to breaking through the surface, I found water splashed in my face or someone stepping on the weight and pulling me further down.

That was my life during that very long time.  Every.  Fucking.  Day.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had.  It’s crazy what you could’ve had.

I need this.   I need this.

I prayed often for more than a year that this burden would be lifted.  I needed it to be lifted.  And part of me didn’t want it lifted because I missed him so much.  Missed the man I knew back then.  Or thought I knew.  And because if I could somehow understand why he’d hurt me, then maybe I could find a reason I could live with.  And if the burden was lifted, then I might not ever know or understand.  I thought I had to understand first.

And I did.  I needed to understand.   Somehow understanding could make it okay, I knew.  Some logical explanation that renewed my belief in honor and honesty.  I was always desperate to understand, and yet I was prevented from talking to him about what he’d done and from getting closure. If there was understanding to be had, it wouldn’t come from him.  It’s the cruelest thing when you are barred from healing in the ways you know to heal.  But I needed healing.  I needed closure.  And there would be none of it from him.  It had to come through my own hard work. For myself.  Alone.

I had to find my balance.  Forgiveness was a part of that, but I couldn’t see how I could ever do it.  I couldn’t unmarry the love and hate that were tangled into one knot.  And I’d lashed back at him out of hurt and anger–a frantic attempt to hold onto the one thing I had left in my life.

I’d done two ho’oponopono rituals in 14 months, both with eerie images shown to me, and I understood from both that I still maintained my own light and we were still connected and I was still sharing my light and energy with him.  The first ritual had been beautiful and astonishing, the light and love between us.  The second one had been vines reaching out from his etheric body to mine, dead and brown vines that turned green at the tips where  they planted themselves in my flesh, like vines that propagate by rooting in promising earth.  The bonds had been too deep to fade after two releasing rituals.  He was still connected to my heart in a way I couldn’t sever.

At my Winter Solstice Burning Bowl Ritual, I announced to my spiritual circle, friends, and family that I was tired of carrying this burden, that I was ready to release it, that I wanted to be able to talk to him and it be decent between us, that I needed to end this feeling of hostility and pain that emerged with every thought of him.  My intentions were met with anger and surprise, and more than a few quips of “How can you even still think about him? What’s wrong with you that he still means anything at all to you?”

But this was the final act of a long spiritual endeavor and the most difficult personal evolution I’ve faced out of many difficult experiences.  Figuring out how to forgive.

I need this.   I.  Need.  This.

If I couldn’t have his help in understanding, then I’d get it from elsewhere.   And elsewhere did come along.   It showed up in a white car on the roadside on an afternoon walk.   It showed up in a podcast.   It showed up in office gossip.  It showed up in a new audiobook.  It showed up in memories of my father with his easy charisma when he was still young and dashing and flirtatious for an audience and dark and brooding and angry for those who knew him best.

Understanding.   All knowledge in the Universe came together, coalesced to help me understand him, who he really was, why he’d done what he’d done.   The anger faded.  The hurt faded.   The Bible story of Jesus on the cross calling out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” suddenly took on new meaning to me.   Forgiveness was a place I could get to because I understood his helplessness in who he is and how he deals with life just as we are all helpless to be who we are.  That doesn’t condone anything, that doesn’t reignite trust in him, but it does bring me to a place of understanding. I tiptoed into this idea of forgiveness and welcoming the idea of forgiving.

A decade ago, a woman tried to take my children from me.   Years later, after much struggle and anger toward her, she would come to me with an apology and an explanation of behaving badly toward me because she was hurt  by my absence.  She asked my forgiveness and I gave it to her.   Then and there.   I understood her, even if I didn’t like what she’d done and would be forevermore wary of her.   And the old anger and hurt released and our lives balanced.  I could not have been more surprised that she would have grown personally to the point of being able to ask forgiveness or how brave she was  for approaching me when I wanted nothing more until then than to claw that miserable bitch’s eyes out for threatening my family.  I still remember the sense of peace that wafted over me in the days after I’d forgiven her.  But then, she’d shown contrition.  She’d made the first step to set things right.

I needed to feel the same sense of balance and peace this time, too.  I needed the healing. I needed him to understand me as I understood him.  I needed to let him know he was forgiven.  For him to have that part of the equation to work with in his own healing. I was still thinking then that forgiveness was a gift I could give him in helping to set things right between us.

  1. Need.  This.

It was as if my spirit guides would not let me rest until I finished the task.  And so I defied the barriers between us and told him I was forgiving him.  And I did.   I really did  forgive him, meaning it, willing, doing. So hard, so easy. With a dash of a third ho’oponopono ritual thrown into my message to both grant and ask forgiveness for any perceived harm, both intentional and unintentional.

I did not in that instant feel that soaring sense of freedom that zealots had preached to me, all that bullshit about forgiveness.  No, that came later.  I waited for an answer, not knowing if one would come at all.

I sat alone on the living room floor and prayed while a storm raged outside, tearing through trees and shingles.  I knew that night, as the winds howled and the rains beat against the walls of the house, that I would hear back, and I suddenly knew what the answer would be the next day.

And I was right.

There was no acknowledgement of my forgiveness.  And I am unforgivable.

It was then that the cement block around my ankle melted to mud, and I surged upward through the surface of the water.  Breaking through. Breathing.  I can breathe. He didn’t have to forgive me. I’d been freed of the awful burden I’d carried for so very long.

There were two things I realized in his response that I had not known before, and those things broke the spell I’d been under and gave me the release I so needed.   Over the next few hours, I realized that he still did not recognize the extent of pain he had caused me, that he believed his own pain was far deeper and more important than mine.  His pain was worthy of not forgiving. My pain was a sad inconvenience, regrettable, but nowhere near as important as the hurt I’d caused him.  He knew back then that this thing had hurt me more than any hurt ever done me in my life, and that includes abuse of many types at the hands of other people.  This was the height of emotional pain in my life, something I did not think possible to recover from.  I think he truly does not–or at least will not–recognize the damage done to my dreams, my beliefs, my sense of trust.   Or maybe he just never believed how deeply I loved him or that he could be loved that deeply and so thought that his actions wouldn’t have any long-term consequence in my life and I’d simply be happy again soon enough and we could just pretend nothing had ever happened.  In those moments, I was finally able to see him as he was, instead of looking at him through the eyes of a woman in love.  It was…freeing…to see him that way instead of how I remembered him.   I’d been pining his ghost all this time.

The other thing that stunned me was realizing that he’d done no work on himself in all that time. At least, none that was evident in his answer.  I mean, I have done the hard, facing-the-shadows spiritual work that’s gotten me to this new place in my life.  It’s been grueling.  There has been no rest.  It’s been a matter of survival for me, because if I can’t heal these wounds and I let them continue to haunt me, then I’m not so sure life is worth living.   I don’t want to live in misery or negativity or hatred until the end of my days.  So it’s been “do the work” or stagnate and resign myself to never allowing anyone to love me again for fear that I’ll be as wrong again as I once was.

But I’ve done the work.   I’ve done it alone, walking 3000 miles over the same paths and while turning it over and over in my head to make sense of it and figure why I attracted this situation into my life–and I did figure it out, how it’s all connected to a childhood tragedy that I’ve been working hard to heal over the last year.  I’ve talked to more than one good counselor, though they’ve lost their patience that I couldn’t release it faster.   I’ve done it without the support of friends and family, though they would disagree.  Their idea of support has been to hate him.  They’ve shaken their heads at me, not understanding.  They’ve cursed his name, thinking they understood.  They’ve yelled and fussed at me and judged because I couldn’t turn off my feelings for him or either turn all my feelings for him into hated.   They’ve stomped out of the room if I’ve mentioned his name or something we used to do together as if the syllables of his name were an incantation to the God of toying with women’s hearts. They’ve tried to be nurturing but overall, they’ve done more harm than good by refusing to allow me to give voice to my thoughts and just be there for me to vent or wonder or work through it in words.   So the brunt of the work has been alone and in private.   Not a day of it has been easy.

Seeing where I would be in my life right now had I not done the work made me realize just how far I’ve come, how deserving I am, just where a lot of the fault lies that I had placed on myself.    And that I can stop blaming myself for everything wrong in myself, even if he blames me for everything wrong in himself.

I forgave him first, then the peace began as I saw things in a new light and could finally forgive myself for my part in his life and his part in mine.  I don’t wish that he had never come into my life as he probably wishes about me, and I do earnestly wish that he could get to a good place in his life and to the peace he needs.  Sometimes though, I still wish things could have been different, that they could been what I thought they were instead of what they are now.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had.*

*“Country Feedback,” REM

Songwriters: BERRY, WILLIAM/BUCK, PETER LAWRENCE/MILLS, MICHAEL E./STIPE, MICHAEL J.; Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Key Takeaway: The only way to peace is forgiveness.


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