People tend to see forgiveness as an act of generosity and kindness that we do for those who hurt us. I believe that forgiveness is liberating even if it is never directly given.
Recovery has taught me to act without expectation. This is especially true of forgiveness. In the past I forgave because I believed that doing so would cause those who hurt me to be more loving toward me. I wanted them to change and I secretly expected that forgiveness would enlighten them, awaken them, or cause them to see me differently. Today I understand that unspoken expectations are rarely fulfilled.
The hardest to forgive were my family of origin. As I got better, I wanted them to support me and be part of my life. Out of a sense of obligation/misplaced loyalty, I continued to walk away silently as they repeated the same hurtful behavior. I told myself that it didn’t matter. Through the course of recovery I have learned that when I refer to “It” I really mean “Me.” I became jaded and avoided conflict more readily, reasoning that addressing the matter would never change them. I later understood that speaking my truth and my feelings very often does not change others. It changes me.
Many of us took shortcuts with forgiveness by minimizing our feelings and declaring fresh wounds to be “in the past” and therefore over and done with. We sought to avoid external conflict and in so doing we created inner conflict. We denied ourselves a Voice and we let go of nothing.
Some of us heard too many apologies. After a while they meant nothing. We intuitively sensed the desired response to these empty promises (“It’s okay…”). Those who deserved to feel guilty moved on by virtue of being too readily let off the hook. We stayed stuck in redirected anger and rejected ourselves for every word left unspoken. Too many of us are waiting to be treated fairly by those we love.
“All my life I’ve been searching for something. Something never comes never leads to nothing. It leaves me with the feeling that I feel the most. Feel it come to life when I see your ghost” – “All My Life” Foo Fighters
Our choice not to forgive means that we allowed those who hurt us to take up space in our heads analytically and in our hearts introspectively. We hold the Pain and the Shame that they caused. Our resentments limited us – not them. They moved on and we stayed stuck. We cannot be free as long as we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Nor can we have a manageable life today if we allow people to treat us poorly. It’s too easy to complicate these things. In so doing we avoid resolution, closure, and change. We relive the same themes with different people. We seek to get the same needs met and we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Subconsciously driven Deja Vu.
“I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter but I think it’s about Forgiveness” – Don Henley “Heart of the Matter”
I was resistant to change because I was afraid of letting it go. I feared that opening up those wounds would overwhelm me and leave me broken. I wondered who I would be without the hurt and anger (turns out – same guy just with a lot more freedom). It felt incredibly unfair that I should be the one crying in therapy when I was the one who had been wronged. It’s easy to stay angry. It’s familiar and it can even feel righteous because I know I’m right and I know they were wrong. What I came to understand was that my anger was toxic and it was eating away at me from the inside. You know what they call it when you hold on to a lot of anger for a long time? Depression.
It’s difficult to forgive those who aren’t sorry, aren’t around to apologize, or who lack the accountability to acknowledge the impact of their mistakes. I was F’ed Up and Fed Up and I wanted someone to take responsibility for it and fix it (“It” = Me). The unavoidable truth was that I was the only person in the world who could do that.
The deeper I went into therapy, I found that I had held a lot of resentment against myself. Everything was my fault because I had been taught to look at it that way. For as much as I felt that others had failed me as a child, I had failed me as an adult. It was tempting to live in regret but this would simply further an unhealthy way of being. I forgave me not once and for all – just bit by bit. I came to believe that I could have greater self control through love and acceptance than I could ever have by being relentless with myself. Though I’ve come light years from where I was, I will forever be a work in progress. I’m looking to be just a little bit lighter day by day.