A few years ago, I happened to be staying at a hotel in Los Angeles during the weekend of the Conscious Life Expo (which is exactly what it sounds like). In the elevator on the way up to my room, I overheard a snippet of conversation about forgiveness:
“…the Aramaic idea of forgiveness isn’t about excusing what someone has done to you, it’s about changing your way of thinking so you’re no longer placing blame…”
I went home a few days later and looked it up. The websites I visited all said roughly the same thing: at its root, in ancient languages such as Aramaic (the language that would have been spoken by Jesus and other Biblical figures) and Sanskrit, the word “forgiveness” means “to untie, to cancel, to let loose.” The expression “to let someone off the hook” has a negative connotation for those of us who feel we have been wronged: doesn’t letting someone off the hook mean we’re accepting that they’ve hurt us and saying it’s okay?
Well, yes, but not exactly. Think of it this way: as long as you have that person or their hurtful words or actions “on the hook,” all that negativity will be forever attached to you. Because at the other end of that fishing line is no one but you, holding the pole.
Forgiveness is about letting go. It’s an attitude shift: yes, what happened was wrong or hurtful, but I choose not to let it bother me anymore. At its best, forgiveness allows us to keep other ties with the offending parties. Again, this is a choice, a conscious decision to hold onto the good and give up the bad.
I don’t think my ex-husband will ever forgive me for the way I treated him during the decline of our relationship. Mutual friends reported, on what would have been our three-year anniversary, that his facebook status said something about the date being his “nemesis.” And I remember thinking how much better adjusted I must be, since I didn’t feel the need to air my recognition of that day in such a public forum. I also don’t believe that Monica has forgiven me yet for the way I reacted to her pregnancy – even though she says she doesn’t think about it much, what she does say about it all seems to come from a place of hurt, and is therefore (hopefully unintentionally) hurtful to me as well – but I do believe that she will forgive me eventually.
But most importantly, what I’ve realized in the past few days, is that I have not yet been able to forgive myself.
Because I have not forgiven myself for the horrible things I did during my marriage and divorce, all my memories of that relationship are tainted with bitterness and regret. And everything bad that happens to me now feels deserved, and everything I do wrong now feels natural; since then, I believe myself to be the sort of person who does horrible things. I am keeping myself, mercilessly, on a hook that I have created.
I remember when I had just split up with my husband, during the time that I was refusing to see or talk to anyone that loved me, one of my closest childhood friends came into town for the holidays. Emily lives on the East Coast now, and we see each other, if we’re lucky, about twice a year. She told me to come over and spend an afternoon with her and her family, and I told her that I couldn’t, because I had acted horribly towards my ex, and I couldn’t handle being questioned about, or judged for, my actions.
“Oh, Marie,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about that. My family is very loyal.”
That comment floored me. These people forgave me before they had even heard what had happened. They didn’t care that I had recently exhibited my worst self, because they were deliberately choosing to hold onto and believe in the best of me. They even invited Doug to come over, as well.
So why have I never been able to tell myself the same thing, in the three years since then? “Oh, Marie, don’t worry. Be loyal to yourself.” I say that I want to heal, but I have entangled myself in a fishing line of blame and guilt and self-hatred, which will never let me. Until I can figure out how to forgive myself, until I can truly pull the hook out of my heart and let myself go, the wound that hook has left can’t even begin to close.