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.

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5 Responses to Forgiveness

  1. Adina says:

    Hey girl! It’s crazy when you can’t forgive yourself for stuff. I had an incident that I still have trouble with, and I wasn’t right for at least 2 years. Caused Panic attacks and all sorts of foolishness. None of us are perfect, it’s hard when you’re hard on yourself though! I know the feeling. (Not your feeling specifically), but it’s funny how the exact same thing can happen to two different people and one reacts one way, and the other person another way. The event that happened to me was that someone died while we were doing drugs…not fun. It destroyed my life for two years afterwards, but one of the other people there at the same time it barely affected. I miscarried at about the same point in my pregnancy as you did, and I almost never think about it now. I didn’t want a child at that point, so for me, it was a relief almost. I’m not trying to upset you by stating that, it’s just that like the drug-incidence who didn’t affect my friend at all, I was unaffected by my miscarriage. I just chalked it up to my body not knowing how to keep a pregnancy yet. Like it was learning how, and that was a practice run. My friend looked at the drug experience as the victim’s own fault for his own actions, so she wasn’t destroyed the same way I was. I had always thought “why didn’t I do something else, what could I have done to stop him?” and stuff like that. So now, I just try to realize that we all have struggles, and I think that at some point in EVERY person’s life, they have that thing that either destroys them or doesn’t. I don’t know if this is helping or not, but I always think about that sort of thing. My heart hurts for you Marie, and then I wonder if there’s something wrong with me because my miscarriage was such a non-event to me. Weird…

  2. Squeak says:

    You should be a law student. We’re never wrong, so we never have to forgive ourselves. Let’s get ice cream, and soon.

    • Elizabeth says:

      We never did anything wrong, no one can prove that we did anything wrong…and what we did do wasn’t technically wrong. Learned Hand bless.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Marie- it doesn’t seem that long ago that we had the short “reconnecting” chat. But somehow, years have gone by, again. I am addicted to your blog- your healing space. I have cried with you, openly, chest heaving, I have laughed with you, and I have hated the world with you. I look forward everyday to learning a little bit more about your life experiences that have left you broken. I am so very very sorry. What a terrible few years for you. I am so glad that you are beginning the healing process, and that you have the courage to share with others. Your story is so eloquently written and I just can’t get enough. You are brave. I know that you will get through this stronger on the other side. Thank you for letting me in. And once again, I am so sorry for your terrible loss.

  4. Saundra says:

    I believe in karma, but I don’t believe that behaving in ways you’re not proud of in a relationship would lead, justly, to suffering a horrible loss. It’s hard not to personally connect the two things, but it sounds like you’re starting to unravel it all by realizing the kind of blame pattern you created for yourself — and how recent events are forcing you to confront older guilt you’re carrying around.

    I’ve often heard how much more energy being angry — even when it’s justified — sucks out of you, often more than it sucks out of the person that you feel has wronged you. It reminded me of something my mother once told me, when I was crying down the phone to her, enraged at something lame a guy I was dating had done. She agreed that she would be pissed too, but (as whatever the guy had done wasn’t a total dealbreaker) she told me that I had to find a way to move on, and not for his sake, for mine. And she told me this so eloquently because she wanted to save me from that kind of exhausting pain.

    I’m struggling with forgiveness issues, too. Well, mood swings. For me, forgiveness is flickering, and when I’m not at my best, I can get angry (at myself or someone else) all over again.

    Then there’s what my dad told me when I was little. He said there was an African tribe that thought of anger as a rock that you added to a box in your head, and the more anger you had, the heavier your box. It was a cute parable, but damn if I haven’t felt weighted down often in my life.

    I know you’re not talking anger coming FROM you so much, but I know that I’m operating on the theory that the better I get at forgiving, the more deserving I’ll feel of being forgiven, and the less guilt will build up.

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