Forgiveness changes everything. It splits life into two parts — before and after I stop looking at you, and start looking at me.
Initially, I thought forgiveness was the magic fairy dust of life that made everything wrong, magically right. Not true. The need for forgiveness, shows the necessity for acceptance of reality and reveals the change required in thought and action, to create a new way to live. It’s done on a case-by-case basis, is not easy and does not happen all at once. Yes, the feeling of being forgiven or forgiving someone else, can change you in a moment, BUT you will wind up in the same situation again and again until you figure out how to stop putting yourself in similar situations. Forgiveness is a gift (that's why 'give' is right there in the middle!) that you give yourself or someone else and the reason it makes such a great gift is no one really deserves it. The act of forgiveness, saying “I forgive you" is much, much easier, than being forgiving, ie. changing your thoughts and behaviour toward the person, people or situation that offends you. The more you care, the harder it will be for you to accept the truth and move forward in forgiveness. At least, this has been true for me.
For instance, it felt impossible to accept my life as a single parent. I grew up poor, but as an adult overcame that personal identity through working a union job with great pay and benefits. I grew up lonely, but overcame that identity with different people at parties and social events surrounding me. Work, money and people fixed the bulk of my problems, at least on the outside. When I became a single parent and my personal identity changed again, I listened and cared about what friends, family, society, government officials, Facebook trolls, Anne Coulter, etc. said about my new identity because secretly, I agreed with them all. They voiced my internal shame because it seemed like overnight, I had gone from being a somebody to a nobody when my relationship ended and I couldn't work my job, see my friends, afford a vehicle or housing. Internally and externally, my life was completely falling apart. Suddenly I had entered a new realm where I was now a statistic, a stereotype and a drain on government resources and I couldn't fix it. I did NOT accept this new reality at all. I fought against it every step of the way. Unfortunately, the harder I struggled with reality, the more I lost touch with it.
For me, living with resentment against people and institutions feels like carrying around a backpack of rocks all day, everyday. It affects my self-worth, self-esteem and self-respect, which affects my perspective, my temperament, and my daily interactions with the world. I become my own enemy and the identity of what I am fighting so hard against. Resentment can weigh me down and make life feel heavy and depressing, believing that no one likes me, nothing really matters and I don't matter OR makes life feel like one big angry, stressful chore that I never chose, while I build up walls of isolation that say that I don't care, I don't need anyone, and I am FINE doing everything all by myself, to protect me from people, so no one can ever hurt me again. It can also stop me from simply solving problems, because I attach myself to all the emotions connected to the problem, (what will people think? will they be mad at me? WHY?) complicating the heck out of even the simplest decisions. It can be debilitating trying not to feel your true feelings. Sometimes, I just have to have a good cry, just to clear my head, so I can think rationally because resentment can manifest in different ways, but it's always just there, wherever I go and I can keep carrying it around without even being conscious of it. Just imagine carrying a backpack of rocks around with you for years, possibly your entire life, without even realizing it? You're always complaining about your sore back, feet, feeling tired, angry, isolating from friends, etc. Suddenly, you become aware Hey, that's because I’m carrying around a big bag of rocks everywhere I go! Well, duh. You would take that backpack off, wouldn't you? So it is with forgiveness. You do it for yourself, so you can live your life feeling a little lighter. Life is challenging enough, without also carrying around a big bag of rocks.
Forgiveness also brought other spiritual gifts such an open mind, peace with myself and a connection to a Higher Power. I finally no longer felt this constant need to prove myself to the world. My identity no longer came from people, places or things, but from God and that allowed me to make responsible, sane decisions based on the reality of my situation, such as moving back to my mother’s house, quitting alcohol, attending church and 12 step meetings, without the burden of my ego driving my decisons. I did this while writing my first book, A Reflection of Love ~ A Different Kind of Love Story about the spiritual experience I had when I forgave the father of my child for his part in our relationship. I still struggled emotionally, now with the added shame of knowing God was real and was always watching me mess up. It kinda freaked me out, to tell you the truth. Whatever the situation, I was chronically not good enough for it —such an exhausting way to live.
It was at about the halfway point into writing my book, that I fell in love again with the possibility of being a part of a family. Maybe it could be different this time, now that I was going to church and 12 step meetings? Now that I was different? I tried again and again to fix our relationship because I didn't understand the root of my problem was that I truly believed I had to be someone different, to be loved. Our relationship was different, but it was a different kind of bad. What we learned, after having three children together was that, without the fight, we really didn't have much in common. We had been fighting so long, it was all we had left. After that was over, there was just an uncomfortable silence of "what now?" between us, which has been sharing our love for our children and focusing our energy on them, not us. The more I care, the harder it is to let go of the dream. But sometimes, the dream doesn’t have to end, it just has to change.
Make no mistake, these decisions caused a great deal of unmanageability in my life. With my three children, I experienced poverty, heartbreak and stress in a way I never thought possible. Consequently, I also learned that I am monumentally bad at giving up on relationships, so it has been important for me to not to start something where I don't see a future, for prevention and self-preservation purposes. I'll expand on that a little bit. It has taken YEARS, to understand, love and accept myself. To be okay with being alone and even enjoy my own company. Of course, I have learned this the hard way, that its in the best interest of my self-preservation for myself, my children, family and friends, to surrender to the reality, that for whatever reason, a relationship does not work for me, right now. Anything that causes me unmanageability in my life, threatens my recovery. In that way, I needed to love myself enough to forgive myself, even if it was only for practical purposes. My children needed me to keep going and not give up.
Writing A Reflection of Love ~ A Different Kind of Love Story did give me a sense of purpose, but it did not cure me in the way I hoped it might. I felt a million times lighter after having that spiritual experience of putting those rocks of resentment down, but with it also came with so much fear and confusion in trying to figure out the experience. At the time, I believed I was on a mission from God. I had no idea I was actually experiencing the affects of mental illness. Regardless, it was a very spiritually enlightening time in my life. I needed to believe in God to get through the next stage of my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had entered into a process called recovery. What is Recovery, you may ask? Well lots of people seem to debate about how to define that exactly, but the most common definition is that Recovery is to recover what was lost. So what was lost?
Turns out, it was me.
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Chapter Two is Sunday, Oct 22
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Frances Stone is the Author of A Reflection of Love ~ A Different Kind of Love Story, a Recovery Counsellor and a Radio Co-Host of Talk Recovery Vancouver, a show about addiction and recovery issues, located in the DTES of Vancouver, BC. In her spare time, she does laundry and mothers three clever, curious and challenging little humans.