Opening my heart to forgiveness has made a huge impact on my life. The lens through which I see the world has been forever altered, for the better I believe. True compassion and the ability to forgive honestly has changed the way I view myself and others. Before, I’d only known forgiveness on a superficial level. I may have said the words “I forgive you” but in my heart of hearts, I was holding onto judgement. It wasn’t until I started diving into the why and how of me that I began to have a mental shift. Once I began unpacking my boxes, I was able to see clearly just how unforgiving I’d been and as a result, just how mistrusting of and isolated from the world I’d become.
It took time for me to accept this about myself. It took even longer for me to get up the courage to do anything about it. I had to get good and tired of being angry first, exhausted really. Once I was ready to let go, there was a shift within me. It was like opening my eyes for the very first time. I was able to see freedom and I wanted it, desperately. I wanted to know what it was like to have the capacity to forgive from deep within, to forgive and really mean it.
Pain Leads to Change
On December 31, 2014, I was 30 days into recovery, fresh off a suicide attempt and terrified of what life looked like without alcohol. I'd spent five days in the hospital with severe liver failure and all I could think about was how I was going to get my rent paid. I had no care for the fact that I'd just tried to end my own life. I was angry, scared and tired. I was worried I'd lose my job, my apartment and my friends. The fact that I may need a liver transplant went in one ear and out the other. These are the thoughts of a woman drowning in denial. I'd known I drank too much for years. What I was in complete denial about was that I couldn't stop drinking. I'd mentioned mild concern to someone but otherwise swept it under the rug and continued to try to manage things myself. Insert, fear, terror, hallucinations, paranoia, constant blackouts, self hatred and exhaustion. I've said this before: pain has a way of propelling us into change, and pain I was in, constantly. That time in the hospital was my open window and I decided to take a chance on life, on me. I took a flying leap and landed in recovery.
I’ve stumbled along the way, gaining and then losing sobriety, but I never stopped the self reflection. I never stopped trying to grow. Now approaching almost two years of continuous sobriety, life feels a lot like peace. My anxiety doesn't control me, I control it. Life looks a lot like loving myself these days. It looks like forgiving that girl who didn't know better. That girl who thought she didn't deserve anything. That girl who didn't know how to walk into a room and be herself without alcohol to quell the self doubt and self hatred. It looks like taking ownership of my behavior and not sitting in morbid reflection. It looks like allowing myself to be human. It looks like waking up every morning and thanking God for another day sober. It looks like constantly searching for how I can be better, do better, serve others better. How I can be more present, be better to my mind, body and spirit. It looks like accepting you, allowing you to be human and loving you as you are.
The Truth About Forgiveness
There have been several pretty huge learning curves in my life these past few years, one of them being the art of forgiveness. I’d always thought I was such a forgiving person, but it turns out my forgiveness always came with terms. My forgiveness wasn’t genuine and it wasn’t lasting. Looking back I now see that for a long time I didn’t want to forgive. I believe part of me was afraid to. Also, I’d spent so much of my life feeling wronged by the world I felt my anger was justified. I clung to that. At times, I felt it was all I had. It was my shield of sorts.
When I did finally become ready to part with all that anger and start my healing process, I found that I could not. I couldn’t forgive, not for any real length of time anyway. It took a lot of digging, but I finally figured out what the problem was: I couldn’t forgive you because I hadn’t figured out how to forgive me yet. I was still living in constant remorse about all the wreckage I’d caused to myself and others. I was even taking responsibility for things I had no right to, no need to. I couldn’t forgive myself for those things either.
All of this self exploration has led me to one truth. This truth is mine alone, though if you find some synergy in this statement, all the better: compassion and forgiveness work best if I start with myself first. It is impossible to feel compassion for others if I cannot gift it to myself at the start. I cannot love you truly without loving myself first. I cannot give whole hearted forgiveness if I have not forgiven myself first. Without starting with me, anything I give to you will only be temporary.
Forgiveness Allows Us To Be Human and Build Relationships
Opportunities for forgiveness have been unfolding like the petals of a flower in my life. There are so many instances in my existence where choices I have made caused pain. I’ve put myself in harms way and I’ve hurt others, both intentionally and unintentionally. Each of these moments present themselves as opportunities for compassion and growth. As they come up, I can take them in stride. I can choose to sit in the guilt and shame these feelings bring up or I can choose to accept that woman, that girl as she was at that time and forgive her. Every time I am able to do this, something within me shifts. More space is opened up. My view of me changes. My view of you changes.
This is real beauty. This is where it starts. This is where my mind allows us to all become human. This is where my mind accepts that we are allowed to make mistakes, forgive ourselves then take action to course correct. This is where I accept that you are allowed to live for you, not for me. This is where I am able to hear you. This is where forgiveness solidifies itself, makes itself permanent in my heart.
When we are able to forgive ourselves, we open our ourselves up to possibility. When I am able to feel compassion for myself, I can then feel compassion for you. I can participate in an open and meaningful conversation with you that allows me to hear you, not just listen, but hear you. There is no judgement, no anger, no separatism. Just humans seeking to understand one another. If our hearts are full of hurt, of resentment, of self victimization, there is no way we can be fully present in a meaningful way, in a way that promotes unity and progress. Forgiveness has to be part of the equation. In order to move forward, we must begin a dialog ripe with forgiveness. The first step is forgiving ourselves.