Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Forgive and “Forget”: Can You Really Stick Those Shoes on the Shelf?

Whoever coined the phrase “forgive and forget” obviously never incurred more harm than a broken fingernail. Anyone who has experienced a serious trauma at the hands of another knows they will neither forget what has happened, nor will they forgive without a deeply personal tug -of- war between love and hate.

My tugging and warring consumed seven years of my healing journey. The single factor that made forgiveness so elusive was the fact that my offenders never owned their behavior, and most certainly, never offered an apology. Every time the still voice of forgiveness and love would call to the part of me who was bitter and enraged, it would get slapped down by the quandary: “How can I forgive someone who has never asked for forgiveness?”

Therefore, I lived in the land of “stuck” with each side of the rope pulling with equal force. I deeply wanted to forgive yet felt as though I would be conceding the pain and grief that was rightfully mine. In many ways, it felt like my offenders would “win” somehow if I let them off the hook so easily. I was determined to hold on to my anger, because they were never going to beat me. Never.

Yet over the years I began to see that being filled with hatred was in fact the one thing that was making me “lose” in many other ways. I was losing when every minor disagreement with my spouse turned into a heated brawl. I was losing when I would fly into a rage berating the poor clerk at the check out counter who did not move as quickly as I thought she should. I was losing every time my anger lashed out hurting everyone in my path – and myself most of all.

My first hope of tempering my volcanic anger came unexpectedly one day while I was sitting on a park bench. It was a spectacular autumn day, and I was watching fields of goldenrod sway back and forth. I felt a deep and profound serenity in that moment - a serenity I knew my perpetrators would never experience. With that single thought, my anger miraculously began to melt and forgiveness awakened as the feeling of pity. Pity and sadness for lives filled with bad choices that ultimately held little room for a true and lasting internal peace. I had finally won, and they had lost.

It was a moment to finally celebrate, except there was no joy in their losing.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, have found pitying my abusers helpful. What sad creatures they are...so messed up. I mean...how could they not be with all they had done? I also think about how victimized they were, too. They did not just up and decide one day to get married, have children and abuse them. They did not decide to become members of a generational SRA family. They, too, were born and raised in it.

    I try to hold onto that thought when I think about them. While it does not excuse their later choices...just as it does not excuse mine...it at least makes them somewhat understandable. It puts things in perspective.

    I am so glad that you were able to let go of the anger and allow yourself to experience the beauty of this world. I so hear you about the celebration without joy in their losing.

    I have been slowly making contact with my parents via email. It is a challenge. I want to ask them about some things...confront them. Yet, I can already tell they are not ready. At their age, they may never be ready. But when they die, I will at least know that I did open the door to them. I am giving them an opportunity, should they ever be willing and able to face the truth, to make some amends.

    Thing is...I was certainly not a perfect child, either...in spite of how hard I tried to be one. So...can I make amends for my imperfectness in a way that does not give them license to ignore what they have done? That is what I am exploring. Can I apologize for ways that I may have hurt them without it getting twisted and used against me...without it triggering programming? Is there a way to do it that results in strength and freedom for me rather than a diminishing of who I am? Can I apologize safely?

    I know those questions may sound really odd for someone not involved in ritual abuse, but they are real ones for me. Any communication with them can be risky and some forms are riskier than others. I am praying about what I need to do...and how.

    Again...thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Bonnie. I appreciate how this makes me think...how it makes me look at my own life and what I need to do.