Anchor Me Loving

“I forgive myself relentlessly. Just relentlessly. It annoys people how freely and relentlessly I forgive myself. The truth is that I just don’t understand living any other way. Shame is so… self indulgent and power zapping. It leaves us useless. To ourselves, to our people, to the world. Self flagellation is not a badge of honor. It doesn’t make us worthy It just makes us – kind of a drag. And It takes us out of the game. Who has time?
What are we doing here, if not learning and growing and trying again? Why can’t we do that with some lightness and tenderness and humor?
Who we were last year last hour last minute- it’s gone. We are new! Let us begin again!”
–Glennon Doyle

I recently asked an ex to forgive me for a series of hurtful things that I had done during the course of our relationship, and the response I received surprised me:

“I need to forgive myself for what I allowed you to put me through” (paraphrased).

This response not only left me uncertain as to whether forgiveness had been granted, but it also (and perhaps more importantly) made me realize all the ways in which I have not yet entirely forgiven myself. I typically do not struggle with forgiveness (toward myself or others), and I’ve spent quite a bit of time since then trying to figure out why there remain remnants of unforgiveness in me for things from my recent past. In considering this, I was reminded of another time when I struggled with forgiveness toward someone who had deeply hurt me and spent weeks lost in bitterness and resentment because, no matter how I worked the problem, I simply could not find empathy. When I later expressed this to my therapist she said:

“Maybe it would help if you could see the truth behind it all–that there are events from the past that have led to where this person is and how this person acts that they simply cannot help.”

In that moment, I realized that one of the most important aspects of empathy (and therefore forgiveness) lies in the acknowledgment of the fact that, as shame researcher Brene Brown once said, “everyone is doing the best they can.”

Sometimes our best sucks, but it is still our best.  The fact is, everyone has suffered in one way or another, and we often do not realize all the ways that suffering contributes to our actions and to those of other people. For months, I have struggled with guilt and shame regarding past actions, especially during moments when people share stories about my past behavior that are not true. But here’s what I’ve come to realize: those stories are a part of that person’s truth. They are, unfortunately and heartbreakingly, part of that person’s memory of me. And while some stories aren’t entirely accurate in the minutia of their details, they are absolutely accurate in the overall “big picture.” However we arrange the particulars, the truth is there have been a plethora of instances in which I was neither loving nor kind. Instances in which I was jealous, hypocritical, spiteful, bitter, controlling, manipulative, and hateful.

Why?

Because I was in pain. Right or wrong, good or bad, justified or not, I was hurting. The actions I took were the only ones I knew how to take at the time, and I take full responsibility for that. But what my therapist has helped me realize is that there are reasons I did the things I did, just as there are reasons others have done the things they’ve done. In every person’s life, there are events from the past that drive us in unhealthy, destructive ways.

This is not an excuse. Far from it. This is me taking full ownership for every hurtful, horrible thing I have ever done. But it is also me taking ownership for all the ways I am working—and making progress—to heal. As my therapist recently said to me: “It’s good to accept the truth about the unhealthy version of yourself you once were, but it’s equally important to acknowledge that this is no longer who you are.”

I have come to realize that the way I must work to forgive myself is exactly the same way I must work to forgive others:

I must find empathy.

And I must wholeheartedly embrace that empathy in an act of radical, relentless self-forgiveness.

“When you think that you’ve blown it in every possible way, that you’ve broken [your commitment to love and compassion] irredeemably, instead of becoming mired in guilt, view it as an incentive to spend the rest of your life recognizing your habitual tendencies and doing your best not to strengthen them.”
–Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully

“I have some issues with my past self, but she was young, and I forgive her.”
—Glennon Doyle

I forgive her. Whether anyone else ever does or not…

I forgive her.

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I’m done with the shame. Done
with the cage of self hate.
I know there are things I haven’t survived.
I know there are people in this world
who have been through hell because of me.
I don’t ever want to take that lightly,
but I want the heavy to anchor me brave, anchor me
loving, anchor me in something that will hold me
as I aim for my own goodness
until the muscle in my chest tears
from the stretch of becoming what I came here to be:
A lover.

(Modified from Andrea Gibson’s poem’s Ode to the Public Panic Attack and
Boomerang Valentine)

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