Twelve years ago, when I was released from a relationship that almost killed me by the police walking in and arresting the abuser, one of the greatest challenges I faced was to forgive myself.
“You have nothing to forgive yourself for,” well-meaning people would tell me. “He was a psychopath. He abused you.”
That wasn’t the point. No matter how cruel, abusive, or deceitful he was, I did things that hurt the people who love me most. To accept their forgiveness, (which I desperately wanted) I needed to believe I was worthy of their forgiveness by forgiving myself.
It took a lot of work. Commitment. Loving honesty, (not to mention therapy) to get to a point where I could look in the mirror and not see that mother who deserted her children. Not see that woman who did not love herself enough to believe she was worth more than his abuse.
It took a lot of belief in the power of forgiveness to not whisper back to myself every time I looked in the mirror, “Shame on you.”
In her blog today, my eldest daughter Alexis writes, after spending the last five days here at home:
“No matter how far or fast or long we run, our pasts remain the same.
And though I wanted for my visit to Calgary over the past five days to be different, I still carry the weight of a girl that used her pain as a weapon to drive the love of her family away. I am still condemning her for a past she cannot change.
When we don’t make peace with our mistakes, we recreate them over and over and over again. Though I left home in my rearview mirror, I am afraid of its shadow.”
If we do not hold our hearts in the light of forgiveness, shadows lengthen and block out love’s presence.
Throughout her life, I wanted nothing more than for my daughter to know that there was nothing she could do that would make me stop loving her. There was nothing she could say that would close my heart to her forever more.
I wanted her to see what I see when I look at her. But she could not see through my eyes. All she could see was the road to the past and the little girl who never felt like she was enough, who felt abandoned, who felt unworthy of love, and in many ways, unworthy of life.
There was a time when I carried my shame like a badge, even though I told myself I wanted, needed, had to, let it go.
I remember in those first days of freedom after that relationship ended, feeling like if I let go of my pain and shame, I would be saying, what I did to those I loved didn’t matter. I thought I would be making small of all the pain and harm I’d caused.
Fact is, those who love us want only the best for us but we can’t know that when we are holding ourselves in unforgiveness by holding onto our past.
While I can look at my daughter and tell her she does not need to forgive herself, she did not know any better at the time how to handle her pain, fact is, she is smarter than me. She knows what she needs to be free to love with all her heart.
When shame blocks the access to feeling your heart calling you home, letting the shame go is the only way to open the door.
Because no matter how far we run, Love is the shortest distance between two hearts. And forgiveness is the bridge.