Tag Archives: self-forgiveness

#fbf Can forgiveness change the past?

Once upon a time, I got lost in a relationship.

I fell into the arms of an abuser and almost died.

And then, I got my life back when he was arrested.

I didn’t know who I was, where I was or even how I’d got to that place in which I was living with such deep, dank desperation and sadness.

I’d done things and behaved in ways I did not think were possible for me.

And yet, there I stood amidst the devastation of my life having to acknowledge the truth; I had become that woman who lost her moral compass and fallen into the abyss of abuse.

After his arrest, I looked around me and realized, I was lost. I had seventy-two cents in my pocket, a few clothes and my trustworthy Golden Retriever who had walked beside me for much of that journey. I had to find my way back to living without fear, to living with joy in my heart, and it had to begin with me.

I remember the morning after his arrest when I began writing in my journal for the first time in years. Since I was a child, I have always kept a journal. On the pages of my journal I could write without censorship. I could face myself and find where I stood in my life, regardless of the weather blowing outside.

While with him, I did not write. Writing is about truth for me and I knew my life had become a lie. His lies had become my truth and I was too broken to face it. So I did not write.

Writing it out to face the truth

That first breathless morning after his arrest, I wrote and wrote through my tears.  The words poured out as I tried to exorcise the ghost of his existence and my revulsion of who I had become. I wrote of my horror at what I’d done. My disbelief that I could have believed him, have been so gullible, so stupid, so naïve.

And I wrote about ‘never’. “I’ll never forgive myself.” “I’ll never forget what he did.” “I’ll never be able to get over this.” The ‘nevers’ went on and on to the point I thought they’d never end.

My journal did not disappoint me. I had to face the truth. If I held myself to ‘never’ I would not heal. And I wanted to heal. I wanted to reclaim myself. To rebuild my life and to reconnect with my daughters.

In facing never on the page, I asked myself, “Is this true? Will I never be able to forgive myself for what I did to my daughters’ lives? Will I never feel joy again?”

And then I asked. “Is this what I want in my life?”

My answer was an emphatic “No.”

What I want could only be found through forgiveness

What I wanted was to live without fear. I wanted to live with love in my heart. And most of all, I wanted to reconnect with my daughters. During the final three months of that journey I had disappeared without a word and they had waited for a call from the police telling them that I had been found – dead or alive. They feared the worst.

When he was arrested, my daughters were thankful that I was alive. They were also justifiably angry. At 15 and 17, they did not deserve that terror.

I could not change what I had done. All I could do was ask for their forgiveness.

Forgiveness is healing

Forgiveness is a powerful tool for healing. To receive forgiveness, I had to be able to give it, without qualification or reservation. That meant, I had to be able to forgive the abuser. And, I had to forgive myself.

When I forgave him, I didn’t say, ‘you are not accountable.’ I didn’t forgive him to let him know I forgave him.  I forgave him so that I would not have to hold onto anger, blame, shame or guilt. I forgave him so that I could be free of him.

Forgiving him wasn’t ‘easy’ but it was straight-forward. I have never spoken to him again since his arrest. To forgive him I continually repeated the words to myself and accepted them as truth. “I forgive you.” When the little voice inside me rose up and said, “But…” I reminded it that I had forgiven him and could not harbour resentments, questions or doubts. It was the only way to stop thinking of him.

Forgiving myself was more difficult. I wanted to hold myself pinioned to the sword of self-blame. I wanted to chastise myself. Berate myself. Condemn myself for having been a fool, for having hurt my daughters so much. But, to do so would have meant I did not believe myself worthy of my daughters’ forgiveness. By telling myself I would never forgive myself, yet asking them to forgive me, I was withholding from myself the very thing I wanted to receive.

I forgave myself so that I could be free

And so, I forgave myself. I didn’t qualify my forgiveness. I didn’t define it or limit it to specific events. I simply forgave myself.

I cannot give what I do not have. I cannot receive what I am not willing to give. To receive forgiveness, I must be willing to ask for it, and to give it.

I cannot change the past. I can forgive it.

And so I did. And so it is.

 

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#fbf – Flashback Friday — I wrote the original version of this post in February 2006, almost 3 years after he was arrested.

 

Forgiveness is the bridge to love

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.