The Ever-Elusive Forgiveness

It has been months since my last post. I have been trying to figure out what to write next. I’ve had lots of thoughts but didn’t know which was safe to flesh out. After my last post on Depression (henceforth known as the “Big D”), I felt a little exposed and raw. However, the overwhelming expressions of acceptance and warmth from all of you made me feel less pressured to wrap things up in a pretty little bow, and rather, just be honest. So here’s some more of that…

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The idea of “forgiveness” has been presenting itself to me lately. Isn’t it weird how things present themselves to you? It’s as if our lives are stories with themes and those themes persist whether you choose to write them in or not. If this is the case, as it has been for me, then we aren’t even our own authors, are we?

Either way, forgiveness is surely the theme of my life of late. Often times we think of forgiveness in terms of what we give (or can’t give) to others. And when it comes to others and the pain that they cause, forgiveness can feel downright hard, or, at times, impossible. There are some pretty hateful acts that human beings impart on one another– from the atrocities of war crimes to physical and emotional abuse and neglect, to every days transgressions like gossiping behind one’s back and saying disrespectful, hurtful things.

There are stories I have heard where it would seem impossible to forgive.

Minor things can be a bit easier to deal with when you look at it through the lens of, “Have I not done the same thing?” Even then, when wronged, oftentimes my first reaction is from an ego-based place. I think: how dare he/she do that to me. I completely and conveniently forget the multiple ways that I have wronged others because maybe it doesn’t look like the same thing on the outside and maybe the facts of the matter are different. Truth is, harm is harm, no matter what pretty color dress you put it in.

But still, that’s just what I do. I forget my own imperfections and I blame others for theirs. And it’s a circuitous process because the more I play the blame game, the less I see myself for who I am: imperfect.

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So, lately I’ve been wondering if maybe my biggest hurdle when it comes to forgiveness is not necessarily working to find it within me to forgive others, but rather to first forgive myself for being imperfect…for being human.

I’ve done lots of shit I am not proud of. Depending on the spectrum, some of it could be worse than what you’ve done, some could be less bad, but still I have hurt others, and feel a lot of shame in regards to my own wrongdoings.

And since this is coming up for me, something that happened a while back has been haunting me…

I had this friend (let’s call her Sarah) who I used to work with when I worked in the restaurant industry. We’d often hang out after a shift, always at a bar, which is pretty common in an industry where the earliest you get out is 11pm because nothing else is open.

Sarah was really smart and funny, and for a time, we were very close. Every time we worked together we wanted our stations to be right by each other so that we could commiserate about how difficult our tables were, or sneak off to corners of the restaurant to do silly dances. Sarah was really good at silly dancing and I am not so bad myself. We also used to sneak sips of wine when no one was looking.

And then life happened: we got other jobs and we just didn’t see each other as often. Our frequent hang-outs dissolved into intermittent texting which then faded into nothing. For a good amount of time, Sarah was out of my life.

Suddenly, one summer day, she texted me and said, “I miss you. Let’s go to the beach– I’ll drive!”

And just like that, like no time had passed, she picked me up in her car. A six-pack was under the seat. We went to Fort Tilden . I drank a beer and she had the rest. Then we were hungry so we went and ate tacos and talked and talked. I took an awesome picture of her eating a taco under an American flag and Instagrammed it. We vowed to not let as much time pass before seeing each other again.

Sarah dropped me off at home and I realized too late that she had left the book she was reading in my bag: Pete Hammill’s A Drinking Life. I texted her to let her know, and she said she’d grab it next time. She also said:

I had the best time and I feel so nice after being in the sun and sand.

After that day, we spoke very little. A few texts here and there to say, “I miss you and really want to talk,”  but we never texted or talked in a real time convo. I would reach out and get no response for hours or days and then she would reach out and I wouldn’t respond back for hours or days.

I’m really not sure why.

I saw Sarah one more time at a bar with a mutual friend. We caught up, talked about what was going on in our lives, re-committed to our friendship. This time though, something felt off.

And then I never saw her again.

She died a year later: cirrhosis of the liver, most commonly caused by alcohol abuse.

Sarah drank herself to death.

I still have her book, the irony of the title not lost on me. I started reading it but I can’t bring myself to finish it. I still have all those texts from 2011. I can’t bring myself to delete them or to forgive myself for my last text being:

We should catch up soon.

Now, I know you’re all reading this and thinking: friends drift apart. Sure, it’s a terrible end but you can’t possibly blame yourself.

But a part of me does. A part of me always knew Sarah had a drinking problem but still engaged in drinking with her because I didn’t want to look at my own overindulgence in alcohol at that time. A part of me knows that it was easier to be friends when we worked together and that I wasn’t able to be more because I was wrapped up in my own shit. A greater, more honest, part of me knows that this is something I do: I don’t get too close to people because I’m afraid people will find I’m not good enough and leave me.

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And that’s where forgiveness is an issue for me. Not just with Sarah but with almost all the relationships in my life. If I could just forgive myself for being imperfect and human, for sometimes not calling when I say I will or not showing up when I commit to doing so, then I could truly let others in. I could stop being afraid that they will someday say, “You know what? Rebecca is just not enough and I don’t want to be friends with her anymore.” I could stop beating myself up for what I consider my deficiencies as a human being and then maybe make it okay for me to show up because I won’t be so obsessed with what others are thinking about how I show up.

A friend once said to me, “How do you get an abandoned dog to come to you?”

The incorrect answer: by beating it.

Instead, you tell the dog you love him/her. That he/she doesn’t have to be scared of you because you don’t blame him/her for being maybe a little dirty or scraggly or weird or sad or forgetful or mistrusting or moody. Instead, you open your arms big and wide and speak in a soft kind voice and say, “It’s okay. I love you anyway.”

You guys, I’m like that dog.

So, intellectually, I know this. I can easily tell this to others. I can say, “treat yourself with kindness and forgiveness and love yourself for who you are.” And when they can’t do it for themselves, I am happy to love them till they can. But why is it so hard for me to get past the mind and to the heart of forgiveness for my own sake?

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I think the hardest part of forgiveness is that it necessitates grieving. And in order to fully grieve, we have to make a decision to let go. Let go of the pain, let go of the armor that has protected us for so long. Let go of the part of ourselves that we have held close, have identified with, considered to BE us.

No one likes to let go of who they are. It’s scary to think of what will be left. But this armor, this shield, isn’t who we are but rather weapons used for protection. Once we realize we don’t need them anymore, that they are no longer serving us, we can “trade them in for tools.”* Tools of kindness and self-love. Tools of acceptance and belief that we are of value, despite our imperfections.

We are all imperfect, perfectly imperfect in fact. And maybe that’s what makes us truly beautiful.

This post was inspired by a book I really dig: Triumph of the Heart by Megan Feldman Bettencourt. You can also hear interviews with Megan on two of my favorite podcasts, Coffee with Creatives and The One You Feed

* I heard a man who shall remain anonymous speak of his experience trading weapons in for tools. I am eternally grateful to him for this simple but profound phrase.

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