24 Apr Forgiveness is like an Onion (the final part)
My hands shook as I took the lever and pulled the hatch open. I took a sharp breath in through my nose. The letter almost jumped out of my hand and rested inside the mouth of the post box. I stared at it for half a second. This is it. It’s over. I let go of the handle and heard the letter drop to the top of the pile. There must be so many letters in that postbox. All of them assigned some kind of message whether it be written on the the pages or held within the lines of the text. Perhaps frustration over the bill that is being paid – for whoever posted it is sick of high electricity bills. Maybe there are requests for extensions of time to pay – for the mother fears she won’t be able to afford winter clothes for her children. A birthday card – sent from a loving grandmother. 50 wedding invitations – that a gushing bride to be dropped earlier that day. But would there be any other letters from a 30 year old woman to her father, posted within the same suburb? Would there be another letter inside that box that signified the beginning of a new chapter of someones life? Another letter so heavily laden with messages of forgiveness, love and compassion, all scrawled out across a page and a half of typed text? I took a step back, locked eyes with my husband who watched me from a few steps away. I half smiled and somehow choked out, “Well, that’s done.” He smiled, wrapped me up in his arms and with his head nuzzled into my neck he said with such warmth “I am so proud of you.”
All the feelings that are associated with a life lived under the heavy rule of non-forgiveness are suffocating. I know, because it it how I have lived my life – up until yesterday. From what was meant to be one simple post on forgiveness, has since turned into four. The day I decided to forgive others and myself was really just the beginning. Like the assembly of a piece of machinery, there are steps that need to be followed before each step can be actioned. You can’t skip ahead, you can’t miss a step. If you do, you find a few bits and pieces left over, waiting for their place in the big puzzle. You then have to take it all apart and start again. There can be no loose ends in forgiveness, otherwise over time, things will fall apart. I thought this would be easy. From back in January when I saw my father by some chance of fate, I decided I had forgiven him. But what I soon learned was that I desperately needed to action this. I couldn’t just say to myself that I was past a lifetime of trauma. I needed to let him know. I needed to convince myself.
As you would have followed in my previous posts, I set about acknowledging my suffering, acknowledging how forgiveness could save me and gaining some perspective in order to find compassion for those how had hurt me. As I set about doing this, I realised along the way that I had enforced blame and negative feelings on two other men in my life as a part of my deep rooted insecurities. I came to the stunning realisation that if I could forgive an abusive father, who damaged the souls of so many people, then I could certainly forgive two men who (according to me) broke my heart. A huge part of forgiveness, is acknowledging any part you may have played in each scenario. This was a very difficult layer of the onion to peel. Such an intricate step requires you to be honest with yourself, yet avoid taking on that victim status. I took a while to reflect on these situations and really pinpoint what I was responsible for. I quickly realised that it was a lack of trusting and following my intuition that led me to getting hurt. Had I had the self-respect to walk away when I knew things weren’t aligned with my vision for a happy life, then I could have saved myself a lot of pain. In addition to accepting responsibility for my part, I had to put myself in the shoes of these men. I needed to see why they could have done what they did. This step allowed me to see that in their eyes, at the time, they were doing the best they could. I quickly realised that they had no intention to hurt me at the time. They just made some weighty mistakes.
Layer 8 – Action your forgiveness
Forgiveness is a process. A choice you have to make over and over, every day, until you are free of hurt. The final step for forgiveness, is to take action and forgive the other person. This could be done in a number of ways, whether it be a phone call, a sit down conversation, text message, email or letter. For some, you may not need to communicate with the person. Whatever medium you choose, make it one where you are able to express yourself best. That may mean face-to-face, but for others (like myself) letters are where you are able to cover all bases. It is important to discern how you can most effectively lay everything out. You may be someone who can voice your feelings articulately and is a great listener, so a conversation would be a great way of releasing pain. You may be an awful speller and it makes your nervous, so a letter isn’t an option for you. The point is, you need to be comfortable, honest and raw. Select something that works for you.
I am a highly emotional person, this can mean that sometimes I interrupt people in a conversation or others may misinterpret my message (it happens with my husband all the time!). On the other hand, I am very strategic about what I write. I can map it all out and re-read a number of times, making adjustments here and there. So, as part of the final process, I drew up letters to each of the men in my life who I was still unnecessarily angry with. Some letters took careful planning, and others simply flowed. I did my best to contextualise how I was feeling at the time and some kind of explanation for why I have been so angry for upwards of 10 years. These letters were from my heart. I was clear that I was not enforcing blame and that I was ready to let go and moved on. Where appropriate, I took responsibility for my part in each relationship breakdown. I provided my insight that we don’t set about our lives to hurt people and I knew that they would never have wished harm upon me. Finally, I shared gratitude for the lessons that each experience taught me and thanked them for the great things that resulted from my time with them. I ended with good wishes for the future and a message of hope.
Forgiveness is the ultimate freedom. Each of the letters I sent were similar but very different. I had accepted that my ex-boyfriends could surely look at the words on the page, shrug and toss it to the side. For my father, the process was slightly different. There was a lot more riding on this letter. It signified so much more. The main purpose was not only therapy for me, but it was an extension of kindness towards him. Through the process of acknowledging his pain, I developed deep compassion for him and his circumstances. With no more than 10 years most likely left in his life, I wanted him to know how much I loved him, no matter what has happened in our past. I knew that with this message, I would not feel a sense of guilt or regret on the day where I hear of his passing. Additionally, as his life flashes before his eyes, I didn’t want him seeing my face and feeling that same dark and foreboding feeling of regret. I just couldn’t imagine how awful that would be. Because of the damage that my father has done to the lives of so many people i loved, I had to set some clear boundaries. Whilst I was sending him a letter to forgive him, it was not an attempt to reconcile. This was a very difficult thing for many people to understand. As I have shared in a previous post, forgiveness does not mean reconciliation and this point was very applicable to my situation. My dad’s circumstances reach further back than me, he has a number of hurdles to overcome before what he did to me can be addressed. I have come to realise that this healing will take years, but it will also take persistence – something I don’t think he has. To protect myself, my husband and our future family, I had to be realistic in deciding to keep him out of my life.
When I sent off each letter, I had to acknowledge that I may not get a response. And to date, out of the three I have sent, I have only received one reply. This ex boyfriend and I had an extremely rocky 2 year relationship when I was around 20. We both played a huge part in the breakdown. So when I received a reply the same day as I sent the message, I was surprised. He was so grateful that I reached out to him and told me of how he always wanted to apologise. He took ownership for everything and explained how this message had lifted a huge weight from upon his shoulders. We had a great exchange, and I knew in that moment, that I had done the right thing. Although I am yet to hear from my father and another ex boyfriend, I have hope that my letters have reached them and have brought them as much peace as they have to me. They were sent with love and hope for a happy future.
What this experience has done for me is unexplainable. To live a life where you felt as though everything was weighed down by heavy pain is at times unbearable. At times, I felt as though everything that happened to me was all attributed to this pain that began back in my childhood. In the absence of love from a parent or when a child is abandoned (no matter the age), a dark twisted sense of non-belonging crowds your consciousness. As my father was never able to love me the way I deserved, it meant that I never believed anyone else could love me either. This feeling created such a negative outlook on my life. As a result, I chose the wrong men – I reacted to them and created harsh emotional environments to the both of us. It has been only the last 7 years, since meeting my husband, when I realised how good and loving a man can be. Although it has taken me this long to finally release all the pain that came before him, I am so glad I finally did it. I am sure there are many women who give up on a good thing because their emotional state is too clouded by their past.
As I have chosen to finally release this victim status, it gives me nothing to hide behind anymore. I am no longer prisoner of my past. I can’t blame these men anymore for my actions. This is a scary thought as we always tend to blame others to deflect from accepting responsibility. As I have forgiven these men, I own my life now. I own my reactions. I own my behaviour and I own my future. I am not a child who is a victim of circumstances anymore. My trauma no longer defines me – It inspires me.
The rest is up to me now…