Princess Lasertron is doing a blogging project over on her blog that she is calling “Radvent.” Every day in December, she is posting a blog prompt and her response to it, and inviting others to do the same. My semester is winding down (and my winter term is starting up!) so I knew I wouldn’t be able to commit to every day, but the prompt today was “Forgiveness” and it struck a chord with me.
My point of view on forgiveness: tricksy. Tricksy tricksy tricksy.
The saying goes, “Forgive and forget!” But then the other saying goes, “Wrong me once, screw you, wrong me twice, screw me.” So where does forgiveness fall into that?
I don’t have a long list of people that have wronged me, and I’m really glad about that. Imagine someone pulling out their wallet and all these pictures roll out– but they aren’t pictures of family or friends, they’re pictures of assholes. That’s what I picture whenever I see someone who is just so angry about something that happened long ago. And I can’t help but thinking that– for the most part– the reason they can’t forgive that person is because the person they’re REALLY mad at is themself. Maybe for letting it happen, maybe for trusting someone they knew they probably shouldn’t, maybe for making the same mistake over and over again and creating a situation wherein they could be wronged.
This probably isn’t the happy cheery Holiday forgiveness post that you’re expecting– and I do that on purpose. I think that this time of year, forgiveness is really emphasized, but isn’t really dealt with the way it should be. Forgiveness, when you’re a child, is one thing. I got a karaoke machine for Christmas one year, and my brother took it and pulled it apart to see how it works– I never even got to use it. So the next year, he bought me a replacement, and then did the exact same thing over again. I was pretty pissed. But now it’s just funny, if its anything at all. Probably the WORST thing that happened to me when I was a kid involved a break up I went through– NOT that the guy broke up with me, but the WAY that he broke up with me– and even that I can’t really conjure up hard feelings over.
And there’s been some icky times as a grown-up, too. Mitch and I have some history we’re not proud of. But that’s when it’s easy to forgive– when you really love someone and know that they deserve the forgiveness and they’re willing to work for it, and they feel so grateful to receive it. That’s the kind of forgiveness that I wish everyone could have, all the time.
I, for one, think that the saying ‘forgive and forget’ is just fine, but I don’t think that ‘forget’ implies reconcilation. Not for every situation. I think that forgiveness is an act that you do for yourself– I think it’s more about loving yourself enough to make a different choice and break a new path. A lot of times, the person you are forgiving doesn’t deserve it. A lot of times, the person you are forgiving won’t care. Life isn’t a Hallmark movie– sometimes those forgiveness/make amends phone calls aren’t really the best idea.
When I was in high school, I attended a youth group and one night the talk being given was from a girl that graduated from my high school a few years back. I have forgotten what the moral of the story was, but I remember that she was talking about fighting with her college boyfriend, and the way she illustrated it was by taking a magazine photo and ripping pieces off of it for every argument they had, until at the end she just had a bunch of tattered pieces.
I think that is what anger is like. I think that when you let someone get to you, and you carry that around, and you let it rule you, it’s like tearing a piece of yourself off– in the most visceral way imaginable– and handing them that piece of you. For keeps. Sometimes, you can get that piece back by telling them you forgive them, and that you want to fix things, and that piece of yourself can be restored.
Sometimes, it doesn’t work that way, and that’s the story I have to share with you today. Sometimes, you don’t get that piece back– so you have to rebuild without it.
There is someone in my life that I used to be very close with. I’m going to avoid pronoun use here, so my sentences might get sloppy. This person and I had a lot of good times, and also went through a lot of bad times together. This person was/is very brave, and there are things (in hindsight) that I wish I hadn’t criticized them for, and I wish I’d been more supportive of some of their desicions. But, at some point, through our bad times, it gradually became clear to me that this person had probably been angry at me– for some reason– for basically as long as I knew them. I’m not so obtuse to believe that I had nothing to do with this, I must have done something– but I honestly go back and back and back through my mind and I can’t think of anything. And certainly not anything that would warrant the kind of brick-wall hatred that I am affronted with now.
Well, this person was very important in my life, and found some ways to make things difficult for me and my family. I let this go on longer than I should have (screw me!), but in the end, I came to my senses (oh no– SCREW YOU).
I decided to forgive– but also to forget. Which, to me, means that I no longer have feelings of any kind for this person. I don’t want to say, “They’re dead to me.” Because that’s not true… but in a way, it is. When this person calls (which is getting more and more rare), I don’t answer. It used to be that when they left a voicemail, I would check it to be sure there wasn’t an emergency, and then decide if I should call back, but I don’t even do that anymore. When I know I’m going to see this person, I rehearse what I’m going to say on the way there, so that I don’t give away anything important or betray any emotions that this person could take advantage of. And the one time that I had a surprise meeting with them, I’ll bet that the shut-down/change-over was so obvious to them that they were frustrated and pissed for the rest of the night.
I know what you’re thinking– that seems like a lot of effort to go through for someone you say you are trying to forget. And you’re right. It’s hard work.
Awhile back, I actually had to work with this person on a project that was really important to me. That was really hard. For those weeks, I kind of cut myself out of steel every day and did everything I could not to get too emotionally attached to their part of the project, or let any feelings of reconciliation start to kindle in my guts. I told myself, “Just do YOUR best, because this person will mess it up for you if they can.” And so even though I started to feel my gaurd slipping, and thinking that we could all just be friends again, I held up. And when– inevitably– this person DID try to mess things up for me, I just had to believe that it would all turn out okay because I had done everything that I could and done my part exactly right. And it did work out, and it was fine. And that person ended up looking like an asshole.
Like I said before, this person used to be a big part of my life, and so when I decided to end their involvement, it became very messy. Something this person did was spread lies about me, mostly to people that I didn’t know very well or that weren’t very important, but in several cases it became very problematic. And sometimes, it wasn’t just to distant acquaintances. Sometimes it was people that were close to us both, and sometimes those people believed this person, and there was nothing I could do to defend myself. I lost relationships this way.
For awhile, I spent a lot of time chasing down these rumors and trying to nip them in the bud, but it was impossible– and (even though I was telling the truth) it made me look like I was doing the same thing they were doing. So I ended up making the personal decision not to talk about this person anymore. I felt like if I didn’t, it would just drag up all those feelings again, and I’d never be over it. I decided that I was going to TRULY forget about them, and that means that– outside my family and very close friends– no one around me knows what happened or what’s been happening. In a few more years, I’ll likely get to a place in my life where no one around me even knows that this person exists. So now whenever I meet a mutual acquaintance, which happens pretty often, I always sigh a deep sigh and just pray that they will allow me to represent myself. And usually, that’s worked out. Sometimes it hasn’t. And that’s too bad.
It’s been hard, because of all the good times we had, and what I thought were good times left to be had. But the bad times weren’t worth it, in the end. So I cut my losses, and I let go.
This is slightly off-topic, but I spent some time in Al-Anon a few years back (that’s the one for friends/family of addicts). It uses the same 12 steps as the programs for addicts, the reason being that an enabler is addicted to the drama, to the person, to the enabling. Guilty as charged, man. I can be such an enabler that it’s dangerous. I am a caretaker by nature, and I think that whenever I see someone that is broken, my tendency is just to want to fix and fix and fix. Then the relationship is lopsided. It becomes about what I can do to keep the relationship going– and usually an addict will ask for extremely unfair things– the moon!– and never give you anything in return. Because all they can see is satisfying their addiction, whatever it might be. And I think that my tendency to enable people is what has gotten me into a lot of trouble in my life, and it took going through a serious 12 step program before I could realize it. A lot of the things I learned in Al-Anon are what helped me realize it was time to let this person go.
So, let this be the holiday season where you make a different choice and break a new path for yourself. Life is too short, man. If its not working, then let it go. Forgive them for you– tell them if you want– and let the pieces fall back into place. And then walk. away.