Forgiveness has been on my mind lately. I think it started when I was inspired by My Life List to make a life Goal to "forgive my mother". (It's an interesting concept, a website to declare and track your goals in life, combined with social media if you'd like to get public support in your endeavors.)
In case you haven't noticed, I'm a very bitter person. I am alternatively snarky or silent on many topics based on the emotional echoes from my past. I've only recently realized the extent that bitterness has infected my life, and it's become important to me to try to reverse. How does one reverse bitterness? Let go of the past, stop living your life there, and keep your past in your past. And forgive. Forgive yourself and others. Unfortunately, forgiveness does not come easily to me.
But the day after declaring to the world that I intend to forgive my mother, I stumble upon some thought-provoking pieces on CNN. The first was the most relevant, Casey Anthony and the challenge of forgiveness. For those living under a rock, Casey Anthony was found not-guilty of murdering her own daughter last week, after a very public trial, to the outrage of the American public. I personally think that trial-by-media is a horrific form of yellow journalism that is both detrimental to those involved in the case, as well as those who get sucked in by the media coverage - the first group doesn't get a proper trial (and in return receive unwanted attention at the worst possible moments of their lives), and the second group is whipped into a riotous feeding frenzy by news agencies. A "trial of peers" is not a trial by every person who has access to a television, it's by a 12 member jury picked to represent the public at large. There are rules about this sort of thing, and those rules are in place for everyone's sake. It is not healthy to become obsessed with media coverage of anything, especially not a murder trial that has nothing to do with you. But after an acquittal, the resulting public outcry is... ferocious, monstrous, and really fucking scary. An entire nation on the verge of rioting is frightening, but when it's caused by something that has nothing to do with them except to feed an obsession... can I just say, holy shit?
So Patrick Wanis wrote this piece for CNN about forgiveness, with Casey Anthony as the focus, but only as a greater lesson.
staying stuck in anger, bitterness, vindictiveness or a desire for revenge does not bring about positive results. As a human behavior expert and therapist, the most common denominator of the pain, mental and emotional affliction that I see people suffer is the lack of forgiveness - the anger and pursuit of revenge against mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or self for something that someone did or didn’t do.
Without forgiveness, there is only pain, recurring memories that hurt again and again and again. There is a line between seeking justice and revenge, and holding out for revenge just destroys us from the inside out. Wanis gets all spiritual in his article, but even as an atheist I can understand and take to heart the examples in scripture and real life of forgiveness. He talks of Jesus, he talks of a Holocaust survivor, he steers back to Casey Anthony.
Look in your heart and ask yourself what effect the poison of anger and revenge have on you and your life. We have all wronged and we are all imperfect. Of course, murder is not the same as the wrongs that most of us commit.
But if Jesus could ask God to forgive the people that were about to murder him and if a Holocaust survivor could forgive the people that poisoned her and tried to exterminate her family, then what holds you and I back from forgiving anyone? The next time you commit a wrongdoing, won’t you be saying “Please forgive me?”
This is very powerful stuff. And relevant to my personal struggle with my relationship with my mother. I don't want to talk about what my mother did or didn't do, what was justified or not, whether I'm in the right or not. I love my mother, I know I hold the past against her, and I know that our relationship can't be healthy until I let that go. I have to forgive her.
But how? How does one forgive? There are obviously varying degrees of slights, and varying degrees of forgiveness we must find within ourselves to move forward. I am cut from the cloth that finds forgiveness of almost any level hard to grant. This is so shameful for me. So often, I know I'm being unreasonable, but I don't know how to stop myself. In the past, I have told people I forgive them without actually meaning it. Or meaning it at the time, only to realize later that I'm still holding bitterness against them. Neither is true forgiveness, neither is healthy for me or the other person.
Once again, I'm going to blame my crazy brain and its obsessiveness. I can't really speak for other people's brains I guess, but I've been given the impression that it's not normal to be constantly reliving a moment or emotion or event or series of events. I can be distracted - my mind is constantly going and going and going like a hamster on a wheel, and I'm constantly interrupted by all sorts of stray thoughts. But there is always something that my mind is holding on to like some rabid dog, and the only thing that relieves it is when the thought is replaced by a different obsessive thought. I am seriously exhausted just by what's going on in my head all the time, every minute of every hour of every day.
I'm thinking... Post Traumatic Stress Disorder coupled with Obessive Compulsive Disorder. Somehow, the OCD magnifies the PTSD, so that every negative event gets seared into my brain for reliving in Full Living Color and Smell-o-Vision over and over forever. My memories don't fade. The pain doesn't fade.
This is not really true, not in the long term. I do eventually "get over" most hurts. Most. Eventually. But the constant marathon reliving of the pain in the short term makes the process so maddening, so hard to live through, so hard to come out on the other side at all. Sometimes, I don't. For the most part, the things I can't forgive ever are from my childhood. My brain may find other distractions over time, other things to worry or obsess about over the years. But the smallest thing can set off a memory and suddenly it's as if it just happened. How does a person defeat that?
The answer is therapy of course - it has taught me how to actually notice that my mind is stuck in a rut. Noticing helps you actively distract yourself so you can get out. But... unfortunately, that's about it. I notice I'm doing it and I actively try to stop it. This isn't really all that much more pleasant than not noticing. At least there is some relief more often though.
So, let's see... Bitterness and revenge are bad, forgiveness is good, forgiveness is difficult to achieve, forgiveness of childhood hurts is more than difficult. Guess where my bitterness against my mother stems from? Childhood.
Time is helping. Talking is helping. Life is helping - you hear from other people about their similar experiences, you watch it unfold in movies, you read about it on CNN. It can be chipped away at over time. It just can't be forced.
There are some things that I'm convinced that I'm never going to forgive. But none of them involve my mother. I love her, I need her in my life again, I have done so much more harm through this bitterness - to her, to my siblings, to myself. Can actively trying to put those memories away actually help? I really, really hope so.