Thursday, January 28, 2010

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Every spiritual tradition I've ever studied teaches forgiveness. It's a subject I've contemplated and worked at over and over, releasing layer upon layer of hurts and grudges and miscellaneous crap I've held onto for way too long. I've read dozens of self-help books, attended workshops, written journals, meditated, prayed. It has taken practice (more practice than I'd like to admit, to be honest) but I've finally learned how to really forgive and let something go. At least, I thought I had.

First, let me clarify what I mean by forgiveness. To me, forgiving doesn't mean I condone whatever harmful action the person committed. It doesn't mean it's OK for them to do it again. It does mean that I release the emotion associated with the situation - it no longer upsets me to think or talk about it, I no longer base my responses to the experience in reactionary feelings and I can move ahead in my life. I let it go.

Now, most of the things I've worked my way around to forgiving are small. Some are stupid grudges I held for unintentional harm someone did to me. Others are hurts people intended but that I've managed to release and move on. I'm left with a single large wad of related wounds that I know I have to forgive. It's not going to be easy but I have to do it in order be healed and whole.

Warning: If you're squeamish or get upset easily, skip the following paragraph. There are some things I have to say in public, 'out loud' if you will, in order to finally deal with them, in order to finally forgive. I have to make it real before I can let it go.

Few people know this about me, but I was abused as a child. Both my parents molested me beginning when I was 2. My mother tried to kill me four times, the first when I was an infant. She systematically starved me, locked me in a windowless utility room for whole days at a time, pushed me down concrete steps, beat me unconscious. My father knew and ignored it.

I told other family members but they didn't believe me. My paternal grandmother called me a 'filthy little liar' for suggesting that such a thing could occur in her family. My maternal grandmother did believe me - she grew up in abuse and married into it so she knew the signs - but she said, 'We don't talk about those things.'

Most of my life has revolved around these experiences, one way or another.

I spent years in denial. After all, my parents insisted I had a perfectly normal childhood. Sometimes I tried to convince myself I had imagined it all, that it wasn't real. But I knew better.

Then I spent years in anger, that such a thing should happen to me, an innocent child, and that it continued into my adulthood in the form of verbal and emotional abuse. Eventually we had to cut off contact with my parents when it became apparent my daughter wasn't safe around them. Of course, the rest of the family ostracized us as well. No one wants to admit that their own relatives might do something so nasty.

After all these years I've finally moved out of the anger. Life isn't fair; it isn't meant to be. It's meant to be a learning experience. As my maternal grandmother said, 'It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it.' So what shall I do with it? My choice now is to forgive. All of it. Without reservation. It's time to let my life revolve around something else now, something positive, something worthwhile.

I expect the next few days, and perhaps weeks, will be rough. But I will succeed. I will forgive, and let it go, and move on.