A long time ago, my father told me that I needed to forgive and forget the bad things that happened to me. It was from that moment that my views on forgiveness changed. Attached to forgiveness was forgetting the bad things, which meant no validation for my struggles. It certainly didn’t mean any accountability from the people who hurt me. So I held onto these great hurts until it turned towards hate. Slowly those grudges started to poison me. Twenty years later it had ripped through my soul like a massive forest fire. All that was left was mountains of ash.
At the time my pain wasn’t being validated. The people who hurt me were getting away with murder and no one was doing anything about it. Not only were they not taking responsible the people in my family saw me as a black sheep for speaking out against these bad deeds. My family didn’t believe they had done anything that deserved forgiveness. So they glossed over the bad things that were happening in my family in order to hide the guilt and shame. Sometimes the monsters are inside your family and my family was full of them. So I locked them away and put the pain in a locked box. I then hid it so good that I didn’t realize it was there. All I could see was the anger, hurt and betrayal.
A few years ago I realized how damaging it was to hold onto the anger. It had destroyed me. I let what people did turn me into someone I wasn’t. I took on their bad behaviors and actions, and blamed myself. I have come to realize that forgiveness is for me. It’s letting go of all the bad feelings that aren’t serving me any good. Yes, what they did was wrong but it had nothing to do with me. Holding onto their actions and waiting for retribution has stunted my growth.
So I have started to work on my anger, which is a lot of work. Once you no longer hide behind anger you are left to deal with the real pain. It’s a torturous sift through piles of suffering and sorrow. Returning back to the place where the harm was caused and rewiring your brain as your current healthy self. For someone with PTSD this is a real struggle, as sometimes I don’t have a choice and get flashbacked to there instantly.
With trauma comes loss. It’s not just the bad acts itself but the aftermath. When I came out about the sexual abuse at the age of eighteen I lost a big part of my family. I was seen as a black sheep from that moment on. Cousins that I had grown up with now saw me as the problem versus the predator in our family causing all the harm. Not to mention the loss of my intermediate family when I came out during this time as well. I didn’t get kicked out but I was treated poorly by my parents. It was a dark time in my life.
In many ways, I have lived the whole forgive and forget. I was never asked for forgiveness by my parents for how horrible they treated me. After the first couple of years of hell, everyone stopped talking about me being gay. I stopped being told repeatedly that I was going to hell and we went back to forgetting that I was different. I love my Mom dearly and came to terms with things before she died but it’s still something I hold onto. The hurt that she never said she was sorry for the way she treated me when I needed her most. Eventually she didn’t care and realized that being queer was who I was. It wasn’t a fad like she thought, nor do I think she believed that I was going to hell anymore. So that was good. She even defended me to a cousin of hers who was making the typical religious comments about it being an abomination. So that was wonderful to hear. I just wish I could have heard those two simple words. That first year I was so alone. I went from having a very loving mother to one that rejected me. That abandonment has lasted me a lifetime and something I still struggle with.
I have since realized that she was a flawed human being with her own demons and struggles. She had a hard life too. My grandfather was an alcoholic and she had to work in the muck fields as a child. My father treated her terribly and divorced her after thirty years of marriage, leaving her with nothing. The healthy side of me realizes that she did what she did out of fear. She truly believed that I would go to hell and felt I needed to be saved. My Mom loved me deeply and knew what that meant. So I can see that side of it.
My father on the other hand is a different story. I want nothing to do with him and haven’t for a long while. He was patient zero in my hate. I have since replaced hate with pity. My father hasn’t changed. He’s still just as toxic as he was when I came out. I no longer take it personal for what he did to me. A person can’t give what they don’t possess. It’s not to say that I don’t feel a great sense of loss because I do. I long for the Dad I deserved all these years. I have waited a lifetime and it’s left me in the dust waiting.
These tough acts of forgiveness are extremely difficult, almost impossible at times. I have come to have this attitude of, is this worth holding onto? I sometimes think we freak out about the little things because it’s easier to let loose of the anger on the trivial things. When a new person in my life rejects me it’s the trigger of abandonment that causes me to spiral out of control, not the act itself. In reality it usually has nothing to do with me. For example, someone recently stopped being my friend because of my mental illness. I had known this person for four months. What I would have done in the past is broken down. I would have spiraled into a dark depression and it could have led to a hospitalization. This time it didn’t because I was able to differentiate between the trigger and the act. Yes it hurt and stung but I didn’t have enough invested to fall apart. What I would fall apart about is the real pain of admandoments and rejects of the past. More specifically my family.
I have even started taking this concept to little things as well. Like my anxiety. A month ago I took public transportation for people with disabilities. What I thought would be a thirty minute car ride turned into almost two hours, which meant being late to my appointment. I could feel my anxiety start to boil over and my first reaction was to give into it. Then I started to think about what holding onto this anger was doing to me. Going into a rage (which I wouldn’t have verbalized) would only hurt me, so I let it go. I even had more things happen that night and I didn’t hold onto those either. In the past, something like this would have carried over for days but this time I let it go for good and paid no more attention to it.
Sometimes this is very difficult and something I have to practice all the time. Currently I can do this on rare occasions but I’m building up the skill slowly. When it becomes difficult to practice is when an action is particular triggering and severe. For example, I had a friend I have known for over fifteen years make some very transphobic comments. It’s shaken me to the core. Not only were those comments made, the person wasn’t very nice either. I have always had people lash out on me like this. I used to take it personal but now I realize that I scare people because of my authenticity.
My first reaction is to cut him out of my life. It’s a real difficult time in my life and I have to be very careful with my environment because I want to move forward, not backwards. Boundaries have become extremely a crucial aspect to the healing process. No only did my friend say derogatory things to me, he also didn’t respect my boundaries. Nor did he care how it would make me feel. The biggest struggle with this situation is how do I trust someone like this, who seems to have deep prejudices about who I am inside. A big part of me wants to villainize him but I know that only means holding onto anger. I have a track record of giving people too many chances and aren’t always a good judge of character as I only see the good in people and look past the red flags.
It’s tough to sift through the small details, especially when emotions are attached to every single little piece you pick up. Again my first reaction is to cut the person out of my life. It’s easier to put the person out of sight, out of mind. Just wipe my hands of another person who hurt me. It’s really tough to balance taking care of yourself and giving people the benefit of the doubt, and time to make amends. I have worked hard to realize that I don’t deserve the way he’s treated me. I also no longer will tolerate that kind of behavior. So I will give him the opportunity to explain what happened to apologize. It’s going to be tough to do because I have years of triggers to deal with.
Anything related to discrimination towards the LGBTQ is particularly triggering. So this interaction has brought to light the way my family treated me when I came out in 1995. So to have some similar attitudes towards being transgender just adds another level of hurt. So a challenge will be figuring out what emotion is attached to the present action and the past.
I have to remember that forgiveness comes in time and can’t be forced. I hope that this friendship can be salvaged but if it can’t I won’t take it personal. The interaction had nothing to do with me. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that you have to keep them around. It’s really not for their benefit anyways. It’s about letting go of the hurt and pain. Realizing that holding onto the trauma isn’t healthy for you. It’s so much easier to be angry at someone than it is to feel the hurt. I want to hate my friend for how he treated me but I realize that it’s just a mask for the heartbreak. I never thought I would hear him say what he did about transgender people.
I have too much to worry about than to hold onto feelings that aren’t my own. Learning to let go of the significant stresses has allowed me to handle the bigger ones. My awareness of the situation has been increased dramatically. It’s given me the perspective to being in the moment, allowing me to be proactive to stop certain behaviors in its track.
We all have mountains to climb. I have climbed plenty in my time. I’ve learned that not every mountain I encounter is meant to be climbed. Then there are times that these mountains are really hills and are easily walked over. So I’m conserving my energy for the real work of forgiving myself.