what forgiveness can do

Henlo. I have news upon news upon news. I have work news and friend news and personal news. I have bad news that's actually good news, and big news that's potentially massive news.

I'll start back where it matters, about two weeks ago. This first part is gonna sound a little kooky, so bear with me. (I may have to leave it with this first bit for now, and save the bigger, newer news for later. In fact yes, that's definitely what I'll do.)

So. 

About two weeks ago I had an experience. Alone, in my apartment. No drugs were involved. Just me and my thoughts. 

Wait. I need to back up more.

For the past several months, I have been engaged in what I can only call a sort of self-directed therapy. I've tried traditional, paid therapy twice in my life, and twice it has failed me. I don't have it in me to try again. 

But last year, I found a resource - a free, 20 minute podcast about anxiety - that spoke to me. I listened to it fairly frequently, but always in a kind of distracted way, without much focus. I would pick up useful tidbits from it, slip them in my pocket, but then go on with my sometimes anxious, frequently depressed life.

Sometime about three or four months ago, I started listening in earnest. Truly putting all of my attention on what the host was saying, and applying her ideas to my life. Experimenting with new modes of thinking. Some new behaviors, even. We all have plastic brains. They can be molded and shaped. I like to think mine is especially plastic from all the psychedelics I've taken, because that is what they say happens. Either way, it helped.

It really, really, really helped. I worried less. I tried to control less. I cared less. My self-soothing skills, which had already improved in leaps and bounds when I started talking to myself during the pandemic, got even better. I became less reactive, less interested in conflict. And if I backslid on things that challenged me, I forgave myself more quickly. I stopped apologizing as much. I started enforcing boundaries more. I became even more strict about my media intake. 

Everything about my daily psychological state improved. And it's been incredible. I've had more inner peace than I ever thought possible. 

But there was one area I was still struggling with: rumination. My particular poison has always been rumination based on anger and feelings of rejection. People hurt me, then they leave my life (or are cast out by me). Or they leave my life and in so doing, hurt me. At least, this has been my viewpoint.

And it has been a fuckton of dead weight to carry around lo these many years. Just an absolute barrel of lead on my soul. I didn't even realize it or recognize it. I just thought it was my lot in life to be especially sensitive, and to have had the shit luck to get linked up with leavers and hurters.

Well.

I'm definitely a sensitive soul. But I am much, much stronger than I have ever given myself credit for. I know that now.

There is a thing about me that I kept secret my whole life, that in fact I nursed as a dark, magical part of me that I thought would keep me safe. And it is this: I have never believed in forgiveness. I have always secretly held the belief that only chumps forgive. I have held fast and tight to the idea that my unforgiving was an amulet, a source of protection. Because if I forgave one person, that would be a slippery slope to forgiving all of them. And then what? Then I'd probably just start letting anyone hurt me. Hell they'd probably pick up on my forgiving vibe and zero in on me. 

So I never forgave anyone. Ever. Anything. Not really, not deep in my heart. There may have been times that I acted like everything was cool, that we were good, no hard feelings, whatever. But inside, no. Inside they were still villains to me. 

Fuck. This is hard.

So I never forgave the things my parents did. Or the things they failed to do. I never forgave my brother. I never forgave any of the people who took advantage of my lack of boundaries - and lord have there been many of those. Christ, the lack of boundaries in my life has cost me so much. 

Anyway. This podcast that I've been building a kind of self-care religion on - it talks a lot about acceptance and letting go. "Drop the rope" is an expression she uses often, and that I repeat to myself. "Drop the rope." Drop the rope of attachment to toxic people, to beliefs that don't serve. "Wouldn't it feel good to just drop the rope?"

And somewhere in all my listening, the ideas of acceptance and letting go wormed their way into my brain to where my steadfast attachment to angry/sad rumination lived. And they started to loosen the knots. And one night about two weeks ago, I found myself - and now brace yourself for the kooky part - having an imaginary conversation with invisible people in my living room.

It started with me thinking about Kenny. If you've not kept up, Kenny was my last boyfriend who left LA to go back to the PNW and get sober. I've only really alluded to it in cryptic, allegorical posts where I have tried to work through my feelings, because it was a very confusing and devastating breakup. But that's what happened. I dated an alcoholic for a year and a half. I came home one night about a year ago to find him having a withdrawal seizure on my bathroom floor, foaming at the mouth. Ambulance. Hospital stay. The whole bit. Then before I knew what was happening, he went home to be with family and figure things out. We didn't really even say goodbye. 

And even though because of his alcoholism, he had treated me absolutely, positively horrifically bad -- I could not get over him. It was the hardest breakup of my life by a mile. Which makes zero fucking sense, because I have been with men who treated me like gold - and those are the ones to cry over, not someone who flaked on me night after night after night, who stood me up and forgot about me because he was so wasted. Whose drinking made him prone to violent mood swings that terrified me, and made me tiptoe through conversations as if on eggshells. Who barely put himself together enough to go out for my birthday, even though I took him on overnight adventures for his. Who lied. Who cheated. Who had a mean side that would come out when he drank, and mock me, my accomplishments, my friends, my hobbies, my whatever. 

I did get over him. It came in drips and drips over months and months until on his birthday in late September, when he texted me out of the blue. I almost didn't answer, but then I did, very briefly and casually. And he replied. And in that short exchange I saw that he'd not changed at all. That he'd not realized even the slightest bit what he'd put me through. His two quick messages were just him wanting me to think of him -- not him wanting to reach out in kindness and warmth, much less remorse. Absolutely nothing there but more selfishness. And that was it. I saw the bullet I had dodged. And any last little bit of yearning I'd had for him evaporated. 

But as I lay in bed, once again trying to make sense of that time in my life, it finally sank in why it had been such hell getting over him. 

He activated me. He activated me, with exquisite precision.

Our on again off again bullshit (because drinking doesn't make for steady relationship seas) perfectly activated my rejection trauma. I'd lose him (we'd have a blowout and he'd punish me by disappearing for a week or more), then we'd reunite, and my relief at that reunion was pure emotional heroin. Because I have deep, deep rejection and abandonment issues from both my parents. 

Kenny's availability/unavailability cycle let me relive, over and over, the way both my mom and dad would be around, then disappear. The way they would love, then punish. That is why that fucking relationship sunk its claws into me so deep. 

I saw it all clearly, finally, that night two weeks ago. And it was like a flood of trauma just purging out of me. And I don't know now how I made the connection to forgiveness in that moment, but I did. And I decided I needed to clearly, verbally forgive both my dead parents for setting me up for such a hellscape of a relationship. So that's what I did. I was sitting up on my bed, in the dark, and I looked out into my dark living room, and I just spoke to them as if they were there.

I pulled the words up from my heart and held them in my mouth as I really, truly thought about them. I didn't say them until I felt them. Until I knew I could say them clearly, without crying, and mean them.

I told my dad first. "Dad, I forgive you." I said it slowly, once. Then again. I said it a few times, and every time the words came out they rang more true and more real, until the weight they'd held was gone, and they were pure light and clarity. Then I did the same with my mother.

And it felt so good, I didn't stop. One by one, I moved through every individual in my life who has ever hurt me. Every fucking one, because you know I have that shit catalogued. And I addressed their ghost, living or dead, there in my dark living room, an assembly of my past loves, hates, joys, pains, and losses.

I spent a lot of time on the friends who've left my life. There was lots of work to be done there. But one by one, I acknowledged that there is nothing more natural in this world than change. And I said it. "That is the way the world works. People walk down the path of their life. I am not the center of anyone's universe. There is nothing more natural than people just continuing on with their lives. That is what happens in life." (I repeated this over and over, understanding it and believing it for the first time ever.)

I made a point to acknowledge to each individual that they were just doing the best they could. I said it over and over. That we're all just doing the best we can, and no one sets out to hurt anyone else. I used that bit especially to forgive Kenny, though I made it clear to the universe that I had absolutely no place in my life for his selfishness anymore. You can forgive people, but still keep boundaries in place. That's the key.

Finally - emptied, still, and doped up with endorphins from all the crying - I fell asleep.

It's hard to explain without sounding crazy what happened the next day. It's hard to sound crazy, because I am the original anti-woo woo person. I have never been shy about side-eyeing anyone making claims of a spiritual breakthrough. I believe in psychotherapy and CBT, and obviously I believe in brain plasticity because I've been experiencing it. But what happened to me after that night went way beyond anything I would have ever believed possible. 

Honestly I didn't even realize it at first. I just got out of bed feeling really good, not reflecting much about the night before. But as I started to get ready and move into my day, I noticed that actually I felt great. Like, really great. I hadn't even had that much sleep, but I was super energized and ready for the day. 

It was on the bus that I noticed the physical difference. This is where it gets real crazy.

I always - always - have knots in my shoulders. A tightness that I carry no matter how much stretching I do, or how often I get out my Rollga. And I always feel just a litttle bit tired, even right at the start of the day. The tension and the tiredness were gone. They were just...gone. I can't remember a time in my life, maybe early twenties or I might have to go back to teenage years - that I felt such lightness in my frame, in my posture. It was like I'd lost twenty years...or twenty thousand pounds of sadness and anger. And they haven't come back yet. 

By all means, roll your eyes. But I dropped the rope that night. I dropped a lot of ropes. And my beautiful, plastic brain made a deeply subconscious mind/body connection to what I'd done and said to the ghosts in my living room. 

There's more. My general daily mood improved dramatically, there was no question. But the real treat and joy: I finally, truly understand what it means to be just purely, simply present. Sure, I understand on a cerebral level what that means. And ever since I learned the value of doing so, I have worked at it. 

But after that night, it just happened as a matter of course. I was suddenly, easily, and naturally captivated by my environment. Wind in the trees, the sun glimmering on the leaves. How comfortable my sweatshirt was, and how giddy I could feel just at the coziness of it. The way a collective peacefulness stretched out across an intersection, at sunset, as we all moved through our day. It was bewitching.

And it's still going, though not quite in as strong measure (so I am working to make sure it doesn't slip away). It's as if the lack of forgiveness kept a part of my brain always running (ruminating) like a computer server, not using any central functions, but chewing up resources all the same. When I shut that server down, I gained all those resources back. And they've redirected themselves to the things my mind really wants to focus on - or at least enjoys focusing on, so much more.

Anyway. Wild, right, what forgiveness can do?

Only took me four decades to learn that one.