Many believe it is not necessary to forgive the person who hurt you, in order to heal. As part of my healing journey, I found that I had to redefine forgiveness for myself, because the self-righteous fake variety didn’t work for me. Neither did the idea that forgiveness was something I had to do to be a good person.
Forgiveness is a universal spiritual principle, and many faiths emphasize it as an act of loving kindness, compassion, equanimity, and sympathetic joy, welcoming the good fortune of others. Genuine forgiveness can incorporate many subtle flavors of a bigger concept. It may mean wiping the slate clean, cancelling debt, and pardoning abusive behavior. It also implies the cessation of resentment as a result of a real or perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake. It means giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.
Hopefully, you’re thinking, Okay, Randy, I’m convinced. I’m tired of holding on to all this resentment and allowing my perpetrator to live “rent free” in my head. How do I start this forgiveness process?
In my case, I had to start by forgiving myself. I was told it would be difficult, if not impossible, to forgive others before I forgave myself. Self-forgiveness is often especially difficult for survivors of sexual abuse, who tend to be pretty hard on themselves. I had to realize the inaccuracy of the child-logic that made me believe that if only I were better, bad things wouldn’t have happened to me.
I had to take a look at the behaviors that I had not forgiven myself for and see what my responsibility was. I could not inflate or minimize the part I played. I had to look at it objectively, and with compassion. Then I had to look deeper and see if I could find what I believed when I did what I did. Given the thoughts I had at the time, was I doing the best I could? While not condoning whatever acts I regreted, I had to look to see what I would have done better if I could have. That was my innocence; I had to forgive myself for not knowing a better way at the time. I was only doing what I had been taught back then. I committed myself to learning better ways in the future so that I didn’t repeat the past.
Next, I had to start making living amends. Self-forgiveness is an active daily practice for me. I had to see if I could find ways to make living amends for the behaviors I was most angry at myself about. We don’t have to tell anyone about our living amends if we don’t want to. They can be between us and God, or whatever higher power we choose, or we can just keep the amends to ourselves.
My father, grandmother, and grandfather all died before I became sober. My father died when I was twelve-years old, and before he died, he told my grandmother to tell me to never put anything harmful in my body—something I did not honor. My grandfather died instantly from a brain anerism, and my grandmother slipped into dimentia and died within a year. My grandmother was the rock of my life, and in that last year of her life, I never once went to see her. She had always been there for me, yet I could not be there for her when she needed me the most. I was overwhelmed with guilt.
When I was two-years sober, my sponsor had me write letters to my father, grandmother, and grandfather. Next, my wife drove me to their gravesights; fortunately they were all buried right next to each other. As I sat at the foot of each one of their graves, I read my amend letters to each one of them. When I was all done, I placed a two-year medallion and the letter I had read on their respective headstones.
Today, I am making my living amends to each of them. For my father, I have now been sober for ten-years and nine months. For my grandmother, I have helped countless “adopted” grandmas in the past ten-plus years. And for my grandfather, I am living like and acting like the man he taught me to be.
Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist, Native American, or hold any other faith or belief system, or none at all, the path to an abundantly free and happy life is, in my opinion, to forgive those who have harmed us, no matter what their offense was. Until we forgive, I believe we are still hostage to our abusers. When we do forgive, we set ourselves free.
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