On forgiveness, unicorn heritage, dead whales and horses, and some Bob Ross to boot . .
In case you, too, are finding yourself in a moment in which you could do with some gentleness, this entry comes with a wish for you to go easy with yourself. And as usual, it stems from a reminder I’m giving myself right now and from the experience I know best: my own.
I had a piece I was working on in December. It was titled, “Why Cameron Crowe and Charles Dickens Ruined Everything,” and I really liked it. I thought it was funny, but I kept hesitating to post it, and now, three months later, I’m a little more clear on why I didn’t.
In addition to being funny (at least to me), it was also angry, rooted in anger rather than rooted in love and moving through anger. And angry roots are not the kind I want to have. Anger is an essential part of the human experience, and I’ve been learning to let myself feel it, to let it lead me to a new place. But I don’t want anger to be at the root or core of me. So I’m proud of myself for not posting that entry, even if the whole process kept me from posting anything for three months.
What I’ve come to post today is rooted in love, and it’s about forgiveness and how I’m learning to direct it inwards. I’m currently working on a piece on forgiving oneself that I hope to share soon, so I guess this is the prequel. I wish it was the kind of prequel in which you learn my wondrous origin story and find out that I was raised by a pack of wild unicorns or something cool like that. If it helps, feel free to believe that as you continue reading. I’m thinking it’s actually a good idea for both of us. That way I can always reassure myself by saying things like, “yeah, that’s true, but I was raised by unicorns.”
But I digress. As many of you readers know, my marriage ended about a year and a half ago. Since then, I’ve directed a lot of my forgiveness energy outward, working hard on forgiving him, and yes, there are big things to be forgiven. It’s certainly a valid use of my energy, or anyone’s. When we are hurt in ways big or small, there is healing to be had in forgiving the other person. But in this situation, it had become easier for me to focus on forgiving the other party and to neglect what really, truly, has to happen first, for the sake of my own healing, and which is forgiving myself.
So here it is: I’m working on forgiving myself for staying in a relationship for too long and for, even after it was over, working hard to convince myself that it could have been okay, that I could have made it okay, if only I’d had a willing partner.
And regardless, I was also raised by unicorns.
There, that helped.
So how I got to this realization, the one about forgiving myself. Well, last week, some new ex-husband angst led me to reach out to some friends for wisdom and support. And it’s important to mention that I have really smart and beautiful friends who offer bottomless kindness and infinite insight. I am grateful for them.
In response, one of these beauties wrote to me, “why would we ever want to be with people who didn’t cherish, adore, and celebrate us?” What a great question. While I absolutely felt that way for the first half of my marriage, those feelings faded, and still I let myself stay in a situation in which I felt increasingly misunderstood, unappreciated, and burdensome. Let me repeat: I let myself stay there, feeling that way. No one forced me to stay there but me, and no one was trying to make me feel like that. And as far as the answer to my friend’s question, well, why did I? First and foremost, I loved him. I knew he loved me. We both thought loving each other could be eneough. We wanted it to be enough. And we were both botching it.
What I’m realizing is that loving someone does not mean you have to be married to them or can do that well. I also love whales, but that doesn’t mean I have the ability to keep one alive in my bathtub. That might be a terrible analogy, but it was a terrible, impossible situation. And as might seem obvious, the whale died in the bathtub, and in the process, flapped around its huge tail, smashed a lot of things in the vicinity, and left a horrible stench. I’m still finding things–pictures, letters, Christmas ornaments–that have the vague odor of dead sea mammal. It’s hard to get that out.
The second biggest reason I stayed is that I hate to be wrong. That my western astrological sign is fixed and that I am a water ox in Chinese astrology is no surprise to me. I can hold my ground and drag something heavy through the mud with the best of them. Sometimes this results in me finishing amazing projects (like writing books, for instance), and sometimes it results in decomposing marine life. In the case of my marriage, it became the latter.
And while my facility for exploring the “why’s” of life can be magical and delightful, in this case it just leads to, as my mom might say, “beating a dead horse.” (As a side note, I swear we don’t hate animals in my family, and I assure you that no actual whales or horses were harmed in the writing of this blog entry.) I could spend forever figuring out why exactly all of this happened the way it did, why he did that, why I did this, why I didn’t invest in some sort of ginormous aquarium tank. I’ve already spent a lot of time trying to figure all of this out.
The trouble for me is that the why’s have mostly led to me deciding I’m a bad person, an unworthy person, an unlovable failure. And, to that, I say this: gross! Even writing those words in speculation hurts. And that’s not how I choose to describe or talk to myself today.
In response to my reaching out last week, another friend wrote to me, “There are so many people who love you so much, and yet you won’t forgive yourself for putting so much stock in this relationship that ended badly. I forgive you. Your friends forgive you. Now you need to do it.”
And she was exactly right, which I knew because tears sprang to my eyes as I read the words.
Now I need to do it. It is in some ways easier to consider myself pure victim, but it’s a lot of work to maintain that. Too much work. Ultimately unsatisfying work. And it’s not true. I messed up, too. In all kinds of ways, I hurt him, too. I hurt both of us. And I’ve been dwelling too long in the kingdom of hurt.
So, in summation, I made a mistake, or as Bob Ross might say, I had a happy accident. I made myself suffer in a relationship that wasn’t working, but maybe I can still make a squirrel or a tree out of it in my life painting. And by god, if I have anything to say about it, that squirrel will live! And you want to know why? Well, first of all, I’m not going to put it in a bathtub. Secondly, that’s not something Ma & Pa Unicorn brought me up to do. And most importantly, I don’t care why.
Saying that the squirrel will live, saying that I will live is enough for now.
Saying that I forgive myself is enough right now, and I know it’s enough for one very simple reason: it’s the way forward.