Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Themes of My Life: Forgiveness

After the letting go... there is a time to explore forgiveness. That's a word we throw around a lot, but I don't always stop to examine what it means -- what it is, and what it isn't, and why I can find it hard.

I have a tendency to think that forgiveness is saying, "Oh, that's okay, don't worry about it" and moving on.  But, I'm not sure that's it. Forgiveness isn't just forgetting what happened, or saying that what happened didn't matter -- that it doesn't matter. Because it does.

It does matter.

Especially at the moment where you're moving on and letting go, forgiveness has to be a lot more about you than it is about them. It's a lot more for you than it is for them. It's what begins to heal your wounds. It stops what they did from turning into your bitterness and anger and shame. None of us want to be shackled to an unhappy past -- and wallowing in the hate that can build just keeps us chained to it.

Choosing to forgive sets us free from those chains. It helps us rise above what happened -- not because what they did doesn't matter -- but because we do.

But, it's hard. Sometimes I don't want to. I want to stay here where I can be a little angry.

So, I have to be straight about what happened. I have to admit the choices I made, and the ones that they did. This is not the place to sugarcoat for anyone, but it's also not the place to let my judgment fly. Neither for them nor for me. Just be straight...

I need to learn from the past -- but I also need to let it stay there. I live so much in my head sometimes that it's tempting to re-litigate everything that happened. Everything they did. Everything I did. Conversations I'd like to do over.

But you can't go back and change those things.  You can't go back and change who you were. You can't go back and change who they were. All you can do is to choose differently going forward. And, like letting go, sometimes that's a choice you have to keep making.

I'm not done with this step. I know I'm not.  Sometimes I think that I am, and I feel like I can finally take a breath.  And then... my resentment and bitterness flare up, and I realize, "Okay.  Not quite there yet."

I'm not sure it's really them that I have trouble forgiving -- but me.

I can forgive them for lying to me. I have a harder time forgiving myself for believing those lies, for excusing it, for not calling them on it, and for deciding to live with it.  And somehow or somewhy, that manifests itself as still being angry with them.  Because, I guess, I'm angry at us both.

I need to be able to offer the same forgiveness to myself that I try to extend to them. I need it to be okay that I was flawed in all of this, too. And probably I need that more.  Them, I can say Goodbye to.  Me, I have to live with for quite awhile.

And, all of this said, even as I still walk toward that forgiveness and even as I know that I'm not there yet -- I'm not upset about that. I have walked this path before, and I know that I will get there with some time and with some distance. It will come.

Just not yet.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Themes of My Life: Letting Go and Moving On

Broken relationships make me feel ashamed.

That's not to say that I think all relationships need to be unending. I think that there is a natural pattern to some friendships, and it's normal for that to ebb and flow. It's normal for people to become a part of your life and to then sometimes fade out of it. I've often compared it to a tapestry of color in your life. Some people are meant to be a color that weaves itself through the whole piece, and others are meant to add short splashes of color and vibrancy to different parts of the piece. This is healthy.

But, when I look back, there are three relationships that stand out to me as endings that I regret. I think I regret them less for THAT they ended than I do for WHY they ended, or maybe even just for HOW. For the brokenness that necessitated a parting... and maybe for the length of time I tried and failed to hang on to relationships that I should have just accepted were over.

One of the things that has always hung me up is regret and shame over character misjudgment. You go into a relationship, and maybe coexist in a relationship, thinking that you are kindred spirits... or with an assumption that you see them in the same way that they see you, or share similar values. But, when time has revealed the ways in which I have been wrong, it has shaken my confidence and my trust in myself. I have felt ashamed of my own naivete and gullibility. I should have seen things more clearly. I should have been more aware. I shouldn't have let affection cloud my judgment. And if I was wrong about this, what else have I been wrong about? How can I trust myself going forward?

That self-doubt has often had me wrapped up in questions of when it's time to hold on and when it's time to let go. In some ways, it's my own values that have held me in that space longer than necessary. My impulses toward grace and empathy have led me to accept far less than I'm worthy of, and to believe I'm worthy of less than I am. There is a balance between extending grace and demonstrating self-respect, and I have often fallen on the wrong side of it. A friend wrote to me, "Every one of us deserves to be in relationships that are balanced. We are worthy of having relationships where we are getting what we give." And that was something I "reasoned" myself out of way too often.

What it has taken for me is to get out from under the story I was telling myself. That's been different stories for different circumstances. Stories of hope and history and persistence and reconciliation.  All good stories... and stories which are often true.  They just weren't true here, and I needed to stop telling myself that they were.  The real stories certainly weren't as pretty, and sometimes they hurt quite a lot. Actually, usually they hurt quite a lot. But, I found that an unhappy reality was much easier to let go of, once it had fewer illusions to buoy itself up.

I had to accept that it was time to part. Not all roads have to run parallel forever. Not all colors are forever. Pick your metaphor.

Most times that I have come to this place, I have let go with anguish. It has been flush with pain and I have ripped off the band-aid and suffered as quickly as possible. Somehow I bought into this idea that I was weak to hurt, and so the most grown-up strong thing to do was to rush through the healing as quickly as possible. We're not very comfortable with pain and grief, and I'm not sure that we're ever quite taught how to deal with it.

This last time, I took a different route. A little bit of Brene Brown, a little bit of Craig Malkin, a little bit of a couple others. It was one of those months where you read the same sentiment from a number of different sources, and you think, "Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something." And so, I slowed down. I consciously chose not to rush through the pain. I let myself feel the hurts. I let myself feel the disappointments. I didn't try to reason myself out of them or berate myself for feeling the things I was. I just let it be. I let myself accept what it was I was feeling and how things were.

And then...  it hurt less. It hurt less and I began to understand all the things. A friend once said to me, in the midst of a conversation on the inevitible of heartbreak:

Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it's C'est la vie. Sometimes you're so ready for them to go, it's just a massive relief.

At the time, I don't know that I really understood it. But, with my heart and head in a different place, I finally thought, "Oh. This is what she meant."

I stopped making it all about me, too. I was a card-carrying member of the Self-Blame Club. I can find a way to blame myself for any problem.  And while sometimes there is a little bit of truth in that, I was taking on blame for things that didn't have anything to do with me. I was blaming myself for problems that were not mine. In a nutshell, if I was the problem, I could fix the problem.

But, when I began to accept and internalize that the problems were not things that I could just fix by "being better," I began to see our stories as ones that needed to end. Some stories simply need to end so that new ones can begin. When I realized that, the past lost a little bit of its power over me. I could begin to let it go.

Letting go wasn't a one-time shot. Sometimes I had to re-"let it go." I found that letting it go was a choice I had to keep making until I didn't need to keep making it. Every once in a while, I have to do it again. But, it gets easier every time. Plus, without my illusions, there really isn't anything I want to go back to, anyway. That makes it easier to move on.

Looking back at them all, there are still things I regret. But, I can look on them with a little bit more kindness.

For the girl I was and for the girl I wanted to be and for the girl I am now.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Themes of my Life: Empathy and Kindness

I am finding that empathy is not a defining value for everyone -- and it was a bit of a surprise for me, especially in places I thought it was. Perhaps (and probably) because it is important to me and integral to my own thought process, I did that dumb thing where you just assume that everyone thinks like you.

And they don't.

I don't want to claim that I always act with empathy because that would be a lie. I get impatient. I mouth off without thinking. I have a wit which has served me well -- but there is a fine line between funny and mean -- so it has also gotten me into trouble with un-thought-through words.

But, when I'm not being a snarky brat, I do try to take a step back and consider why someone is acting in they way they are that's bugging me. What are they feeling? Why? What experiences have they had in their past that contributes to right now? Can I understand those thoughts and feelings if I take off my irritation and look at them through different eyes? If I put myself in their shoes, can I understand?

Not necessarily agree, but understand.

I think it helps me to find the humanity in someone I'm tempted to insult and demonize. It makes me find my own kindness.

Kindness is important to me. Empathy is important to me.

And I can confess that I have a hard time understanding people who don't feel the same way.  I suppose it's hard for me to find empathy for those who have no empathy?

That's an odd circle, isn't it?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Strong and Brave

So... I did a thing.

That turned into a bigger thing.

Basically, my "this isn't right" met up with my "someone has to say something" at just the right (or wrong) time, and I decided that someone was going to be me. I posted some heartfelt thoughts.

To our internal message board. At work.

I know.

And then, I scurried to bed.

I was almost afraid to look at the fall-out when I got up the next morning. No. I was afraid. I really do like my job!

But... I guess the most immediate fall-out was gratitude -- many messages, publicly and privately, thanking me for standing up, for saying what others also felt, for my bravery.

I haven't really known what to say or do with that.  I haven't felt brave at all.

It reminds me of how I felt when our girls were babies. We were 23 years old, first-time parents, when we had our twins -- preemies who spent weeks in the NICU. I remember feeling so uncomfortable and inadequate when people would praise us for how strong they thought we are.

Strong was the last thing I felt. I was just doing what I had to do -- for survival, not strength.

Strong and brave aren't really words I would use to describe myself but --

Maybe that's just because I've seen to many Hollywood movies where Strong and Brave were the big heroic deeds of muscle men and superheroes. Maybe that's not what Strong and Brave are.

Maybe... sometimes...

Strong and Brave are the little choices of ordinary people just trying to survive and do the right thing.

And maybe I need to remember that more.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Themes of My Life: Authentic, Vulnerable, Brave

Last year, my one resolution was to be more authentic. To be okay with being myself, yes - but more, to have the courage to be more outwardly vulnerable. To have the courage to be more honest.

It was a good resolution. Just with a short life.

My first attempt bit me in the ass, basically. It was met with words that I found painful and sent me running back to my defenses. The risk is too great, I thought. Authenticity is too hard. I guess that courage didn't last very long.

Even in the fall when I got a little more solid in my life decisions, when Iw as a little more sure of my why's, and I wanted to write more -- I laid out some affirmative mantras for what I wanted to guide me, one of which was "You have permission to be honest." Wrapped up in that was a continued desire to open myself up, to stop carrying secrets, to better practice and exemplify that authenticity. I found it harder than I thought.

Authenticity comes in pieces. When I think about it, it's not true that I haven't practiced it. It's just been very private and where I felt safe. There are a few people I've trusted enough to be authentic and open, people I was sure were there for me and not just gossip. And with those, I've been much more open about laying out everything. Outside of that, though, I've been pretty closed.

But maybe that's okay to start. One of the Brene Brown pieces that sticks with me is that we choose authenticity, we share our most real stories with those who have earned the right to hear them - not just willy-nilly with the maddening crowd. And maybe that's how you start to learn to be more real - with one trusted soul at a time.

Until, perhaps, the risks of holding tightly to your story become greater than the risks of giving it wings and validation.

I still want to work toward greater courage, deeper vulnerability, truer authenticity. If nothing else, as a gift to myself. But, I think I see now that there are footholds to rest on between the two extremes, and that it isn't an either-or.
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