My path to forgiveness is not pretty.
It’s not wrapped up in a neat little red velvet bow or sealed with a sweet, comforting kiss on the forehead that makes everything okay. It’s gritty, raw, steeped in thorns and bitterness, overgrown with tall, dry grass and enveloped in a thick cloud of confused smoke.
Forgiveness has been the hardest, messiest, most painful thing in the world for me. And, it’s still not certain.
I still don’t know if I can forgive you.
Because I’m still angry. I’m still sad. I still feel hurt and betrayed.
I was certain these feelings would disappear over time; I thought they’d evaporate quickly, like rainwater on a blade of grass, but they haven’t.
They have lessened their once all-powerful hold on me, yes, but they still whisper cruelly in my ears, even after all these years. They echo through my bones and stab into my gut, daily. The footprints of your harsh, critical words still play like old, familiar songs in the most delicate parts of my mind.
But the presence of these painful feelings doesn’t mean I can’t forgive you.
It doesn’t mean I can’t let go.
It doesn’t mean I can’t move on.
So I stand here on this winding path to forgiveness ripe with tears and smeared with red berries of hurt.
Yes, this path to forgiveness is not clear-cut or peaceful; it’s not pretty at all. It’s chock-full of emotion, dripping with heartbreak and swirling with fresh whiffs of looming uncertainty. It is a path forged through anger, written in fire, smothered in bitterness and sealed with naked truth.
Yes, truth—thank f*ck for truth—is the one thing that’s kept me going.
And the truth is, what we had wasn’t about love at all; it was about power.
It was about winning.
But in the end, we both lost, didn’t we?
We lost everything. Maybe we even lost ourselves.
I know I did.
Maybe forgiveness is the only way to find myself again.
And maybe the only way I can finally forgive you is to fully acknowledge the unpleasant, ugly truth that I played my part, too.
It wasn’t just you, hurting me, trampling on my spirit—it was also me, sitting still, not speaking up, not telling you to stop, not claiming my power to walk away. It was me, allowing it all to happen, because I thought I deserved it.
I invited you into my heart, day after day, moment after shattering moment, even after you broke my trust, even after you hurt me terribly, even after you reached inside me and scraped into my wounds, because part of me was wholly convinced that I deserved to be treated like sh*t.
I hated myself then, and you played into my story of worthlessness perfectly. It was a chapter I’ll never forget. I played the naïve victim, and I did it brilliantly. You played the controlling, narcissistic martyr, and you played it to a T.
But I forgive myself. I forgive myself for all of it. I forgive myself for not knowing my worth, for not speaking my truth, for thinking it was okay for you to trample on me.
I forgive myself.
And slowly, ever so slowly, like a shy flower unfurling its golden petals, like a whisper echoing through the air, I’m beginning to forgive you. It’s as subtle as a curl of smoke rising from a freshly-poured hot cup of tea. It’s as timid as a baby deer learning how to walk, stumbling, buckling and falling down occasionally.
My forgiveness is wobbly and fragile, awkward and unsure.
But it’s real.
Because I know that forgiving you won’t make it all better.
It won’t make it okay.
Nothing will ever make it okay.
The way you treated me was miles past terrible, and the wounds you’ve left in my heart will not be forgotten.
And yet, in the wake of all that destruction, I am okay.
I forgive you.
I forgive you, because I don’t need to be weighed down by this crushing grief anymore. I forgive you, because I can’t hang onto these sharp seeds of bitterness anymore. I forgive you, because I can’t hold onto this story of being a powerless victim anymore. I forgive you, because I learned so much from you.
I forgive you, because I love me.
I forgive you, because I love you.
I don’t want to be anywhere near you. I will never, ever invite you into my heart again, but I love you.
And my love is strong enough to empower me.
Maybe you don’t know how to love.
But I do.
That’s what you taught me.
And no, I don’t love what you did to me. I don’t love the dark monsters inside you. I don’t love the cruel parts of you that take sick pleasure in putting other people down.
But I love your heart, just as much as I hate it.
So, right now, I hold you in my heart—not fondly, not joyously at all, but with tears in my eyes and gritty, hard-won lessons pouring through my palms like precious grains of white sand.
I forgive you, because I deserve to be free.
I forgive you, because even though you hurt me a thousand times, I see the love that lives inside you, buried and obscured as it may be.
And I forgive you, just a tiny bit.
With each exhale, I begin to release you; I release all that we shared together. I release you from my heart.
You don’t have any power over me anymore. You can’t hurt me anymore.
I forgive you—
Not for you.
Not so you can feel better, not so you can rest easy at night.
I forgive you
To release me.
I forgive you—
I finally forgive you,
So we can end this tragic misery, this trail of bitterness between our hearts.
I snip the scratchy thread of pain that still connects us.
I forgive you—
As a gift,
A precious gift,
Author: Sarah Harvey
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Cari Hume/Flickr