I had this friend once who now regrets knowing me.
She was there to wipe up the blood when the darkness from within me came tearing at my throat. She was there as I bandaged those wounds so tightly that I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, couldn’t feel.
She watched me rot from the inside and become selfish. She watched my hatred for myself externalize into hatred for people, for her.
She left too late, in her eyes, because of the damage that I inflicted on her raw, sensitive heart. She was there in those moments, but all she saw were cold, empty eyes that couldn’t, wouldn’t accept her love. Because accepting any kind of love would mean admitting that love was missing. That love was needed.
She thought it was all for nothing.
I can understand. I’ve been hurt that way too. After all, how do we develop demons except by the hands of people who, once upon a time, swore to themselves that they wouldn’t let those same demons loose on those they love? Round and round we go.
Love saved me.
I didn’t choose to love myself because I thought it sounded like a nice idea. I was drowning in an ocean of loathing, and love was the only shore in sight. I tried with all of my power to change who I saw in the mirror, but she kept showing up, relentless and determined, to be accepted.
I pushed myself away as hard as I pushed this friend. She was my first teacher of love, but I didn’t know it then. I didn’t know anything back then except for my pain.
She taught me lessons that I didn’t come to appreciate until I faced the exhausted, but furious, little girl inside of me—her skin and thoughts full of scars. This little girl whose pain I couldn’t handle, so I locked her away in a tower within me, and each time her anguish came through my veins, I pushed her down deeper and deeper. This little girl whose feelings I wouldn’t allow, so I suppressed those same feelings in others.
Standing eye to eye with this beautiful, hurt creature, she reminded me of someone I knew. Someone I’d treated just the same.
She wasn’t the only one. When I suffered, I left a wake of suffering behind me. I’ve tried, with a heavy heart and loving words, to right my wrongs. I’ve tried to express an understanding and acknowledgement of the pain I caused. Some people have forgiven me, while others, like this friend, have not.
The words “for nothing” have haunted me, because they are so deeply untrue. She was my first teacher of kindness. She left flowers of love outside the brick wall that I’d built to keep it out, and even though she was long gone by the time I broke down that wall, her gift was not wasted.
I didn’t realize what I had until it was gone. I didn’t realize how much pain I’d inflicted until I let myself feel the years of pain that was inflicted onto me.
I thought forgiving myself was the hardest thing. To do that, I had to forgive the people who had hurt me. I could only do that by opening my eyes to the interwoven pattern of generational and cultural love deprivation, abuse, and neglect in which I had been an unconscious participant.
Climbing through the wreckage of guilt inside my heart, this was a difficult awareness to find, but I found it eventually. I didn’t know any better, and neither did the people of my past.
I suppose I could take the same attitude towards the people who haven’t forgiven me, like this friend, among others. I could say to myself that she doesn’t know any better, and that one day she’ll understand just how much I regret the damage that my blind mistakes made. Maybe one day, that will be easy. But right now, it’s hard.
I feel like I’ve called a thousand times too, Adele, and it’s taught me that there are things harder than forgiveness. Harder than forgiving those who hurt me and forgiving myself for hurting others is realizing that my being sorry can’t heal anyone.
My apologies can’t fix the past. Just because I have awareness now doesn’t erase the damage I did without it.
That’s been a tough pill to swallow, but I’m learning.
I’m learning that there’s a difference between feeling guilt over something because it threatens my self-image, and feeling empathy for the pain that I brought into someone’s life. I’m learning that a person who’s been hurt by me may never see that difference. I’m learning that the compassion I feel for someone who considers themselves my victim may never be felt.
I’m learning to forgive the things I can’t control for their stubbornness.
I’m learning to forgive life for not having a rewind button.
And that has been the most difficult lesson of them all.
Author: Vironika Tugaleva
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Zack Minor/ Unsplash