January 25, 2017

Taking out the Bitterness with the Garbage.


Like anyone, there have been times when I have been clearly wronged—usually by someone I didn’t expect it to come from.

When these things happen, it can turn from shock, pain and disappointment into full-blown bitterness, and sometimes even hatred.

I nursed one such injury a few years ago. Going through an especially difficult family crisis, an opportunistic friend unloaded on me when I was too weak to fight back. I felt kicked while I was already down. As time went by, I found myself growing more and more angry, feeling justified and righteous in my indignation. Clearly, I had been wronged (which made it easier to stay mad).

I felt sick even hearing about the offending person, and especially when hearing anything positive (yet smiling like the Grinch when I heard anything bad)! That which we react strongly to always tells the truth, doesn’t it?

Haven’t we all been there? Randomly lurking on social media, wearing our best hate face when we see their updates and pictures? Asking mutual friends roundabout questions just so we can burn? Don’t we sometimes come to a point where we almost enjoy nursing that grudge?

I mean, clearly I was wronged. Right?

Sometimes we can be good at analyzing every detail of a wrong that’s been done to us, stockpiling proof of mistreatment. In doing so, I started to realize I had a pretty good chip growing on my shoulder. And I was sinking deeper into bitterness and misery because of it. I was hoarding negativity.

“We often hold a grudge because we don’t want to let a person off the hook. But who is really hooked: the one who’s moved on or the one who’s holding on?” ~ Lori Deschene

One day I realized my need to let it go.

Going about my normal cleaning ritual one morning, I emptied all of my household trash cans and consolidated them in the kitchen garbage container. Realizing the trash was now filled with too many heavy things, it became a struggle to lift the bag out of the can. I pulled and pried to no avail. The drawstrings ripped from the trash bag as it stretched thin and developed holes instead of rising out in a neatly tied bag. Nothing I tried helped it to budge, the material only continued to spread thin and tear.

I climbed above the can, standing with one foot propped on the oven, balancing the other on the counter top and pulled different sides of it trying to lift that thing out! This went on for a while and worked me into a sweat.

Finally, in my frustration I decided to take the can itself and unload the whole thing into the dumpster. Barely able to drag it, I slowly made my way down the driveway, most likely looking frustrated and foolish to witnessing neighbors. When I got the trash container to the dumpster, I had to heave the can up over my shoulder. I was hoping to make it on the first try and that the heavy contents would easily empty without pulling me in with them! It took two attempts but finally I got the contents up and over and the trash bag slid out of the container landing with a loud thud inside the dumpster.

It occurred to me then that the struggle had been avoidable. It had been hard work because I let the garbage fill up for too long.

Suddenly, I had a moment of awakening. I realized how the burden and weight of the garbage was similar to the heaviness that had been accumulating in my own heart as I carried pain and resentment toward the person who’d hurt me so deeply. I knew I was dragging all of that trash around with me and that it was long overdue to be left in the past. Clinging to the situation had become a dead weight. Carrying it around with me was limiting my ability to enjoy the right now of life.

That kind of garbage has to be unloaded often, or it too will pile up. Grudges, like garbage, become overwhelmingly burdensome. Others can see how stubborn and foolish you are before you see it yourself. I realized letting go, even if I had the right to be angry—even if I was clearly entitled to feel pain and heartache—had more to do with me than it did the one who inflicted the damage.

Holding on doesn’t become the other person’s garbage to carry. It isn’t their trash piling up, and they won’t be who the one to drag it to the curb. Those burdens are ours to shoulder.

I thought about the weight of the wound for a moment. It was too heavy for me to keep carrying. So I opened my hands to the sky and declared to the one who had caused me so much pain, “I forgive you. I release my emotions, my energy and my will to forgive you completely. I surrender my logic and the memories and I forgive you. I am letting you off my hook, whether you were right or you were wrong, whether I deserved it or I did not. Though I felt like I was in the worst of times already when it happened and it seemed as if you had no mercy, it doesn’t matter. I wholeheartedly forgive you and wish for you to have the best life possible.”

Saying it out loud somehow helped me sincerely mean it. I felt the load lighten in my soul and in that moment, I set the weight of it down and left it. I walked away feeling 100 pounds lighter, vowing not to pick it up or drag it around again.

“Life becomes easier when you learn to accept the apology you never got.” ~ R. Brault

Once I returned inside, I knew the garbage may easily fill up again. But it doesn’t have to become a huge amount of baggage like before. Now it’s just something to stay mindful of clearing.

Is there garbage you need to drag to the curb? Someone to let off your hook? In doing so, you will be the one whose burden is relieved. Letting go, choosing to forgive and guarding our hearts from bitterness is frequent work. Just like taking out the garbage, it’s something to maintain. And life is so much lighter for it.

Love, peace and light,


Author: Annie Highwater

Image: Guian Bolisay/Flickr 

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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