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I have messed up more times than I can count in my life.
I’ve done the kind of messing up where you’re not sure you’ll ever move on from it.
I’ve done the kind of messing up where you can’t look at yourself in the mirror because of the shame, where you’re curled up in a ball on your bed with the curtains drawn shut for days.
I’ve f*cked up, royally—and each and every time I never thought I’d be able to start over.
But you know what? I did. I did and I am here and writing this to show you that it is possible. I’m here to tell you—no matter how in the depths of your own despair you might be, you too can come out of it.
You can put yourself back together. You can move through this pain, even if it was self-inflicted. You will heal and you will move on. And soon the person you hurt (if you did hurt someone) will be able to move on too.
Weeks after I’d done one of the worst things in my life, I remember talking to a friend and she said to me, “You have to forgive yourself, Naomi. You have to forgive yourself, or you’ll never move forward.”
And I said to her, “But I don’t deserve to move forward.”
I remember feeling like forgiveness was an easy out. Like if I just forgave myself, what did that say about my actions and who I was as a person? Didn’t that then mean that I could continue to do bad things and just “forgive myself” after?
I also remember feeling like it wasn’t fair to the person I hurt if I let myself off with forgiveness. What if they hadn’t yet forgiven me? And how could I move on and be happy if they were still hurting? For months after, the same thought ran over and over in my head: I don’t deserve happiness after what I’ve done.
But what my friend said was true. And what I said was also true. “Forgiveness” isn’t just an empty word, something you say you’ll do and suddenly you’re healed and moving forward.
No—forgiveness is doing the dirty work. It’s facing up to what you’ve done and understanding why you did it so that it doesn’t happen again. Forgiveness is learning from the experience and becoming a better person because of it.
And it’s not to say I f*cked up once and then I never made a mistake again and was always perfect and kind and honest going forward. I’ve made some pretty bad mistakes since then and I will (most likely) continue to make mistakes. But it’s important to remember that we can always come out of it and, like Pema Chödrön says,
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Now, when I’ve done something not-so-great, when I’ve said the wrong thing, or acted in a way that’s not aligned with my values, I pause, and I face it. I sit with the uncomfortable. But first, I do the cliché self-help things like take a bath, put on a face mask, go to yoga, binge-watch all three seasons of “Queer Eye,” and I allow myself time to reset.
I treat myself with compassion, first and foremost. I give myself space to settle in to what happened because maybe I’m not ready yet to face the why—and that’s okay. I know I am not going to be able to face what has happened if I’m crying uncontrollably and my thoughts are unhealthy and harmful.
When I’m ready, I try to unpack it. Maybe I book an impromptu therapy session. Or maybe I call a good friend. Or maybe I sit and write in my journal and work through what happened on my own. At some of my worst moments, when I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could reach out to, forums became my best friend.
The internet has a solution for everything. And the beautiful thing about it is that there are people who have been there, done that—and a thousand times worse. Reaching out to strangers in times of absolute need has saved me more times than I can count.
Lastly, I attempt reconciliation with the person I hurt. For things that were less trivial, this usually happens a few days to a week later, when we’ve both had time to work through it on our own. But for situations that hurt deep, sometimes months, years have gone by.
Of course, there were initial apologies. But when both people are in the midst of pain, forgiveness is not something either are capable of giving. I learned this the hard way—wanting and expecting forgiveness right away—but we have to step back and respect the other person’s space. We have to acknowledge that whatever it was we did was hurtful and it’s not our job to tell someone when they need to be okay.
Sometimes, we won’t get closure. Sometimes, our own forgiveness is the only one we will get—and maybe the only one we need. At the end of the day, we are left with only ourselves. We have to get comfortable with the people we are and the mistakes that we make. And getting comfortable means facing the uncomfortable.
When we’ve royally f*cked up, no matter how bad, there is always a way out, a lesson to be learned from it, and a path to healing.
We need to treat ourselves with compassion because f*cking up is part of the human experience. It’s inevitable. It will happen time and time again and when it does, we can either shame ourselves, dive into unhealthy patterns of behaviour, get stuck into a rut of self-hatred and blame—or, we can take these moments as opportunities for us to grow into better people than we were yesterday.
But, always after some Netflix-binging and (vegan) ice cream.