It’s such a small word with such a life-altering effect.
Confessing our darkest shame and guilt is tragic-feeling, yet once we do it and are given the stunning gift of forgiveness by another, it allows us to forgive ourselves and begin the process of letting go and moving on.
I’ve always been a loud advocate for bestowing forgiveness upon others. I’m friends with nearly all of my exes, though it sometimes took me a while to get to that point, and I’ve forgiven one of the men who was involved in my brother’s murder. Only one person has ever actually asked me for forgiveness, yet I give it freely anyway. I even have it tattooed across the inside of my left wrist to remind myself every day to just let that sh*t go, man.
Easier said than done, right?
I had a dark, ugly secret that I held on to for 17 years. A secret that was devastating and painful and that I knew would destroy at least a few lives. I would go years without thinking about it, and then it would crawl out from the shadows of the sewer drain like Pennywise when I was least expecting it and taunt me, reminding me that I used to be a terrible person and telling me that I didn’t deserve lasting happiness.
One of the people involved in my secret was killed in a car accident nearly 10 years ago and somehow, that made keeping it feel all the more gut-wrenching. Several times over the years, I had thought seriously about calling up the other person, my once-upon-a-time best friend in the whole world, and laying all of my guilt at her feet to do with what she pleased, but I never did.
Why? Because I was scared.
I was scared of how she would react. I was scared that she would scream and cry and probably punch me in the face. I was scared because I knew I deserved to be punched in the face. And as cowardly and self-justifying as it sounds, I was scared of losing her friendship.
And more consuming than the fear was the fact that I didn’t believe I deserved forgiveness. I throw forgiveness around like glitter at a mermaid festival and yet I didn’t feel that I was worthy of it myself. Interesting, isn’t it?
I am currently spending some time in my hometown. It’s a place full of dark and painful memories; ones I don’t seem to handle too well, but I’ve decided to utilize this time at home to confront the memories and the trauma they hold. It’s been challenging, to say the least. I’ve spent a lifetime running from it all and while everyone else believed I was living a romantic life of freedom and travel via boats, I’ve always known that I was trying to escape—I was chained to my childhood pain.
Because standing still means that eventually your demons catch up to you. And I seem to have a lot of demons.
My hometown is a place I’ve avoided for 20 years because of the way it makes me feel. Every time I’m here I suffocate on the past. It drags me down and I become this gloomy, sad shell of a person, where normally I’m fantastic at hiding behind my annoyingly bubbly and optimistic facade. Who I am when I’m in this valley is someone I don’t like at all. It’s nearly like I’m watching myself, not realizing that it’s me, and I’m thinking, “Who is this b*tch and what’s her beef with life?”
Oddly, it took a few recent late-night conversations with a 21-year-old dude who’s on the level of Yoda-wise to make me open my eyes to my own bullsh*t. But it was that neutral, brutally honest, outsider view of myself that finally made it all click for me. It was the backhand from reality that I needed, and I am so intensely grateful for it because it made me decide that it’s time to deal with my past, to get over my fear of men, to stop equating sex with love, to deal with the trauma that my inner little girl has been clutching for so long, and to leave it all where it belongs—buried in the back forty.
So, what does this have to do with forgiveness and my 17-year secret?
Yesterday, I finally confessed that secret to my long-ago friend. In-person. Face-to-face. And she didn’t punch me (though seeing the tears in her eyes felt like being punched in the soul). Instead, she hugged me while we cried together and I asked for her forgiveness. She thanked me for telling her and told me that all was forgiven; that I could finally wipe my slate clean and forgive myself and move on.
It was a 10-minute conversation sitting in my car in the parking lot of an abandoned small-town convenience store, but it unraveled 17 years of guilt and shame. I went back to my parent’s house and stacked wood for four hours straight while listening to music and then went to bed at 7 p.m. and slept (terribly) for 14 hours.
Today, I’m exhausted and my body is aching, but my heart finally feels free. Saying that heavy thing out loud after all these years of swallowing it down made me realize that I’m not a sh*tty person—I’ve just made mistakes like every other human on this planet. It also made me realize that I can be forgiven as easily as I forgive others; that I really and truly am worthy of it. What goes around comes around, in a positive way.
I still have a lot more to face in the remaining month that I’ll be in my hometown, but yesterday was the first big hurdle toward turning to face my demons head-on instead of constantly running while looking over my shoulder. Looking back instead of forward is what makes you stumble, and I’ve reached the point in my life where I don’t think I’d have the energy to get back up if I fall one more time. But feeling free of the burden of that secret has also ignited within me a knowing that I’m finally done falling.
Watch out, Life. I’m coming at ya.