Forgiveness Is Too Hard When You're Drowning In Grief
On the day of Forgiveness I’m not feeling very forgiving.
It’s been a long season. Last year I was pulled down into the muck. I’m still finding mud footprints all over my mind.
You see, loss is a tricky thing. One day you’re riding the wave and feeling all Zen-like and the next moment you’re seething with anger or crying or rehearsing conversations.
In her book, Rising Strong, Dr. Brené Brown describes how her research participants recounted losses that were difficult to identify or describe because they weren’t necessarily deaths or separations. She writes, “These included the loss of normality, the loss of what could be, the loss of what we thought we knew or understood about something or someone.”
This long season has included losses. Today (of all days) is Easter. The revered forgiveness holiday of the year. It’s the day when the betrayers, backstabbers, haters, and false friends are set free. So maybe I’m still stuck on the darker part of the story, yeah? I’m decidedly in the midnight of my loss today.
The day started out bursting with love. We enjoyed candy-filled Easter baskets, homemade lemon pound cake donuts, and morning snuggles. We danced in the kitchen and sang hip-hop songs. All of the love was bubbling up to the top. Good energy filled our home and our hearts.
Then we got in the car and my body had time to settle. You know those moments of stillness where your mind tells you exactly what’s going on with your heart? Yep, that’s what happened. I began driving and finally had time to feel what was going on. I started rehearsing conversations. It went something like, “Well, if she says this then I can list my ten thousand (correct/right/absolute) reasons for doing what I did. And then if she says that then I can remind her of this. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” I noticed the story, because my heart was racing and my jaw was clenched tight.
Rehearsing future conversations that will likely never happen is not helpful. Stressing myself out over imaginary conversations is not wise.
I reminded myself to stop the story.
I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth.
I sent the story and person away with love and peace.
But I’m still mad.
To tell you the truth, I’m brokenhearted. I’m deep in the loss of something that I thought I knew and understood. I’ve been deeply misunderstood. Stories have been made up about me. I have no control over any of it. I’m upset that I can’t direct the narrative. I’m shaken by having loved someone that doesn’t know me or chooses not to see me. It’s a loss of the oddest sort. Perhaps I’m even grieving something that was never there? I don’t know. My heart is telling me that it’s tired, and overworked, and sad.
So this is where I’m at today. I’m in heartache. The deep, dark, pulsing heart of grief. I’m stuck in the whirlpool of frustration, anger, sadness, forgiveness, and love. I’ve touched on all of those emotions today and they just keep cycling through.
I’m not sure that forgiveness is an actual state that we reach. For me, it’s been more of a process. I keep lovingly releasing the person until my relationship with them or the story changes. Time is always a magical factor in letting things go. At some point new routines and relationships become strengthened and the loss becomes less piercing. Distance from the experience also changes my relationship with the story. I begin to see the lessons, the wisdom, and all of the love that lived within the story.
In Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes, “Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief…The death or ending that forgiveness necessitates comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations or dreams. We may need to relinquish the power that comes with “being right” or put to rest the idea that we can do what’s in our hearts and still retain the support or approval of others.”
Last year, I made a clear decision. I trusted myself and acted from a place of self-care. I have scrutinized this decision and my communication around it. I’ve had to look closely because it caused a tsunami of loss. Loss with such gravity that I felt pulled under the ocean waves. Disoriented. Lost. Pure darkness.
Now I find myself gripping and bracing for impact. I can almost predict when another wave will hit and I’m trying to be ready for it. Ready for the flood of anxiety. Waiting for the pain. Predicting the anger that will surge up.
Grief is a lonely place. Even though I know that I have a team of swimmers by my side, the loss still pinches me at unexpected times. I might be totally in my joy and a brief moment too close to the loss will pull me down.
I want to be on top of the water. I want to be riding the wave. If it were sunny with clear blue skies for a while that would be awesome, too.
Right now I want to be driving my car to see my favorite person with my kids giggling and talking in the back seat. I want to be all peace and love on this glorious day. But I’m not. One foot is still in the murky water.
I’m imagining myself facing the ocean as a torrent of waves prepare to knock me down. I’m resisting getting hurt. I’m pushing against any potential for softness or love to get through. I’m armoring up to avoid feeling vulnerable. I’m trying to be tough, because inside I feel so broken. One giant wave could crack me open.
I think I could do this differently.
I could be softer.
More understanding of myself.
Instead of resisting this grief I could be open to it. Instead of rushing through it or diving over it, I could wade slowly. I could let the water lap against my thighs. I could float along with the waves. I could be present to what grief is teaching me.
I could let myself be angry. Sad. Upset. Lost. Loved.
I could move with my grief instead of charging against it.
I could be like the water instead of fighting it.
Recently, my cousin passed along some wisdom to me. She said, “Flow like water, Baby.” Yep, I think that’s the key to my healing. Maybe it will be a part of yours, too.
We’re all after the resurrection. We want a peek at what our lives will be like once time has washed away our wounds. But we can’t skip the hard part. The darkness is speaking to us about love and loss and growth. It’s showing us why forgiveness has so much value. It’s not because it’s easy to come by, it’s because it’s incredibly challenging to get to. Getting to forgiveness will cost us our peace, our righteousness, our precious time. But when we get through the darkest part of it (and I know I will), we will be reminded of all of the light that exists in the world. We will deepen our capacity to love. We will become stronger and softer in all of the best ways.
If you’re in the well of loss right now, here are some gentle reminders:
You don’t have to be right. It takes so much effort to prove yourself.
You don’t have to get better quickly. The heart takes it’s time.
You don’t need to forget the good stuff. Love is at the center of it all.
And lastly, “Flow like water, Baby.”
With Love & Backbone,
P.S. Check out the Chai Talk Podcast, “Let it Go” for more support on healing from loss.
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If Perception is King, Then Intuition is Queen
I can remember having a conversation with my cousin about what other people think of us and how it impacts our relationships. He was in a period of transition and had just gotten an edgy haircut. I can remember him lamenting about how people may judge him based on his hair. Quickly, I quipped, “We can’t control people’s perception of us.”
Perception is out of our scope of control. We can do and say all of the right things, but other people’s opinions about us are completely their own. They have their own ideas and stories made up already about who we are, how we behave, and what our intentions are.
Instead of trusting ourselves and living our lives, we tend to hustle for approval from outsiders. We want to seem a certain way rather than be who we are. We’ll say “yes” when we don’t want to and we’ll play the part just so that people like us. We begin settling for likes instead of actually liking the people that we were made to be. If we’re not careful this outer striving for perception will begin to drive a wedge between how we show up and who we truly are.
We all know people that really value what other people think. I’m not talking about taking in feedback from close family and friends, I’m talking about the anonymous-over-there-I-don’t-even-really-know-you-that-well opinion. The push to mold ourselves for the sake of fitting-in or being well-liked by people that haven’t even earned the right to know our story.
Maybe you’re like that. It’s okay if that description fits you. Our DNA wants us to join groups of people for our basic survival. We want to form connections and live in harmony with other people. Just like in junior high we really don’t want to be that girl that just doesn’t fit in. I get it. The idea of not belonging is terrifying. If you’ve ever been on the outside of a group, you know that’s a sad place to be.
So we learn quickly to bend over backwards, walk the line, and do what we’re supposed to do. For the most part this type of thinking works so we get fooled into playing the game. For the end result of acceptance, we’ll go along with just about anything. To do something else would mean that we could risk losing our groups, maybe even our family, and we’d certainly increase the probability that people would have a negative perception of us.
The price of fitting-in seems worth it until we get to the point that we’ve lost touch with who we truly are inside. We have trouble waking up in the morning, we’re constantly irritated, and we feel stuck. Even after combing through our lives we can’t figure out why we feel so off balance. We spin out asking ourselves, “Is it my diet? Maybe I need to work out more? Should I take on more things?” NO. You’ve been hustling for other people’s perception of you. That’s why you’re so stinking tired. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Recently, I had a wise friend tell me, “Perception is everything.” She was trying to help me. I had been spinning my wheels in hopes that I could change certain people’s perception of me. I was explaining myself. I was highlighting evidence and offering reasons for my decisions. I was desperately railing against being misunderstood. This friend gently reminded me that I needed to “let go” of what other people thought. There will never be a victory in the hustle to make people see us differently. Their perception is informing every thought that passes through their mind. As soon as the behavior is witnessed we are categorized, labelled, and filed away.
The truth is that perception is king.
Hhhhmmmm…this may be so, but I have a feeling that there is more to this system. If perception is king then intuition is queen.
How does intuition play into this? Perception is run by the eyes and the brain. We have an experience and our brain tries to make sense of it as quickly as possible. Intuition, however, has more to do with the belly and the heart. Intuition often alerts the body and informs us of some truth even before the mind has time to catch up.
Have you ever been around someone that seemed a certain way, but something felt off? Like the woman who seems to have it all together, but when you’re with her you feel like something isn’t right? Perhaps it seems like something is missing or there’s a mismatch between her appearance and her energy? Yes, of course we can all think of someone who feels off balance even though the perception is the opposite.
Whereas perception judges on external appearance, intuition grounds its knowing on feeling. As humans we are so good at judging. We do it a thousand times a day and we’re often unaware that we’re even doing it. Intuition, though also automatic, gets much less weight than it should because we don’t trust our feelings as much as we trust our thoughts. Intuition is often thought of as a willy-nilly-all-feely process and we’re more likely to doubt it because it originates from a feeling. Perception seems like the sure bet because it’s sort of based on facts like how someone looks or what our previous experiences tell us.
To value our intuition, we need to learn to trust ourselves. In a world that likes to give us an opinion about what we should wear, how much money we should make, and who we should be with we often can’t even hear the inner voice that’s whispering to us. This quiet voice typically can’t compete with the world’s expectations of how our lives should look. We’re so busy hustling that our intuition gets pushed to the back corner of our minds.
But…what if we did things differently? What if we learned to trust ourselves instead of living our lives to please others? What would happen?
Trusting our own feelings when they’re unpopular is hard. Honoring our intuition when the rest of the world is telling us otherwise is excruciating. But when we consider the cost of shrinking ourselves to make other people happy, we realize that it’s not a good buy.
Sometimes our intuition will tell us to let go. Sometimes it will invite us to pay attention. Other times it will lead us to a whole new beginning. Intuition is like an outstretched hand inviting us into the unknown. The equation is: if I trust myself, I will find freedom.
When you invite both the king and queen into your decisions, the more likely you will be to make clear choices. Both systems run automatically, but now you can filter through them and weigh their truths. By trusting ourselves we are better able to determine how to make sense of the experiences we have. Instead of asking ourselves, “What will other people think?” We will begin to ask, “What feels true to me in this moment?” Having trust in ourselves will allow for us to feel grounded instead of flailing about in our hopes to fit-in. This foundation of trust will empower us to belong to the most important person in our lives: ourselves.
Trust yourself. Be free.
With Love & Backbone,
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Nice Girl Uprising, Jennifer Padilla-Burger