The Journey to Forgiveness
Ann A. Soe, MSSW, LCSW
Forgiveness…it’s a big word. Most of us have struggled with it. There is real vulnerability in acknowledging when and how we have been hurt and sometimes, the idea of forgiving seems impossible. It is, however, so very necessary to our own healing and wellness. It is often, if not always, some part of the therapy process. The phrase “forgive and forget” is not helpful and it keeps many of us from actually healing. Forgiving doesn’t mean turning a cheek or minimizing. It doesn’t mean forgetting what happened, what was done, or how if impacted you. It means truly leaning into it all and working through it. It means taking stock in what was done to you, what part you might have played, if any, and how you have allowed it to affect you.
We learn best by story so I will share one of my own. In 1999, my father, my rock, my mentor, my friend was killed in a car accident and my mother left horribly injured and widowed. They were hit by a man that barreled across three lanes of traffic in broad daylight on a wide open, no obstruction of view highway on a sunny April afternoon. (you can you hear my pain and struggle here). I can tell you that I have felt every conceivable emotion and thought about this man and what he did to my family. I can also tell you that I spent a lot of time in healing and that it wasn’t always done in a neat, orderly, understandable and productive way. Sometimes it was a horrible, dark, ugly, angry, hopeless, broken, all-consuming, devastating swallow me up kind of pain.
I eventually began to shift my language, to understand that, as humans, we are imperfect, that accidents do happen with terrible outcomes and that this man certainly didn’t intend to kill my father and that he and his family will live with their own painful awareness and impact for the rest of their lives too. He was not drinking, he was not speeding, he was plainly said, not watching, waiting, focusing clearly enough to know that he did not have the time or space to make it across traffic or to see my father’s truck approaching. I began to open myself to understanding the bigger picture, the very nature of human lives…the beginnings and endings and the life that happens in between. I realized that I was, in my own healing journey forgiving this man for the seemingly unforgiveable irresponsibility he showed that day behind the wheel. I challenged myself to consider the times in the past that I may have lost focus, reached for the radio tuning knob, looked at my passenger in conversation or laughter and not been my most clear, responsible, eyes wide open self behind the wheel. It wasn’t easy to do but I did know the truth, accidents do happen and lives are forever changed in an instant.
I worked to heal my heart, in part by recognizing that it I was forever changed and it would get me or I would get it! I let go of the victim thinking. I spent years in survivor thinking in order to just make it and take care of my life and loved ones. Eventually, I was ready to move in to thriving. I was changed by my Dad’s death and the deep pain it caused. I realized how important it is to live every minute of life to the fullest. A fire was lit by my forgiveness and I was ready to combust. I made many huge life changes to create a passion filled life. This healing and forgiving played a big part in the changes I made. Some, I may never have done if not for this tragedy. I opened my own mental health clinic, never to be an employee again. I set clear boundaries in my closest relationships. I said yes to my desire to travel, to buy that fast, hot car, to have fun. I left a marriage that wasn’t terrible but did not meet my needs or compliment my passions. I let go of the tight Momma grip I had on my son as he faced his own challenges in creating his young adult life. I stopped taking responsibility for others in my life. I said good-bye and I wish you well to some friendships that were unbalanced and not supporting me in my greatest good. Forgiveness gave me that ability to start living again and it has made all the difference.
“Forgiveness is never about the other person. Someone hurts us and then we hurt ourselves by bringing up the issue in our minds and hearts over and over again, reigniting that pain. Forgiveness is about reclaiming your power and putting an end to the damage you’re doing to yourself by consciously choosing to release your past.” -Shayla Logan
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