Forgiveness Doesn’t Have to Make You a Doormat

Forgiveness Doesn’t Have to Make You a Doormat

I used to think that I had to stay angry to protect myself, that my resentments were the only thing keeping me from getting walked on again. 

 

This was just one of the many examples of my black and white thinking. 

 

Until one day, the most banal thing happened. I got a voicemail from the pharmacy that a prescription was ready. 

 

Except the prescription was for my ex-husband. The pharmacy had apparently gotten our numbers mixed up.

 

But, you see, this prescription was for the same ex-husband who had not forwarded the cobra information when it was mistakenly sent to his address and I almost lost my own health insurance. 

 

It was for the same ex-husband who had filed a harassment restraining order against me filled with lies because I yelled at him and removed my own belongings from our house against his wishes. 

 

I could go on and on here. Seriously. How much time you got? 

 

My point is, I had all the justification in the world not to forward that message. Screw him, right?

 

And then a program person asked, “Is that the woman you want to be?

 

The question made me feel like shit, but it also made me aware of what was motivating my resentments. 

 

I was afraid. 

 

This man had hurt me so much, had been cruel in so many cunning ways. I felt like I could not give him one inch. Which meant there was no room to do the right thing. Until I was called out on it.

 

When that happened, I felt like I was backed into a corner. Because that was NOT who I wanted to be. But I also didn’t want to give him the opportunity to hurt me again and these two things felt mutually exclusive up until that point. 

 

By the grace of God, I had been called out on it. So I asked my Higher Power for help, to help me do the right thing and still keep me safe. 

 

And I sent my ex-husband an email. 

 

It contained nothing but the absolutely necessary information. “I got a voicemail that your prescription is ready.” No “Dear X.” No signature. Just the bare minimum of information. And no response when he emailed back with a thank you. 

 

I was scared. I didn’t want to. But I did it. 

 

And I got a lesson and a gift from this experience. 

 

The lesson: my fear was not unfounded. But that didn’t make holding on to my resentments reasonable. 

 

Not long after that, I got an email from him saying my friend’s mother had called. Unlike my email, his was very cordial with salutations and signatures. 

 

And while it was indeed decent of him to pass on this message, and he did it with more cordiality than I passed on mine, I also knew it was his pattern to pretend like one decent act absolved all other heinous ones. And it was my pattern to go along with that in order to keep the peace, or in order to not look like a bitch. 

 

This wasn’t a prescription that could put his health at risk, so this time, I decided to risk “looking like a bitch” and didn’t respond. 

 

Because I knew if I did, he would try to use that email exchange as an opening to remaining friends, or as cover for restoring his nice guy appearances. And then the same cunning emotionally abusive pattern could continue. 

 

I never got another email from him again. And there are plenty of other pieces of information it would have been decent of him to pass on that I had to come by in other ways. 

 

And while that’s a little shitty, he hasn’t been able to emotionally abuse me like he did in the past either. 

 

You see, I had done a tremendous amount of work on trying to forgive him, and at this point I HAD begun to see how wounded he was. Indeed, hurt people hurt people. 

 

But forgiveness is damn near impossible if you keep getting hurt by the person. In fact, what I understand today is that forgiveness without boundaries makes you a doormat. 

 

Unless that person has made genuine amends, without boundaries, you WILL get hurt again. (This why I always tell families I work with to trust actions, not words.)

 

But with appropriate boundaries, you can pray for them. You can grieve for their own wounds. And you can move on. 

 

Boundaries are the only way you can take care of yourself. 

 

And here’s the gift I got from this experience. 

 

I used to have this obsessive pattern where I would imagine him criticizing me in different ways (he was always criticizing me) and then I would have the perfect comeback. 

 

I hated these obsessive thoughts. I knew they were doing nothing for me except keeping me stuck. And I knew he was still living in my head rent-free when I kept rehearsing these arguments over and over. I absolutely hated it. But I couldn’t stop them to save my life. 

 

When I sent that email about his prescription…

 

When I didn’t let my resentments keep me from doing the right thing…

 

But then didn’t keep engaging with him either…

 

They were gone. 

 

As if by magic. 

 

Honestly, I couldn’t believe it.

 

And the space that got created in my head was now available for stuff that was so much more positive and productive. To learn new things. To do new things. It’s been so much more fun. 

 

The hiking. The swing dancing. Training in life coaching. Meeting new people. 

 

I wish I had the words succinct enough for a blog post to convey the magic of what what happens when you combine forgiveness with boundaries.

 

But then, I’m probably not finding them because it might lead you to believe the process is clean and smooth. It’s not. 

 

But it IS worth it. 

 

So I have a question for you: 

 

Are there boundaries you need to set so you can let go of a resentment and forgive? What would help you set those boundaries?

 

As you think about that, I want to share a hint: You won’t do this perfectly. And it won’t be smooth sailing.

 

You might have read the story I shared about the email my ex-husband sent back to me and thought, “You know, there’s no reason she couldn’t have said ‘Thank you.'” And you might right about that. I don’t know.

 

I do know that if you’re expecting an exact, right, perfect way to set boundaries then you will stay stuck in your unhealthy relationship patterns. 

 

We’re all just working for progress here, not perfection. Your efforts may be messy at times. But the more you do it, the easier it will be and the better you will get at it. 

 

The lessons and the gifts will come even if you don’t do it perfectly. 

 

So now I want to hear from you. Share your experience strength and hope in the comments. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just a start. I do read everything you share and I appreciate your willingness to do so. 
Four Fundamental Truths About Acceptance

Four Fundamental Truths About Acceptance

In my experience, two of the most difficult recovery concepts are acceptance and surrender. So I’m going to try to tackle these two in this and the next blog post.

This week I’m going to start with acceptance.

Many of us are very familiar with the quote in the Big Book: “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”

While I love the beautiful truth of this quote, I’ve found the daily lived experience of coming to accept things in my life to be a little messier.

I’ve had a lot to accept. I suspect you have, too. Since I just finished reading Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve come to consider four fundamental truths about acceptance.

So, without further ado, here they are:

One: Acceptance f-ing sucks.

It requires you to walk through, and yes, ACCEPT, some downright shitty feelings.

Uppermost among these is fear. Fear that my loved one might never recover. Fear they may die. Fear I may die. Fear my loved one will lose their job, and then we might lose our house. Or fear that I might lose my job because I’m so obsessed and so stressed.

Second to fear is grief. Grief over not getting what we want, the relationship we want, the life we want, the dreams we had for ourselves, the dreams we had for our loved one.

All these downright shitty feelings that acceptance requires us to feel only beg the question: Why, then, would we do it?

How can this possibly be the “answer to all my problems?”

Well, because the things we do to avoid acceptance are always self-destructive and often harmful to others, too.

They’re the things that land us in the rooms of 12-Step recovery to begin with. The drinking, the drugs, the eating, the spending, the inappropriate sex, the gambling. These are all numbing behaviors.

The things we do to avoid acceptance are also sources of immense shame. In fact, I think shame is one of the worst prices we pay for not accepting what is.

That said, I don’t think we can even experience the following three truths, if we do not first acknowledge this one. At best, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, and at worst, failure.

At least in the beginning, acceptance is going to feel like shit. And yeah, we have to accept that acceptance sucks, too.

Which leads me right into number two: Acceptance requires support.

Time to cut yourself some serious slack here. Because essentially what this fundamental truth is saying is that, if we had the wherewith all to feel the incredibly painful feelings around what we’re struggling to accept on our own, we’d have done it already.

We need support in order to be able to accept. We’re not supposed to do this alone. Even if we have the support of our Higher Power, our Higher Power often supports us through other people.

This is another reason why we can’t ignore that the first word of the Steps is “we.”

Not to mention, this support is essential if we hope to climb out the shame.

One thing I’ve had to accept is that my mother will not change. Without support, I tended to interpret this reality as my own personal failure. In other words, I felt like I wasn’t worth changing for.

With support, I can just grieve what is without internalizing any limiting messages.

Number three: Acceptance is the path to freedom.

Acceptance allows us to redirect our energy in productive ways. It allows us to change the things we can.

There’s a reason the Serenity Prayer starts with acceptance first. I must accept before I can change. And I go nuts if I can’t figure out the difference between the two.

When I accepted my mother wouldn’t change, I got to grapple with forgiveness. While this has been a process, the deeper I go with it, the freer I get.

And with forgiveness, I got the clarity I needed to make healthy decisions about that relationship.

The other huge piece of freedom that comes with acceptance is that acceptance gets us out of transactional, conditional, and therefore toxic relationship patterns.

You know the ones: “If I do this, you’ll love me.” Or “If you do/don’t do that, I’ll be OK.”

When we live in these kinds of relationships, we live in constant psychological fear that one or the other party is going to mess up these often unspoken conditions.

This means we live in a prison of our own making.

But when we, for example, accept that certain people are never going to love us no matter what we do, we may grieve, but we’re also free to build relationships with other people who will love us.

So, on to the last, and in my opinion, most important fundamental truth about acceptance:

Four: Acceptance bears gifts, if we’re willing to surrender to it.

These gifts are nothing less than your own spiritual and personal unfolding, your ability to show up in all the glory of the person your Higher Power put you here to be.

Yes, we have to walk through some shit to get here, but you’ll never know how amazing the gifts of acceptance are until you do it.

But hear this: your ability to show up in this world completely differently, and quite effectively, and totally yourself, is, in my humble opinion, a beautiful representation of the spiritual awakening and the principle of service revealed in Step 12.

Why? Because this is where we truly make a difference to others.

It’s also what allows us to welcome, and ACCEPT, the good in our lives. If you were like me, accepting the good was sometimes harder than accepting the bad.

Does it get any better than that?

In two weeks, I’m going to share with you five signs I’ve found that demonstrate you’ve truly surrendered.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. What are some of the gifts you’ve experienced through acceptance? Are there things in your life you still struggle to accept? What are the feelings you’re avoiding feeling if you accept? What is that costing you?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.

The Surprising Relationship Between Resentment and Procrastination

The Surprising Relationship Between Resentment and Procrastination

I wanted to title this post “The Surprising Relationship Between Forgiveness and Productivity,” but I thought, if you’ve suffered from procrastination like I have, then pointing out forgiveness’ beneficent effects on procrastination might feel more useful to you.

So let me share a little bit of my experience.

I’ve struggled to consistently pursue my dreams. I’ve done it in fits and starts. One of the reasons for this is the significant amount of often very subtle emotional abuse I experienced growing up.

My family is profoundly affected by addiction and family addiction, and one of the ways these dynamics play out is to undermine, and at times outright emotionally crush, anyone who’s “getting a little too big for their britches.”

I’ve been in family recovery for 16 years now, and I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of healing around this. But one thing that stuck with me for a long time was thinking that achieving a dream or reaching a goal would somehow show up all the people who had tried to keep me down.

Denial is a funny thing because, with all that experience in family recovery, it took me a long time to realize that thinking my achievements were somehow going to “show them” meant that my actions were still revolving around them. In other words, I was keeping the focus on others and not on myself.

I have a dear friend in recovery who does vision cards (like a vision board, but just one idea/image per card.) I was privileged to be able to make vision cards with her for the people on our 4th step lists. These cards were a visual representation of praying that everything I want for myself to be given to these people on my list, just like it suggests in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’d write their name on one side of the card, and put an image representing what I want for them on the other.

I started meditating on these cards almost every morning, and wouldn’t you know! I have become much more productive and consistent in the process. I am much better at nipping procrastination in the bud.

Not that I should be surprised. I mean, wouldn’t a loving Higher Power want me to use my goals and my dreams to fill my heart up, rather than nurse a resentment?

But this level of resentment for me was a layer deep within the proverbial onion. There were other layers that needed to be released before I could recognize this one. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly freeing to be released from it.

So now I’d like to hear from you. Is there a particular goal you are pursuing from which a resentment is holding you back? If so, how might get support for letting it go so you can be freer to pursue your dreams?

Share your experience, strength, and hope in the comments. I read every one.

One of the Best Ways to Forgive Yourself

One of the Best Ways to Forgive Yourself

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.

~ Anna Quindlen

What can I say, dear readers? I’m really not feeling like writing this post today. It’s a very familiar feeling.

But, see, that’s where I get stuck. The idea that I need to “feel like it” to get something done.

And sometimes it absolutely does work better for me to wait for a time when I’ve got more energy. This is usually only true, though, of things that don’t require me to be vulnerable or think too much, like housework. I’ll be much better – and happier – if I tackle that, say, in the morning when I’ve got more energy.

But for the other stuff? The stuff that requires me to show up, put myself and my work out there. The stuff that requires me to be vulnerable. To perhaps doing something different? The stuff at which I might fail, and for which failure means a missed opportunity. Waiting, putting that stuff off, is almost always about fear.

(more…)

Forgiveness… Redux

Forgiveness… Redux

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I know, I just wrote about this, but ya know, this is a big one. Why? Because, like I said in my previous post, it’s the path to personal freedom. Freedom from all kinds of shiz.
>Got false beliefs?
Got low self-esteem?
Got a lot of crazy negative thinking about yourself?
Is the everything-you’re-doing-wrong-committee meeting several times a day in your head?
If you answered yes to any of these questions and you wanna nip that shiz in the bud, I suggest you give forgiveness some serious consideration.

What does forgiveness have to do with negative thinking?

Well, where do you think we learned to think like that? As my mother would often say, “You didn’t lick that stuff up off the floor.”

I know for myself that I learned to think this way. I learned it from the people who hurt me. And holding on to resentments about those people just allows my own ego to maintain its grip on the negative self thoughts.

You can’t let go of the negative thinking and hold on to the resentments. Yup, resentments are sneaky that way. (more…)

Forgiveness: The Long Walk to Freedom

Forgiveness: The Long Walk to Freedom

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. ~Nelson Mandela

If you’ve got a life history like me, the list of people that need to be forgiven can be daunting. What’s worse, you probably know you’d be better off forgiving and letting go. And maybe you already understand that forgiveness is about you, not them, but trying to do that for people who have so heinously harmed you – and some who keep right on doing it – can feel like the Universe is asking you to climb Mount Everest without oxygen.

I mean, I’m tryin’ to chanel my inner Nelson Mandela here, but seriously, good luck with that!

Lots of people talk about forgiveness like it’s this shiny nirvana-like experience in which you walk through to these beautiful pearly gates to freedom. And sometimes it does feel like that, but only when you FINALLY get to those gates.

The thing is, few people talk about the messy, convoluted, emotional and spiritual journey one has to take to get there. Remember, Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years! This does not diminish the magnitude of his forgiveness by any means, but the man had some time to work on it.

For some people, sometimes, there is a momentous experience of sudden freedom. But often it’s just a gradual release. There just comes a moment when you realize the resentment is gone. You don’t know when it left, but it’s gone.

For me it’s often the usual two steps forward, one back. Just when I’m gettin’ all serene about things, it goes, “I know you’re feeling really loving and at peace toward that person right now, but you forgot about that time he…!” And then I’m back at the races.

Sound familiar?

If you’re trying to let go and forgive the Ike Turners or the Joan Crawfords in your life, here’s a few suggestions to help you along the way. (more…)