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.