Forgiveness and the Paradox of Letting Go

[[NOTE: This post started out as a discussion on my feelings about forgiveness. Over the course of writing, it turned into a revelation I had about enabling. It rambles a bit at the end because of that, but I think the conversation with myself explains the idea. Needless to say, this is a more self-reflecting post and personal. We’ll be back to gaming and such in the next one, promise.]]


I woke up this morning with the urge to forgive.

The impulse has come over me in the last few months every once in a while. I’ll wake up in the morning or look up from something I was doing, and think: “I don’t really need to be so angry over all of this. Just let it go.” And for once in my life, I really am. I’m learning to let it go.

It’s not something I’m used to doing. In the past, I would hold onto so many slights and fights for ages. I would have laundry lists of reasons why I shouldn’t trust someone, or why someone had hurt or shamed or embarrassed me, reasons why they shouldn’t be a part of my life. These memories would stick with me, ‘cautionary tales’ I held onto for years. But in the last few months, I have come to a place where I want to shrug my shoulders and say, “Nevermind all that. It’s not worth it. Just forgive them.”

This all started in June with my graduation and my brain surgery. Graduate school was not an easy time for me. I worked through a great many difficult things during that time, faced down an obscene amount of pressure, and in the process isolated myself a good deal from others. I fell into the trap of letting negativity rule my life because of that stress. Because of it, I wasn’t always the most kind or considerate friend. I pushed people away and I was harsh. Sometimes I was downright selfish and cruel. It was never out of the impulse to become that way, but always out of fear for self-preservation, hurt over slights I imagined or that were actual, or just plain selfishness associated with trying to survive in an unbearably stressful lifestyle. Without using it as an excuse, a lot of that was also due to the tumor in my brain producing too much ACTH, pushing my body into hyper-stress mode, but that doesn’t unring the angry bell. It doesn’t excuse ages of being so angry, so stressed. I look back now on those two years and wish I’d been kinder. Wish I’d been more open to people. Wish I had been able to process my stress in a less negative way. Wish I’d been less afraid.

But then came my brain tumor. My last week of school, I was rushing to finish up everything in preparation for graduation. I had to get my end of the year show presentation ready. I had to present my work, and stand up and talk about my thesis in front of the department. And that Monday I had discovered that I had Cushings, that I was going to have to have brain surgery. I graduated, walked the stage and sat listening to Martin Scorsese give the commencement speech. I flew that very evening to Los Angeles through some of the worst travel delays I had ever experienced to run Dresden Lives at WyrdCon. And the entire time, echoing in my ears were the words: you have a brain tumor, you have to have brain surgery.

I sat that week and thought about a lot of things. I thought about the fights I had had that semester, the stress and the people who had left my life in the last two years. I sat in the hospital room before the surgery and worried about the possibility that I would not survive the surgery. I thought about what I’d like my future to look like if I did.

Well, spoilers: I did survive the surgery and it went brilliantly. And as I lay there, post ACTH-tumor, a strange calm filled me. I felt more relaxed then I had in years. Mind you, most of that was the lack of rawr hulking-out stress hormones flooding me. But I had also come to a calm about my life and the past, and what comes next.  And as I recovered in the next few months, I had the opportunity to think over a lot of the last few years and decide that a change had to happen. I had to learn to let things go.

I started to see that so much of my behavior was ruled by reactions to other people’s slights. My anger, my course-corrections in my life, were really heavily influenced by negative things that had happened to me. And as opposed to reacting in a positive way, I let those negative things course-correct me towards safer paths, or curbed what I wanted to do. I allowed myself to be steered away from career paths that could have been very rewarding. I let myself be influenced to believe that my work wasn’t good enough to make it in the creative world because “there’s just so many people out there trying harder and being better than you.”

Some of the anger and fear responses were, of course, reasonable beyond a shadow of a doubt. My history of sexual assault makes difficulties I have connecting in relationships understandable, I believe. So does the years of fat shaming. But as I recovered from the surgery, I realized that the older I get, the more I understand the need to let things become part of the past. More than anything, I don’t want to be defined by my difficulties, but improved by them.

Mind you, I don’t know that I can forgive everyone. I certainly don’t forgive the person who sexually assaulted me, though I (in a weird way) understand his actions and motivations. That neither excuses nor eliminates the horror, the hurt, or how utterly wrong it was. Yet I’m no longer blaming life for putting these things in my path. I’m no longer blaming myself for the actions that led me to that and other awful places. And I’m no longer resenting life for the hard things that have happened, only trying to look for positive ways to make changes and move forward.

So the process is a hard one for me. It involves:

  • Looking at things that bother, frighten, anger, frustrate or stress me out.
  • Analyze what the causes are to these situations (i.e. what is making them happen, including other people’s motivations) and try to understand why other people are doing what they do.
  • Forgive and/or let the interaction go.
  • Try to find positive ways to move forward instead of dwelling on the negative reactions.

This is the uphill battle I’m going to tackle going forward. I’m not going to discount the negative emotions I feel, but instead process them and try to find positive solutions instead of holding onto them. And in the process of doing this, I came to a startling revelation in the last few days:

Forgiveness can also enable bad behavior in others. There is a balance when dealing with people in my life between letting bad behavior go because a person’s reactions are ‘understandable’ and holding people accountable for what they do. Sometimes, when a person brings negativity into your life it is necessary to tackle that issue head-on with the person instead of just letting it go. I don’t believe in giving up on people. But sometimes, you have to make it clear that tho you understand the other person’s perspective and want to let it go, you cannot allow the pattern of behavior to continue. You can still care about them and want them in your life, but you cannot continue to allow that person’s negative behavior to harm you and others. I didn’t understand how this boundary was so important until recently, until I started to see that my constantly forgiving another person’s bad behavior was fostering new opportunities for that person to continue hurting me and others. Too much understanding without repercussions can lead to enabling.

For some people, this is a pretty simple idea. For me, it’s a bit of a new boundary I am going to have to foster. Moreover, it’s helped me put aside a lot of the anger I had towards friends who distanced themselves from me while I was myself doing destructive behavior in the last few years. I get it more now than I did before, and I understand. I’ll work towards forgiving THEM for letting me go when it needed to happen.

Whew, confusing circle, isn’t it? It’s Forgive-ception. BWAHHHHHHH!

Okay, that was just to lighten things up. Because whew, heavy stuff here. But that’s what this blog is about. It’s not just about work, and writing about media. It’s about exploring things that influence me as a creator and my life, without fear where I can. And with forgiveness, when I can.

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