Can I put down the bat I use to beat myself up?
I’ve lived many years of my life mired in guilt and shame. There were times I let people down and disappointed myself in the process. I haven’t been able to be forgiving, but what would happen if I was? Could I really let the past go and move forward and try to keep doing the next right thing? Is life as simple as that?
Can I forgive myself for the way I treated my two sons? They are close to adults now, but I missed much of their childhoods battling with mental illness and a toxic relationship with an abusive second husband. Moments occurred in those years I can never get back, like when they learned to ride a bike or lost their first tooth or liked a girl for the first time.
They don’t seem to hold a grudge, but I cling to shame like a life raft. Guilt affects every interaction I have with them. I’m here for them now, but so many times I wasn’t there when they needed me. I don’t understand how they can be so forgiving and loving now. I’m grateful they feel that way, but I have a hard time affording myself the same love and forgiveness.
Can I forgive myself for letting my daughter live in another state with her grandmother for two years because I couldn’t afford to raise her? During that time, she started kindergarten and learned how to read. I barely spoke to her because I was so ashamed and afraid I wouldn’t know her anymore. I didn’t know what was going on in her life and didn’t know what to say to my little girl to make it all better.
Despite everything, she remained devoted to me and wished for the day I’d come get her and take her home. When that day finally came, and I got to know her all over again, I felt broken over the time I’d missed with her. Even when she misbehaved, I didn’t feel I had the right to discipline her because of everything she’d been through. I couldn’t stand for her to be disappointed, especially by me. I had to learn to be a parent all over again, and I wasn’t convinced I was doing a good job.
Can I forgive myself for having bipolar disorder? My illness went undiagnosed for years, enough time to wreak havoc on myself and everyone around me. It ruined my first marriage, my ability to function on my own and my relationships with loved ones. These days, I’m a lot more stable. I’ve never been one to turn away from responsibility, but where does the line between mental illness and personal ownership of my actions fade away?
Can I forgive myself for not being a good friend? I was so wrapped up in my own problems I took more than I gave and threw regular pity parties to which everyone had a standing invitation. Can I forgive myself for the help I received from well-meaning people such as advice, money, a place to stay for a while? Especially since I always went back to making the same mistakes as before. People I cherished turned away from me one by one. Is it selfish to want to try to win them back? Is the damage already done?
Can I forgive myself for poisoning my body with drugs and alcohol? They were my coping mechanism for years so I didn’t have to feel physical and emotional pain. I didn’t want to get out of bed every day without a substance to make me brave enough to do it. When I was high, I didn’t have to think about losing my children or my husband or friends. I didn’t have to think about anything except where the next high would come from.
What would happen if I forgave myself… for all of it?
Would I be able to be a real parent, a teacher for my children instead of trying to be a friend who approves of everything they do? Could I help guide them through the things I’ve experienced and be honest with them about mistakes I’ve made? Maybe I could become a mother they could count on, someone they could run to in times of trouble instead of tiptoeing around trying not to hurt each other’s feelings.
Would I be able to discipline my daughter with love without feeling like a terrible mom? She’s still young and finding her place in the world. She desperately needs somebody to teach her right from wrong and boost her self-esteem. I don’t want her to live the same life I did not trusting herself. Could she learn from where I went wrong?
Would I be able to show my face to my friends again? Could I stand before them and ask for acceptance not of the person I was in the past, but who I am today? Would I not break down if someone decided they didn’t want me as a friend based on who I was and not who I am? Can I be trustworthy and dependable and not worry I will let them down?
Could I love my body again and take care of it? Is it too late to show myself some self love and ensure that the life I didn’t care about before will last as long as possible? Do I feel like I have a right to my life and to contribute something to the world rather than grabbing everything I can and running? What can I give back, not just to others but to myself?
I could let it all go, right this minute.
As wise people have said before me, I could do better because I know better. The heavy burden that presses its weight down on my shoulders every day would be gone, and I could manage my life from a focus of love rather than shame. I could use my experiences to help other people and not feel like a giant hypocrite. I could be genuinely free for the first time!
Forgiving myself seems so much bigger than me, but I pray that I will find the strength to make it happen… someday.