Forgiving Myself

Gayla - Portland, Oregon
Entered on August 6, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I’m striving to forgive myself and I believe in its power to heal old wounds. In numerous conversations with my husband, he’s exemplified forgiveness’ importance while I’ve tried to make sense of my personal conflicts. And I’m learning to forgive myself in order to release the perpetuated stresses from my past.

I was asked to be different things for my parents after they divorced. My dad asked for a sweet and loving daughter to accent his new life with another woman and my mom asked me to give her strength after feeling abandoned again by another husband.

A few years after my parents separated, my dad began dating another woman. This introduction of another figure in my life, somewhat competing with me for my dad’s attention, was hard for me to understand. I already felt as though the weekends spent with my dad weren’t long enough and to have someone sharing that time with us seemed to rob me even further of a closeness with him.

During this same period, much of the time I spent together with my mom happened backstage and in the dressing rooms of theaters. She was a prominent actress in Portland, appearing in musicals, comedies, and dramas and it was exciting to be part of that world while still spending so much time with her. But suddenly, she went from the stage into a rehabilitation facility for alcohol and prescription drug addictions.

Just before my eleventh birthday, my dad asked me how I felt about us moving in with his girlfriend. I remember sitting in the car as he spoke of our “better life” and I felt my heart drop with disappointment. My life already felt disarrayed and now I felt as though it was getting worse. I didn’t want to move again. I had already moved about seven times during the course of six years and I wasn’t looking forward to the possibilities of moving again. But above all, I felt as though I was losing my dad, as if we were moving into a new home where he could start over again and I would just have a room at the back of the house where I could be forgotten.

As our weekend ended, I came home to my stepfamily’s house and was overjoyed to see my mom had returned from treatment. She was in great spirits and had a wonderful gift for me. For my birthday, she had arranged for the two of us to go to Disneyland. As soon as I stepped off of the plane in California, I forgot about all of my worries.

But as soon as we had come home from our trip, I learned that my mom and I were moving out. As unexpectedly as everything else in my life, my stepfather had filed for a divorce while my mom was in rehab. Although he kept up the appearance of a happy family while she was in treatment and before we left for our trip, the illusion quickly disappeared upon our arrival. Moving boxes were unfolded in hallways, pictures were taken down, and I was faced with leaving another home.

As I grew up beyond those events, everything about me changed. It was a dizzying time in my life that I counteracted with isolation and aggression. I wasn’t the delightful daughter that my dad had asked for, eager to share in his new life; instead I became a bitter and resentful brat. I wasn’t the strong daughter that my mom had asked for, a daughter to just hold her hand and tell her I love her; instead I became distant.

Over the years, I still feel as emotionally hurt by those events as when they originally happened and I’m aware of what pain I may have caused others. I’ve desperately tried to make up for all of the times I felt as though I had let my parents down. Years of family therapy and endless conversations with relatives left me feeling just as I did when I was eleven, confused and alone.

These events, along with other experiences in my past, I find regrettable and it pulls me away from real life. I continue in reliving intimate pains and it’s been time-consuming to think so often, sometimes involuntarily, about old faults, blames, or mistakes. I’ve felt like two different people, each at odds with the other person. This seemingly endless suffering has exhausted every part of me.

Now, later in my life, I’ve struggled with letting go of this pain. I’ve tried to keep these wrestling of emotions private but their solitary effects are apparent to my husband. He’s observed the strain of my guilt and how it torments me. Its pain has proved to put stress on my relationship with him and it’s interfered with my future happiness. Initially when he offered to help me, I was not willing to accept it.

Fear held me back. I feared letting someone into my troubled world and I worried about overwhelming him or even frightening him away. I dreaded thinking about letting go of the anger for unalterable things, as if I was neglecting my past. But ultimately, I was afraid of the simplest thing my husband was asking me to do, forgiving my past for being my past.

He’d listen to the nightly phone conversations I’d have with my mom, where he would hear us both tell each other how sorry we were for the unchangeable things of our past and he persistently asked to help. After one such conversation with my mom which left me in tears, my husband again offered a shoulder to lean on and I finally rested on it. I realized I couldn’t continue in keeping things hidden anymore. I let go of my fear and allowed him into my personal thoughts, feeling as though with his understanding and guidance, I could progress beyond my past, especially considering the future I want to share with him. With his encouragement, I became able to acknowledge my future by forgiving my past.

I’ve forgiven myself of being a child in those circumstances and unable to solve all of my family’s problems. I’ve forgiven myself for the wrong turns that I think I might have taken or harsh words I may have spoken. I’ve forgiven my family for being a little flawed and for being just as fallible and vulnerable as I am. And forgiveness has surprisingly rewarded me. I’ve come to appreciate every part of my past and my family. I cherish so much more in knowing of what I can grow from and of what my family has to offer.

It’s been challenging to reexamine my fears and resentments, especially when some of them are directed against myself. Learning to reevaluate my past and appreciate the positive and negative happenings in my life is difficult. I’ve had to search for forgotten courage and convince myself to risk more emotional pain so that I may recognize the truths of my personal history. Although I can’t forget it, by putting down some of this hostility, I can move beyond it.

My past is undeniable, but it’s not worth it to continue in fighting it, as if its my enemy. I’ve grown to understand that I can’t undo the years of unpredictability that we all shared. I’m trying to live, learn, and respect the occurrences in my life, not live to remember and be overshadowed by my history’s imperfections. I’m learning to forgive myself so that I may enjoy life.