I lead a secret, hidden life, crushed by indescribable, never-ending pain, weakened by interminable repeated paralysis, trapped away from the living by profound noise sensitivity that brutalises me. Into this invisible life comes the need to forgive on multiple levels, both internal and external. This is the context in which I must reflect whether forgiveness is ever truly possible. What does it mean and how can I actually do it? Context then defines my limitation or my freedom. Trapped in a useless body, harmed on multiple levels by multiple things, what does forgiveness look like or mean to me, living in isolation, all levels of communication broken? How can I feel forgiveness, when pain is the baseline of my life, blocking out all other feelings from recognition? There are no easy answers. It may take a life time to resolve.
Becoming bed bound decades ago forced me to look inwards in order to cope. Inner reflection was the tool to my survival. I was daily physically trapped, limited, unable to move even a finger or open my eyes, let alone move my limbs. I became totally dependent on others for all my basic living needs. There were no answers to my excruciating suffering. My mind still alive and vibrant, had seemingly endless time to think, to explore each thought, to enter deeper spaces of knowledge and wisdom and draw out understanding from the hidden depths.
My own circumstances are both bizarre and unique. My disease needs an understanding few bother to seek. Being with me is particularly difficult. I can become totally paralysed by the slightest wrong sound or movement, pain is etched across my palsied face, my understanding can literally disappear in a millisecond. I have lost so much now.
‘ Every precious moment
Is ripped away;
It is not easy to engage on a meaningful level with me, for I am tortured by normality. Being forced by my health to withdraw from the physical world and all social engagement, led me to experience rejection, coldness, neglect, ignorance and deliberate ignorance from others. People, I found, move on and let you go.
Hurts and misunderstandings mount up in these circumstances of long term chronic illness and cannot be dealt with, nor necessarily resolved easily or at all. Trying to make friends in a new community, for example, led to shocking exclusion and disinterest, once people even glimpsed the nature of my experience and suffering. Too much to deal with, too challenging to connect with me, they simply abandoned all attempt and continued to walk on by, without seeing or knowing me.
It has led me to experience repeated hurts on various levels, from literally almost everyone I have encountered, leaving me with lost or minimised relationships littered down decades of a physically emptied life. This, I assure you, leads to a path where forgiveness must be central, needs to be understood and continually worked at. It leads to a unique perspective and hard won knowledge.
Each person must make their own way through suffering, loss and hurt, to find healing and forgiveness. Great wisdom can be gained if you enter on a path of honest reflection and genuine concern to heal relationship and make good the past or at least recognise it for what it was and transform or transcend it.
To forgive, I discovered two things. You have to have a core belief in the goodness of people; both yourself and others. You have to truly want to forgive. This then was my starting point for contemplation.
The concept of forgiveness, on the surface, seems simple. You believe in the notion of forgiveness. You recognise the importance of it. It becomes a natural thing. Someone hurts you. You forgive them. You make up. You move on. You do something wrong. You say you are sorry. You are forgiven and it is forgotten in the forward movement of life. As a child, I followed these rules. As an adult, wounded by incurable illness, without medical answers, physically harmed by wrong treatments and disappearing from a full and happy life, despite forgiving others in the past, I learned that there were still unresolved hurts, open, bleeding, scattered, buried under years of forgetting, rather than true forgiveness.
What happens when the hurt is finally uncovered and the emotional pain is still too great to bear or express? How can you find cathartic release that brings healing and replenishment, not just more distress and unresolved emotion? What happens when new hurts come aplenty on top of old wounds, when they attack your sense of self and vital beingness? Were any ever truly forgiven? Are things ever really forgivable?
My reflections have led me on a long journey into trying to comprehend the meaning of forgiveness and find its freedom.
I once heard that understanding can bring peace and help you move on. Though understanding is a tool to aid forgiveness, it does not necessarily absolve the crime or totally heal the hurt. Understanding, I discovered, is in fact required on many levels. Whilst part of you may feel happy to forgive, long to forgive, need to forgive, there may be other aspects of self which are too hurt to let go, too angry to feel kind, too wounded to want anything but justice or even vengeance.
The worse the harm, the greater the impact on the self, the harder it may be to want anything other than retribution. So much needs working through, requires more than understanding, not only of the situation but of your self and the multi-layered personality traits which want and may need different expression and outcomes. So I have come to see forgiveness as a continual process, that like any wound, needs time for healing and mending on each layer; healing and recovery being essential aspects of forgiveness. Much like the process of bereavement, it takes continual effort and the knowledge that travel towards your ultimate goal is not necessarily straight forward. It is okay to accept that it may take time and happen in stages.
I had to ask myself, what does the word ‘forgiveness’ actually mean? Is the literal meaning an intention to return to a state of previous relationship, to go back to be-‘for’e the hurt was manifest? I defy that this is truly possible, because events fundamentally change who you are, so that you can never go back. The event still happened. Your experience has informed your thoughts, your choices, your actions, your knowledge. You have changed as a consequence. The action that caused the pain, remains done. It can never simply be undone in that moment that it happened. The suicide cannot be reversed. The impact of long term denial cannot be resolved. Things are altered forever, so can never be totally mended. They may be smoothed over, left behind eventually, learned from, put back in their place, distanced from, rather than carried with you, in incapacitating memory. Hopefully they can be healed eventually.
Something new, though, must be sought, both in yourself and with the other. It will not ultimately be found in the past.
The forgiveness process needs commitment to move forward, hopefully building momentum to achieve its goal, though you may sometimes get stuck or simply not want to forgive or forget. This is also valid, yet may not bring peace of mind. It will not bring resolution. It seems that the only way to find freedom from hurt, then, is to move beyond it, to open yourself to healing and a pathway forward. I see healing as a necessary part of the picture. Facing the hurt, in order to begin or more fully enter the process, can be upsetting, traumatic, though hopefully, ultimately cathartic; a difficult part of the journey to recovering your self that has been lost in the pain of unforgiveness. It may take years to even begin the process.
Reflecting on the hurt beyond a certain point does not bring the peace and comfort yearned for. It can keep the injustice feeling raw, especially if nothing externally has changed for the better or a great wrong has been wrought, which require accountability and responsibility to be taken, which is not forthcoming.
When experiencing crippling disease that alienates you from normal life and creates broken interactions, you have fewer experiences than others, still living in a busy world, to help you move forward beyond the hurt.
'I lie here, pain-filled,
Screaming at the empty desolation
Of my damaged, deconstructed life.’
Years may go by, with no face-to-face contact with anyone to help resolve issues. The significance of a particularly hurtful moment or damaging behaviour, may be completely lost to the other, busy with a host of life demands. You may not be that relevant to their life, even if they have devastated yours. Alternatively, they may have projected their blame on to you, moving forward in denial.
This leads to the question, can you forgive if the other’s position never changes, if they do not take responsibility for their action or the pain caused? Is forgiveness a one- sided event or do you need two people to engage meaningfully? If you can work through your own process of forgiveness, no longer engaging with the person or persons who have harmed you, you might be able to move on. It might be easier to put the event behind you, though this might depend on its enormity and impact.
If you cannot heal the hurt nor be free from the persecutor who continually wounds you, do you then turn away from forgiveness to a different path?
It might seem justified. You might then, rightly or wrongly, be tempted down the road to retribution. How, ultimately, does that feel? How does that change you as a person?
When you cannot move on, cannot resolve the issue, when it gnaws at you, harms you or incapacitates you, what happens then? The long term suffering caused by unresolved damage, whether perceived or actual, burns, throbs, rends, tears apart the hurting sensitive soul which lies, hidden and deconstructed, in the centre of your being. Broken promises, shards of insults, showers of criticism, ice-pick comments, betrayals, neglect, emotional abuse, physical harm, grief and loss can all slice you up and leave gaping wounds.
‘The destruction of betrayal still burns me.
The never-ending injustice of my shattered trust,
I need this to be made finally right,
Yet it cannot be done.’
Yet to follow a path of withdrawal or punishment that does not sit right with your inner values, can lead to detachment and even greater loss of self. Ideally two-way dialogue, ownership and acknowledgment, would lead to resolution or a new position. Appropriate compensation, apology or acknowledgment might bring peace of mind and the option to once again move forward. Kindness can bring great, unexpected healing.
How, though, can true contrition be conveyed? Some say sorry, others ask for forgiveness, yet an apology can feel lacking in genuineness. Without expressing authentic sorrow, asking for forgiveness can place more burden upon the wronged person. It may feel like a disowning of responsibility, rather than an intentional act of humility that can lead to healing and reconnection. The apology needs to be heartfelt.
Unless we recognise the how, why, what and the way of healing that forgiveness brings, there will continue to be great suffering and wrong doing in the world; a dearth of genuine, compassionate caring and reconciliation. Without a healing path of forgiveness, retribution, punishment, self-righteousness, separateness and blame will continue to seem attractive alternatives and continue to create division and unresolved conflict.
When you have been abused systemically, neglected, mistreated, misinterpreted, called a liar for speaking the truth, harmed, misunderstood, ignored and misrepresented over decades, forgotten and simply air-brushed out of people’s lives, the list of things and people that need forgiveness mount exponentially.
It is not an easy path to endure, much less continuously find meaning within and still maintain your internal sense of personal values.
‘Broken in pieces, repeatedly,
Disappearing into nothing.
That is my life.
That is my body.
That is my mind.
That is my self.’
You find that not only do you have to forgive others, you too have to ask for forgiveness for the many issues that arise, specifically as a consequence of the dissonance that opens up between two people, when one lives in a totally altered space of consciousness, in contrast to the ordinary every day life perceptions and experiences of the other. Communication is dislocated. Meaning varies in perspective. Extreme pain can misconstrue so much.
You learn that it is not possible to deal with everything, for there are so many losses that mount up and keel over, for lack of resolution and ability to address them, in the complexity that the pain, physical emptiness and cognitive blankness continually bring. It may be extremely difficult to identify emotional pain from the sheer torment of untreatable, relentless physical pain. You find again and again that you also have to look with honest and realistic insight, at the context of interactions and find kindness in your heart, towards yourself and others, even when you feel it not. You have to find a way to forgive and keep forgiving yourself for all your struggles.
You can say you forgive, yet do you mean it? Is it in all of you or just on the surface? Has it touched the deepest hurt and made it right in some way, released, relieved, comforted, healed, held it? This is the fullness of forgiveness that we need to seek and offer, not just partial, surface, mechanical, false or half-hearted forgiveness or manipulative charade. Without it you may continue to be tripped up by the web of hurt that has been woven into the fabric of your being, particularly if it is borne over many years or come about through deliberate intent or action. This might bring hope that the hurt will eventually fade into the background, rather than being permanently in the foreground.
Yet, if that does not happen, you need to find continuing patience, kindness and compassion for yourself and your own process, however slow the progress feels. It may help to take a step back and look to see from a wider view, how far you have come, even if it feels as if forgiveness is impossible or the road ahead is unnavigable. It is now that intention can keep you going. It is here that hope and a belief that you can forgive and be free from past hurt can bless and strengthen you.
If you cannot truly find it in your heart to forgive, perhaps you can find a perspective of mercy from which to view things, one that says, even though I cannot forgive, still I can believe in the possibility of its fruit.