I will tell you right off the bat that the process of forgiveness is not a linear one, and the title of this article is more for sexiness. These steps do not guarantee a positive outcome, and they come from my own personal experience with forgiveness. However, my journey was powerful, and one that I don’t believe was reserved only for me.
Forgiveness is not something that I DID. It WAS something that happened to me.
All this article does is detail the ways in which I readied myself for the miracle of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an act. It happened to me when I was ready, and there were many things I did to ready myself. I was not powerless in the process.
I also had absolutely no idea that I would ever come to a point of forgiveness. I had made complete peace with the fact that I would remain hurt and angry forever, and I was pretty content with that. As I was working through my emotions, I was unaware that the miracle was brewing in the ether, making its way into my heart and mind. No idea. My process took about three years.
I am so happy to share my journey with you.
[I am not a doctor or a therapist and do not claim to be. I am not responsible for the success or failure of your path and am simply sharing my experience with you. Please take what you like and leave the rest.]
1. I CREATED SPACE
When you have been hurt by someone you love, the pain can feel unreal.
My mother was an active alcoholic for most of my life, and my sisters and I experienced unforgettable trauma and emotional wounds. Fast forward to age 27 and I had reached a point where I couldn’t really stomach talking to her on the phone, sober or drunk. My anger and un-acceptance of her years of bad behavior just gave me a distaste for her all together. And one day, as I was in the midst of my own romantic relationship breaking down and inevitably dissolving, I decided that not talking to my mother and not taking her calls would be one less painful thing I had to deal with in my life. The thought, although wrenching and guilt-ridden, felt like a relief. So, I did it. I stopped answering her calls. For three years.
As I write this now, on the other side of the miracle of forgiveness, my heart breaks for my mother. I know this was painful for her and it makes me feel an immense amount of heart-hurting love for her. Before she passed, I made sure to make this known to her, and am so grateful I did.
But during this time, at age 27, I had to put myself first. I just had to.
I was living in Orlando, FL at the time, with my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend of five years, and I remember distinctly driving in my car, making the decision to not answer her call. It was a very dark time in my life.
2. I HONORED MY ANGER
I believe the biggest mistake in this forgiveness process is avoiding anger. Until I honored my anger, I was never able to heal that broken and wounded part of myself. I had to stop letting her off the hook, even though I very much wanted to. I had to let myself feel victimized and innocent. Only in this way was I able to finally recognize her innocence as well.
I am not using this word “innocence” to indicate that my mother had done nothing wrong. I am using this word in the spiritual sense, in order to offer the understanding that at a soul level, we are all innocent.
The crazy thing is, the longer I live with my unconditional love and forgiveness for my mother, the more I see the ways in which I was not innocent, and the ways in which my behavior may have exacerbated her problems. I am not blaming myself, since I was just a child, simply trying to survive. But my raging at her did not help her wounded soul. When she would drink, I would sometimes follow her around the house, berating her and trying to get her to admit her faults. My anger was justified in many ways, but in other ways, my verbal abuse was more aggressive than her drinking.
It took me decades to finally realize my mother was not a monster. She was seriously doing the best she could with what she had to work with. But her best was absolutely terrible. It wasn’t enough for me, or for most people in her life. Yes, she was in so much pain for her own reasons, and that is so sad. But she also caused a lot of pain.
I needed to get down and dirty with all of this muck, and feel it in my bones in order to let it go. Not fun. Once this emotional slime (seriously, like every last ounce of it) was brought into the light of my awareness, I finally did reach a point where there was no more slime left to deal with.
A clearing needed to take place before I could unconditionally love and forgive. And this clearing couldn’t have happened without first allowing my anger to rise up and out.
For me, my art has always been my healing tool. For three years, while living in New York City, immediately after my breakup (with my ex and my mother) I created a series of Urbanscapes. These paintings were my attempt at reliving my childhood home experiences. With each painting, I walked myself through every memory I could conjure, reliving the pain, and illustrating it in a new way. In these creative states, I could smell the rooms of my childhood. The nostalgia became so real.
At the completion of each painting, the last mark I made was that of a small rainbow, nestled within the crevices of dinge. I don’t really know why I did this, but perhaps there was in fact a part of me hoping for a miracle.
3. I OPENED MY HEART
Once I created distance from my mother, I was able to feel all of my feelings of anger (and sadness) without guilt. And once those feelings emerged and I honored them through my art, I was able to see my mother in a different light.
During this time of distance, my twin sister still kept in touch with my mother. From time to time, my sister would update me on my mother or tell a playful anecdote about her. My mother would also call me on occasion and leave a voicemail, sometimes angry, but usually just loving, gentle, and searching. She just wanted to hear from me. I don’t know if she ever really understood why I created distance, but she did seem to accept it with a fair amount of grace, despite her regular calls.
Thinking of how she must have felt, as I write this now, pains me indescribably.
It was difficult to continue to avoid picking up the phone. The guilt was very strong, but so was the pain, and I continued to feel justified in my decision. Eventually, my mother began sending me little works of art she had made just for me (she is an artist as well). And slowly, my heart began to open.
When I felt ready, for the first time in three years, I responded to her mail art by sending her a card with a recent picture of myself, and a short but sweet note. After a few weeks or months, I can’t recall, of exchanging notes back and forth, I finally decided to call her. I had just received another one of her endearing works of art, and my heart was just melting. I was so nervous to make the call, but I did it. It actually went to voicemail, so I left a message.
4. I ALLOWED FORGIVENESS TO HAPPEN
Several days later, on my 30th birthday, I was in Boston with my sister and we were attending her friend’s wedding together. I was alone in the hotel room for an hour or so while my sister was performing bridesmaid duties, and I received a call from my mother. Of course, I answered.
From the moment I heard her voice, I had forgiven all of it. There was no need to rehash or break down the details of our past. She never even asked me why I hadn’t spoken to her for all of that time, and I never offered the information. There was just no need. And really, we were just so excited to hear from each other, we could hardly keep up. There was so much to catch up on. I had been living in NYC for the last three years, a city she had lived in during her youth as well, and I had so many questions for her. She was thirsty to hear about my exploits and charmed by the woman I had become.
It was a lovely, divine, peace-filled, heart-bursting, joy-filled conversation. I don’t believe I had ever had a conversation with her as nice as this in the 30 years I had known her.
From then on, our relationship, for the rest of her life, was innocent and pure. I never felt the need for her to apologize to me for anything, because in my heart, there was nothing to apologize for. I understand it makes no logical sense, really. If I described all the trauma, all the abandonment, all the ways in which my mother put our lives in danger as children, most would be horrified and wonder why I ever bothered to reconcile. This is how I know that forgiveness is an act of Grace. Only the heart can override the logical mind with pure love, and this divine process allowed this infiltration of unconditional acceptance.
During the years that passed, my main objective in our relationship was to make sure she knew, through and through, how much I loved her. And when her health began to deteriorate, I wanted more than anything, for her to feel comfortable and without pain. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always possible, but my sister and I did our best to manage this.
Christine Elisabeth Weber (March 7, 1942 – December 20, 2017)
I know not everyone is as lucky as I am, and I know that sometimes, forgiveness is just not possible. My mother finally found sobriety in the later years of her life, and this made our relationship much easier, although she was still a total spitfire and made me so crazy at times! But I know I made her crazy too, and I know she is where I get it from.
I love you Mommy. This post is for you. xoxo
Featured photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo of Florida highway by Alejo Reinoso on Unsplash
Photo of heart by cyrus gomez on Unsplash