Surprised by Forgiveness, Healing in Crisis. (My other #MeToo)
Something big happened in our family last month.
The impact on our family is still unfolding, and there are details I won’t share right now.
But there is a huge lesson in this mess, that I am profoundly grateful for, that begins here:
I am the mom to an 11-year old boy, and I share custody his famous father.
My son’s dad is remarried to a woman, I’ll call her T. Together they have an 18-month old son, my son’s half-brother.
They live in our neighborhood.
Since our separation and divorce, 8 years ago, I have held a lot of anger, animosity, and distrust for T.
See, she was “the other woman.”
I kept quiet about this because I was taught to “take the high road,” and think about the impact of my actions and words on my son, and my relationship with his father, my co-parent.
I was also conflicted. Harboring “bad feelings” didn’t feel “spiritually enlightened.” Judging her without complete information felt unfair. And she was always kind to me and my son. He loves her. He’s a sweet person, so she couldn’t be all bad, right? Also, it was becoming obvious to me, as time went on, that my first marriage wasn’t going well and was destined for divorce. So, was there really anyone to blame? Or was I just enjoying “victim” status?
I’m not a likely guest for The Jerry Springer Show. I don’t gossip much. I don’t invite drama into my life, and I do my best to find the highest, spiritual lessons in life’s challenges. I try to choose my words carefully, and consider myself reasonable.
(Do I always succeed? Ha! No. Do I regret some of my words or actions? Yup. #notperfect)
So for years, I kept my “bad feelings” at bay, tried like hell to forgive both of them, and put on a cordial attitude when we were all at teacher meetings, or bumped into each other at the farmer’s market.
But I could not forgive.
I held onto the righteous anger and spite, the energy of “victim.”
I knew it was unhealthy to hold onto.
I knew it wasn’t serving me, and that it was a drain on my energy.
I knew that by playing the roll of the victim, I was polluting my life.
I knew that I didn’t know the full story.
I felt that this energy I held onto impacted my success as a coach, mom, and wife.
I tried everything I could to let go of it.
Spiritual journeys into the desert.
Full Moon Rituals.
I would remind myself that I had a wonderful new husband, who I feel so lucky to be with, and that I wouldn’t be in this marriage without the failure of that marriage.
But forgiveness remained elusive.
A mentor once told me, “forgiveness is giving up the right to punish.”
Was I punishing them?
Was I giving up some of my own power by laying all responsibility at their feet?
Let’s be honest: holding something over someone else feels so good sometimes. It’s rare to feel so profoundly righteous in life.
Holding onto the victim identity feels powerful. The victim gets to feel morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and feels entitled to sympathy forever.
But the victim stance never felt truly good.
When you hold onto your victim mentality, you abdicate your power. Being a victim means you give up responsibility for your life. You get to keep blaming someone else for the wounds you don’t to heal.
When the recent news broke about my son’s father, I was blindsided.
Within minutes I went into crisis mode, and made plans to handle any possible fallout.
What I didn’t expect was to hear from T that morning.
She was worried about my son. She was worried about me.
She was in crisis management on her end, too.
She was scared, worried, and exhausted.
She was also taking care of my son’s baby half-brother.
Oh my gosh, I thought.
Poor thing. She must be overwhelmed. What can I do to help?
Let’s have her and the baby over for dinner. Can I babysit? I’m still on crutches but I can handle it…
Let’s make sure the boys see each other this week.
Did I just think that?
Was I really going to invite this woman over for dinner? To my house?
Feed and offer her comfort? Her?
Yes. Yes I was.
And I did.
Because it felt right to do.
It felt right, and healing, and strong to support the other woman.
The years of anger, mistrust, and spite all vanished.
In a heartbeat.
My desire, or “right,” to punish evaporated.
In the face of the truth, the old bullshit just didn’t stand up to scrutiny:
Here is a woman in need. Here is a mom asking for help.
She is part of my son’s life, so she is part of my family, too.
Does the past matter?
Did I even know what really happened in the past? Did she ever deserve my anger?
What’s really important now?
Am I being a good mom by holding on to this?
Am I contributing to the health of my family in this way?
At the root of everything I do, my mothering, coaching, and self-compassion is this truth:
I believe that everyone is deserving of forgiveness. And our ego only knows a fraction of the truth.
She and the baby came over for dinner.
She sat across the dinner table, as the boys played down the hallway, and looked me in the eyes:
I’m sorry for anything I did that hurt you or your family, she said.
I couldn’t even speak.
The only words that came to mind were, “I forgive you.”
But it felt patronizing to say those words. It felt belittling.
And honestly, I admired her bravery for showing up and speaking to me at all, considering my history of withering looks sent her way.
So I said what was really true, in my heart:
“Thank you. It doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is the boys.”
A strange, profound truth became so crystal clear:
To be a woman who supports other women to step into their leadership, and be forces for positive change and healing in the world, I had to see the matrix we are living in, on a new level. I had to learn forgiveness.
Holding grudges against other women for their mistakes serves no one.
Forgiving is the most powerful, healing thing we can do for ALL women. Ourselves included.
The truth is that all of us, “the other women” included, are complex, beautiful, flawed, strong, and deserving of love. I have dear friends who have confided in me that they too were “the other woman.” I love them, no matter what. Now I have love in my heart for her, too.
And when we forgive other women, we allow the truth that we are also deserving of forgiveness.
And wouldn’t we all love self-forgiveness and the possibility for redemption for our past mistakes and sins?
There is a lot more to this story, but these lessons are clear:
We women must step up and forgive each other, wherever possible, right now.
And if it’s not possible in the moment, keep holding the intention that it will be, someday.
I held the possibility in my heart that I would find it, for 8 years, and in the face of crisis, it became so easy. Divine timing played its part.
Feeling forgiveness requires that we value compassion, redemption, and believe that all people can change. And I wasn’t able to forgive until that moment. I’m so thankful for this blessing.
Finding forgiveness requires brave conversations, face-to-face, over the kitchen table, and an openness from both people, willing to receive healing and redemption.
The next big stage of my own work is to re-create and live my life without the mask of being a victim. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be, with the initial rush of relief that came with forgiveness. I’ve noticed some people encouraging me to step back into the identity of victim, and I’m carefully guarding my heart, while staying open to love.
Imagine the possibilities, though:
Imagine a life without the identity of victim.
Imagine a life free of that energetic weight.
Imagine a life where you are deeply connected to other women who have forgiveness in their hearts.
Do you have a story of forgiveness? What became possible for you?
What healing and success followed?
Are you looking for forgiveness, or trying to forgive? Did you find a lesson or piece of inspiration in this story?