While on my journey toward healing, I’ve learned about the importance of forgiving everyone who has ever caused me pain – not for their sake, but for mine. Forgiveness isn’t about letting them off the hook. It’s not about forgetting what they did to me. It’s about freeing myself from the burden of my past. It’s about letting go so that I can heal.
For me to forgive, I first had to acknowledge the rage inside me which I am not allowing myself to feel. Rage specifically related to my trauma. My therapist told me that it is common – especially among women – to fear rage.
Anger is a confusing emotion for me. When I get angry, I don’t always know if it’s because of my bipolar disorder, my PTSD, or because someone simply says or does something that pisses me off because they go against my personal belief system. I’ve learned that, sometimes, it is buried rage over my past trying to release itself.
My therapist wanted me to punch a pillow while screaming out loud. I never felt comfortable doing this for fear of drawing my neighbors’ attention – and scaring my cat, Zeke. Instead, I would go to a nearby lake or river and – if no one was around – I would hurl rocks into the water as I shouted things like, “How could you do that to me? I was a child!” and “You had no right to hurt me!” While this would bring me some relief, it was short-lived.
Usually, I stuff my rage down with food. I used to shove food into my mouth until I felt so ill that I knew the only way to feel better was to stick my finger down my throat and purge. This happened time and time again, for decades. I no longer purge, but I still emotionally binge eat.
When I write in my journal about something that has triggered me, I might begin to feel a flush of anger. I’ll set aside my journal, close my eyes and try to allow the feelings to surface. I might clench my fists, my muscles might tense up, but that’s about as far as it goes before I shove the anger back down. Other times, my eyes might well with tears as a sadness takes hold of me. A drop or two might slide down my cheek, but I quickly shove those feelings down as well.
Perhaps I am afraid that I will become overwhelmed by these feelings if I allow them to surface. Perhaps it is my psyche shielding me from unbearable emotional pain. I will not give up trying. I know that, for me to truly heal, I need to feel these emotions fully so that I can release their hold on me.
For years, I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I have come to an understanding of why my perpetrators did what they did, or if I am just making excuses for them. Whatever their reasons, I knew that I had to accept that these things happened and find a way to hold no ill will toward any of them.
One night, I went into the woods with a pad of paper, a pen, a lighter, and a ceramic bowl. On each piece of paper, I wrote the name of one of my perpetrators. As I cannot yet feel the emotion of love, I chose to envision myself being filled with pink light until my entire body felt like it was glowing. I wrote on the pieces of paper, I forgive you.
One by one, I lit the piece of paper with my perpetrator’s name on fire, placed it into the bowl, and envisioned the pain I had received from that person being released into the smoke as it curled into the air and was carried away on the wind. I did this for every person on my list.
This might seem like a simple ritual, but it was highly effective. When I was finished, I felt light in my heart and body. Truly, a weight had been lifted.
Releasing those who had caused me harm doesn’t mean that I will ever forget what they did to me. It doesn’t mean that I no longer experience symptoms of PTSD. It doesn’t mean that I no longer carry repressed feelings. It does mean that I can move forward in my healing without the burden of having blame and hate in my heart.