Not too long ago I wrote about how I was finally forgiving somebody. It was a blanket piece, but also it was directed at a specific person, someone who, in my mind, sent the ball rolling on my self-destructive behaviors. I thought, if only I could forgive them, I would be able to forgive anybody, and then surely things would get easier for me.
Yeah… that didn’t happen.
Maybe I should have known better. After all, forgiveness has two sides: you’ve got to be ready to let go in order to forgive, and the other person should be looking to be forgiven in the first place. But also, as the days wore on, I had to acknowledge the other reason why I wasn’t feeling any better – I am not ready to let go. I’m still angry, I’m still bitter. I’m still full of rage.
It’s a pretty awful thing to admit. It’s like telling a doctor: “I don’t mind having a gangrenous wound in my side! I feel perfectly fine, and if there is blood and gore coming out on innocent bystanders, that’s their problem to manage!”
Who says that? Who is that fucked up?
The idea of a proud Leonine, someone who demands attention and holds a grudge for decades, always made me uncomfortable. Now, I have to admit, it’s probably because I identify with it too much. I don’t just feel drawn to drama – I am hooked on it. I live for it! And even when there isn’t drama, it pleases me to imagine life as a giant soap opera, with me – of course – right in the centre of it.
How else can I explain my inability to let go? How else do I justify holding a grudge for 18+ years? If Joan Didion’s writing is any indication, my obsession with the past is a sign that I have no self-respect. That my sense of who I am, and what my worth is, is too shallow; that I depend too much on other people’s opinions of me to be able to let go of criticism.
Certainly, some of my actions over the past year have not been those of a person who respects herself. I’ve eaten a lot of shit, swallowed a whole bunch of hurt, in the name of “not rocking the boat”, “not causing drama” (hah!), of being the cool person, of keeping things as they are. I let my own resentments fester, and it’s all coming to head now for a messy amputation.
And yet. Was there really much more that I could have done?
It’s hard to imagine how NOT sticking up for what you believe in is ever acceptable, but here’s the thing: for the longest time, hiding was how I survived. Fighting was scary, and only ended up hurting me more than it did anybody else. Pasting a smile on my face, or better yet, making myself into a joke, was a way to let the bad stuff roll over faster. I don’t think I would have made it as far as I did, or become the person I am, had I not been able to laugh through the pain.
My own self-image is one of a brave person who goes where others are afraid to thread. My history, though, is one of a person who got through childhood and adolescence by making herself, and her needs, as tiny as possible. I convinced not only others, but also myself, that I’m too insignificant to offend, too stupid to criticise, too boring to be worth bothering with. It kept me from engaging with some of the more obvious ways people self-medicated their pain, by denying I felt pain in the first place.
Shameful as it is, my cowardly heart saved my life.
I wish I could bury it now under boisterous self-aggrandizing and righteous indignation; I wish I could drown it in drama; in reality, I ought to be thanking it; I ought to treat it with kindness. After all, it didn’t mean to fuck me up permanently – all it did was try and protect me.
There, there. It’s okay. You did what you had to do.
You can let me take it from here.