Forgiveness is a difficult thing.
That sentence seems so obvious, I almost think I shouldn’t type it. But there it is, and right now you are probably agreeing. If not, I would love to know your secret, because I think it is something that a lot of people struggle with.
I am one of them. I have been known to harbor a grudge, despite knowing that it ultimately harms me more than the person I am angry with. Perhaps more commonly, though, I accomplish the forgive part…but not the forget. Forever after there is a wall up to protect myself from further injury. It’s a thin, transparent wall but it is there, and it is sturdy. Maybe that’s not forgiveness at all.
This is not a story about a time I was betrayed by an ex-boyfriend, or a friend, or a co-worker. It is not a story about another person at all. It’s impossible to quantify betrayals but I think my worst – or at least the one I was least equipped to handle – was by my body. And since I cannot wall myself off from it, it hurt just as bad the second time it happened.
So many of the messages we receive from our bodies are processed without thought or effort. If we stopped to second-guess every impulse, we’d never get anything done! Imagine if you didn’t trust what your body was telling you, so every time it said “your nose itches” or “your throat hurts” you answered with “are you sure?”. Imagine if your body told you to breathe, and you didn’t, because you thought it was playing a trick on you and you needed a second opinion. We couldn’t function like that.
Now, imagine that your body tells you you’re pregnant. You did get a second opinion at one point, several in fact: at four weeks along the plus sign appeared on every test you took. But from then on, you have to rely solely on the cues you receive internally, because your doctor’s office doesn’t want you to come in until the 10 week point. You experience – and almost revel in, because it’s your first pregnancy and you’re so excited – nausea, sore breasts, exhaustion, slight food aversions. You note each symptom like you’re filling in a Bingo card and you marvel at how something so small, only about the size of a poppy seed, can be consuming all of your thoughts and most of your energy, and turning your world upside down.
But then you get another message: something is wrong. And when you finally convince your doctor’s office to let you come in (they keep telling you it’s probably nothing), 5 days before your scheduled ultrasound, they confirm what you didn’t want to admit to yourself: there’s been a miscarriage, the pregnancy isn’t viable. Not only that, but judging by what they see on the screen, the fetus stopped growing weeks ago. WEEKS. You have been walking around experiencing and enjoying an absolute lie, perpetrated against you by your own body.
This is what happened to me in September of 2014. And again, in February of 2015. It is called a “missed miscarriage”.
I could write or talk about these experiences for hours, having examined them from every possible angle over the past few years. But I won’t go into all the details and aspects here because what I want to discuss is forgiveness, how it is possible, and how it can be freeing. So I will grossly oversimplify the experiences: the first time it happened I was sad and disappointed. The second time it happened I was pissed and depressed.
I took the anger and depression out on myself, both mentally and physically. It had to be someone’s fault, and who else could I blame but me? I did not eat much, I didn’t sleep much, and I heaped emotional abuse on myself all day and night. I could not get out of my own head and I hated my body for lying to me.
It wasn’t my fault, of course. There are things in our lives that we simply cannot control. That is as true as it is terrifying. But there are many things that we can, and after a while I made a conscious choice to focus on those instead because I did not like who I had become, an angry, bitter, mistrusting person. I knew that if anything was going to change for me, it had to come from me. So I decided to claw my way back out of the hole I’d fallen into and to do that, I had to forgive. I had to painfully, intentionally, and thoroughly forgive.
Slowly I began to take better care of myself. I ate three meals a day again. I sipped a glass of wine during a hot bath to unwind before an early bedtime, and did a meditation exercise to clear my mind so that I could welcome sleep. I took a Facebook hiatus. I cried through yoga classes. I made myself socialize. I started working out, for the first time in many years, so that I could learn to respect my body – its capabilities, its strength, its resilience – again. I had to relearn how to be thankful for my body and all the things that it does for me. Yes, in a way it had failed me, but to wallow in that would be short-sighted and a waste of time, when I should be grateful for all the other gifts that it gives me.
I didn’t do it all on my own, but another part of heeding internal cues is knowing when to ask for help. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, resulting in a prescription for antidepressants and weekly sessions with a counselor. I leaned on my husband – my partner – and took strength from the knowledge that I could lean all I wanted and he wouldn’t give way. I talked with friends who’d had similar experiences. I devoured blogs and articles about miscarriage. I watched the Beyoncé documentary and mourned her miscarriage along with her. And incrementally I started to climb out of that hole.
The end result is that when I forgave myself, my body, and stopped the punishment, I began to recognize myself again. To be sure, I was not exactly the same; I was never going to be. But I was at least a different version of my true self, instead of the stranger I’d been for months.
The hole is still there. Filling it with dirt and planting grass over it would serve no purpose, because pretending that something didn’t happen does not lead to healing. I can still peer over the edge and see exactly how far I have come out.
Perhaps it actually is possible for me to forgive without forgetting, but only if the remembrance does not build walls, but monuments.
I can, of course, speak only about my own experiences and do not profess to represent everyone who has experienced these things. I hope that sharing my story might help someone else who is going through something similar but I want to reiterate that I am no expert! Though I usually have mixed feelings about the internet, I am grateful to have had it as a resource throughout this experience, because it was helpful for me to read other women’s stories. However, the web is another hole that is easy to fall into, so I caution you to use it wisely. 🙂
Claire Bailey is grateful to have been born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. She loves hiking, crafts, binge-watching, re-reading novels, and admiring pretty views. She is constantly battling the invasive wisteria in her yard and trying to amass an army of rhododendrons instead, and if that’s not a metaphor for something I don’t know what is.