Monday, September 26, 2011

The Long Road to Forgiveness

Months and months ago... even longer ago than my last post here... I was sitting in a pew, listening to a sermon... not just being there while that was happening... but really listening. The sermon rocked cause the Pastor is phenomenal! I had previously been "unchurched" as they say for some 25 years... and finding this particular church... with this AMAZING pastor changed that for me. I still absolutely... positively follow my traditional Native spiritual path, but I also am enriched by integrating other things, sometimes I am positively giddy about the connections I find! But... I digress.

The sermon centered around forgiveness. As I look back now... at that moment... I started a journey.  When the Pastor gave that sermon, it was like she took a big ole stick and stirred a long dormant pot... and things began to cook. I just went and looked at some of my journals, that sermon was just a couple days shy.. of a year ago! I guess the cooking that began at that point is of the slow - cookin variety! 

I have a wonderful family... my children, my super-supportive Sister... but I haven't involved them in this process directly. They are awesome and I love them, each and every one... maybe I was trying to protect them... from being hurt by that which has hurt me for so long.  I also have what I consider my support team, who HAVE each been directly involved in all of this... I've had many conversations with these most excellent people:

  • My wonderful partner, who loves me beyond all reckoning... who was there when the  memories and awarenesses first resurfaced in me and scared me to death... who knows me better than most anyone and who loves the person I truly am. I never would have had the courage to face this... without her all encompassing and unconditional love. 
  • My therapist who asks hard questions, who holds up the mirror regularly and calls "bullshit" when that needs to be done, and sometimes... it does! 
  • My Pastor who who helped me to truly... believe... and who has held my hand and watched my back... and walked alongside me on this journey through some pretty scary places. This journey has resulted in an amazing friendship! This beautiful person is no longer my Pastor, she has been called elsewhere to serve.  But, she was the first person I EVER considered to be MY Pastor... and in the reaches of my innermost heart, she's Pastor Emeritus, released of that official responsibility, but honored for her role.  So... for the purpose of this writing she will remain in that Pastoral role... since when I started this journey... and this writing... she still was my Pastor  :-) 
  • My dear friend who has become my Sibling/Brother/Counterpart... a true kindred-spirit (you know who you are - I love you - I am blessed!). You have taught me BOLDness... or helped me to reclaim it at very least! 
So yeah, lots and LOTS of conversations... regarding childhood sexual abuse. Something that had haunted me and over time hollowed me out like a Jack-o-lantern, and caused me to go to some pretty dark places, and engage in some pretty unhealthy behaviors. My work with each of these beautifully loving souls has been very empowering, but the whole forgiveness thing still seemed beyond my reach.

No one said or even suggested that I had to forgive my abuser. I just felt like SOMETHING was supposed to be done... to enable me to move forward and forgiveness was the only word I had. My therapist, suggested to me that I needed to define forgiveness for ME... find MY definition. I guess I didn't know I could DO that, that it was mine to define. I felt like forgiveness was this certain thing that by its very definition contained certain components. If it WAS mine to define I certainly didn't know how to do THAT without being stuck with the aspects that I either reject, or at the very least I was not yet at a place where I could consider them. It seemed to me at that time, that if I removed those components we were no longer talking forgiveness, but something else entirely.

  • Excerpt from my journal: “does forgiveness have to be complete… a blanket sort of deal… or can I craft my own contract where I define the terms and conditions?” 
  • Journal Excerpt 2 "Forgiveness is an act of creation. You can choose from many ways to do it. You can devise a blanket of forgiveness. You decide" - Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs    A blanket of forgiveness and I get to decide... WHO KNEW? 
So as I rolled it around and around (kind of like a bowling ball: big and heavy), I just couldn't find the holes that allowed me to hold it, and guide it.... it was just... unmanageable. It is like my therapist handed me the ball, but it was just too heavy to hold like it was, so I put it down and just looked at it, not knowing what to do. "Yep... that's mine all right... there it IS... now what?" But that Sunday, when the Pastor spoke of Grace, that which just IS... that which it is not possible to earn... a subtle shifting began to occur.  It was like in the old game of Moustrap... something was set into motion... that was going to take a series of interactions to come about. Boot kicks bucket... marble down zigzag chute...marble hits pole, down the bathtub drain... etc... I've never been too spiffy at engineering... so it took several tear downs and re-constructions to build a sequence within ME... that could work. Doing things the hard way... its what I DO!

I began rolling this thing around with Grace in mind and to my surprise and relief, I noticed that there did seem to be some holes in that old clunker of a ball after all. They were not as well formed as they needed to be, and certainly not as deep as they needed to be. I couldn't heft the thing and give it a roll... yet. But I DID see that I was on the path to being able to do that. The concept and the word Grace was helping me frame this work. I even defined what GRACE meant for me, in this situation... Not only the Godly gift that people think of when they hear the word... but for me... Grace is also defined as:

Gently - gotta be gentle... with ME

Releasing - that was what I knew was needed, some kind of release

Anger - yes Maam, I've got a mountain of it, even though when asked, I flat denied it.

Creating - I had to craft it... for ME

Empowerment - I felt powerless in that situation and I needed to reclaim MY power

This helped me frame it, but I still struggled with the notion that forgiving my abuser, meant somehow giving him a pass... saying all of the things he did to me then, and the residual that has clung to me every day since was okay, and that it didn't matter. That felt like complete and utter bullshit to me... and it still does! I can be very stubborn, as each of my support team has lovingly pointed out... and I stubbornly held onto the anguish.. and to the notion that forgiveness ... was giving my abuser a pass.  I must be clear here... this was my self imposed THING... no one said that forgiveness was that, but something in ME believed it to be so.  My concept of what forgiveness was, and was not... was an unsolvable Gordian knot... tying me to the past.

Although I had been doing a lot of good personal work... I was SO stuck, that knot was so huge and so complex.  It seemed that every bit of work I did, every bit of wonderful guidance from my support team I received, I would turn a corner and the knot would just be sitting there... staring me in the face. "Sooo we meet again..." It was MY knot.. I had crafted it.  No one could untie it for me... that was my work to do.   I considered the question of WHY this issue has persisted as it has for me, I realized it is because a lesson remains for me. I firmly believe that a lesson is repeated... until it is LEARNED.

I know that by doing the hard and consistent daily work of healing, the traumas, and tragedies of our lives recede into their rightful place in the background, like a mountain range in the background of a painting. They are part of the landscape of our lives, but they no longer dominate that landscape. BUT if you have left some of your personal work undone, in MY case... by not forgiving... one day you turn around and "HOLY SHIT!" those mountains have picked up their substantial skirts and have come scampering to the foreground. Suddenly you turn around... there they ARE and you promptly fall on our face! No matter how I worked it, or looked at it... I could not escape the idea that forgiving meant somehow absolving my abuser of what he did, and I do not... I felt like it would be saying it was okay, and that it didn't matter... it is NOT ok and it DOES matter! Those things... were my mountains.

This has been a process... and once that stick stirred things up nearly a year ago... its been like I was watching a bubble rise up through honey. I could see it comin', but it was way slow. A couple of weeks ago... it finally reached the surface, but I somehow could not say the words... and the bubble couldn't pop without my words.  My words were the pin required to deflate that toxic thing... once and for all. I felt that I needed to pray it into existence... to speak its name to the Universe and let that Divine Eternal Love in the center of all that is... carry it off. I went to my aforementioned amazing Pastor and we examined it from various perspectives, this journey of mine. I had this awareness that it had arrived, the moment of forgiveness, and I had intention to make it so... but the words were lost to me.. or they were stuck within me. Anyone who knows me... knows that for ME to lack words... is a bit of a rarity (as the length of this post may attest).

I pray all the time, throughout my day, through words and dance and rhythm... but I had no prayer for this. I asked her to help me give voice to my intention, to put it into the world, I asked, and she prayed it aloud for me... we did this together (and WOW its hard to write this without using her name - just sayin). She suggested that maybe in addition to our prayers of intention... I needed to activate my Native ceremonial practices... Good Call!

  • I haven't mentioned (and I must) that the most beautiful moment with this amazing woman was when she said to me... early in my contact with this church something quite close to "I am so glad you are here ... it is great ! But don't you DARE set aside other things that you do, practices that have meaning for you... and that lift you up... for anything we do here." That loving acceptance has continued.  I never expected that level of acceptance anywhere... the unconditional love and acceptance of who I am... blows me away... to this day! 
So as we spoke of this process... of my bubble as it were... She said my description made her think of boiling mud... which dries and cracks... and crumbles and can be sent on its way in the wind. That gave me my spark!

As I pondered this ceremonial send off, the medicines and my teachings... revealed themselves. The first draft of this post described what I did... in detail, but that's no good.. that's sacred ceremonial work. The details of preparation and specifics the what and the how... those are mine... but in general terms, there was smudging... once prepared in a sacred manner, I held the bowl aloft, to the 4 directions, and as the smoke rolled it carried away my bitterness, it carried with it the gripping power of the past... the bindings that held me to those things, was consumed. I spoke aloud the words of forgiveness... and gave my anguish to my Creator. When the burning was over... I scattered the ashes to the 4 directions, the night breeze sent the particles on their respective journeys. As the last ashes took to the wind, something within me lept for joy... my spirit SINGS and I feel so amazingly FREE!

What has this done for me? As I lifted my burden up into far more capable arms... I find that my own arms are now free to embrace life more fully. That's a downright amazing and beautiful thing! I am embracing my inner otter... the animal totem symbolizing Grace... I'm floating on my back in the blessed waters...

Wawena... Pilamaya and Chii Megwetch to my support team! In the words of a song I love "what we do in love and kindness, is all we ever leave behind" and each of you has left an indelible mark on my life and on my heart.  There are no adequate words for what I now feel... for the place I now stand... you each helped me get here, for that you have my perpetual love and respect!