by Mandy Nunes, Assistant Director
April 11, 2023
What is the true meaning of forgiveness? Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
My recovery journey has so many stories of forgiveness, laid out layer upon layer. Some layers of forgiveness came naturally as my perspective changed in recovery. Other layers of forgiveness took years of therapy and work to be able to forgive. Forgiveness of self was the hardest for me. Partially because I had to spend a lot of time in therapy untangling what was mine to own and forgive of myself and what forgiveness I needed to give to someone else. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to figure out, but for me it most definitely was.
I have a ton of childhood trauma. For those of you who know what ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) tests are, I have an ACEs score of 10, the highest score one can have. My environment shaped me. I began to use substances to cope at an early age, and engage in other behaviors that were really dangerous and created more trauma. I recreated the environment of my childhood, I made choices that were devastating. I caused harm to others and harm to myself. As I tried to process my trauma, take accountability, and find forgiveness, I was riddled with shame and self-loathing. So much of my adult trauma was my own doing, I was both victim and perpetrator. Trying to navigate that was confusing and agonizing, but I knew the only way out was through.
It took me a long time, with the help of an amazing therapist, to start being able to see that a lot of the shame I felt wasn’t mine to own. I was so focused on accountability that I was owning my experiences from 12, 13, 14 years old, and so on, as my choices, my fault. My therapist had to help me reshape those experiences and my role in them. The truth was, I was a child. It was someone else’s role to guide me, to protect me. I have a 12 year old daughter right now, and she is absolutely not mature enough to make those kinds of decisions, and the thought of her experiencing the things I did at her age makes me incredibly sad and honestly a little sick to my stomach. I had to find compassion for the child I was that experienced those things. Once I was able to acknowledge and have compassion for the child me, then I was able to understand adult me. Once I was able to do that, I was able to work on forgiveness for the adults in my childhood. As I worked on forgiving them I was able to start forgiving me, or maybe as I worked on forgiving me, I was able to forgive them. Either way the forgiveness did come. And some days I feel tangled up again, memories resurface and feelings too. Forgiveness isn’t always a one and done thing, sometimes it’s a choice we make every day, just like recovery. It can be an incredible amount of work, painful even at times. For me, the work that went into forgiveness was liberating and absolutely worth it. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.
Today, through my forgiveness of self and others, I am able to support my mom from a place of compassion as she is on her own healing journey of recovery and forgiveness. My mom is currently going through a similar process with her therapist and I have been able to share some of my experiences with her. As she shares with me, I am reminded of how difficult and painful it can be to go through that process, even more so for her since my grandmother has passed. I am grateful that I get to love and support her through this process, rather than blame and resent. That is the power of forgiveness.