The art of pardoning somebody for his or her wrongdoings can be controversial, and to many, outright foolish. Thanks to genetics and social culture, I’ve been taught to believe that people don’t change. If your spouse cheats on you, drop him like a hot rock and never look back. If your friends turn their back on you, don’t ever turn around for them. Assault offenders don’t deserve to live. Once a liar, always a liar.
Okay, that may be taking forgiveness to the extreme, but I’ve held all of these beliefs and values for almost my entire life until recently. I can attribute to such a long lifestyle of abiding by this idea around forgiveness towards my experiences. Sadly for me, I have been hurt far too many times to think otherwise. Because of this, I couldn’t tell anybody my full health and fitness story without breaking down. I stayed away from mass crowds of people. I avoided any situation where unhealthy food would be shared. I don’t remember 99% of my classmates from elementary school or middle school. More notably (and something I don’t often talk about), I have never been in a relationship out of fear of getting hurt.
If you struggle to carry on with certain opportunities or tasks, you are not yet healed from a wound caused by a previous event. This wound prevents you from living your life to its utmost quality, and you don’t deserve the pain. A Band-Aid doesn’t cut it because it serves as an emotional suppressor. Essentially, you lock away the circulation and ignore its existence. Just like any demon inside your head–whether it’s from mental illness or a ghost from the past–you have to acknowledge its presence and make peace. Depending on the wound’s severity, you may have to simply look at this demon, spend an hour conversing with it, or communicate with it for a span of days, months, even years. This can be done through changes in your lifestyle or directly communicating with it.
One thing I know about demons is that they know they have hurt you, even if they have worked in your favor. This statement sounds contradictory, but bear with me. Becoming extremely overweight and facing betrayal by friends who suddenly turned their backs on me enabled me to look into health, fitness, and nutrition at an early age, plus remove myself from such a toxic environment so I could make new friends. Demons always work in their favor, but they have to sacrifice your joy in the process. People who deal with mental illness often speak up about their struggles because their mental conditions grant them their own original stories. Others who have faced terrible situations, such as prison, physical assault, theft, business failures, child neglect, or even natural disasters, do the same. Simply to put it: turn to this demon, understand its presence, interact with it accordingly, send it off, and use your past dilemmas to create something positive.
So now you must be thinking–well, what was my plan for forgiveness? Truth be told, I didn’t follow one, nor did I make one up. Saying “I forgive ____” a thousand times a day would not have worked for me. I just continued to paint my own story from a blank canvas rather than one that had been erased time and time again to wash away the pain. Blank canvas is what I want to emphasize here. The past is important, but it does not 100% define everything you need to do, believe, or value. You can choose to ditch whatever you’ve worked for and what you’ve been raised by. Sure, it may be difficult, but you can do it. However, if you personally want to lay out your past in concrete form, steps you can take are writing your thoughts in a journal, painting, dancing, sketching, public speaking, song-writing, singing, research, activism, teaching, and more, all in dedication of what you’ve been through.
How do you know when you have forgiven someone/something? You know when your lifestyle, your desires, your values, and your general perspective begins to change. When I could finally share my health and fitness story without crying, I knew I had forgiven my bullies and anyone else who doubted me. My memory of my middle school has slowly emerged from its mental burial. When I sought recovery for my medical intervention, I realized that avoiding a certain number on the scale and a certain waist circumference no longer became a concern. I allowed my thirteen year-old self to hold dominance over my self-worth when I chased after certain statistics. Now, I just want to be healthy.
Lastly, forgiveness does not require dismantling the memory. If anything, the more you acknowledge the pain, the more likely you can make peace with it. We suffer for peace. It is almost impossible to avoid suffering because we need it to grow, and we are constantly growing. When you grow, you can repair parts of a wound, or allow it to fester. It depends on the remedies you choose: will you address the symptoms or address the cause? Forgiveness aims to liberate you from any pain in your wounds so that they may heal as battle-scars. Hey, you’re a warrior.