This is a six-minute read.
I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately: collective forgiveness, forgiveness of others, forgiveness of the self. What does it mean to forgive, truly? How do we forgive? They say forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, but sometimes it feels so hard to access. I haven’t quite figured out how to open it, how to get down past the wrapping paper to the deepest layers of myself.
These last number of weeks have cracked my heart wide open. I’ve spent a lot of time doing a deep dive into vulnerability, having honest conversations with the people in my life that aren’t always so easy, coming face to face with my shadows, and learning what it means to be honest with myself. Today I came to a space of emotional exhaustion. This work is hard. I feel like I’ve walked in a large circle and ended up back exactly where I began … even if I know that’s not true. Any time you go out on a journey and return home, you are changed, you’ve grown, and you look at the world differently than you once did. Home has a different texture than it did when you left. This is as true for our emotional home as it is for our external one, but sometimes returning to where you started makes you question why you decided to leave in the first place.
A conversation I have been having with those closest in my life is what it means to rely on people. As a rule, I tend to be a very independent person. A number of experiences when I was younger led me to become that way – most of the time, if I didn’t do something, it wasn’t going to get done, so I had to learn to take care of myself. I also have a tendency to carry the people in my life if I see them struggling, it is in my nature to support in any way I can. But in terms of allowing other people to support me on a deeper level, that is where my work lies. This combination can be draining at times, and when I am drained, my knee jerk reaction it to shut everyone out.
When we experience intimacy followed by abandonment in any form, it hurts. Sometimes there is a softness in us that crystalizes and shatters, and we find ourselves building a massive wall around our hearts to keep everyone out. We don’t always realize we’re doing it, either – as humans, we are extremely well adapted for survival, and trauma can trigger a series of responses designed to protect us from ever feeling such pain again. The walls can be useful for a time, in the immediate shock of whatever we are living through. If left unexamined, however, we stop ourselves from feeling the fullness of what it means to be human. We can become distant and cold, even towards those who love us. We work to silence our feelings, or we decide we have to go it all alone, even if deep down, we don’t want to.
And so we are left with the question, how do we heal? How do we bring light to the spots where we’ve broken?
It isn’t easy. Healing is not linear. It’s back and forth and up and down, learning how to recognize your patterns and having compassion for yourself when you slip back into them without meaning to. It’s learning how to trust again (that one is hard, my friend.) To figure out who to trust, figure out how to be in relationship to the people in your life. It’s asking yourself the hard questions and having the courage to answer honestly. Having those conversations you’ve been avoiding because you know it will bring you in a direction that is less-than-comfortable. And sometimes, yes, you’ll retreat into your shell, and that’s okay. Just as long as you don’t stay there.
Only when we begin the process of healing, can we truly invite people into our world, to allow ourselves to be seen for who we are. Isn’t that all we’re craving? To be seen as we are?
I am extremely practiced in the art of building walls. As someone who is connected to energy on a level that is subtle and unseen, I think it’s a skill I had to learn early on in order to go through the world. I can place my hand on someone’s arm or give them a hug, and most of the time there’s this thin barrier between us. The touch exists purely in the physical world. Most of the time I live there. With the people I am close with, however, sometimes I allow a softening of that barriers to occur. For me, there is something incredibly intimate in allowing another person into my energetic space, in the exchange of the energies of two people – so if I’ve let you in in that way, it means I trust you quite a bit. This softening, this intimate energetic connection is also what fuels me when I allow it to occur. This is when I truly relax.
Recently I became aware that I have been living with that barrier up, nearly 24/7 for the past two years, even with the people I am close with. I have had a few moments of rare vulnerability but for the most part, my façade has been strong and independent, matter of fact. I hug my friends and keep them at a distance. I wouldn’t let anyone see me fall apart, unless it my emotions decided they wanted out, and the spillage was beyond my control. But still, letting people in has felt dangerous. And so, for the most part, I haven’t. Until recently.
I am aware of the series of events that triggered this response two years ago, and a large part of my mind is still convinced that the safest thing for me to do is to be alone. Slowly, I am starting to see perhaps there might be another way.
Sometimes we build stories in our minds that aren’t actually true. For a long time, I’ve lived with certain beliefs that have kept me from getting too close to people, even if that intimacy was the thing I craved the most. It’s important for us to question our patterns and stories, otherwise we get stuck. The act of questioning these stories is quite uncomfortable. It shakes up your foundation and initiates a process of unravelling, of finding your way back home to your core when you’ve been lost in the busyness of the outside world for so long. It’s brave work, an inner pilgrimage of sorts. An adventure when approached with curiosity. It doesn’t have to be heavy. I am in this process right now.
And so I’ve been questioning what it means to forgive. I don’t have all the answers, don’t really know what it means to begin with. I know it comes in layers, sometimes you think you’ve forgiven someone for something, but on a deeper layer you still hold resentment there. We forget sometimes that while people do have patterns, they also grow and change as we do. Staying present with them, recognizing when we lay an old framework over the same person and how they are putting the work into a relationship or friendship, this is how we can reach a new level of depth and trust. Trust can be rebuilt once it’s been broken, but it requires time, patience and nurturing from both parties. You can forgive someone and decide that it’s still better for you to love them from afar – and sometimes this is the kindest thing you can do for yourself and everyone involved.
Relationships take work. Honest, clear communication. A willingness to try again.
And then there’s intimacy. I don’t mean in the physical sense here, but on an emotional, energetic level. We can only be as intimate with others as we are willing to be with ourselves. Intimacy can only occur within a container where we feel safe to be who we are, as we are, accepted without judgement. Not a state we achieve but rather something we continue to work towards, find our way back to all our lives.
I’ve always found it funny how people think the work I do in sharing my writing or my life experiences as brave – for me, it doesn’t feel that way. The things I share tend to be things I have already worked through, and I am able to share them from a place that is detached. I no longer feel the emotions of the story I am telling, more like it is someone else’s story I am sharing than it is my own. True vulnerability is when we let that façade down and allow people to see the messiness of our inner workings. For me, it is something to be shared with few. When we can have the bravery to do so, we reach a level of intimacy in our friendships and relationships that is incredibly raw and stunningly beautiful.
I crave this kind of intimacy, yet as I do the work to get there, I realize how it is the most terrifying thing for me. It points back to my relationship with myself, how harshly I have judged myself for most of my life. How my openness has, in the past, been taken for granted and left me with a thick wall I’m not sure I know how to dismantle. How there is a level of uncertainty any time you bring another person into the picture – you cannot control them, and the situation becomes unpredictable. You have to decide if you can trust them, and if you decide you do, you have to trust that their intentions are good.
Intimacy is messy. Into me you see. Human beings are messy. Living life is messy and unpredictable. Sometimes the mess produces something beautiful beyond our wildest dreams.
And so I sit here with this word in my mouth: trust.
Trust it will all be worth it, in the end.