I WISH I COULD FORGIVE like Winston does. When I get back from a trip he is elated. After I pick him up and he’s offered a few frantic kisses, he realizes that he’s supposed to be angry with me for leaving him. It’s adorable. While I’m holding him, he moves his head away from me, as if to say, “I’m not talking to you right now. No more kisses for you.” A minute later, like a good dog, he’s already over it and back to being overjoyed.
If only humans could forgive so easily.
My Dad was like that in many ways. He would get irritated, express a firm opinion and five minutes later he’d be totally over it.
For day-to-day annoyances, I’m the same as dad. It’s hard to get me riled for long. Unfortunately, when the worst happens, like true adversities or breeches of trust, the five-minute “forgive and forget” approach stops working. Despite pretending it did, I learned the hard way that minimizing their impact or just brushing off the most difficult life experiences is not the answer to a joyful existence.
Deflecting is essentially faking forgiveness, which doesn’t serve your long-term heart healing.
Initially I thought I was quick to forgive because I would just deflect and ignore a problem or diminish its existence. Dr. T called it my “Gotta Go” technique. When I didn’t like what was happening over “here” I’d just go over “there.” The problem with this approach is that eventually there was nowhere left to go—and I found myself surrounded by the emotions I had refused to process earlier.
Through everything, forgiveness has been the hardest part of my journey. True forgiveness takes grace, understanding and determination, and at times I just didn’t have any of those qualities.
Finally, I realized that forgiveness happens in an instant, but the processing that leads to the moment of letting go takes time.
For a long while, I had no intention of ever forgiving the surgeon who botched my surgery. I was 100 percent committed to hating him for the rest of my life.
I resented that he wasn’t a better surgeon, that he caused me so much pain and that he didn’t take responsibility for his actions. I hated that he robbed me of my prime time to have kids and he turned my life upside down. I hated that he had the nerve to write a line in my file about me that sets the feminist movement back to the dark ages. (I won’t even dignify it by repeating his comment.)
Every time I went to another doctor to try to fix his handiwork, I offered a little ode to that first surgeon, and it was definitely not a love poem. I hated that for the first couple of years I only saw doctors who had either trained him or trained with him. I hated the system and how certain cliques of doctors protect their own so that if they mess up in the future, a colleague won’t testify against them.
I hated how some doctors dismissed my pain because I looked fine on the outside, wasn’t moping, and hadn’t given up on life. I resented that the hospital where I had the first surgery allowed a nurse to force me to drive home high-as-a-kite the next morning, shortly after another nurse had plied me with drugs. Even worse, I resented that when I made a complaint the administration blamed me and insisted I left on my own volition, which was not true, but even if it was true, it wasn’t a valid excuse.
Then I hated myself for not taking pictures and recording every step of the journey. I hated knowing that had I fallen asleep after my second surgery when I went home with a nicked artery, I could have bled to death. I was also outraged that the surgeon who spent hours putting pressure on my bleeding artery while we waited for an operating room, wrote such a cursory mention of the artery cauterization in my file that the hospital and doctor could deny, once again, that they had messed up.
I could go on because, despite my smile, I was in a constant state of hate, anger and disappointment. I felt like I’d been punched—and then while I was on the ground the entire healthcare system delivered an even stronger kick, like a bully on the playground.
I felt like no one was on my side.
Once I listened to three doctors talk about me within ear shot of the waiting room, and I felt violated all over again. I resented that the start of several medical memos included some version of “she’s a lovely, friendly young woman” as if somehow, being pleasant negated my pain.
There were a hundred reasons why I held hate in my heart. Not one of them served my healing.
One night while I was lying in bed, I decided I’d had enough anger. Finally, I was ready to let it go. I signed release documents on my legal case that had been sitting on my desk for months, with the words “Do better next time” just above my signature.
How did I finally forgive and let go?
Here’s my Resiliency Ninja Forgiveness Framework:
- Feel the full pain of the situation.
- Reposition the interpretation of the wrongdoers’ intent.
- Build a story around the experience that will serve your healing.
- Recognize the blessings in the situation.
- Focus on the present and the future.
*excerpt from the book Married My Mom, Birthed a Dog: How to Be Resilient When Life Sucks! Chapter 12.