It was the lowest point of my life.
I was alone and living in the back bedroom of my coworker’s trailer. Everything I owned was long gone, including my car which the police confiscated for an expired tag and suspended license. This is my penance, I decided, for all the terrible things I’ve done.
Even more than the things I’d lost, the people who were missing hurt me the most. My children lived away from me, and it was all my fault. I’d screwed up every offer of help from my friends, instead choosing toxic relationships and substance abuse. It was the only way I could live with myself, numbing out so I didn’t have to think about the pain I caused.
This was how I spent every day. It was like being trapped forever with the person I hated most. Except in this case the person was me.
One day, my boys’ father Derek called me and asked if I wanted to see them. He said he would pick me up from the trailer and take me to his house. He told me Brendan and Shayne were really excited about it. I gratefully accepted even though Derek was the last person I wanted to see. He knew better than anyone what a piece of crap I was. Derek tried to help me leave my abusive relationship several times, and I betrayed him by always giving up and going back for more. His hatred for me was understandable.
The day Derek picked me up for the visit, I walked to the front of the trailer park on a busy road rather than let him see where I lived. Maybe I was being proud, but I didn’t want to show how far I’d fallen. Now that my abusive relationship was over, Derek seemed to want me back in the boys’ lives. I didn’t think I was worthy of my sons or to get a ride in Derek’s car to visit them. We sat in the car in silence for a few minutes before Derek spoke.
“You know what I think your problem is?”
Oh great! Now Derek wanted to bring up all my mistakes and make me feel a hundred times worse. How was I supposed to get through this visit without crying if Derek tortured me all the way there?
We were at a stoplight, and Derek turned to face me.
“Well, back when I cheated and left you, I blamed myself for ruining your life for a long time. But now I’ve forgiven myself, and it’s changed my life.”
I rolled my eyes and looked out the window instead of at my ex-husband. Gee Derek, I’m so glad YOU feel better.
“I’m serious,” Derek continued. “I had to forgive myself for that mistake before I could move on with my life. I think you need to do the same.”
I thought about what Derek said for the rest of the night, even while playing with the boys. It seemed so easy for him to absolve himself of responsibility. He lived in a giant house with a beautiful new wife and my two sons. When you have everything, maybe it’s easy to forget where you came from. I thought I didn’t have that luxury. My mistakes were too huge and far-reaching to ever forget. I felt like a worthless human being with no chance at redemption.
Until I realized Derek was absolutely right.
I hated myself for years, long past when I gave up hard drugs and broke off my bad relationship. There was nothing anyone could say to make me feel differently. I had no sense of what kind of person I was anymore or what I believed in. Even when I felt a hint of pride for something good I’d done, I brushed it away because I felt I didn’t deserve the praise. What kind of mother would let her kids go? What kind of woman can’t support herself at even the most basic level? My existence was a waste of space, and I deserved every bad thing I was sure would happen to me.
Without forgiving myself, I would still be in that state today. My children didn’t blame me for leaving. They were just happy I was back in their lives. Why couldn’t I have the same happiness without the past clouding everything I tried to enjoy? There were so many things I couldn’t forgive, but most of all my own actions. My stubbornness wasn’t just hurting me; it was hurting the people around me. I had to let it go.
I took the road of forgiveness, telling myself to just keep doing the “next right thing.” I was careful with each little decision, making sure it was the best thing to do. Little decisions turned into bigger ones, and before long they built a foundation under me that I could trust to make positive changes in my life.
Next, I sought out the people I’d hurt and made sincere apologies. I didn’t worry about repairing friendships or being part of my family again. My main concern was letting these people know how truly sorry I was for the things I’d done. Whether they accepted it was their choice. Some people welcomed me back with open arms. Others kept their distance because of lack of trust. But all of them knew I was trying to make things right again.
Another thing I worked on was catching the negative thoughts in my mind. These thoughts try to convince me I’m lower than dirt. To make them go away, I had to reject every bad thought that popped into my head even if it was true. That doesn’t mean I don’t take responsibility for my part in things. It just means I don’t ruminate on it over and over until I’m depressed and no good to anybody.
I also stopped playing the victim. Yes, some terrible things happened over the course of my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t move on and learn from them. I remember being at AA once and complaining about everything bad happening in my life. The speaker said it sounded like I was saying, “Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink.” It embarrassed me, but she was right.
If you stay stuck in victim mode, you’ll never know what you can do on your own to improve your situation. Letting go of that mentality was a tough one. After all, life isn’t fair to everyone sometimes, but it’s important not to stay there and to grow from it instead.
Today, there are things I like and maybe even love about myself. I’m kind and resilient and more self-aware than ever before, but without taking those first steps none of it would have been possible. Now, I’m grateful for my challenges as an opportunity for growth.
My days of being self-destructive are over because I know I’m worthy of contributing to the world to make it a better place. There’s no room for hate in my life now for me or anyone else, and I appreciate every moment of my life rather than spending it beating myself up.
I never thought I’d say it, but I forgive myself. I have no other choice.
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