By Cynthia Toussaint.
As we survive years and decades of high-impact chronic illness, we women in pain drag ever-lengthening chains of hurt and anger.
Heavy links created by those who disappointed or flat out failed us. The dismissive doctors who proclaimed our pain as “all in our head”, family members and friends who didn’t stay and institutions that dropped the ball (i.e., worker’s comp, Social Security, HMO’s, etc.) Most importantly, our bodies that betrayed us, generating torturous pain and fatigue that serves no purpose.
These chains are often justifiable, but they come at a cost. While it’s true that short term anger can be a catalyst for positive change, the long-term variety of resentment, like all negative emotions, make us sicker. Tension, depression and grief drive more pain and fatigue. Period.
The answer to cutting these chains is simple, but it’s the most difficult self-care tool I’ve ever practiced. Forgiveness.
When we truly forgive, we let go of our negative feelings. That release is a gift, first and foremost, to ourselves as it lightens our chain of un-wellness. Forgiveness is also a gift to the person or people who hurt us – and ultimately to the universe. I believe all living beings are connected and, with forgiveness, we release positive life force.
It’s not uncommon for people who hear my story to angrily ask if I want to get all of my former name-calling doctors in a room and sternly prove them wrong. They’re shocked when I answer in the negative because I’ve forgiven these doctors long ago and only think to pull up their memory for an interview or to comfort someone else who’s suffering the same kind of abuse. There’s just no more hurt. Time, distance and being public with my story built a strong psychological scab.
I don’t remember when I forgave my body for getting sick 35 years ago, taking away most everything I valued along with my hopes and dreams. I used to rage at myself for a destroyed life and I wanted to exorcize the “evil” in me. With time and acceptance though, it was a natural process to eventually realize that my body didn’t have it in for me or commit a crime. What pulled me through was my healthy self-esteem and value based life.
Not so easy with friends and family members who haven’t been there since I became ill. It never entered my mind that a loved one would leave. Ever. I hold love so deeply I’m unable to understand the emotional (and sometimes physical) abandonment from those who were very close. Not having the tools and strength to forgive them is the biggest cause of my ongoing depression which, in turn, spikes my pain.
Every time I try to forgive a loved one by using the rationale “it’s sad that s/he isn’t strong, but it’s not personal” or “everyone does the best they can”, I let go some and form a little scab. But then another family member or friend who stuck around alerts me to what’s happening in that person’s life or I see them. With that, I feel abandoned again which re-opens the wound. People tell me to light a candle, wish them well and hope someday it’ll be different. I’ve burnt many a candle down to nothing except my tears.
I see forgiveness as the Holy Grail of self-care. In some areas with practice and time, it’s been a healthy, natural process. The chains have dissolved and I’m lighter and at a deeper place of peace. The benefits of forgiveness are truly remarkable, stronger than any medicine ever devised.
With those once near and dear though, I’ve failed to forgive due to my expectations. In the deepest part of my soul, I know that you don’t turn away, neglect or hurt someone you love. You stick by them come hell or high water. Less than that is unforgiveable. My moral compass is the barrier between my wellness and dis-ease.
I really want to shorten my chains, even if just a bit. Every link makes a huge difference. Right now this last piece of forgiveness is elusive and out of reach. I’m praying that with more practice and greater wisdom I can stay true to my values and find a way to lighten my load.
I hope someday I can accept that those loved ones who have disappointed me are flawed and don’t have the strength of character I’m lucky to possess. Or perhaps I’m cursed to have such highfalutin’ ideas about humanity. Either way I’m gonna keep whacking away at this forgiveness thing. If achieved, it will set me free…
Cynthia Toussaint founded For Grace in 2002. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to gender disparity in the treatment of pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.