Growing up in church, forgiveness and healing were used quite frequently and often seemed so easy. Like it was a one-time deal. You accept Christ as your Savior, you’re forgiven, you are healed.
Growing up with both a mother and grandmother who were nurses, I learned healing is a process. You set the bones, suture the wounds, sanitize to prevent infection, and then you wait. Have you ever cut yourself then watched as the wound scabbed over then watched the scab fade and the skin pretty much return to normal? Watched a blister form from splattering bacon grease on your arm then leave a scar?
Forgiveness is not something you can do just once and move on. I was wounded. Badly in some cases. Fingers were dug into those wounds over and over again.
For a long time, I did not have the chance to heal because I kept getting burned over and over again or I was not given the time or freedom or instructions on how to deal with my hurt, anger, rejection, shame, guilt, disappointment, fear, and sometimes hatred.
I was told it wasn’t worth it to cry or get upset. “If you keep crying, I’ll really give you something to cry about” is something my dad said a lot after spanking my brother Adam and me and we cried.
Growing up the only girl in a house with five men, crying or getting upset when criticized always meant “Amy must be on her period.” Joke’s on you assholes, I have PCOS; I often went up to 6 months without a period.
A few months before I moved to Atlanta, Georgia back in 2009, my mom and I sat on her patio and talked. I was nervous to bring it up at all but felt it was necessary to tell her I forgave her for abandoning my brothers and me for her second ex-husband Tim and for how critical she was about my weight and body and told her I was sorry for my role in the horrible fights we had when I was a teenager. (I’ll write more about this later.)
I moved to Atlanta and soon figured out that all I’d done in saying “I forgive you” was put my broken bones in a cast. I’d finally properly dressed the gaping wound.
The healing process had only just begun.
I’ve never broken more than my next to baby toe and I’ve only received stitches post-surgery so I can’t properly speak on how painful it is to heal from a physical break or wound.
Emotionally, however, the healing process is hell.
It’s a restlessness, a need to go outside and run til your lungs collapse and your legs stop twitching at 2:30 in the morning. It’s fury, your fists pounding your mattress as hot tears stream down the sides of your face as you think about all you said you’ve forgiven and think, “Why the fuck am I letting her off the hook?! After all she did to me, to Ben and Caleb [my two youngest brothers, who were 7 and 5 when she left], how can I just let her get away with this?!”
For me, at times, it’s turning the dysfunction into comedy. Making jokes about everything, like the time I called the police on my uncle Robert because he wouldn’t stop harassing my great-grandmother Lib and when she told me to call them back and “cancel” it, I snapped, “What do you think this is, Pizza Hut?! You can’t call and cancel the police!”
In the past two years, I’ve started having anxiety attacks. The worst was in late May 2015, on the Silver Comet Trail near Atlanta, at sunset, all alone after a 3-mile run I’d hoped would exhaust the anxiety or flood my brain with endorphins and distract it for a while.
I also had one at my bridal shower in June 2015, a month before my wedding, and wound up sitting in the bathroom for 30 minutes feeling like I was going to vomit, my worst fear, and/or pass out.
For about three months after, it was an exhaustive effort to swallow food and drink.
Everything feels out of control.
For far too long, I numbed myself, mostly with food. That sent me into a spiral that I’ll also write about later as I battled with my weight and the inadequacies, shame, and feelings of failure that came along with it.
I’ve been in therapy multiple times alone and just completed nine months of marital counseling with my husband John. Each has peeled back a layer at a time.
I still often shrug off suggestions of possible PTSD from my childhood or when therapists empathize with, “No wonder you feel that way about [oh, many things]. You carry some deep, deep wounds from your childhood that would cause anyone to feel the way you do.”
Too many thoughts of starving kids in Africa and sex trafficking victims and people who’ve “truly suffered” scrawl through my mind when I hear, “Wow, that’s so awful what you’ve been through.” I was lucky compared to some, many, most.
Pain is relative. Pain is relative. That is so hard for me to remember.
So my feelings and motivation behind re-evaluating my life stories?
Even though I know those stories are over in a lot of ways, I still have feelings attached that I haven’t quite resolved. The critical voice in my head is deafening. It still wants to blame me for everything. Still wants to tell me I’m a burden and too much.
It’s exhausting to still carry so much of what has happened to me on my shoulders. I am tired of playing the victim too. Tired of hiding so much of who I am. Tired of still feeling like I’m holding myself back.
Fear motivates my need to be in control. Fear motivates my need to know everything I possibly can. It fuels my mistrust in others and myself. It’s why I hate surprises. Fear also fuels my introspection, which has been a huge gift for me even as much as it sucks to be so acutely self-aware at times.
I can’t change what’s happened to me. I can’t change how it has hurt me. I can’t go back in time and stop the break. I don’t want to. Those experiences made me who I am today.
What I want to change is how those wounds live on as my scars. How I let those experiences affect me from here on out. How they affect my marriage, family relationships, friendships, health, and how I live with myself just as I am.
I told my mom I forgave her on her patio 7 years ago and my dad in a letter about 6 years ago. I am still healing from it. The two go hand-in-hand. To forgive opens the wound and to experience the pain and discomfort is to heal.
And maybe we don’t look the same after the scar forms over or walk the same after our bones reset, maybe our relationships end or maybe there’s simply a shift, but we are better. Stronger. Lighter in some cases.
That’s what the past 8 years have been for me. That’s what my hope is for this blog. To lighten my load. To see how far I’ve come. To finally acknowledge and accept and fully stand in my strength and bravery and know I’m not a victim anymore but a victor.