Forget: leave behind
Forgive: from an old English word forgiefan giefan, meaning “give” and for-, meaning “completely”.
Just read an article that jumped off the page. It described how a New Orleans doctor specializing in burns found that his patients were deeply angry, understandably so as they were in terrible pain and lashing out at anyone they could blame, including themselves. They were “all burnt up.” Their bodies rejected multiple skin grafts – until they forgave.
So are we with chronic pain in some way holding onto what has been described as a “grievance story”? If you are like me, you will react with frustration at another “blame the patient” line.
I don't think, for a moment, we are creating our pain, using it as an escape or a “hurt” identity. But I do know that my childhood is part of who I am, that I can see looking back that it sensitized the pathways the stress chemicals travel down, and primed them for later pain. My body has become hypervigilant. Of course, like everyone with pain, I kicked at the unfairness, the walls closing in, the endurance.
So, how did I get to here from there? And did forgiveness enter the equation? If so, of whom?
There was a daily struggle against despair, often weeping with pain, constantly bullying myself into false cheerfulness. It was unremitting and exhausting. Here is calmly content, grateful, at peace. I still am limited, still have pain, but something has changed because somehow it doesn't matter. I have found a haven above the pain – but how? What changed? Was it forgiveness?
In a way it was, but not the way it is usually taken to work. Forgiveness is commonly described as letting go of anger and resentment, losing the state so well described by Nelson Mandela: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
It is hard work and takes one to the limits of one's soul. Until, in despair, I asked God, “I don't want to hold onto this. I have tried, but I can't get to forgiveness.” And suddenly I heard the answer, “Why not?”
Why not indeed? Something shifted and I saw clearly that I couldn't let go in case it happened again. I was afraid that by forgiving I was saying to myself that it was OK to be treated badly. And then I saw that the real harm had been that I was allowing another's act to define me as a victim, worthless, fit for abuse, not worth defending. And I had a choice: to hand the act back to the perpetrator. To define myself as whole – and so stop reacting.
That was the step that took me from there to here. Pain doesn't define me, neither outwardly in how I relate to others, nor within where I live. As with forgiveness, I had to be in a place above pain. Am writing this on my iPad, flat on my back because it is the only position where it doesn't hurt, but it doesn't matter because I have forgiven fate. I am bigger than what it has done to me – and I am at peace.
PS I don't want to give the impression it was easy. It took trying everyday to reach an equilibrium. To decide hourly that this is what I have got for good (bad?) and I have to choose to be content. I had to learn to define myself, not by the weakness of my body, but by the chosen joy of my spirit. It did take me to the edges of my soul, but the gift wrapped within is immeasurable.
The Science of Forgiveness: When you don't Forgive, you don't release All the Chemicals of the Stress Response – link
The Grievance Story – link