Fireworks can bring forgiveness

A little more than a year ago I got hurt. It wasn’t a dramatic accident or a violent attack. There were no bruises or visible scars.

The hurt was to my heart.

In my perception it was very direct – deliberate – and debilitating.

A friend, who I trusted to remain one, crossed a line that I assumed was ironclad. She did so in a devious way. I was stunned.

With Baltimore being what it is- a tiny fishbowl with lots of big, colorful fish crammed in together -I couldn’t find my way to any place that didn’t bump me up against my hurt feelings or exacerbate my fears of being fooled again.

I withdrew – not just from that friend but from others so that I didn’t put them in the position of having to form alliances.

I withdrew from activities that I enjoyed doing because I ran the risk of being derailed again and again by those face burning feelings of shame (for having trusted) and anger (for having been betrayed).

My world grew smaller and smaller as I gave in to those feelings.

I tried – I really tried – to be bigger but pretending you don’t feel something is not the same as not feeling it.

Pretending is exhausting.

My personal power was eroding and my old companion- depression -started popping in to visit me.

Now, I have wrestled with depression for most of my life and I have learned that there are some very immediate actions that must be taken at the first signs of it.

The first action is to acknowledge that it is there.

So often, depressed people feel obligated to the world to put on a happy face.

We think our dark feelings are a sign of our weakness – our failings- and we do our best to hide them.

When we hide our dark thoughts they grow darker and more deadly like mold in the neglected basement of our hearts.

Acknowledging them throws the light switch on so that we can look more closely at what is going on down there.

And what is usually always going on down there is nothing more or less than our brain doing what our brain was made to do – thinking.

It is in our thoughts that the world is created. It is our thoughts that make the world a friendly place or not.

The second step out of that basement is to pay attention to what we are thinking.

Paying attention to our thoughts shows us what story we are telling ourselves.

With regard to my friend I was telling myself that she was many terrible things and that the world was being fooled by her but that I wouldn’t be.

I was telling myself that I was blameless and trusting and she was conniving and treacherous.

I was making myself utterly and completely paranoid.

Notice I didn’t say she made me that way. She didn’t. It was my thinking that was changing me. I was responsible.

That is the third step out of the basement – take responsibility.

If you hear yourself talking about who is responsible for your suffering and you are not the front runner in that responsibility then you need stop talking for a minute and think about it.

Victimization happens. People get hurt by other people’s actions all day long. There is no way to avoid pain. But suffering is another story.

Being a victim is a choice. Changing into a smaller version of yourself in response to something that happened to you is a choice. We usually choose according to the story we are telling ourselves so we have to pay close attention.

Many years ago I volunteered with the Red Cross to help the people devastated by Katrina. I met many people who cried.

“It’s all gone…we’re ruined!!”

They were imaging a life without all the things they loved.

And I met one man who said, “It’s all gone. I guess that’s my sign to start over.”

He was imagining all the cool new things he now had room to bring and do.

They all had the same external, devastating experience but who do you think is going to fare better in the long run?

I am not saying we should step over our pain into positive thinking. That won’t work. I am saying that in addition to acknowledging our pain, we need have faith that there is something to be gained from it.

Every garden is started with the breaking up of solid ground. We can let the weeds of fear and self pity overtake it or work diligently to plant flowers. It is entirely our choice.

There is an old expression that for every closed door there is an open window.

The fourth step out of the basement is to look for those windows of possibility. I promise you – they are always there.

I started this post with one story – About a year ago I got hurt.

I could have started it this way – About a year ago I met a guy.

Had I been with my friend at the time, as was planned, I might not have met him.

He was tall and handsome and very, very sweet.

He liked me – I could tell and I liked him but I didn’t trust myself. I was the walking wounded.

But I didn’t pretend to be in a different place than I was. I acknowledge that I was in a dark place and

I admitted that I was afraid of hurting or of getting hurt.

I was worried that I might be using him as a buffer between me and the rest of the world.

I told him that and he nodded thoughtfully before saying, “That’s OK. I can be a buffer for you for a little while.”

One year ago today, on Independence Day, I went on my first official date with that man. We saw fireworks and I have been with him ever since.

I have come out of the basement of my heart and am now in the living room again. My friends are there, too – even the friend who hurt me.

Because the final step out of the darkness is to forgive.  We all have the capacity to make mistakes of judgment that hurt others. To condemn the other is to condemn ourselves. To forgive others is the surest way to live in the light.

Happy Independence Day – I hope you see fireworks!