I’ve been volunteering at a local drug and alcohol treatment center twice a week for quite some time. So twice a week, unless I’m in the hospital or out of town unavoidably, I’m there no matter what. Tonight the group I addressed was very large and I did not have any of my helpers so I did a lot of talking. It’s a very odd feeling telling a group of people your very goriest stories. I wouldn’t do it at all except there are very, very good reasons for doing it (and no, not to be the center of attention, by the way).
I’m always struck by how circumspect the addicts and alcoholics in the rooms are. I think years ago I would have guessed a treatment center meeting would be rowdy and scary. Or lots of drool or lots of cussing. After logging hundreds of hours I can say every time I leave I am incredibly impressed with the people I meet. They are kind, considerate, intelligent. Weighing heavily in their psyche and their spirit are some of the events that got them there, and some of the behaviors they’ve participated in that still bring them shame. Many carry wounds and wrongs committed against them that are very grievous indeed.
I talk about forgiveness a great deal. There can be no fully-lived life without forgiveness. Unforgiveness is an anchor and a sickness, a terribly destructive force that eats at us like cancer, whether our anger is directed at supposed big or small events, whether against people we live with or those we hardly know or those who’ve died, whether regarding incidents peripheral or central to our lives.
I like to talk about nonforgiveness but then I usually assure people I am not there to lecture them about how or who to forgive. Not my business. I’m there to tell people that if they know they can’t forgive (including themselves), “Don’t Panic!” I’ve been there. And I can talk about what it was like, and what it’s like today. I laughed pretty hard tonight talking about a terrible thing my husband did to me once, a terrible thing that I used to think I would take to my grave. I laughed so hard I almost couldn’t tell the story for a minute. What some people will understand, and some won’t, is my laughter is a joy that I no longer live the way I used to, and my laughter is delight at the nature of forgiveness. Because I test it and find it intact every time. Like a flower you examine it from every angle and it remains pure and beautiful and perfect.
I used to believe there were things so terrible one couldn’t forgive them, but today I know forgiveness is possible and it’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever found. I share about it in case there is anyone else out there who knows how much their nonforgiveness hurts them, and is starting to want things to be different.
“You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness…” ― W. Paul Young, The Shack