19 February 2010

On forgiveness

I read an essay by Kristen over at Motherese about forgiveness and it has been occupying a space in my consciousness ever since. Her blog has a way of doing that.

"…to forgive is divine."

I am trying to come to terms with the way I process through forgiveness and take inventory of the associated judgmental feelings stored in my bank of memories. For me, forgiveness is a pivotal closure event in acknowledging a complete set of circumstances around a sorrowful event or moment in time. Forgiveness allows me to assemble that sorrow, place it in a box, close the lid and offer it to my Higher Power. In exchange, I ask for peace. The peace I receive washes away my hurt and helps me regain my sense of wholeness. The sorrowful event may have been substantial and the whole person that I am on the other side may be different than the person I was before.

That is to be expected, is it not?

But how much judgment am I carrying with me as a consequence of the experience?

About three years ago I met a woman who was a recovering alcoholic. I have known more than one alcoholic in my life and I am familiar with the whirling vortex of drama that often goes hand-in-hand with these personalities. However, I was drawn to her personality and we became friends. We socialized and assembled a small circle of friends. Her recovery was difficult and she drank from time to time. The effects of her alcoholic binges were never productive. She was ashamed and told lies to cover up the truth.

And then I had a little Christmas holiday party at my home. I invited a few friends and it was a relatively quiet gathering. Food, drink and conversation. She arrived, already inebriated and proceeded to indulge more. She became emotional, hijacked the thread of the party’s general conversation, and her behavior made me very uncomfortable.

She apologized the next day by sending a text message, or maybe an email. In my heart I forgave her and I know that I communicated this to her through email.

But my judgment about her changed. I mentally formulated a boundary regarding the kind of relationship that I was willing to participate in with her going forward, as a pure consequence of my collective range of experience with her. Our friendship cooled. Over the next year, we continued to talk from time to time and exchange email, but only saw each other once, for lunch. While she made numerous vague suggestions that we make plans to socialize further, I did not feel compelled to encourage the suggestions into anything more concrete.

It is possible that over the past twelve months she has taken some strides forward in her recovery and is a much more responsible person. My opinion, informed by my judgment, has not had an opportunity to evolve due to the far more casual way in which we currently interact. Consequently, there is a chance that my opinion is no longer valid.

But I do not know. I have not received enough information to make a revision.

C’est la vie.

I forgave her for the behavior that I considered to be inappropriate, within the construct of our friendship and I harbor no ill will toward her now. I placed the lid securely on that box. I am at peace.

But on the other side of that forgiveness, I changed.


  1. This is very, very human, and I'm not sure there's much that you can - or even should - do about it. Making judgements is how we learn. Pretty much all learning is making judgements; about what's right and what's wrong, about what is good for us and what is bad, about what is acceptable and what is not. I think we shouldn't try to negate our humanity entirely by trying to homogenise ourselves and make ourselves into what we perceive others want us to be. Making a judgement about this woman has protected you from being hurt by her. If you failed to make the judgement and got seriously hurt, or allowed her to hurt others because you were trying to be 'nice', how would that help anyone? Ultimately, she would have been blamed too, so everyone would be a loser.

    As to what your Higher Power might want of you .. well, only you can really answer that, because we all have to approach our Higher Power as individuals. But in my own view, if God (to use a convenient label) made us what we are, then we should also accept what we are. Certainly, we should listen to our consciences and exercise moral and ethical judgements (there's that word again) and be fair and kind and generous and spread love and all those positive things, but we should also not be too hard on ourselves either.

    As a result of our interactions with others, we should change. It's how we evolve and grow. It's not your fault that your friend behaved badly.

  2. A very thoughtful commentary, as always. Have we completely forgiven someone when we no longer harbor resentment but confine our relationship with him/her as a result of the offensive action? Perhaps we've just become the wiser and need to forgive ourselves.

  3. I guess it's part of what people mean when they say we forgive but can't forget. We're human. The effects of others' behavior remains imprinted on us. Somewhere.

  4. I've had to ask for far more forgiveness than I've given.

  5. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing to do, when we expect so much of ourselves and others. I second the Captain's comment.

  6. Forgiveness is strong and freeing and allows us a certain peace. When alcoholism comes into the equation, even when one forgives, one must take steps to keep that inner (and outer) peace intact. Your friend may have recovered, or may have relapsed...only you can make that judgement call as to whether the friendship is worth the risk to your self preservation. Those types (I call them poionous) relationships come with a price...and you must ask yourself is it worth it? The meaning of many of our friendships/aquaintances change through time...we live and learn.

  7. What a great post. I'm in the same boat with some friends. I forgive, but somehow it doesn't make me forget.

  8. Well now this is hard to overcome even if you forgive. I have relatives that I can no longer be around because of it and a VERY destructive and would bring me down with them. The other thing is they don;t apologize like your friend did.

    I do hope you two have a chance to meet again and see how things go. I hope she has recovered but I also understand things will never be the same again and there is only so much you can do before having to move on. It's just a testament of how destructive these addictions can be in a relationship even when there is forgiveness.

  9. I used to live and and date this woman.....or one very similar to her. She was the first alcoholic I had ever really known. That relationship ended badly. Denial issues don't tend to be the glue that holds people together. I have forgiven her. She is a good person deep down with a lot of repressed demons. The same as you. I harbor no ill will.....but I don't get that close either.

  10. What great timing as I am going through something similar with someone I have known over 30 years. While we are indeed and without hesitation soul mates and there is a connection that is sensed and acknowledged between us both, unresolved things in his life seem to prevent him from being present emotionally for more than short periods before he invariably and without fail, leaves. While part of me will always love my friend, there is a part of me that is so forever scarred and changed by this. And now, it is hard for me to see him in the same light that I did all those years ago. So am I jaded or is it my reality as I see it? And, who loses here? Thanks for your beautiful and eloquently written post.