“I want her to hurt because she made me suffer.”
I caught myself thinking that this morning about a woman I haven’t seen or talked to in over 10 years. We may have grown up in the same house, but we were never the loving sisters I wanted to be.
This is a story about forgiveness and finally really grokking what that means.
What is Forgiveness?
The dictionary defines forgiveness as being able to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.
I think up until recently, I thought forgiveness had to include love and wishing well for the other person. Now I think forgiveness is simply letting go. It is literally JUST the choice to stop feeling bad about something. How did I never realize that? Nothing about forgiving means that you have to like the other party, or have anything to do with them moving forward.
I don’t have to have good thoughts about her. I don’t have to wish her well. I simply let go…of all of it. To forgive someone does not render them blameless or innocent – it simply allows the forgiver to let go and move on, regardless of whatever guilt, blame or responsibility lies with the other person. How did I have forgiveness so mixed up in my head?
It is my sister’s birthday today. She is four years older than me, which somehow meant that she ranked higher than me, in her own eyes. (Alert: this is my story, not necessarily “the truth” or a fact). We haven’t spoken in many, many years, and prior to my walking away, we had a very one sided and almost non-existent relationship.
We were never close, but in my version of our story, I was always there for her if she called or needed me. I made an effort to connect periodically. I would call her just to see how she was doing, or invite her to lunch, or volunteer to come over and say “Hi” or babysit her kids. She would call me if she needed something.
Her way of interacting was often through acerbic humor, and she rarely showed compassion. Unfortunately for me, I was a very sensitive kid – too sensitive, and remain so as an adult, and I get my feelings hurt very easily. On top of that, I couldn’t bring myself to be mean or sarcastic back, so I always felt like I lost a battle I wasn’t even fighting!
I would berate myself for hours for all of the things I didn’t say in response to her mini-attacks that came in the form of what she considered humor. My sister was a bully, but I think she thought it was teasing and that made it ok.
Haunted Because I Made A Ghost
I recently realized that the ghost of my living sister still haunted me. I still kind of hated her instead of feeling nothing about her at all...and it was all my own doing. She hasn’t done anything to me in years – she hasn’t had a chance to. Even when she was technically still part of my life, she never initiated contact.
So, for her to have an opportunity to make a malicious remark or treat me like I was somehow less than her…I had to put myself directly in her path and demand her attention. So my feelings were hurt that she did not volunteer any attention or contact from her end, and then my feelings would get hurt because I would try to connect with her and still not receive the connection that I wanted.
As of about 5 minutes before I wrote this post, I was STILL carrying around resentment – and she has done nothing. I would be willing to wager money that I never even enter her mind. I am meaningless to her, yet I still use thoughts about her to torture myself on a regular basis.
I use her to beat myself up and generate feelings that I am worthless and don’t matter, and she has done nothing. NOTHING. My thoughts about her made the bile in my stomach boil, yet she is in her world, oblivious and unaffected by my impotent emotions. I harm myself with my thoughts and feelings, and affect her not at all.
My Brain Is My Best Friend and My Worst Enemy
My brain goes through phases when it really wants to be mean to me, and until today, my sister was its first stop on the tour, because it’s just SO easy. All I had to do was see or hear her name, or have a random memory pop into my brain…or just imagine her face, and I would feel small and unwanted and irrelevant.
Once my brain fires up THOSE feelings, then I get to layer on the impotent rage and resentment – she was my poster child for feeling like I don’t matter.
The reality is that her behavior DID reflect how much I don’t matter to her. So it’s easy for my brain to grab on to those memories and those feelings. What I neglect to do is remind myself that 90% of what I think about my sister is just fiction – a story I tell myself.
Trying to have a relationship with my sister was like reaching into a hole and grabbing the very edge of a piece of cloth that was part of someone’s clothing and pulling really hard, only to have that piece tear off in your hand, and the thing in the hole disappear into nothingness. The sister I thought I wanted just doesn’t exist.
My brain tries to torture me with that tiny piece of cloth that tore off in my hand, but the monster attached to it is fiction…represented by the face of a woman who used to be the girl I grew up with. She was doing the best to get through her life under the same roof with the same distant parents and abusive brother that I had. It was no picnic – and she was simply not equipped to protect or care for a younger sister.
It’s not her fault, and even if it IS her fault – it doesn’t matter, because I forgive her to set myself free.
Happy Birthday To Me
Today is my sister’s birthday, and a few hours ago I was sending her hate for her birthday. Now, I am choosing to let go. In this moment, I am choosing to forgive. To let go of all the stories I’ve told myself for so many years.
I am going to meditate on forgiving the woman that was once my sister. I get to stop telling myself awful stories about her and I, just to make myself feel bad. What a relief! I don’t have to have any feelings about her at all!!! Eureka!
When I thought of forgiveness in the past, the phrase “let them off the hook” would come to mind – and it often felt like it allowed an injustice to LIVE. Forgiveness for me today, for my sister today – is simply dissolving the hooks that were falsely in place anyway. Fabrications of my own mind. When I forgive, I simply let go. When I forgive, I dissolve the ties that bind me to that story, that past, that memory.
When I forgive, I am free.