Forgiveness is a struggle. It is a choice. It is a decision. It is a moment by moment redirection of the will away from the directions your emotions want to drag you. It is a gift that seems to be given to the recipient, but forgiveness is ultimately a gift you give yourself.
Forgiveness is freedom.
I won't tell you how or where and I certainly can't say why, but I have lived under the tyranny of a sociopath. For many years I was simply a bug on a pin. Just so you know my credentials to speak to you of forgiveness, know that I have stared down the barrel of a gun so many times that I finally stopped reacting. I have had my bedroom door chopped down with an axe, which satisfied him enough to second guess his intentions. I have been spat upon, used as a Kleenex, degraded in more ways than I care to share.
I spent several years on antidepressants as I came to grips with post traumatic stress. I have graced varieties of therapy couches, spewing this poison from my soul. Finally I trained as a rape and domestic violence counselor in order to look others in the eye and hold out the hope that healing is possible.
I know a few things about forgiveness.
Those of us who have to create a normal life out of chaos make tons of mistakes and do our own damage as we flail around. Healing hurts, too, and I have done my share of hurt. I have been forgiven much. We all have. Being forgiven is sometimes difficult, but mostly it's a gift we are expecting and accept easily. All the trouble comes in on the other end, when we have to lay aside the power and the glory of our anger and be the forgiver.
I have forgiven in all the ways it is possible to forgive:
I have forgiven the contrite
I have forgiven the dangerous.
That's the hardest one. Forgiving the one who, if given the spark of a chance, would consume you once again in brutish human Hellfire.
I have managed it, finally, that distant and wary forgiveness. It's secretive, this forgiveness, smallish and weak. It is the most heroic thing I'll ever manage, other than surviving sane. This is why I'm fine now, why I am not still beset by nightmares, random terrors, ashen pockets of guilt and shame that I would walk into like a foul fog. Forgiveness is why I can breathe a deep breath when this particular shelf of my memory is knocked accidentally and down tumbles a few horrors of the past.
All the snakes in this box are dead. I stopped feeding them the day I started starving my anger, the day I decided I would start to stop suffering the self-inflicted wounds.
The choice not to forgive meant reliving each horrible moment every moment. That's the key. I no longer had any gun pointed at my head, but in trying to make him sorry by continually reliving it, I was the one holding that gun. It was me who kept it eternally pointed at me. In not forgiving, I kept myself locked, eternally, in that little Hell we had, locked up with him forever. He was the greatest force in my life.
I had to let it go, do you see? Can you fathom what I mean? Out of the depths I call to you, reader. Can you hear me, because I can hear you. "How?" you say, "How in the world?"
I don't know how. I just decided to.
Without his explanations and apologies, with no promise that it would never happen again, indeed knowing it would in an instant if I did not keep my distance, and long after any statutes of limitations ran out, I decided to forgive.
I did it like this: I said, "I have no idea what forgiveness is, but I want it, Lord. Let me forgive."
I still don't know much more than that. I just know that now, when that old visitor comes knocking, I can say, "This is done. I forgive."
The verb is active, present, infinite.
It is beyond human scope, really. It is a gift. It is something else. Yielding it, my dragons are slain, the fire is quenched. Dante surfaces. Beatrice breathes.
Forgiveness is a key to a door. With it, you can unlock your mind from its terrors and step into your freedom. Only outside of your Hell can you search out the key to your heart.
But that's another story...