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People remark to me about how happy I am, that life doesn’t seem to stick to me and poke at me and make me so frustrated I want to scream. Some days life does do that to me. But every other day, most days, I choose to consider that my perspective and experience is not the only perspective and experience. I choose how to think. I choose to make decisions, or not, about the world around me that I encounter every day.
One day, years ago, when I was merging onto the highway and the man in the car behind me was driving so close I could only see his windshield and him in my rearview mirror, and in that rearview mirror I could read his lips and understand the horrible obscenities he was screaming at me, I chose to believe that his wife or child was in critical condition and all he wanted to do was get to the hospital and be by their side, but standing in his way was me, merging onto the highway at a seemingly snail’s pace. And as he veered around me in a manner so angry it frightened me, I maintained my seemingly snail’s pace and quietly prayed that his heart would be healed and his mind eased, and that all in his world would be right.
Choosing is an incredibly powerful tool. Choosing is freedom. Choosing brings peace of mind and heart. Choosing gives you the power to love when what you want to do is hate. Choosing allows you to brighten the life of someone who is hurting so badly the only thing they can do is create misery all around them. Choosing allows you to come up for air in your own darkest misery and find the silver lining that will get you through one more day without giving up.
Life is going to throw itself at you. You get to choose how to receive it, how to think about it, how to react to it. It takes work and practice, but you do not have to be subject to your automatic ways of thinking.
Life is far shorter than we can imagine. Break away from the automation called convenience that is offered to you in the form of daily routine. Beat your own path. Make your own life. Show others that happiness in the midst of pain and fear is possible. Create good. The world needs good.
If not you, then who?
If not now, then when?
***This post was inspired by a video created from a speech given by David Foster Wallace, available on Upworthy.com.
I want to talk about Love. Take a moment and pay attention to what comes into your mind when I ask you: What is love?
Do you think of a certain scene from a romantic movie?
How about a chart-topping love song?
The media has a field day with the subject of love. According to them love is fleeting. Love is cruel. Love is overwhelming. Love is blind. Love is a racing heart.
There is a lot of misunderstanding and misgiving about love and I have some strong opinions about it.
You see, love is none of these things. Now, I’m not trying to proselytize but here is an excellent example of what I mean: Jesus of Nazareth said to love your neighbor. He didn’t say get that gooey feeling in your stomach about people you can’t stand. Because that gooey feeling, those butterflies that so many people count on to tell them if what they’re feeling is love, isn’t love. All of that, the light headedness, the fluttery belly, the weakened knees, that’s all chemistry. That is adrenaline flowing through your veins. That is dopamine being released in large amounts. It. Is. Not. Love. Don’t depend on those feelings. Don’t count on those feelings. They pass. They always, always go away. And if you’ve gotten yourself into a relationship based on those feelings, what do you have when the feelings go away? You have that terrible feeling that you’ve made a mistake and someone is going to get hurt because of it.
I’ve been there. I’ve trusted that mess in my stomach. I’ve sought out the men who make my knees weak. That’s what love songs tell us to find, right? See, I thought I needed to find the guy who was going to sweep me off my feet, make me swoon, and I’d finally feel whole. I’m one of the many people who didn’t grow up with the best marriage model from which I could learn life lessons (that is no slam at my parents–my folks are incredible people and I’ve learned plenty from them). But I didn’t learn when I was little that messy feelings often yield messy results. I didn’t know how to, or even that I should differentiate between Love and Infatuation. I’d get into relationships and draw guys in and tell them I love them and then BAM! I’d be over it and over them and their heads would be reeling from whatever the hell had just happened.
Love is a choice. You can choose to love, that is, you can choose to BE loving. And love will follow.
Early in my relationship with my husband, he told me loved me. Early. And I didn’t know how to take it because I wasn’t sure about how I felt about him. You see, I didn’t have the butterflies. I didn’t have the head over heels feeling of falling in love. There was nothing about this relationship that I could relate to other romantic relationships I’d been in. None of my previous relationships had left me feeling like I had a choice to be in it or not. I was always “following my heart” down the rabbit hole of infatuation with my butterfly-filled belly.
I remember making a conscious decision to love this man. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to share my life with him and I wanted him to share his with me, even if we were just friends. And that is when I knew–I knew that he was different, I knew that the relationship was different, I knew that I was different. And I decided I was going to love him. And I told him I loved him.
Sometimes these days I do get a fluttery sort of feeling, but that too is different. What I’m feeling is my heart swelling, growing in capacity to love all the more. My stomach never turns over (in that fun way) at the sight or thought of him. I don’t want it to. The love that I feel is a stronger, firmer, more grounding love than the infatuation I used to feel for others but called love.
Every day, I make the choice to love my husband. When he surprised me with flowers and a beautiful card and letter on Valentine’s Day (which we usually don’t celebrate), it was REALLY easy to choose to love him. On days when he leaves his shoes in one pile, his sweatshirt in another, and his bike helmet on the counter next to his dirty breakfast dishes it’s not as easy. But no-one has ever said love is easy. But most days it isn’t hard either.
Love is a presence. You can feel it in the room when it’s there. I’m not talking about sexual tension that you can cut with a knife. I think there’s a lot of confusion about this one. The presence of love can be electric and make you breathe deeply. Sexual tension can feel electric and make you breathe deeply, too. But sexual tension also has an edge of anxiety to it. The only way I can think of to describe the presence of love is to ask you to think of a time when you were in a room full of people you love and who love you, but not in any romantic sense. These might be your family members, siblings, best friends, or children. The electricity in that room is joy, peace, harmony, strength, happiness. That is the presence of love.
There is a homeopathic technique called muscle testing. It is an excellent tool anyone can use to know what substances will benefit their bodies. The process is simple: press the tips of your thumb and forefinger into an ‘O’ as tightly as you can. Squeeze hard. Have someone else try and pry your fingers apart. Now, put into your other hand some food that you want to test. Try dairy, bread, and simple sugars; most bodies react strongly to them. If your body doesn’t want you to consume the substance you’re holding then no matter how hard you squeeze, the other person will have no problem prying your fingers apart. That’s when you know it isn’t good for you. (Put me in a the bread aisle of a grocery store and my muscles are rendered useless.) It’s really quite fascinating. Now I bet you’re wondering why I am telling you this.
If you take what I say to heart and begin to notice the chemical reactions happening in your body you’ll approach meeting new people differently. You’ll learn to trust an instinct that will manifest itself over time. And you can use the concept of muscle testing when meeting people. Simply put, if a woman or man makes your knees weak and makes your head swoon, s/he is probably not good for you. This was a key indicator in my early relationship with my husband. I never felt weak or giddy around him. I always felt stronger, fuller, and more alive.
Seek out people who make you feel strong and alive. Surround yourself with people who choose to love others. Choose to love yourself. Infatuation uses people, it lifts them up and slams them down. But love does not use or manipulate. Love only ever builds up. Love doesn’t always feel good. Love is sometimes hard to muster. But love is always there, waiting to give.
Abuse. Loss. Betrayal. Rejection. Abandonment. Any form of emotional pain that hurts you deeply can in turn make you hurt others. Or even hurt yourself. Left unresolved these issues can develop into long-term anger, resentment and fears that impact on our relationships. Without healing we can develop anxieties, health issues, depression and addictions that harm ourselves and those around us. But there is a way to end the cycle of hurt and that is through forgiveness.
As a child I had been abandoned by a mother who later declared me dead. My father had made my growing up a living hell through abuse and neglect. Their actions had hurt me to the core of my very being and impacted long into my adult years. Severe depression and long-term alcoholism took over my life.
I remained in the grip of both for over 20 years and in all that time I never once considered forgiveness. Because the fact was that I blamed them for destroying my childhood, being instrumental in my lack of self-worth, and causing my mental health problems. As time progressed I became too physically sick and emotionally broken to consider being able to take responsibility for my life. My spiral of self-destruct carried on downwards until I hit rock bottom.
An alcohol induced suicide attempt was my turning point. After a spell in hospital I was offered rehab and it was there that I realised I had been given a second chance at life. I embraced the chance to learn how to overcome the past and how to heal.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
-Lewis B Smedes
Learning how to forgive was the stepping stone to leaving the past behind and moving on to living my life as the person as I was meant to be. With support and understanding of what I had been through, I was encouraged to forgive those who had hurt me.
Naturally it was going to be difficult and would take time, but I came to understand that by not forgiving I was hurting myself. And that was the only person who was hurting. My father had died and my mother had refused contact so they were never going to be confronted with my pain. Yet I had been trapped in depression and destroying myself with alcohol in the belief that I was somehow getting my revenge on those who had harmed me. In reality the only person suffering was me.
Being willing to go through the process of forgiveness meant being willing to let go of the past. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened but there was everything I could do to change the present. I made the conscious decision that the horrors of my childhood were not going to rule my life any more. And the only way to let go completely was to forgive my parents.
Forgiveness did not mean forgetting or condoning anything. It was about accepting what had happened, leaving it behind and wanting to move on. I had nothing to lose, but so much to gain. My need to blame had resulted in so much bitterness and resentment. I found it hard to trust or to make attachments because any compassion or love was overwhelmed by my negative outlook.
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King
But once I started on the path to forgiveness the rewards were immense. Self-esteem, inner confidence and peace of mind were just some of the positive effects of forgiving. And my relationships with others blossomed as I could reveal my authentic self.
Yet it wasn’t just about learning to forgive others. To be totally free to live without condemnation and shame I also had to forgive myself. Alcoholism had caused me to let people down in so many ways and my depression had been caused largely by my feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. But having forgiveness for myself was a challenge. Eventually I could appreciate that no-one is perfect, we all make mistakes. I accepted that I was just as imperfect as everyone else and that was okay. I stopped beating myself up about the past and started being kinder to myself.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
Sometimes it feels easier to hold onto what we know rather than face change, even if what we know is harming us. It takes courage to deal with our deep rooted wounds, but until the cycle of pain is broken hurt people will always hurt people. So heal your hurt. Forgive.
BIO: Carolyn Hughes lives in her husband’s native N.Ireland with their two daughters. She is a writer with an interest in addiction and mental health issues. For a further insight into recovery and emotional healing read Carolyn’s inspirational blog The Hurt Healer.
Posted in Forgiveness, Life | Tagged abuse, alcoholism, Carolyn Hughes, Forgiveness, Health, Life Goes on, Martin Luther King, Mental Health, Moving On, Recovery, relationships, The Hurt Healer | 2 Comments »