Those feelings of betrayal, disappointment, and anguish smoldered away in my soul, never far from my thoughts and ready to torture me whenever given the opportunity. These emotions ruled my life for months, some of them for years. The sound of his name triggered flashback images of the events, as if I sat in my own darkened theater inside of my brain watching ugly moments of my life re-enacted before my eyes.
If it wasn’t bad enough that the dark shadows of my marriage haunted me, he continued to taunt me with his presence whenever we exchanged our children for visitation. For the longest time I could hardly see straight through the blur of anger and grief whenever I had to share a room with him or exchange words. The sour smell of hypocrisy and narcissism choked me. It was hard not to use the word “hate” in describing how he made me feel. He hardened me in ways that frightened me and I didn’t like who I became because of his influence in my life.
Moving out and starting a new life wasn’t enough to cleanse the stain he left on me. I could go through the motions of living, but every time I had to see him or talk to him was an assault to my dignity and peace. I managed to create new happiness for myself, but my wings were clipped knowing that the lies he continued to tell about me hampered my freedom. I felt as though he was a cloud casting a shadow over everything I did.
This was no way to live. My emancipation was just barely outside of my grasp, and the only way I was going to reach it was if I let loose of some dead weight. I realized I had to forgive.
I had to forgive him and I had to forgive me.
I had to pry every one of his talons loose from my emotions before I could move on. This was more than a matter of time healing all wounds. I believe time is an effective tool to soothe and numb the soul after a divorce. Some of the scars fade on their own over time. Others remain and may serve as reminders of unhappy times in the past. I chose to make my scars badges to remind me of the progress I had made.
The only way I could loosen his grip of control over my emotional state and achieve autonomy was to forgive. The notion seemed impossible at first because I didn’t know if I could. Eventually, I realized that forgiveness was not for him, but for me. The act of forgiveness was not about repairing our relationship and it wasn’t a white flag to signify that I accepted or condoned his actions. What forgiveness could do was wipe the slate clean. What was done was done and could not be changed.
I won’t go so far as to say I forgave and forgot. I know that’s the age old recommendation. I still know what happened. I don’t forget because I learned from those experiences and they keep events from other times of my life in context. Time replaces and fades those memories one-by-one with new ones. The edges of the harsher memories dull over time, and, for the most part, they become less significant as time goes by.
My choice to forgive allowed those memories to no longer own me or prevent me from carrying on to find peace and happiness. Part of processing those feelings and making the decision to release them included owning my part of what went wrong in my marriage and taking responsibility for them. I needed to forgive myself for my poor choices and behavior, take stock of ways that I can improve in the future, consider how I could handle similar situations better, and choose to stop beating myself up.
It was hard not to be very critical of myself for choosing him as a partner, for not recognizing red flags that could have saved me a lot of time and trouble, and for bringing children into a situation sowed in a field of poor judgment. I felt that it was important to accept that I had caused as well as experienced pain. I also believed it necessary to review all of the ways I benefitted from the experience – not just the lessons I learned from the bad times, but also the gift of my two children, dreams fulfilled, experiences had, and good things that he shared with me.
I won’t lie and suggest that I never feel a tinge of irritation, fear, or anger when I interact with him now; but, my life is able to exist on a much calmer and more positive plane because the heft of marital baggage is no longer dragging behind me. He will never be someone I consider to be a friend, but forgiveness has made it possible for me to execute my role as mother while co-parenting by his side without the need to cry, argue, or shut him out to maintain my sanity. This has been invaluable when enduring events such as our son’s serious surgery last year, decisions about our children’s education, and much more.
I credit forgiveness for my ability to shun post-divorce bitterness from my life and to be able to love myself again. Forgiveness was my life preserver, and there are few other things I could recommend to others going through divorce that will matter as much to the recovery process!