Our New Year's blog is written by Dr. Ann Deaton, one of Lodestar’s Team Leaders, Coaches, JEDI facilitator and coach trainer for our Trauma-Mitigation Master Class.
I’ve been fortunate to have many opportunities to learn about forgiveness over the years. In particular, I am struck by how forgiving frees us to heal.
I grew up with a mom who was a severe alcoholic. There were five of us kids, and we had a childhood that was both traumatic and difficult, and also filled with the joy of family, friends, and shared experiences. We are just past the 18th anniversary of Mom’s death, and my journey of understanding and forgiving her continues.
I was reminded of this recently when my brother Tony sent a morning message in our sibling group chat. It read, “Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Variously attributed to St. Augustine, Nelson Mandala and others, it is a stark reminder of resentment’s toxicity: Although our resentment is directed towards others, it invariably ends up hurting us.
When we can’t forgive those who have wounded us, we amplify the trauma and it becomes a barrier to us fully healing.
Forgiving Mom has come at different times for each of us, and the work of forgiveness continues to this day. We’ve all gone to therapy at various points, and we’ve worked to let go of things that still cause us pain. I felt like I’d finally forgiven Mom when I realized that she had done the best she could, even if it often wasn’t what we needed.
With each passing year, my compassion for my mother grows as well. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Mom was never my enemy, but I certainly saw her that way at times. Choosing to view her through the lens of compassion lets me remember her differently. Compassion allows me acknowledge her humanity, along with her many gifts, her quirks, and her love for all of us.
Trauma’s rippling effects can be experienced for years as we cope with painful memories and try to keep ourselves safe from further injury. Our commitment to our own safety is understandable - it is the way we survive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow us to thrive. Thriving requires we risk being vulnerable, that we open ourselves to the possibility of being hurt again. Thriving requires forgiveness; it is a muscle that strengthens with every use.
None of us is alone in the journey towards forgiveness. Just this morning, I shared with my brothers and sisters a quote from Mark Nepo: “Forgiveness has deeper rewards than excusing someone for how they have hurt us. The deeper healing comes in the exchange of our resentments for inner freedom. At last, the wound, even if never acknowledged by the other person, can heal, and our life can continue.” The responses included emoji hearts and messages like “Mom and I have been on good speaking terms for several years now” (she’s been gone for 18!).
Life is good.
Wishing all of you the gifts of forgiveness and compassion this holiday season. May the year ahead bring all of us joy, healing, and wholeness.
Ann V Deaton, PhD, PCC, CTPC