This has been a long time coming.
I didn’t intend to get to this point. As a matter of fact, I thought myself brave for not even considering forgiveness. It took me years to work up the courage to get justifiably angry and once I got there, it never occurred to me that there’d come a time when I would let that all go.
But, here we are. And my heart, it seems, is ready to forgive.
Some women are born into strong female centric families, where the women they’re related to and surrounded with are independent, passionate, inspired, encouraged, and embraced. These families and the women within them develop close bonds, with sisters being best friends and relationships between mothers and daughters are nurtured and cherished.
I was not born into one of these families. Women in my family may have been strong and may be sassy, but they lived under the old Southern rule that men are of more importance and always will be, which means other women are less than in nearly every way. Regardless of how many men, across generations, in my family were abusive, violent, and disturbed, the women stayed and endured, often pitted against their own sisters, mothers, and daughters.
There is a very real competition that exists in my family between sisters, mothers, and daughters. My mother hated her own mother and sister. My grandmother hated her mother. And I’m sad to say that my own sister and I haven’t spoken since my mother’s death in 2016 and likely will not again (her choice, not mine.)
I wish I could understand it, but I can’t. All I know is what I watched growing up. My grandmother turned her daughters against each other intentionally: constantly gossiping about them to each other, sometimes outright lying about them. Her attempts to make her daughters enemies worked and they mostly hated each other up until my mother’s cancer diagnosis and death; all the while believing lies about each other, planted by their own mother, never questioning them…just believing the worst.
Unfortunately my mother did the same to my sister and I. She gossiped about each of us to the other and on many occasions flat out lied about us. I believed many horrible things about my sister until my brother cleared the cobwebs a bit. In the same vein, I’m sure she has heard some terrible things about me, but at this stage she’s never bothered to ask me or my brother about the validity of these lies. She’s chosen to believe the worst about me and sadly there’s nothing I can do about that.
Strained female relationships have always been the norm for me. And when my mother’s first husband remarried, I struggled to have a relationship with his new wife as well, as much as I wanted one with she and her daughter. I never quite fit in with their brand of familial love and the truth is they didn’t want me to. I was mocked by my step-mother and her daughter, lied to, lied about, stabbed in the back, and then told I was mentally unstable for being suspicious of them and distrusting them. They were seemingly close to each other, but they were vipers to other women they came in contact with.
So, I got angry. And as I mentioned above, justifiably so. Nearly every woman in my family, save one cousin who is miraculously normal and lovely and wonderful and one of my very best friends (we’re both black sheep…thank goodness we have each other), has caused huge blows to my confidence, self worth, and mental health. I’ve spent years in therapy trying to understand what I did to deserve these women, only to have my therapist finally reach over one day and say, “You’re going to have to accept that you are not in control of the actions of others. They did what they did for their own reasons. Those were their choices. We need to work on accepting that.”
That’s right…those were their choices. And the reasons behind them and their behavior will always go so much deeper than I can ever delve. And while I’ve spent years being hurt, and angry, and enraged, they’ve spent years living their lives, completely unaffected by that anger.
For these reasons, and others, I was a late bloomer in regards to Feminism. I didn’t trust women. I was one of those young women who would say things like, “I don’t have female friends. Girls are all drama.” I wasn’t having open, honest, intimate conversations and relationships with women because I was afraid of them. Even if they’d never harmed me, my guard was always up, expecting them to. And it doesn’t help that we live in a society that rewards men for simply being men, but constantly punishes women for being women. I was a product of my raising, my generation, and my environment. That I hated other women, nearly as much as I hated myself, wasn’t a surprise, honestly.
But, as I’ve come to love myself and love other women, my heart has begun to soften for the women of my past who hurt me. I still remember what they did and who they are, but through the view of female unity my judgment of them is slightly less harsh. Each of these women is also a product of her raising, her generation, and her environment. Each woman was participating in what she thought was survival and in each case, other women were a threat to that survival. Their stories, like mine, are complicated and fraught with heartache and disappointment. They too have been abused by men. They too have been lied to and about. They too have cried themselves to sleep. They too have wondered when the pain will go away.
When I realised the world does not revolve around me and I am not the star of the show, I also realised I had a choice to make: forgive and move on, or stay mad and stay stuck.
Today I’m choosing to forgive. Today I’m choosing to move on.
In life we are defined not by the love we withheld from those who are unworthy of it, but by the love we give to those who will never appreciate it. Forgiving the women who have hurt me is the first step towards living a life of love…the kind of life I can be proud of.
And by forgiving them I am severing the ties of this family curse. As a mother to a daughter I look at her and I pray she and I will survive this existense with our love and our intimacy intact. By forgiving others I remove anger, I remove bias, and I remove negativity, clearing the way for kindness and grace to flow over my own daughter and over myself. I am choosing now to replace the anger with peace, the resentment with joy, and the discouragement with hope.
I forgive you. And I truly hope you find happiness just as I hope I find mine. We may never again be close, or even acquaintances, but I can accept we are both allowed to exist on this earth and do so as we please. My final act of love for you is forgiving you. And I think it is the greatest love I could ever give. So I forgive you. And I forgive myself too.
“‘Cause in the end the love we take’s got nothin’ on the love we make…so give love.” – “Give Love” by Andy Grammer