“As long as you make an identity for yourself out of pain, you cannot be free of it.” -Eckhart Tolle
I grew up in what looked like a happy, all-American household—eight children, a dutiful housewife for a mother, and a father who was both a janitor at my school and a member of the Knights of Columbus and American Legion.
However, in the background, terror lurked. My father, verbally and physically abusive, terrorized us every day. Even after growing up, taking back my life and moving across the country, I still wore my victim story like a badge.
The subtext of everything I ever shared about my childhood was: “I am so screwed up because of my father.”
Some years ago, I was having lunch in Los Angeles with my friend Paul, going over all the horrible things that had happened to me in my life.
Suddenly, Paul said to me, “Laura, how long are you going to tell that story and be a victim of that story?”
I was shocked. I responded, “You don’t understand! This man—my father—tried to ruin my life!” and, “You don’t understand what hell I’ve been through!” and, “You just don’t understand!”
He said, “I understand. I just want to know how long you are going to tell the story.”
Fortunately, beneath my initial reaction, I knew he was right. It was in that moment that I realized I’d been going through my life thinking I was earning purple hearts for having the worst childhood story.
The truth was that my story was holding me back from healing. I had this sad core belief that my story made me friends by getting people to pity me.
In reality, my defining myself only by my pain was actually pushing people away. My suffering was leading me nowhere.
If you’re suffering, I ask you: Where can this suffering lead you? What is the opportunity? What can you learn?
Any time you hold resentment, you hurt yourself. While you outwardly blame a person or situation, inwardly you beat yourself up for being a part of that relationship or experience.
Whether you yell at yourself for getting involved or only ask yourself why you didn’t do things differently, you are still blaming yourself. You are giving yourself the message that you are not to be trusted.
When we choose not to forgive, we remain stuck, unchangeable, and unmoving. It’s as if we’re chaining ourselves to our past and the people who harmed us, which prevents us from moving forward and out of old patterns.
Not forgiving is like tying one end of a rope around you and the other end around a tree. The rope represents the situation you won’t forgive, and the tree represents the other person. No matter how many times you tell the tree to apologize, you are still tied by the rope.
If you try to walk away, you can only walk so far before the rope stops you. If you have a dozen grievances, it is like being tied to a dozen trees, which is exhausting.
Are you going to stay there and yell at the tree? Are you going to circle the tree at rope length? Or will you let go of the resentment and untie the rope from around you?
It’s taken time, practice, and patience, but over the years I have untied myself from my trees, including my father. That doesn’t mean I’ve run away; rather, I’ve removed the ropes of resentment that hold me to those human trees in order to create new relationships with them.
Start untying yourself from your trees, one by one. The resulting freedom will allow you to venture into the world, adventurous and happy. Every day is an opportunity to begin again. Each moment is an opportunity to begin again.
Photo by aithom2