Forgiving the “Unforgivable”?

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately, and all its forms and applications. It’s been easier to forgive in sobriety, but not every case is the same.

As a drinking person, I was quick to forgive on the surface, yet held nasty grudges and spiteful feelings toward people who I felt had wronged me.

I was angry and spiteful about my ex-husband for over a year after we split. I spent my time spitting sarcastic venom about him to my family and friends, and even after telling myself I had forgiven him, a reminder of him would pop up and the anger would settle back in, like rainwater setting into a thirsty garden. Being angry and unforgiving felt like my right. And, in all honestly, it was my right – everyone has every right to feel whatever they feel. I’d never be one to tell someone else that they have no right to feel angry, joyous, sad, content, confused, frustrated, scared, safe or otherwise. It’s not my place.

So, more than a right, I felt it was the correct way to feel. He had done me so wrong. He had hurt me so badly, cut so deeply to my core. How could I turn the other cheek to that? How could I actually embrace forgiveness and feel it within my heart, rather than just lying through my teeth about forgiving him for how inconsiderate he was, and how horribly he shattered my heart?

I think that I can say now, without lying or hyperbole, that I have forgiven him. I don’t condone his actions, and the hurt is still very real, but somehow, i’ve come to a place of honesty with myself that has shown me that staying angry with him and refusing to forgive him for any real or perceived sins isn’t doing a damn thing for me or mine. He and I don’t talk. There’s no reconciliation in the near future for us. I could just as easily walk around with a chip on my shoulder about what he did.

But I just…can’t anymore. Not with him.

The interesting thing, though, is that even though I’ve reached this point in regard to my ex-husband, I still feel like I’m failing to forgive other people in my life whose words and actions caused me pain. There is one person in particular, my most recent ex, whose actions post-breakup made me feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and disrespected, and I’m getting to the point where I feel like I need to forgive him in order to move on with my own life. That’s proving to be extremely difficult.

After we broke up, he stalked my social media accounts and stalked around my neighborhood; he took photos of places near my apartment and posted them to social media with vague but pointed attacks on my character; he believed that I was communicating with him via Spotify playlists, and once he realized my public playlist had music on it that implied I had found someone new, he emailed me to ask about it and created another playlist directed toward me, with songs on it about wanting to hurt someone, kill someone, etc.

He sent me mail to my apartment after I asked him not to contact me, moved to my city (he lived out of state when we met and dated) in a self-admitted attempt to try to get back together with me, and then publicly tried to bash me on social media once he learned I wasn’t going to give into him.

This all came to a head last March when, after I tried to block him on Instagram, he came after me and called me — and I pull these insults from the last email he sent me — insecure, paranoid, uncivil, delusional, messed up, passive, a bad communicator, a monstrosity of a paranoid woman, and stupid for feeling uncomfortable. He told me I needed to “woman-up” and be civil with him if we ever crossed paths again. He was still living out-of-state at the time.

But then, he moved to my city in April, a month later.

Since then, I’ve directly run into him twice, and have probably crossed paths with him unknowingly a few more times than that.

Knowing that he lives here is hard for me. It was much, much harder at first. I was never sure if I would walk around a corner and bump into him. I couldn’t ever be certain that the meetup groups I was going to at the time would be a safe space for me. I tried talking to the group leader, who initially blocked my ex from the group Instagram page, but she relented and unblocked him after he put up a huge stink and started instant messaging random people, asking them why they were treating him unfairly.

Now — and hear me out, I know this sounds crazy — I want to make peace with the situation and forgive him. It’s been over a year since the blowout email exchange and I still walk around my city sometimes with the fear that I will be confronted by a chance encounter with him. He has made his mark in the community already, establishing himself as an active member in the local Preservation Alliance, a keen local Instagrammer who attends the many Instagram-friendly events in my town (which, originally, I attended as a way to meet people), and a vocal advocate in local policy creation within his specific field of interest.

I know this is all kind of vague, but the main point is this: there is someone living, working and socializing in my community who made me feel very unsafe and uncomfortable in the past. I want to forgive him. I don’t know how.

Something tells me that there’s a way through sobriety to find the kind of inner peace needed to forgive. I wasn’t truly able to forgive my ex-husband until I’d been sober for some time. The way I managed to do it was to constantly remind myself of all the ways my ex-husband is 100%, undeniably human. He is made of the same matter as me, and has just as many faults as I do, even if they’re different. He hurt me badly. He lied. He cheated. He ripped my life apart. But He is human, and the only way I’ve found myself able to live with the ache he gave me is by knowing that his humanness guarantees him a certain ache, as well. I wasn’t the perfect wife or partner to him. There were things I did wrong, and there were times when I failed him. Neither of us are perfect, and now that it’s over, the only way forward from that is to make my way through all the dark clouds of reasoning I could conjure about why he’s undeserving of my forgiveness.

And the truth of the matter is this: I’ll never forgive him to his face. At least, I doubt I will. It’s not that I wouldn’t tell my ex-husband that I forgive him, or that I’m sorry for how I failed him, if he and I were to sit across from one another in a room. it’s that I don’t think I’ll ever have the chance. He and I will probably never have the opportunity to speak face-to-face again. We don’t email or text or stay connected on social media. The line is permanently severed. So, I’ve had to find peace with forgiving him internally, without him really knowing, and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I might never get my actual, genuine, honest-to-goodness apology to him. And I’m okay with that. I have to be.

With this other ex, it’s a different story. He’s in my space, crawling around my city, permeating my previously safe socializing spaces. I don’t know what part of town he lives in, where he works or what he does with his life, but the few times I’ve crossed paths with him have been enough. They made my hands shake. I get that weird sensation all over my body, where it feels like all of the veins in my face, neck, arms and legs are expanding out of my skin. My vision turns tunneled. How can I forgive when such a strong, uncomfortable feeling rises up within me at the mere thought of him?

I think, in part, I want to forgive him because I also feel some small need to apologize. When I broke up with him, I was cold. Distant. Calculated. I pulled the plug and didn’t give him any room to sneak back in. At the time, this was my defense against a relationship that I saw developing into something really unhealthy, really fast. He had problems setting boundaries with me, he wanted me to be his 110%, his everything. After dating for only a month and a half, he was asking me to help him make healthy life decisions, and was talking about the decorations we’d put into the home we would someday own together. He started mentioning his ideas for wedding photos.

So, yeah, I fled. I severed that connected quickly once I knew it was over for me. I didn’t want there to be any room for interpretation or a chance for him to sneak back in. And, understandably, he did not handle it well.

A year and a half later, I want to apologize to him for how coldly I treated him, but I know that opening that line of communication with him is putting me at risk of opening a door that won’t be so easily closed again. I also want to find it in my heart to forgive him for how he acted afterwards, including all of the nasty things he said to me in private, and the nasty things he said about me online.

I need to forgive him. I need to remember what I learned when I finally came to forgiveness for my ex-husband. But for some reason, I can’t. There’s a block up in my mind that’s making it incredibly difficult to forgive his immature, abusive behaviors. There’s a deeper, darker part of myself that was so fascinated by his obsession with me, that it made it hard to look away, even if it was him saying something hurtful about me or bashing my character.

But it’s over now. Really over. As far as I can tell, we’ve both moved onto the next phase in our respective lives. There’s no connection. It’s been over a year since our last interaction. The world has moved forward.

I need to move forward, as well. It’s going to take a lot of quiet reflection and deep, inner-searching to understand how his vile behaviors toward me came from a place of hurt, fear, insecurity and sadness. It is going to make me uncomfortable to come to a place where I genuinely forgive what he did, and where I can be comfortable moving forward without being able to offer him the apology I think he deserves.

I’m curious to hear from other sober folks out there who have mastered the art of forgiveness: what other ways are there to forgive someone who cut you so deeply, other than trying to see them for the human they are? I’m struggling right now with this and would love some perspective.

❤ Em. Day 271.

13 thoughts on “Forgiving the “Unforgivable”?

  1. Joss says:

    Is there a way for you to ensure your safety with the recent ex? There are restraining orders for a reason. It is definitely good and noble of you to pursue forgiving him, but in my opinion it is also important for you to ensure your future safety. You may need to pursue “inner forgiveness” with this individual as well.
    Having a layer of enforced protection and safety would be a boon to your peace of mind, I imagine, as well.
    Forgiveness is important for me, as well. There’s a quote attributed to Buddha that goes something like “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and wishing your enemy would die” that holds very true to me. My situations have been different than yours, but having been through an abusive relationship and reaching a (complicated) degree of peace with the person, I’ve found that finding my responsibility in the situation is important. I ignored red flags, lied to cover abuse, and essentially helped someone hurt me for a long time, and needed to forgive myself for that betrayal to myself and those who loved me. I don’t know, just my thoughts, I’m a beginner.

    Liked by 3 people

    • okayishness blog says:

      You’re right, keeping my safety in mind is probably more important. During our last email interaction, I told him that if he ever contacted me again, I’d go to the authorities. He hasn’t, so I haven’t, but he knows it’s an option I’ve seriously considered.

      Also, I love that quote by the Buddha. It has definitely been on my mind as I’ve gone through these complicated feelings regarding my ex.

      Thanks for your lovely comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cristal Clear says:

    Forgiving takes time. I don’t think you can just forgive over night . Every day you have to choose to forgive . I pray about it a lot . I been rejected so much in life that it’s hard to forgive . Even when I think I forgave someone , something happens that reminds me I’m still holding that grudge deep down in my heart. Me and my ex broke up 2 years ago and I still sometimes feel myself getting all riled up over the past . He met someone while he was dealing with me , left me, got her pregnant and proposed after everything I did for him that was a smack in the face I just wanted to disappear . I had to deal with it when I got sober in 2016 and the rejection hurt me so bad because of issues I had with my dad . Him rejecting me and not wanting me brought up a lot of deeper issues that I never dealt with. I don’t regret him and the relationship because it taught me a lot and it led to my sobriety after I relapsed from getting into that relationship . So yeah I was hurt and still am not as much as before but it’s better. Shame, guilt, anger, and unforgiveness will not be the reason why I stop living life so I ask God for strength daily to keep going and keep forgiving , every single day.
    It gets better and one day you will wake up and realize that you have forgiven the ones that hurt you . It’s a process. Wish you the best ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Paul S says:

    You are correct in that forgiveness doesn’t absolve the other person for their actions. You have demonstrated that it works when you relieve *yourself* of the burden of carrying anger and resentment. We forgive not for the other person, but for ourselves, so we are not lugging this anger around, pulling it out of our knapsack, waxing it up and shining it up and showing others and then putting it back and then carrying it on our backs again.

    As for this new ex, I think you certainly can forgive him, and you have seen what your part was (the cold distant removal of yourself from the relationship, which I can see why!), but also be safe too. I can forgive the guy who robbed my house, but he still needs to be in jail. And I find that what helps me in forgiving someone who my ego *really* doesn’t want to forgive (because carrying hate is so much fun, right? amirite?), is to pray for them. Fake it for a while, and then eventually I find myself truly praying for them. It’s amazing how that works.

    I am curious as to why you wouldn’t tell your first ex that you forgive him (face-to-face) – no need to answer, but just curious. 🙂

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • okayishness blog says:

      Thank you 🙂

      As for my ex-husband, I don’t think I will ever tell him face-to-face because we live 1000 miles apart, and he is remarried with a child now, and I don’t think his new wife would be too interested in him sitting down for coffee with me, given the fact that their relationship began, in part, through him cheating on me to be with her. And really, there’s no real reason to try to seek him out for such an interaction. I can’t say that we won’t ever run into each other by chance, but it’s highly unlikely. And sending an email about it these days seems…well…out of place. And that’s okay with me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. nursinggrudgesandliquor says:

    He sounds nuts to me. Like unstable and abusive and potentially dangerous. I’m not sure that it matters very much WHY he is the way he is. He is a man who behaves way outside the norm when rejected and that will never be good for you. It may be fatal for another woman someday. I don’t think his bad behavior is your burden to sort out or forgive or figure out what it means about you other than avoiding choosing someone like him again. Indifference toward him seems like a perfectly fine place to be. Exerting energy on a forgiveness project related to this dude seems…to me…like giving him a place in your mind and life. I don’t care if you broke up with him by text message on his birthday, nothing YOU did caused him to be a stalker. Apologies, I try to keep my opinions to myself around here but past history with this type has led me to a zero tolerance policy. Cut it out like a tumor and move on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • okayishness blog says:

      Sigh. You’re so right. And you’re *so* not the first person to tell me this. I’ve had two therapists and multiple friends tell me this as well. But for some reason, I keep wanting to believe that I’m some outlier to the regular rules of engagement on this – that I can somehow be this gracious, kind person who can muster up some forgiveness somewhere between trying to avoid him and knowing that I’ll have to take out a restraining order if he ever tries to contact me again. And it’s been taking an embarrassing amount of my mental energy trying to figure out how to do it.

      But, like I said, you’re right. His bad behavior isn’t my burden to bear. And as much as I’d like to be the perfect person who is capable and willing to forgive all, there was only one Mother Teresa (and she wasn’t perfect either).

      Thanks for re-affirming what I already knew and was pretty much trying to avoid.


      • nursinggrudgesandliquor says:

        Thanks for not going on the defensive. I think…perhaps…you might be blurring the boundaries between forgiving him and minimalizing his behavior. Of course it would be bad for you to be eaten up with rage and bitterness and spend your free time plotting his demise. Those are the situations where we need to forgive for our own well being. What you are describing reads to me like justifying, normalizing, minimizing his behavior. And that is not good for your well being. I get it, I’ve done it before. Making excuses for a man, trying to assign myself blame where there was none…it made me feel more in control in an odd way. Less victimized, safer? But that kind of thinking is so dangerous. We need to call these behaviors and those kinds of men what they are and acknowlege that either they got by our bullshit detector OR that the scary crap was fulfilling some need in an unhealthy way (like not making a distinction between good attention and bad attention). You can forgive him sure. But that is different from doing exhausting mental gymnastics to make his behavior be not really so bad. It WAS really so bad. And not your fault. Let it go, friend, it does not serve you.

        And again…I realize that advising is not always helpful so apologies if I am overstepping.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hurrahforcoffee says:

    Byron Katie has a method called ‘the work’ This method of enquiry makes it possible to forgive the most heinous things. I have managed to forgive all kids of abuse in my past and more recently this method has saved my marriage. What makes her method challenging is that the ‘ego’ the part of you that wants to be ‘right’ and indignant and justified in your victimhood will run circles around you in order to stay stuck. This is why you have to get really quiet, she calls her method mediation and you have to put it on paper. Do a judge your neighbour worksheet on your exes. It will open you eyes and set you free. If you get stuck there are facilitators that can help you I have made use of them when I am stuck on one particular thing or when I cant find a turnaround for something.

    Liked by 1 person

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