forgiveness

My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.


For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 


My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.

Finding forgiveness.

Every Monday, I am reminded to forgive myself. 

 

Each week, as I sit on the bathroom toilet or the edge of the tub, poised with a 1-inch needle hovering above my thigh, I decide once more. I sit there for a while, sometimes 30 seconds, sometimes five minutes, as I summon the courage to slide the needle through my skin and into my muscle. It's scary. After three years of doing this every week to supplement the hormones in my body, I am surprised each time how difficult it is. I know it won’t really hurt if I do it correctly but still, I hesitate. And I hesitate with forgiving myself for having to do it at all.

Each week I endure this reconciliation process with myself, because no one got me here but me. I chose to transition. I chose to make this part of my life experience. I took the steps to alter my whole life and my very identity, irrevocably, forever.

And as I sit there, I battle myself a little. Because the injection is only one of many difficult or unpleasant aspects of my transition, and I know I could have chosen differently and not had to deal with any of it. And then I smile, take some deep breaths, complete the process and put my Band-Aid on because I know I have another decision to make. I can make this more difficult or I can make it easier on myself. I can suffer or I can find forgiveness.

Our lives and our identities are created by decisions. On the turn of a dime, we can go from left to right, A to B, here to there. My transition came about from making hundreds of decisions over the past three decades, from the day I chose to overcome my eating disorder to my first days as a vegetarian and then years later when I had a hamburger again. My decisions about physical self-expression using the skin I’m in included the moments I got my nose pierced and my first tattoo. My Buddhist identity came from a decision to abandon the Catholicism of my childhood and another decision to spend years under the umbrella religion of Unitarian Universalism. Many of these decisions included breaking conventional norms or societal rules. These decisions went against what I had been taught or how I had been raised.  Sometimes I had to break rules I had previously set for myself. The way I made these decisions was to choose powerfully and forgive myself for wanting something different.

We can live our whole lives avoiding the criticism or backlash from other people based on how they live their own lives. We can limit or restrict or hide what we want or need from fear of what our peers will do or say. Look what happened when Caitlyn Jenner, a beloved American icon, made a choice that challenged what people considered normal or appropriate. They freaked out and projected all of their needs and wants and opinions and comfort zones onto her. 

 

Be yourself. No, not like that.
— society

Challenges prompt the process of finding forgiveness. If it was easy, anyone could do it. It happens when someone judges us, or we fear they might. It happens when we made a mistake or did something we think is unforgivable in the eyes of others. It happens when we break norms, defy rules or live outside the lines in some way, either intentionally or just because it is who we are.

We can spend our whole lives searching for forgiveness or approval from others to live the lives we want or to let us off the hook for something we’ve done or who we are. In the months before my transition, I heard myself saying out loud, “I’ll be punished, I’ll be in trouble” and it was weird to hear myself say that because I had lived independent of my parents and their opinions for so many years. At least I thought I had. I made the decision anyway, and my premonition came true. But I can spend the rest of the time I have here regretting who I am and what I’ve chosen or I can make a different decision. I can seek forgiveness for who I am outside myself and wait forever or I can find it within my own heart. We get to choose how hard we make it, how many hoops we force ourselves through, to find self-acceptance. We get to decide if we live in compassion or in perpetual shame. It’s a process, made of many decisions.

Just like anything precious, forgiveness may be tough to find at first but once you have it, it’s yours, baby.

How To Heal a Broken Heart

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Sometimes, loving means losing.

If you aren’t waking up in partnered bliss (or something close to it) this morning, here are some words to perhaps comfort you. Whether you’re single and alone by choice, chance or due to a recent death of a beloved partner, you may find yourself catching your breath a few times today—and maybe shedding a tear or two for memories or dashed hopes.

For me, the sadness of missing a certain someone hurts more than the fear of being alone without a Valentine. I don’t want a placeholder as much as I miss the heart, mind and spirit of a beloved person I held dear.

Having loved and lost more than once in my life, here is my best advice to heal a broken heart.

1)   Grieve it

Whether it happened on purpose, by accident or because a life ended, it’s an ending. It’s a loss and losses aren’t easy for us humans. Some are more welcome than others, especially if we made the choice to end the relationship. But if you find yourself not exactly leaping for joy and dancing in the streets, I recommend you spend significant time grieving the loss you’ve experienced. Many people, if not most, often jump to the next thing: the next person, the next job, the next topic of conversation. They push down or avoid the feelings about the loss or absence or the way things ended. It’s hard, painful stuff and many people find it easier to numb out and “move on” by compartmentalizing and avoiding the grieving process. But I don’t recommend this. It catches up to you, eventually. I recommend you do and do it good. Go through the pictures. Thumb through the hand-written notes. Remind yourself of what you valued and treasured about that person. And hold it alongside the truth of what hurt or didn’t feel right and good for you. A healthy grieving process will earn you years of authentic healing and solace in the long-term. You’ll be able to make real peace with what happened, whatever it was.

2)   Consider your part

If the ending or loss happened despite your best efforts, it’s really easy to blame or shame the other person. This feels good in the short-term but rarely does anything to really help us build character. Having done this myself in relationships and jobs, I know how tempting it is to nurture the victim part of us that wants to feel wronged or hurt, abandoned or rejected. We want the other side to hurt too, dammit! This is natural because we are human, but it won’t help you truly forgive and forget. It also increases the chances that we will perpetuate our contribution, whatever it was, in the next situation. Sometimes, we do this to preserve our sense of self, and we can miss seeing something that would be good to know about ourselves. If you consider and fully contemplate whatever your part was, you’re one step closer to being part of the solution and prevention of it repeating itself again in your life. Or you might get insight you never had before and you can see the other person in a totally different light. Which is a good thing-for you and other people in your life.

3) Say what you need to say

A lot of people are really bad listeners. Don’t talk to those people. They are often too self-absorbed and caught up in their own lives to pay attention to what you’re saying. Chances are, they haven’t fully grieved losses in their own lives and they won’t bear witness to your process in a way that really helps you. Find people who don’t say cliche things like, “he/she is resting in peace” or “sorry it didn’t work out” or “it wasn’t meant to be.” You have a broken heart! It hurts! Platitudes don’t honor the deeply-rooted and real feelings you’re experiencing. Talk to a professional and/or compassionate friends who make you feel heard and supported in your process, however long it takes. If it is safe or welcomed, express anything that remains for you to the other person. Or write a letter or email and delete it. Over and over again. Until it’s all out. When you can safely process all the feelings you have about the complexity of the loss and its impact on your past, present and future, you increase your chances of healing sooner and more completely.

4)   Practice forgiveness

Whatever happened, happened for a good reason. Sometimes it takes us months or years to fully understand and appreciate this, but having experienced tremendous heartbreak numerous times, I can tell you that with every fiber of my being. If the person left or died suddenly, forgive the abrupt ending. Is it harder or easier for you to forgive someone who has passed on? Or how about someone who is still alive but out of contact? Don’t try to see the meaning right away, it may not be apparent. But you can practice forgiving yourself and the other party for whatever shortcomings or shortsightedness led to the loss. People do and say things coming from their given capacity at the time, and it is unfortunate and frustrating when the needs, interests and abilities of each partner don’t match up. Consider what you did and didn’t do or say that worked or didn’t work. Give yourself a break, because you probably did what you could—or wanted to do—at the time.

5) Practice platonic love

I’m assuming you have at least one if not MANY people in your life. And I bet you love them all a lot. Spend the day calling them or emailing them or texting heart emojis. Tell your kids, tell your parents, siblings and friends about your gratitude for them. Hug them. Make Valentine’s Day cards for your plants who selflessly receive your carbon dioxide and give out oxygen day in and day out. Send love to strangers on the street or in countries far away. Within minutes of doing this, you’ll realize that time spent mourning the loss of one person, however significant that person was, is time you can also invest in other relationships in your life. You could probably spend the day making cards for everyone you’ve ever loved in your life and not finish before it’s time to go to bed.

If you do all these things, I hope you find and feel more peace than you did when you began reading this article. Perhaps it revealed something new for you and can help you reach a different stage of your healing process.

For more information, read up on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her theory about the stages of grief. You can find where you are in your process and remember how many people share your feelings around the world. Know that time, will indeed, heal your heart if you help it along just a bit.