Forgiveness has been much on my mind lately.
I want to learn to forgive in order to reduce the burden that I carry around. I tried to forgive my grandfather. I knew it would be in my own best interest. I tried getting angry. I walked through the pain. Nothing changed. I could not step back and away from the injury and the insult. I even thought of a way to reframe the incident and tried it out at therapy last week.
Instead of thinking of the incident as a life-shattering blow that destroyed my sense of self and marked me as a victim to all predators to come, I reframed it as a cosmic slap in the face. I tried not to take it personally. I ignored the unholy curl of hatred and revulsion that twisted in my gut every time I thought of what he did. I tried to stop silently wailing ‘Why!’. I thought of it as if I had been hit by a train.
I spent my childhood hiding literally and figuratively. I attempted to avoid notice by blending into the woodwork. I survived on a day by day, moment by moment basis. This incident blew me out of the water.
I distinctly remember standing at the head of my 4th grade class mortified and furious at the public humiliation of not remembering my multiplication tables. I stood there and felt the eyes of the world on me, laughing derisively. I swore I would quit school. Not very realistic and certainly an overreaction to the event. But in that moment, I gave up my hiding place. I had been blown off the tracks of my normal life and was too blinded by pain, fear and shame to find my way back. I was still spinning out of control when we had the next standardized test.
I remember waiting out all of the previous tests, not answering many of the questions, and not really focusing on the problems. This time I was distracted and without thinking answered every question. The questions were easy and I didn’t have the fortitude to pretend they weren’t. When the test results came back, at home I went from “ You’re so stupid” to “A- might be good enough for some people, but we know that you can do better”.
I was awake and no longer hiding. I was still in danger, but having dropped my camouflage, I no longer had the choice to pick it back up again.
This event blew through my life and changed me in many ways. Driven from hiding, I found a part of myself that I am proud of. I define myself by my ability to think and learn. I do well on tests, and my IQ is in the top ¼ of 1 percent on the planet. I never have learned my multiplication tables correctly, but I ended up an honors math major.
So this is how I framed the incident to the therapist and I was shocked when she didn’t call B.S. on it. She accepted this new truth at face value. I remained unconvinced.
Last night I was at home trying to ignore the siren call of a slice of pizza sitting in the fridge. I was not physically hungry, just anxious and desperately trying to rationalize a reason to eat. I tried the self-meditation technique the therapist had just taught me, and felt strangely relieved.
I had an epiphany.
Food is not a reward.
I punish myself with food.
Those words are laden with meaning and power. Punish. I know I punish myself. I thought that I was rewarding myself with food, but that is not true. I punished myself with food after being raped by my grandfather. Eating tasteless food flavored by the tears I was not allowed to shed. I punished myself eating a meal with the man who had just untied me and insisted on parading me in public. Gagging on my shame. I punished myself with my decision to become so ugly that no man would ever think of doing anything like that to me again. I remember the revolting mouth feel of the high fat milk product that I forced myself to buy and drink as I changed my diet from one that was vegetarian, almost vegan, to one that embraced meat and bread and butter and cream. I punished myself with anorexia and bulimia.
I punish myself the way I have always been punished. I punish myself for the crime of being caught. I could not bring myself to forgive my grandfather even with the reframing because I don’t deserve forgiveness.
I am the person that I need to forgive. I need to stop punishing myself every moment.