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Author Topic: Forgiveness and What Ifs  (Read 1944 times)

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Offline Joe K

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Forgiveness and What Ifs
« on: May 16, 2011, 12:04:54 PM »
One of the greatest abilities that we possess as human beings is forgiveness.  It amazes me the transgressions against us that we can forgive in others, yet many of us, are unable to forgive ourselves.  Forgiveness can be as simple as moving past issues that barely affect us, to what I believe is the greatest forgiveness possible: forgiving yourself for whatever role you played, in becoming HIV positive.

I realize this may not apply to many readers, but I suspect that it impacts far more people, than even they recognize.  I remember my own disgust regarding my behaviour, which contributed to my becoming positive.  The revulsion I felt and the self-loathing toward myself, that accompanied my test result.  I had tested HIV positive.  How could it have happened?  How could I have been so stupid?  What was going to become of me?  Why did I drink so much?  Why did I have unsafe sex? How did I allow this to happen to me?

These and dozens of other recriminations, continued to pervade my consciousness for a couple of years.  The guilt was enormous.  The effect on my life was devastating.  I was losing my future, by torturing myself over my past behaviour, over mistakes.  Mistakes, they sound so innocent, yet their power to subjugate me under their spell was enormous.  Maybe I was using my guilt, to shield myself from my reality, or to delay having to accept responsibility for my own future, because I was too busy lamenting the past.  I seemed unable to move past those mistakes or the guilt they inspired.  I had yet to learn the about the true power of forgiveness.  How sad that it took me far too many years to realize, that I alone held the key to my own forgiveness.

I would like to share some of the things that I learned on my journey, towards my own forgiveness for becoming HIV positive.  I hope that you might see yourself in my words, or that they may serve to help clarify your own feelings.  That somehow, what I learned on my journey can help you to find the power to grant your own forgiveness.

To begin with, forgiveness is not forgetting.  While you might want to "forgive and forget", this is often not realistic and has little value.  Of course, you would rather erase the unpleasantness of your past, but that is just not possible.  The real goal is not to forget the past, but to learn from it and to use that knowledge to help yourself and others.

Forgiveness is also not condoning.  It does not mean that the past was okay or not so bad.  You made mistakes, you were hurt; it was painful; and it affected your life.  Forgiveness enables you to deal with the past more effectively, yet does not minimize the past, but rather minimizes the effects of that painful past.  It in no way denies, justifies, or even condones your mistakes; it simply acknowledges their existence.

Forgiveness is not a form of self-sacrifice and it will come when you are ready.  It is not pretending that everything is just fine when you feel it is not.  Often the distinction between, being truly forgiving and simply denying or repressing anger and pain, can be very deceptive and confusing.  You either forgive, or you do not -- there is no halfway.  You must be careful to be honest with yourself if you are not ready to forgive yourself.  Because it is better to admit to and deal with your inability to forgive yourself, than to just pretend to forgive.  Forgiveness will come when you are ready to both give and receive it.

Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness.  Far from weakness, it is a sign of true inner strength.  When you forgive yourself, you understand that you no longer need your anger and hatred to protect yourself.  You do not need the pain as a crutch anymore.  You are able to view how your infection happened, any role that you played and to accept that as reality.  You do not forgive yourself out of pity for yourself, but because of your own internal strength.  Forgiveness for any mistakes you made is something that only you can do for yourself.

Forgiveness is also a form of realism.  It allows you to see your infection and your role in that infection realistically, possibly for the first time.  It does not deny, minimize, or justify what you did to yourself, or the pain that you have suffered.  However, it does allow you to honestly look at that old wound or scar and see them for what they are.  It allows you to see how much energy you have wasted and how much damage you have sustained by not forgiving yourself.

Forgiveness is a sign of positive self-esteem.  It allows you to put the past into its proper perspective.  You no longer identify yourself by your past mistakes.  You cease to be a victim.  You claim the right to stop hurting, when you say, "I am tired of the pain, and I want to be healed”.  At that moment, self-forgiveness becomes a possibility -- though it may take time and require hard work to achieve it.

Forgiveness is letting go of the past.  Forgiveness does not erase what happened, but it does allow you to lessen and eliminate the pain of the past.  It allows you to view that pain, in perspective and to accept the pain that those mistakes have caused you.  More importantly, the pain from your past no longer dictates how you live in the present and can no longer determine your future.

Forgiveness does not want to punish you.  It does not want to get even or make you suffer for your mistakes.  It is accepting you cannot change the past and castigating yourself, because of that past does nothing to help to heal you.  It is discovering the inner peace that you feel when you just let go of the past and accept your mistakes.

Forgiveness is also moving on.  It is recognizing all that you have lost because of your refusal to forgive yourself.  It is realizing that the energy that you spent hanging on to the past is energy better spent on attaining your future.  You must let go of the past, so that you may reach for your future.  You are moving on, not attempting to change the past.

It is my hope that each of you, who need it, will learn to forgive yourself for becoming HIV positive.  You must accept your own reality and move past the need to flog yourself over mistakes, often made long ago.  It all comes down to reality.  You made some mistakes, plain and simple.  The specifics do not matter, only that you made some mistakes.  Granted the repercussions of those mistakes may be grand in scale, however, some mistakes are not to be judged by degrees.  At some point, it is my hope that you can learn to accept any mistakes that you made and forgive yourself for becoming positive.  Holding onto the guilt, serves no good purpose, as it just drains your being.  Forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to yourself.  Is it not time to let it all go and forgive you?

Addendum: I have posted this topic each year, as I believe it remains a formidable obstacle for many pozzies.  When I posted this last year, the thread generated some comments regarding how difficult it can be to forgive yourself, or others, if only you had done things differently.  I include my reply to those comments, as I feel it is an integral part of truly understanding and forgiving yourself.

The greatest advice I ever received, from my father, was "what ifs" can kill you. I mention this, because I believe it succinctly states why so many, have a hard time forgiving themselves or others. If you take away all the unknowns, thought of as "What ifs..." and look at only the realities of what happened, then I believe that forgiveness is attainable for everyone. If you insist on including every possible permutation of what could have happened IF, then how do you ever sort out the real issues, you must address to be forgiven?

I had an abusive ex and I have forgiven him for what he did to me. As much as I wanted to hold him accountable, for what he had done to me, that is a power that is beyond me. I used the courts to hold him accountable to society for his behaviour, but I had no power to compel him to accept his abuse and to apologize to me. So I was left with two paths.

The first path was to hate him forever and to wallow in my pain and sorrow, over all that he had done to me and for my allowing it to happen, for far too long. I took this path for almost two years and it only led me to pain and heartache. There was no forgiveness for either of us, or healing for me.

I then found the second path, which led to my forgiveness. Granted it required therapy, but when I realized that by hating him, I was giving him control over me and how I felt, I was relinquishing my right to be happy, by allowing my hatred of him to boil and fester. But I was so damn angry at him and what he had done to me and us and he had to pay for that, until I started to wonder what "pay for that" really meant. What it meant was I wanted to know he felt pain for how he abused me and to be contrite for his actions. Then I would remember that I was talking about Jeff and just laugh, because he was such a psychopath that none of that would ever happen. So my only choice was how to move past this painful part of my life.  My answer was with forgiveness, because while I wanted to hold him accountable, I did not have to and I could forgive him, which is what I have done.

This is where the "what if" advice comes into play. If I continued to play the "what if" game with Jeff, with what we both allowed to happen, I would still be wallowing in self pity. Instead, I chose to forgive him, because that is what I needed to do, for me and I am at true peace with that part of my past. I offer this, for those of you who are slowly dying from "what ifs". What if... has no meaning, unless you give it one. What may have happened, depending upon IF you did this or IF you did that, has no true meaning regarding the reality of your past. Unless you did something intentionally, to harm others, you are being horribly unfair to yourself, over what might have happened if only...

There is a reason the Serenity Prayer makes so much sense. The idea to living a meaningful life is our ability to see our reality and act accordingly. If we can accept the fact, that there are some things we cannot change, then we save the energy of wasted effort. If we accept the fact that there are things we can change, like how we perceive ourselves, then I encourage you to strip away all the "what ifs" and look closely, to see that maybe forgiveness is not so impossible for you.

Try as we might, we can never change the past. We can however, change how we perceive that past. Ultimately, what did it for me was that I simply got tired of hurting so much over something that I could change and fortunately I knew the difference.  Forgiveness is always possible and it is one of the rare gifts that only you can give... to yourself.

“The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbor as ourselves: we do unto others as we do unto ourselves.  We hate others when we hate ourselves.  We are tolerant toward others when we tolerate ourselves.  We forgive others when we forgive ourselves.  We are prone to sacrifice others, when we are ready to sacrifice ourselves...”      Eric Hoffer

Offline wolfter

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Re: Forgiveness and What Ifs
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2011, 12:07:42 PM »
Great introspection.  Thank you!
Being honest is not wronging others, continuing the dishonesty is.

Offline karry

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Re: Forgiveness and What Ifs
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2011, 08:03:29 PM »
I cried as I read this. I saw a lot about me in what you wrote.
Thank you!!!!!
Take it a day at a time....and be positive about it too!

Offline denb45

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Re: Forgiveness and What Ifs
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2011, 08:25:58 PM »
"it's so nice to be insane, cause no-one ask you to explain" Helen Reddy cc 1974

Offline Cliff

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Re: Forgiveness and What Ifs
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2011, 03:42:30 AM »
I've seen this before.  Nice then.  Nice now.  I think I saw it in school from a guy who was on death row or just in prison, though I'm not sure if it was his words.


Offline zach

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Re: Forgiveness and What Ifs
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2011, 04:35:54 AM »
well said joe, thank you, that was right on time

Offline carousel

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Re: Forgiveness and What Ifs
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2011, 05:29:49 AM »
I've seen this before.  Nice then.  Nice now.  I think I saw it in school from a guy who was on death row or just in prison, though I'm not sure if it was his words.


Nope Cliff, you're a bit wrong.  It is though a bit of a copy and paste job from other sites.  These included:




Though these people may have copy and pasted themselves, so these may not be the ones Joe 'quotes' from so eloquently.

« Last Edit: May 17, 2011, 05:35:22 AM by carousel »

Offline Ann

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Re: Forgiveness and What Ifs
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2011, 07:00:09 AM »
It is though a bit of a copy and paste job from other sites.

Dunno. Joe has posted the same or similar many times over the years, even going back to the FuseTalk days. Who's to say.... maybe it's Joe who has been copypasta'd.

Thanks for posting Joe - regardless of where it comes from. At the end of the day, I know it came from your heart. :-*
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