“Five Reasons to Forgive: Our Health Depends on it”
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die” Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.
I had no idea how much rat poison I had been consuming.
About a year ago, one of my own worst nightmares flashed before me on Facebook — my ex-boyfriend got married. For the purpose of this article , I’ll call him “Trey.”
I had held many resentments in my heart, keeping track of all the injustices and pain he had inflicted on me — most of them due to his apparent declining interest in me — but there were a few legit reasons that I suppose may be deeply wounding for most women (or men) — whoever happens to be the rejected one. And for vindication purposes, I resolved to not only forget what he had done but to also map a new course for myself, tracing every possible trail that would lead to evidence that he was, indeed, evil.
That is not what they teach at church — or at yoga.
And that is certainly not what medical professors say, according to medical experts from John Hopkins Medicine:
People who hang on to grudges, however, are more likely to experience severe depression and other health conditions, such as post traumatic stress disorder (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it).
After ending a relationship of six years, instead of moving on, I held onto those painful pathological patterns that characterized us because I refused to let go of my feelings of rejection. Replaying those scenes was like enduring a dull knife on the same sore spot where I was first wounded. Did I think dwelling on them would change the outcome? The pain of that sharp cut remained because I refused to face the facts that there was no outfit I could have worn, no accomplishment I could have made, or no game I could have played that would have made him love me. I was beginning to become a shell of myself, not realizing that this was poisoning my mind. I changed my wardrobe, my hair (acquired bright blonde tape-in extensions) and my body (I ate more and gained a little shape from yoga so that he could no longer say that I was too skinny and “could I not see that I was much prettier years ago when I had some weight on me?”).
Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which brings detrimental changes to our heart rate, blood pressure and immune system
“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D. , director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Swartz says that chronic anger puts you into a “fight-or-flight mode,” and this causes changes in our heart rate, our blood pressure and our immune system.
Was it a coincidence that I missed so many days that year from flu-like symptoms, colds and stomach problems?
Clutching to my remorse, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital six months after I learned that he had not only cheated on me multiple times but had moved on towards a serious relationship.
Was that a coincidence also?
I don’t think so.
Something had to vindicate my pain, so I was bound to make him pay. So, you see, I dug deeply, soliciting subjects for evidence to my resolve that Trey was indeed reprehensible. For surely, if I could prove he was a bad person, I would feel much better about his rejection and move on.
My in-depth determination to be a detective for any malice on his part provided no solace. It worked in opposition — the more I sought evidence against him, the more incapacitated I became. He had long been free from my yoke of toxic talons, but I was still enslaved by my own consuming acrimonious angst.
If we do not change our patterns of holding grudges and refusing forgiveness, we increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it
This zeal for vindication (even though there was no wrong-doing on his part, other than he did not love me enough, maybe not at all) continued to consume me. So, I slowly began to rot away. For when you continue to consume toxicity, you become vile and your heart begins to gradually decay.
So, back to this image, this disturbing image of my ex and his new loved on one Facebook:
Despite my efforts to convince myself that Trey was, indeed, a scoundrel or a knave (as Chaucer would pen it), I wasn’t prepared to see what what was coming. So, when his brother posted this happy picture, I felt a choke hold on my throat, cutting off my airways while another invisible fist started punching me in the gut.
An assortment of emotions splashed inside of me as memories of every evil deed he had supposedly done raced through my mind.
I was a wreck.
These memories clutched to my rejected heart and screamed to release themselves with something like, “Well, good luck. I pity the woman who ….” You can use your imagination here. I was tempted to oust every vile thought in hopes to split open his heart with a knife.
You see my patterns?
Surely, there was more rat poison to consume!
But something came over me.
I knew that I had been forgiven by One who did no wrong. I also knew that no matter how much it hurt, I was scorning Christ’s work on the cross when I refused to forgive the ones who hurt me. Besides, how many times have I hurt others? Please don’t try to count them; it’s hard to count past the trillions. For if I claim to be forgiven, am I not called to forgive? “(Insert Bible verse here).
For the first time in my life, I decided to try something other than poison. These toxic tactics had only served to envenom me, exacerbating my anger, making my malice malignant, adversely impacting my physical health and enhancing my depression and anxiety. They had boomeranged!
Even though my stomach still stung and my throat tightened from its stronghold, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and began typing the following words (or something similar) in response to this alarming Facebook pic, underneath the newlywed bride and groom:
“Wow! Congratulations! What a handsome couple. Cara, you are so beautiful and Trey, I’ve never seen you look any happier. What a wonderful day to celebrate. Cara, I have heard nothing but wonderful things about you. You and Trey are each very blessed to have each other. Best best wishes and congratulations again (insert happy emojis).
Is it necessary that I inform you that “Cara” is not her real name? It’s Caron. Just kidding!
As soon as I wrote those words and posted them, floodgates of those locked, festering, toxic emotions crept up and emancipated themselves through my tear ducts. My body convulsed as these rivers of pain flowed through me. The poison was being released! I cried. I went to a friend’s house, who had a glass of Cabernet waiting for me, and I cried some more. Then, I felt release…love…beauty…pain. I began to experience something I had not felt for years…
A genuine forgiveness — the toxins that were gripping me for years were gone. I no longer wished ill will for Trey. I was sincerely happy for him and his wife. Those other evil feelings to which I had been clutching so tightly, clasping them to hidden parts inside of me…escaped. They took flight, and no part of me wanted them back. It was as if writing those counter-intuitive words (I meant them — he did look handsome and happy — and she is beautiful) released the curse of my misery — and granted me an indescribable illumination. My soul was renewed.
As you release the anger, resentment and hostility, you begin to feel empathy, compassion and sometimes even affection for the person who wronged you. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it
It’s been a year now, and I do not hold any hatred toward this man or his wife. When old memories creep up, tempting me to tantalize them, beleaguer them, I remember the lightness I feel, empowered by my mysterious relief of those malignant maladies.
And when these wack-a-moles pop up, I replace them with a hammer of empowerment — the hammer of wishing beauty, love and happiness for them —
For after all, rat poison doesn’t taste very good.