trigger warning: this essay talks about self-harm and depression which may be a sensitive topic for some readers.
Once upon a time, I was unhappy. This is no secret. I've shared my tumultuous journey before in my books and on my social media platforms. No one could've told me I would be here today alive, enjoying life, learning healthy ways to deal with adversity and in healthy relationships with those around me. I couldn't imagine that I would be teaching other women how to love themselves, how to seek counseling when they need or want it, or that I would have a career that allowed me to share my voice and story for a living. This, where I am today, felt out of reach at one point. I didn't have a clue how to achieve happiness, self-love, worthiness, or compassion for others or myself. Kindness was almost foreign to me on both ends, giving and receiving. I was accustomed to hurting, sadness, aggression, and unhappiness. There were no true role models in my life to teach me the things I know now. Being an only child, I felt like everyone was in their own world and I was left to figure life out alone. I don't remember a lot of my childhood because it was so traumatic. And I didn't find out that my past traumas molded me into a person that couldn't just "be happy," until I went to therapy. My therapist at the time assured me that happiness could and would arrive, but I had to work for it. And if I truly wanted to arrive at a place of peace, I needed to start within. I needed to forgive those around me, but most importantly I needed to forgive myself.
That is how my journey to self-forgiveness started. In a chair, with a counselor telling me you can't do this alone, and reassuring me that I didn't have to. I remember exactly how I'd gotten to therapy this time around. My daughter wasn't even a year old yet, and I was having intense thoughts of suicide. It wasn't postpartum depression, either. I'd been depressed; anxiety filled, and suicidal a lot of my early teen and young adult life. But having a child put an entirely different spin on living. I knew I wanted to live a full life, but I didn't know how. I couldn't grasp that happiness could ever belong to me. After weeks of crying, barely eating, and getting down to 105lbs, my mom pushed for therapy, so I went. It's strange to look back at that time of my life because it's almost like there was immense darkness, and then there was glowing light. The middle (neutral part) of my healing I don't remember much. But I do remember the day my therapist gave me an imaginary tool box to help me heal and self-soothe, and I can clearly remember taking self-forgiveness out of my tool box and vowing that that must be my first step toward happiness.
Before diving into forgiving others, I chose to start with myself because home is where the heart is. Home is where healing is, too. I was my own worst enemy, and no amount of outside forgiveness could settle that issue. Taking to my journal to help with the self-soothing and forgiveness process made the most sense. Writing has always been my saving grace, even in the midst of mess and mistakes. I would talk things out with my therapist then make space for my thoughts, feelings, and reactions, mostly in poem form or lists, on paper. This process was terrifying because to forgive is to acknowledge. And acknowledging what was wrong created more room for fear, depression, and heartache. I was nervous that admitting certain things about myself would set me back into a deep depression. But as I wrote in my new book, Neon Soul, “Remembering doesn’t always mean to relive. Sometimes it is simply a reminder to give yourself thanks for making it out alive.”
I forgave myself for not wanting to be alive and present for my child. I forgave myself for becoming a teen mom. I forgave myself for not thinking I was worthy of healthy and whole love. I forgave myself for using “daddy issues” as a crutch not to live a life of fullness. I forgave myself for flocking to the wrong type of people romantically and platonically. I forgave myself for never finishing what I started. I forgave myself for giving up ballet, and not working harder to perfect my craft as a dancer. I forgave myself for settling constantly. I forgave myself for not knowing, not learning from my mistakes, and not accepting what I could not change.
The list could go on but every poem and journal entry I made during that time of healing reflected some sort of forgiveness that only I could give to me. Once I arrived at my place of peace, I was able to open the door and forgive those around me who contributed to my hurt, pain, anxiety, and depression. It took years and I still have moments of relapse and uncertainty—but at the end, I have the final say when it comes to living intentionally and being happy. My therapist taught me that, too. Before moving away, she reminded me that I am the ruler of my life and my tool box of peace, love, self-worth, self-forgiveness, healing, and truth will always be by my side when I need it. I look at it this way these days, I could either allow myself to stand tall through it or sink. Every time I think sinking would be the better option, I intentionally choose to stand.
Self-forgiveness has taught me to be soft and gentle with myself as I walk through life. It’s taught me to hear others, see others, and understand that we all fall short. We are not perfect beings in this world. Self-forgiveness has reminded me to smile and acknowledge where I have been, and keep my eyes and heart set on where I am going.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with depression or self-harm, please called the national suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone.