I’ve written before about the doctor whose keen listening and holistic approach helped set me on a path to wellness, about his recommendations to me on exercise, healthier eating, massage, caffeine, and saying yes to myself. What I haven’t shared before were his parting words to me before sending me off to the health food store for some B vitamins:
“Oh, and Kristen, if there’s anybody in your life you need to forgive, you need to do that now.”
His words felt like a punch in the gut. Eliminating coffee? Fine. Trying out meditation? No problem. Cutting back on sugar? I’m your girl. But forgiving? Let alone forgetting? I’ll pass.
You see, I’m a champion grudge holder. I have a formidable memory and packed into the nooks and folds of my brain – right next to the 80s song lyrics and directly behind the German dative prepositions (aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu) - is a list of every slight, every rude remark, every unreturned phone call.
I replay the movie in my mind of the time the sibling of one of my older brother’s soccer teammates teased my little brother – who has spina bifida – for being slow in the game of tag we were playing on the sideline. I remember standing in a New Haven backyard at a college house party when a friend of my roommate’s said, the third time we were introduced, “Oh, no, we’ve never met.” I still stare daggers at a colleague of my husband’s who never emailed me back when I wrote him asking for help when I first started freelancing.
It’s a terrible quality. It’s ugly. It’s petty. It’s an awful thing to model for my kids. And I never really realized how much my habit weighed me down until I so forcefully resisted trying to change it when my doctor pointed it out.
Then last week happened. I had two non-negotiable writing deadlines. Meanwhile, my three year old had a fever that kept him home from preschool. My daughter’s cold spiraled into a double ear infection that had me keeping an hourly vigil by her crib two nights in a row. My husband – who is never sick – had a cold that he couldn’t shake, and one that kept him – and me – up two other nights with his coughing and sneezing.
I had to take care of my family. I had to get my assignments done. So I turned to some old friends for support in my time of need: Coke Zero and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. On Thursday, exhausted from sleep debt, I mainlined the Coke all afternoon so I could work while my kids napped – fitfully – in the next room. After I got them to sleep at night, I cozied up with a bag of mini-Reese’s while I copy-edited my piece.
The next morning, confronting the pile of red foil wrappers in the garbage can and the empty two-liter bottle in the recycling bin next to it, I did something that surprised me. I closed the lid and said, “Oh, well.”
I didn’t curse myself for breaking my caffeine rule. I didn’t beat myself up for eating more sugar in an hour than I had in the previous month.
I let it go.
In the past, slipping up has always led me to return to the behavior I was trying to change. Nibble one fingernail? Forget this whole giving-up-nail-biting plan. Miss one run? Maybe running isn’t for me after all. But this time, after I took out the trash, I didn’t go back to the caffeine. I didn’t help myself to rest of the chocolate in the pantry. I thought about why I had made the changes I’d made, considered how far I’d come, and went back to my new way of doing things.
I messed up. I forgave myself. And I realized that forgiving myself for breaking my own rules helped me keep following them.
It makes me wonder if forgiving others might feel really good too.
Are you good about practicing forgiveness? Any tips for this veteran grudge keeper?
Image: Untitled by wrestlingentropy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.