Despicable Me: Forgiving our own sordid pasts

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Q:

My late teens and much of my 20s were spent homeless, couch-surfing and high. I left my parents after they bailed on me, and I did things that others would find questionable if they never had to live on the street.

I became an expert liar. I learned to scam and seduce my way into food and shelter. To this day, my first impulse is to manipulate or cheat to get what I want.

I came a long way, but I still wake up thinking that I’m on a park bench, under an overpass, or naked in a stranger’s bed. The first feeling is relief that it’s only a dream. The second is shame that I never quite shake.

I generally stay on track is the 12-step method of change, but I struggle to forgive myself for my past and the person it turned me into.

Dear New You:

Who you were isn’t who you are now, and neither is the person you will become. The future is up for grabs.

You’re not alone. Everyone has regrets and struggles to forgive themselves. Some pasts are more and some less difficult, but the process to accept and overcome them is the same for all of us.

You already took difficult steps to pull yourself together and take ownership of your past, but the process never ends. Forgiving ourselves is not something we do once, but continually.

An apropos Audrey Kitching quote makes the rounds now and again:

“Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time. Forgive yourself for giving away your power. Forgive yourself for past behaviors. Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring trauma. Forgive yourself for being who you needed to be.”

Her platitudes are a great starting place, but how?

Since you like the 12-step approach, let your higher power do their job. If they can forgive you, how could you know more than them? Who else do you value? Would you forgive your best friend for their past? Cut yourself the same slack.

As we move through coping with difficult experiences, we must allow ourselves basic humanity and room to make mistakes. It may not be “total forgiveness now.” Start with the intention to forgive yourself as much as you are able for that day, and commit to keep trying.

Another angle is that not forgiving yourself isn’t working. It leaves you exhausted and immobilized.

Another great help is putting your past to good use by helping others, like sharing your experience and growth as you did here so valiantly. This allows the past to be transmuted into a tool rather than a weight.

This column also appears in Q ATLus magazine. Pick up each new edition at local LGBTQ and allied venues.

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