How are you babes feeling lately? Still in your post-election slump? Slide back there every time you think you're doing better and then realize what's to come in 2017? Feeling weird about other things entirely? Or maybe you're feeling great? Are people still feeling great out there?
This year I've learned a lot about betrayal and heartbreak and failure and just as much about forgiveness, healing, and love. Through it all, I feel like I have grown stronger, but then on days like today I wake up from another anxiety nightmare about ex- boyfriends/friends/dreams, and I wonder if I've grown at all.
I've been mulling over this question of growth in the face of shitty-life-events a lot lately, and three paths forward seem to have emerged: accept, forgive, and approve.
This morning (post-nightmare) I opened my computer and read the new Modern Love column. One line particularly resonated with me:
I had always prided myself on being strong, on being able to bounce back, but here I was, months later, wrestling with questions without answers at night and awakening to a frightening bleakness.
Damn. How many of us pride ourselves on being so, so strong but still struggle with intense anxiety that keeps us up at night? (*girl raising hand emoji*)
This line reminded me a) that I'm not the only one this happens to, and b) that there's a lot of hubris involved in believing that you're always strong and always growing. Life is not linear or progressive in this sense, and that's okay. You're not always in control, and sometimes you're going to get knocked down and stay down for a little while. That doesn't mean it's forever or always, just for a while.
Learning to accept this has been tough for my inner critic — that badass, kickass, always fighting feminist inside of me. But it's also been crucial for my survival this year. It's been so, so necessary that I swallow my pride and accept that shit has happened. I also have had to accept that it might take me some time to get over it, and that's okay. I accept it.
Thinking about pride and acceptance reminded me of something else I'd read recently. One of the friends wrapped up in the betrayal of this year came to town before Thanksgiving, and she gave me a book (or a book suggestion, rather) — Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed aka Dear Sugar aka the goddess herself. In the book, I found a lesson about the difference between acceptance and forgiveness:
You asked for help with forgiveness, but I don't think that's what you need to reach for just yet. You know how alcoholics who go to AA are always using the phrase "one day at a time"? They say that because to say "I will never drink again" is just too damn big. It's big and hard and bound to fail ... I suggest you forget about forgiveness for now and strive for acceptance instead.
Real forgiveness for real betrayal is big and hard and often bound to fail, the same way believing you are always strong and in control and growing stronger is big and hard and bound to fail.
In order to forgive, we first have to accept what has happened and accept ourselves in that process. We have to accept our weakness/sadness/confusion in order to take that next step. Because only after accepting reality and our lack of control over it sometimes, can we move forward from pain and fully let go of what caused it in order to truly forgive.
In the instance of betrayal, forgiveness seems like the right eventual conclusion, but when you're considering your own weaknesses, it's not forgiveness you need (there's nothing wrong with your weakness, you don't need to forgive yourself for it) so much as approval, self-approval. You need to say, I approve of me.
A friend of mine (*hi, Rose!*) recently wrote something wise and wonderful about this:
I accept all sorts of things I'm not wild about ... But approval is different. Approval implies that you accept and condone the thing in question. And when it comes to self approval... it's easy to argue with the statement "I approve of myself." Bullshit, right? ... The answer is this: you approve of your questionable decisions and their results because you know in your beautiful gut that everything, all of it, is part of your becoming, and that in some way you don't yet understand, it all serves your highest good.
Acceptance is about taking that deep breath and getting to the next moment, the next day, the next week of your life. It's about learning to live with whatever has knocked you down. But approval is different. Approval is getting back up and really believing that what happened is for the best. The same way forgiveness is about really letting go of however you've been wronged.
So the big lesson here is that you can't have approval or forgiveness without acceptance. Acceptance is a necessary step; it can't be skipped, or neglected, or forgotten. If you don't work on it, you'll be that girl believing she's super strong (and she is! you are!) who is also lying awake anxious at night unable to do anything about it or figure out why. (oh hey, there's me again *another girl raising hand emoji*)
That said, acceptance is not the ultimate goal. For yourself, it's approval. For others, it's forgiveness. And these, it seems to me, are really on the path to love. Self-love. Love for others. That's where we're all trying to get, isn't it?
What do you think, babes? What have you learned to accept this year? Anyone you've forgiven? Things you've come to approve of? I'd love to hear your wisdom.
GIF by the kick-ass, badass, all-accepting/forgiving/approving Cécile Dormeau