This past weekend my “Day of Sunshine” gave me lots of time to be alone with my thoughts. Sure, I get plenty of time to mull things over on my frequent morning runs, but usually that time is filled up with sorting through day-to-day events: work stress, family issues, the ins and outs of “regular life”. But Saturday gave me time to allow my mind to wander beyond all of that, to deeper things.

As I walked along familiar places, drinking in the warm spring day, a lot of memories and emotions surfaced. I found myself thinking a lot about past mistakes, particularly mistakes that I made when my ex husband and I were still together. Usually when I find myself re-living those particular memories and mistakes I end up going down the old familiar shame-spiral. Sometimes I even end up in a dark place, where I re-live those old thoughts and feelings and berate myself for them mercilessly.

Not all of it is undeserved. I went through a period of about a year where I made a lot of unfortunate mistakes. I hurt people and came to regret many of my actions. I’ve been over those hurts many, many times since then. And even with all the therapy, talking, journalling and blogging over the past 5+ years, I still haven’t been able to let it all go completely.

Hanging on to all of that continued to serve a purpose for me. I continued to punish myself over and over for the hurts that I’d caused others. Shame is a powerful emotion, almost addictive. Shame keeps us frozen in a certain place and time and prevents us from growing beyond it.

But on Saturday, as I was walking through a downtown park, revisiting all of that in my mind again, I was hit with a sudden, lightening-bolt realization: I forgive myself. It’s taken me more than five years to get here, but suddenly, there it was: a beautiful gift that I presented to myself: forgiveness. For the mistakes that I made, the hurt that I caused, the wrongs I committed. Those things are in the past and I’m not the same person that I was five years ago. Looking back, the choices that I made during that time were reflective of the person that I was then, in the circumstances I was in, with the options that were available to me at the time. They are not the person that I am today. I wouldn’t make those same choices: I have grown, learned, and evolved. I have different options available to me.

Here’s the thing about forgiveness. When you forgive someone else, you’re not saying that it’s okay what they did to hurt you. Instead, you forgive to let go of those bad feelings and to release the control those bad feelings have over you. You’ve made peace with what happened in the past. Self-forgiveness works exactly the same way. By not forgiving myself, I was allowing shame to control me and the way I felt about myself. I continued to re-live those hurts over and over again, constantly re-living the hurt and the shame.

This weekend I made peace with those mistakes and laid the hurt and shame to rest. Finally.

I have made many mistakes since that time and I will continue to make many more in this lifetime. It’s part of the whole process of personal evolution. But the mistakes that I make going forward will be different ones, hopefully smarter and less hurtful ones. The only way that we can move on from the mistakes we’ve made it life is to forgive ourselves for them, let go of the lingering shame and keep moving forward. I refuse to allow the shame of past mistakes continue to weigh me down today. Life is way too short for that.

Forgiveness. It’s a beautiful thing.

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