Since I was a teenager I have been carrying tension in my solar plexus. I never thought too much about it, but over the years I just self diagnosed it as normal body tension, to keep the body upright and the spine partially supported. Keep in mind that I was by no means a doctor in any capacity of the word, and had no right to be placing ignorant diagnosis towards anything besides maybe a paper-cut. Unless webMD is now awarding diplomas to people who spend hours extensively navigating their ambiguous pages.
A decade and a half later I my eureka moment finally arrive that maybe my constant abdomen tension wasn’t actually normal, and it quite possibly was my central nervous system responding to something. The physical response was tension, but what about all the chemical build up of stress hormones that too would have been blasting through my system for years by that point? Can you imagine how many stress hormones had been produced in my body after 15 years of unconsciously living through the same emotional traumas day after day?
“When we’re living in survival mode, with our stress response turned on all the time, we can really focus on only three things:our physical bodies (Am I okay?), the environment (Where is it safe?), and time (How long will this threat be hanging over me?). Constantly focusing on these three things makes us less spiritual, less aware, and less mindful, because it trains us to become more self absorbed and more focused on our bodies, as well as on other material things (such as what we own, where we live, how much money we have, and so on), in addition to all of the problems we experience in our external world. This focus also trains us to obsess about time – to constantly brace ourselves for the worst-case scenarios based on our traumatic past experience.” – p.102 You Are The Placebo
It’s no wonder at the age of 23 my body finally reached its breaking point and the world around me came crumbling down after I experienced my first panic attack. My body had been screaming for my attention for years by then, and chose to turn a blind eye to such obvious telling signs. I would always think to myself that I carried all my fat in my belly no matter how good of shape I felt I was in, and this became a huge insecurity for me. In hindsight, it was probably just the unconscious inner workings of my body storing fat in areas of the body where it thought it needed to defend itself from foreign invaders, real or imagined. I had physically and emotionally held these traumas in my life unknowingly, walking around the world like nothing was wrong while unconsciously my nervous system was in DEFCON 2. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the negative thoughts I was having, it’s just that I didn’t have the knowhow or presence to see that there were very real negative consequences to my health from that rumination of thought.
“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”
Forgiveness is such a taxing subject for many of us to talk about, with its complex layers and vulnerability. How could I let people off the hook for all the harm they had caused me? Somehow my constantly upheaval of the past events never really brought any real life retribution to my problems, but my twisted thinking never gave up on searching for protection and revenge. Samuel L Jackson in the movie A Time To Kill summarized exactly how I felt when something bad happened in their lives of these evil perpetrators, “yes they deserved to die and I hope they burn in Hell!” As you can see, I was a very sick sick man for the majority of my life.
What I slowly came to understand was that the benefits of forgiveness were actually going to be allocated to me, rather than being sent off in a gift basket for those terrible people who took so much life from me, or so I thought. For a guy who seemed to carry a fair degree of arrogance in his intellectual prowess, I sure didn’t seemed to able to do much healthy introspection into the problems. Sometimes my blinders were so well fastened that it would have been an impossible task for me to be able to remove them without the aid of a trusted confidant via their drastically varied perspective of my past problems.
The take home for me was that maybe just maybe, how I was going about handling my pain wasn’t right and that it wasn’t serving me anymore to be the jailor of these thoughts any longer. These humans passed on some their very on emotional sickness on to me, but I then made it my duty to make permanent that was only suppose to be temporary. In a twisted of sanity, I cared for these unfortunate events and brought life to them day after day, hoping that one day the puzzle pieces would all fall into place. I was wrong – way wrong!
Forgiveness therapy begins with putting to rest three myths — forgiveness is not reconciliation, forgiveness doesn’t condone bad behavior, and forgiveness doesn’t stop the pursuit of justice.
Growing up in church we learned from a young age about the teachings of Jesus, and one of his most notable commandments, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. This was just a grand slogan for me to pass around to others to sound intelligent, rather than an actual moral code put into action in my own life. The funny thing about resentment is that it can go unnoticed for a very long time. And when you consider the intoxicating power that anger brought me, it’s no wonder I held on to it for so long. It helped me get a piece of my power back that I thought I lost, or so I told myself from time to time. I continually replayed scenarios through my head hoping that one day I will get a different resolve to an event that sometimes took place over two decades ago. Can you imagine just how much mental space that would have consumed in my life? All that mental horsepower that should have been used towards the creation of success in my life, but I used it to launch into the rumination of pain. I’ve now come to grasp the real reason why the rear view mirror in cars is so small, and why the front windshield is so big. Much like driving, in life we are suppose to place our all of our attention on the current road we are traveling on, and not the roads we’ve already journeyed through.
This brings me back to this guy named Jesus. For many of you just reading that name makes you seize with defiance, but I implore you to suspend your disbelief. Maybe I too never gave him enough credit for his understanding of the human condition due to the fact the bible was written so long ago, but his words are still considered timeless. His advice to Peter in the Gospel of Mathew(NKJV) is just as valuable today as it was back then. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”. We take that as just it only applying to Peter, instead of our own lives, and of course in that we don’t get to claim the benefits from the action either then. This adage on forgiveness has now been proven by science to be a tool used in cognitive therapy. When it comes to your mental health and maintaining a relative degree of peace in your life, forgiveness is not a mere recommendation, it’s imperative.
Now I can’t give you the precise step by step methodology to transfer forgiveness from a logical concept in your mind to a visceral experience of the heart, but I can assert the great value it has been to me in my own healing journey. I tried many things along the way that seem to fail me, but eventually something gels. To relinquish control over my resentments and bring peace to suffering has been an extensive process for me, and my guess is that yours will be too, so make sure you pray for tenacity. Sometimes you have a powerful lasting moment of release, and other times it only stays with your for a few hours, but the name of the game here is persistence. We have a tendency to pick up that hot-coal again, grasping it ever so tightly even though we know it burns us. Give yourself a certain degree of forgiveness around that too. What I’ve found is that if I remain persistent with at least one of my newly acquired tools of forgiveness that has proven itself worth, chances are it will work again and again as long I’m not just thinking about the process, but actually putting it into action.
*p.102 You Are The Placebo