I’ve made a lot of poor choices in my life, choices that brought with them devastating consequences. It would be terribly easy to blame my destruction on bipolar disorder, and I did for a time, but I don’t believe that mental illness is an excuse, a reason perhaps, but never an excuse. When the dust settled and I knew that it was time to change my life I was faced with the disconcerting realization that my behavior had hurt the people in my life who I loved more than anything, and I had done such a fine job of it that not all of them were able to forgive me.
Over the many years while I was either untreated or non-compliant with treatment for my illness I was chaotic. I had times of complete stability thrown in there as well but I still wasn’t healthy. It was during those moments of stability where I blamed everything and everyone around me to avoid taking responsibility for myself. Looking back now I can see that I had choices, I may not have liked them but they were there. We always have a choice, sometimes though when we are in the most heightened state of mania or deepest low of depression it feels as though there are none.
The most challenging part on my road to living well with mental illness has been to make amends for what I have done to others as well as to myself. I have had to resolve my guilt and shame and move on from my past mistakes, this hasn’t been an easy thing to do at all, and to be honest I work at it still.
Forgiveness from others didn’t happen overnight, not even close. With the amount of damage that I had left in my wake it required a lot of, “put your money where your mouth is” hard work. I had to walk the walk to earn their trust and forgiveness, and it was the best thing that could have happened. I write a lot about setting boundaries for yourself when it comes to others, but my family had to set boundaries for me and they did not deviate an inch from those lines. Those boundaries coupled with my intense will to change my life probably contributed to saving it. Sometimes support can look completely unsupportive to you, if those lines blur talk to your therapist. One of the tricky things for me was that when someone else established boundaries for me to follow I lost my control over that situation — or so I thought. In reality it helped me to stay on track and forced me to find new, healthy ways to manage those relationships.
Not everyone in your life will be supportive; you may lose some along the way, be it from the fallout of your choices or some other reason. It will hurt, especially if you’re making a solid choice and putting in the effort to really change your life. You will have to find a way to come to terms with this and understand that you are powerless to make someone forgive you. That is completely on them. Once you’ve done your best to make amends, stopped the behavior and started working on you, the rest falls on them. The help of a good therapist will get you through. There is also the issue of the person who tells you that they forgive you and may even believe it themselves. But one day, maybe in the middle of an argument or maybe right out of the blue, they’ll bring something up again, something that you thought the two of you had worked through. This leaves a terrible taste in your mouth, theirs too obviously if it keeps coming up. Whatever damage resulted in this flip-flop of forgiveness may need to be addressed through some counselling together and separately.
We’ve all done things that have hurt others we’re human. The problems really arise when we continue to hurt people over and over. You shouldn’t expect forgiveness if you aren’t willing to acknowledge your behavior, own and accept it, and then work to change it, but you also shouldn’t be expected to dive in and out of the pit of guilt over and over again to appease someone else’s hurt. There will come a time when the other person (or people) will need to make a choice, forgive and move on or don’t. If they choose the latter the next choice falls on you, it may not be pretty but it’s still your choice.
Coming to terms with how we have acted can be awful, trying to make amends can feel even worse, but trust me it feels so much better once you wade through all of it. Look, sometimes “I’m sorry” just doesn’t cut it, you have to earn it, but my goodness does it feel good to do.