We all like to separate ourselves neatly into virtues and vices.
We like think of our depravities as independent agents – acting out of character and rallying against our better judgment. When we fail, we point fingers at our vices. When we hurt someone, we claim we’re going to change.
We enjoy creating internal these internal dichotomies because they give us someone to blame when we mess up. Our truest selves are our good selves, our moral selves, the third-party versions of ourselves who recognize that what we did was wrong. We criticize the lesser parts of ourselves for indulging our vices and letting our virtues lay dormant. We tell ourselves we should have known better.
None of us want to admit that there are times in our lives where our virtues and our vices are entirely indistinguishable from one another – but the uncomfortable truth is, there are. The same hunger, curiosity and enthusiasm that spurs all of our greatest accomplishments also propels us toward our greatest mistakes. The same love and compassion that makes us the brightest, most giving versions of ourselves also makes us into the most wretched and unforgivable versions. We cannot ever cut the evil cleanly from ourselves. It’s woven through everything we do.
And perhaps it is these morally ambiguous situations that we find it the most difficult to forgive ourselves for. When we can’t separate our good parts from our evil parts, we become paralyzed with indecision. We think that we’re helping the people around us by holding our volatile inner selves hostage but the truth is, it’s a self-interested move. We don’t want to come to terms with what we’ve done and so stay angry at ourselves as a means of disconnecting from it. I didn’t do that, we tell ourselves, some horrible, warped version of me did. We feel angry at that part of ourselves, in an oddly disconnected fashion. We let ourselves believe that we can so neatly detach from who we’ve been. Except we can’t. And here’s the uncomfortable truth:
You did something shitty. Something wrong. Something that every pure, well-meaning part of you wishes you could take back and make right.
Except you can’t. Sometimes in life, there are no second chances.
And that’s okay. It’s okay because it has to be.
The truth of the matter is, whether you’re a good person or a bad person is simply a story that you tell yourself.
You are no longer the person who did the horrible things that you did in your past – the mere fact that you are holding yourself accountable is a clear indication of that. But what you are now is afraid – that the person who emerged in you before can and is going to reemerge again. That they will compel you again. Take you over again. Wreak chaos on your life and your choices like they did once before.
And that is the story that you have to stop telling yourself – because that story is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That story is the muck on your shoes that you will drag through the homes of everyone you love until the day that you decide to get clean. By refusing to forgive yourself, you are telling yourself a story about shame and obliteration – so many times that it becomes the only one you know how to act out. It becomes the story that you bring into the future, rather than the one you lay peacefully to rest where it belongs.
The real reason you have to choose forgiveness is because it’s only the selfless thing left to do. Because by hiding from all of your darkness, you’re denying the world of your light. Of your virtue. Of the parts of yourself that are capable of coming back to life to restore the joy and the hope that is needed in the wake of your greatest mistakes.
When you let yourself accept all of those evil, unfathomable parts of yourself you simultaneously offer yourself the chance to evolve beyond them. To grow past them. To accept that you may never be the endlessly virtuous person you once considered yourself to be, but with the death of that idealistic self comes the birth of a realer, more capable one.
One who knows the their capacity for both light and darkness.
And who nonetheless chooses the light.