This summer, I was one of the few returning college students who wasn’t able to snag a job at the mall or the YMCA. With an empty bank account and hardly any friends back in my city, I stayed home on most days and instead threw myself into the work of getting back on track. The track of self-alignment, growth, and self-love.
As I near the end of my summer break, I have seen so much improvement in myself. I crack open my journal a lot more often. I’ve returned to the things I love: blogging, reading, and thinking. I’ve been working out (even jogging, which I hate but did anyway) and making fruit smoothies regularly. I did a lot of research on caring for my 4c hair, which I’ve grown to really love. Most importantly, I’ve opened myself up to the lessons and opportunities that come from being more mindful and introspective. A lot of great things have happened as a result, but I want to talk about the biggest and most instrumental part of my growth: accepting and forgiving myself.
For a good part of the summer, I put a lot of effort into suppressing the bad memories of freshman year. Whenever those thoughts would surface, I would either chastise myself for thinking about him, them, that or brush it off as something I had already gotten over (which was a total lie). I sometimes couldn’t believe how dumb I had been freshman year, so I chose not to think about it at all.
You won’t experience any true growth if you never confront what’s holding you back…and then free yourself of it.
While I was distancing myself, I also wasn’t confronting the roles I played in getting into toxic relationships and situations. For me, acknowledgement of that was going to get in the way of all this new growth I was experiencing. I was also avoiding thinking about it for too long because doing so usually led to sessions of extreme self-criticism about my naiveté and other tendencies that got me into bad situations. What happened was in the past, there was no point in rehashing the things that happened when I was already (in my mind) spiritually and mentally above that.
So, when my mind kept replaying freshman year’s blunders over and over again like a movie, I was confused. I thought I had laid these stupid mistakes to rest (silly, right?). My friends could probably tell you how often I texted them asking “why the hell can’t I let go of stuff?”
What I didn’t realize was that I was still a prisoner of the mindsets I used to have. I was living under an illusion of growth because I had yet to approach the one thing that was holding me back from becoming the person I had envisioned for myself. I was trying to skip to the part where I was already healed and emotionally smarter without doing the work necessary to get there.
Learning how to fully let go of past mistakes and bad situations has been the hardest part of growing this summer, but I'll get there
— smartass in chief (@lola_adewuya) August 13, 2017
Reading an article on Black Girl In Om (which is an amazing wellness publication that has been a huge guideline for me this summer) about forgiveness was a big turning point for me and the inspiration for this post. As soon as I finished reading it, I resolved to settle the drama once and for all within my mind. I pulled out my journal and finally came to terms with what I had been mentally avoiding eye contact with for months. I decided to stop beating myself up about the messes I had gotten into. By working through what happened, I also identified the problematic behaviors and perspectives I had that blew me the wrong direction. With all of this confronting and acknowledging, though, the most important part was having compassion for myself.
Forgiveness is an act of self-love and self-care that must constantly be practiced.
If you’re struggling to let go of something, it’s because you have not fully forgiven yourself and accepted what has happened. The idea of forgiveness has gotten a bad rep because it can often look like letting things slide or being okay with what happened. Maybe you think that if you forgive yourself for something you’ve done, you’re giving yourself permission to do it again. You feel like you have to keep beating yourself up about it or just pretend like it doesn’t exist.
That’s no way to live, at all. And, it’s actually hurting you more than it’s helping. Forgiveness and self-compassion is a key component to moving forward and away from the person you used to be. Once you sit down with yourself and say “Okay, this happened, and I can’t change that. I faced a challenge that I wasn’t really ready for, and I tried to deal with it the best I could. It didn’t go too well, and that’s okay. I know better for next time,” you can actually start moving in the right direction instead of living in your mistakes.
In the same way that you’ll never be in a healthy relationship with someone when you’re always holding what they’ve done to you over their head, you can’t expect to practice self-love while also never forgiving yourself for the mistakes you’ve made. You’ve gotta let go, hun.
So, when you’re ready to actually let go and move on, here’s what you do:
“Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped.”
This quote is a popular African proverb. It means you should look at what caused you to make a mistake rather than focusing on the mistake itself. This is soooo important because sometimes an internalized, toxic mindset manifests itself in many different ways. If, after every mistake, you just decide you won’t mess up in that particular way, you’re probably going to keep fucking up and you won’t know why. Doing this is like a game of whack-a-mole. Get to the root of the problem. Find the deeper lesson in the mistake, and you’re guaranteed to grow from doing so.
Internalize an attitude of forgiveness
When you forgive other people for their mistakes, how do you do it? What goes through your mind? Usually, you come from a place of understanding. You don’t make excuses, but you do try to see things with reason. You put yourself in their shoes and try to see how they might have been feeling at the time. Maybe you remind yourself that they are actually a good person and that they are not made up of solely of their mistakes. You might also realize that their mistake came from a place of unawareness or not knowing better. So, you forgive them. Do the same for yourself. You deserve to be approached with grace and compassion when you mess up.
Start loving every dimension of you
One of my favorite songs is Lonely by Jamila Woods. She sings, “I could be crazy, but my crazy is my own.” I smile a little every time I hear it because to me that’s self-love in its purest form. It’s loving yourself not despite your craziness but with all of those crazy parts of you. When you begin to appreciate the nuances of your soul and see all the beauty and good inside you, it becomes easier to practice self-love, and even easier to forgive yourself when you aren’t always perfect.
Forget what you could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve done and focus on what you can, should, and will do
This is really where I got stuck. I’m the type to replay arguments back in my head on a loop with what I would’ve said instead. It was really hard for me not to wish I was someone else–someone who would’ve done better or known exactly what to do in the situation. The answer is always clear after the fact, though.
I had to train myself to stop sitting in the past and use what I’d learned to control my future. I took all of those thoughts about what I should’ve done and created an action plan for what I could do in the future. Doing this allowed me to finally keep those negative thoughts about myself from resurfacing. I accepted that I didn’t know back then, but I know now and that’s what really matters. Growth manifests in how you act moving forward.
Friendly Reminder: Growth is not a place you get to where you become completely perfect.
To end this, I need to also discuss the common misconception of “growth”and why it often causes us to be so unforgiving of ourselves and actually holds us back.
In today’s society, especially within our generation, we don’t treat mistakes kindly. If you aren’t #woke from the day you came into the world and slip up in any way, media can be punishing. And, with this new trend of growth and self-love and spiritual awareness and higher levels of consciousness (the list goes on), the mistakes we make on this journey are not talked about enough. It’s easy for people to hype up how they’ve totally figured themselves out and how everything is just falling into place because they’re aligned with the universe. We want to appear perfect. But mistakes do happen. Even for the most spiritually elevated and one-with-themselves people. We all fuck up because there’s always more to learn. Don’t let the illusion of linear growth on social media trick you.
Growth doesn’t reset if you mess up along the way either.
If you’re feeling like you must not have grown at all when you make a mistake, you’re looking at things wrong. “Growth” does not imply that there’s an end line. You don’t do a couple meditation sessions and some light introspection and then ta-da you’re perfect! Just like self-love, growing is a practice. You’re in a constant state of seeking to learn more, to achieve a deeper understanding of the self and your world, and discovering new ways to thrive and find peace within yourself. As a being that is dynamic, this journey is not going to be a straight path in any form. And the goal is not to become perfect. Sometimes even acknowledging that you made a mistake is growth in itself.
It doesn’t mean you haven’t grown at all if you make a mistake that is reminiscent of your past. Give yourself credit for trying. You are the sole validator of your experiences and journey. Be honest with yourself, but don’t allow your perception of who you are and who you’re becoming to be controlled by the small fuck ups you have.
“Self-love is not an achievement. It’s a practice. A tedious and difficult practice. It’s easy to love yourself when you’re coasting, when you’re not in emotional pain, when you’re not fucking up.
It’s when we fuck up, when we’re distressed, when we experience scarcity, when things hurt so much it’s damn near impossible to breathe that it is most important to have a practice of self-love, of self-compassion, of nurture, of forgiveness.”
–Black Girl In Om