I once had a habit of making excuses for people.

How many times can we try and try again, hoping things will be different? Sometimes, the people we think are ports in a storm turn out to be the rips in our sail.

The truth is, most of us have precarious relationships with others where we find ourselves setting or accepting boundaries to maintain that connection. Maybe it’s an intolerable behavior issue or substantial differences of opinion. There are situations, too, where people grow up with devastating trauma. Family members have different outlooks about what happened, maybe even different experiences. One may still feel the agony of the hurt they or someone else caused in doing what they felt was right. Things said may remind you of the pain they caused you or the pain you caused them.

These situations are loaded for the simple reason that you care about these people. If you didn’t, you could easily blow them off and never have anything further to do with them.

And sure, it’s painful. You wish things were different. It saddens us that there was so much good, and we cherish the memories to the point of tears. We may wonder, Can we ever get it back? If we did, would it ever be the same?

What I’ve found is, when considering forgiveness in any situation, a critical thing to decipher is, What really happened? Sorting out what’s true and what’s not is more important than appeasing others who need to deal with their own wounds. Their place in the healing process is different from ours. Denial has consequences for both parties, so did we play a part in the conflict? If so, what was it? We can take responsibility only for what we contributed to the falling out.

Maybe the falling out stemmed from an argument, someone else’s meddling, or someone’s denial. Perhaps it was because of lies and fragile egos, smear campaigns, and the rush to judgment.

Whatever it was, for any kind of resolution, both parties have to come to the table with an open mind. There must be a willingness to walk hand in hand through that minefield together. It’s hard because, quite often, the trust isn’t there any longer. And you have to be willing to trust someone to do that.

There’s a difference, too, between reaching out and setting a trap. We can’t be condescending or aim to “win.” We have to be genuine and sincere, let go of any bitterness or resentment, and respond only from a place of caring and love. You can have so much love for someone and still have to handle your interaction with them like you’re holding a piece of glass.

There are no-fly zones in these situations. Believe me, there was a time I’d have flown my plane right into that restricted zone and not for a moment realize the potential damage I’d cause to the relationship. I’d gotten used to a cycle of being hurt and fighting back. Sometimes, we are blinded by rage, and we keep hurling it at someone, but we don’t realize they’re bleeding, too.

These days, I think of what I might say in these circumstances and recognize how it could go wrong. Often, I decide I can say nothing. Or I wonder how to rectify a situation or resolve a conflict, and every way I might think to approach it, I see a flashing red light, and it’s just no. Don’t. You can’t. There’s a need to tread gently, take care.

Plenty of people out there can discern these situations, I’m sure, but many of us had to learn.

No doubt, it’s wonderful when the resolution of a conflict results in mutual forgiveness and a starting point for healing the relationship. At the same time, we can’t allow people to deny the reality of what we experienced, and we can’t accept their spin on it if it has no basis in truth. We don’t want to hear the justification for what cannot be justified, or for the other party to minimize the damage. We can’t let them guilt or shame us into keeping quiet or making concessions.

Sometimes, however, their message is clear. Maybe it’s always been clear, but it takes a while for us to accept. Their words and actions have repeatedly shown us they are not in our corner. They may not be against us, exactly, but they’re not for us either. They don’t respect us or our boundaries. They’re not concerned about our feelings. Nothing’s ever truly resolved in a relationship like that, and nothing changes.

We lost this person long ago, and it has already broken our hearts a thousand times. Is this someone we ever really had or truly knew? We lost the chance to dysfunction, and not even obligatory love and commitment could save it. It’s reached a point where suiting up and showing up simply hurt too much.

It hurts to admit when we’ve chosen someone or something that isn’t right for us, and when we’re trying to fit where we don’t belong.

And, for various reasons, not everyone is in a position where they can simply walk away.  There may not even be a lot they can do to protect themselves or limit interaction. They may not be able to avoid participating in the drama.

Those of us who do walk away will often mourn what we couldn’t have. Some holes remain unfilled for us. Some stories will never be heard or told, and some scars won’t ever heal. We say goodbye with so much weight and with a burden too hard to hold. It’s more than sorrow. It’s grief. And you miss what you wanted that to be.

We can feel this profound grief even in walking away from people who weren’t that close to us because we feel like they should have been. Those ties were supposed to bind but didn’t. Instead, they turned out to be so weak that they broke a little more at every difference of opinion, each instance where we stood up for ourselves, or any time people looked at us and didn’t see themselves.

We certainly do a lot of grieving in life, and grieving does have its beauty. We can experience joy, happiness, sadness, and hurt; none are permanent states. These are moments that awaken us.

I’ve learned that the pain that follows in walking away is worth getting that toxicity out of your life. Even if they create a false narrative about you and make you out to be the devil incarnate, it’s still worth it. It will hurt less over time, or maybe it will always hurt a little, but you’ll be okay. You were brave enough to show up to this shitshow again and again. You tried to fit in. You tried to make it work. If it didn’t, well, love and acceptance await you elsewhere. In AA, I heard the slogan: You can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick. I believe that.

It’s important to realize we deserve to be happy. A few cherished loved ones are far better than dozens of people hanging on simply to make life difficult. We can’t fix or save everyone. We can’t always make things right.

To this day, there are people I’d love to drop a line to and ask how they’re doing or just to say, “I miss you.” One might ask themselves: What are safe topics we can discuss? Should we stick to a public forum in responding to one another rather than talking on the phone or by text? Can we support one another in ways that don’t involve us in their lives? I find these things helpful in dealing with others where caution may apply. It’s often the difference between reacting and responding. Realize you’re communicating with another vulnerable human being who likely has had their own trauma. They are not bulletproof.

As I’m sure everyone knows, you can love people to the moon and back even when your relationship with them is broken. You may forgive them and want the best for them while moving on without them. I’ve learned the best thing to do is keep sending them love and light, along with your inner hope for peace and the willingness for them to heal. I visualize it going to them in waves: I send you love. I wish you well. I wish you peace.

Sometimes, that’s all we can do. Even if you don’t buy into the “waves” thing, the exercise is intended to let go of any negative feelings.

Most importantly, though: We must forgive ourselves, as well. All we wanted was love.

*Excerpted from my forthcoming memoir, Grateful to Be Alive: My Road to Recovery from Addiction*

Heart/sand image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay