How Forgiveness Healed Me

“Bailey, it sounds like you really just need to let things go.”

Letting things go has never been something I am good at. However, I am really good at remembering everything and have always kept a mental running list of people who’ve wronged me, my husband, family, friends, etc. Just picture Ryan Howard from The Office jotting down people on a notepad and you get the picture.

But with all these perceived “enemies” on my silly list, I became my own worst enemy.

I’m an Enneagram 3 (if you’re familiar with the Enneagram) so I have always been a dreamer and a doer. I’m very good at finding meaning in things and being in touch with my feelings and emotions. I can turn the saddest experience into the form of something beautiful and I love that about myself.

However, after running my father’s mayoral campaign in 2020, I became someone I didn’t know due to experiencing just how horrible people can be. I remember a few months later, my husband Clay made the comment “This person you’re trying to be isn’t who you are.” I should have listened, but I didn’t. I buried myself even more in cynicism and bitterness. 

As children, we form attachments (secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized) based on the environment we’re in and how we interact with our parental figures. We basically are constantly asking ourselves, “Is this safe? Am I safe?”. If a situation is safe, we begin to form secure attachments. If it is not, we become the other three kinds of attached: anxious, avoidant, or disorganized. In my situation, I was not a child (I was 24), but the best way to describe how I felt is I made the determination that I was not safe. People at their core were bad, and I needed to avoid them by shutting down any feelings I had. (To learn more about attachment styles, you can read here)

About six months later, I had a complete breakdown. I was two months away from my wedding and this breakdown was so severe that I struggled daily with suicidal thoughts. It was not that I wanted to die, I just did not want to live the way I was living anymore. I literally could not function and did not see how it could get better. 

I began going to counseling which was incredibly helpful. But about 3 months later, I began having all sorts of physical symptoms: migraines (monthly then weekly then daily), weight gain, fatigue, mental fog, among other things. I was ping-ponging back and forth between anxiety of fixing myself and depression of where I was currently at.

In May of 2022, I hit what I believe was rock bottom. I felt like I had already been at rock bottom, but low and behold, nope. There was still further I could fall. 

I remember I was sitting on the couch with Clay and I was looking at those “memories” that your phone will pop up each day. I was seeing pictures of myself when I was confident and felt beautiful and at this point, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt confident or beautiful. Over the last year of my issues from May 2021 – May 2022, I had gained about 30 pounds. That might sound like a lot or it might not, but for me it was. I’ve always been fairly thin and prioritized gym, diet, etc. I’m also only 5’4, so even 5lbs makes a difference in the way my clothes fit. While looking at these photos, I started bawling.

Clay began to pray fervently that the Lord would begin to show up. He asked for that night to be the night we looked back on as when everything began to change. We ended the prayer and went back to what we were watching on TV. This was a Friday and honestly, nothing miraculous happened that night. Or the next day. Or the next day. 

The following week, Clay was going on a mission trip (He is a student pastor) and I was going to stay the week with my parents. I got to their house on a Wednesday and the next morning I had booked a massage because my neck was killing me. The massage therapist is very much a believer in holistic health, and I was describing my symptoms to her. She gave me some suggestions and said, “It really sounds like you need to clear your mind and learn to let things go.” I was like, “Yeah, for sure, I’m in counseling and all that so I’m working on it.” When, in fact, I was not working on it.

The next day, I went to see a different OBGYN while I was in town hoping he could maybe help me figure out what the issue was. He listened and thought through the issues I was describing, and then he said “I want to do everything that I can to help alleviate your physical symptoms because clearly you are having real, tangible issues. But, I don’t know that we are going to find a ‘smoking gun’ of the root of them all. Personally, I would ask you to consider that maybe the root of these was your breakdown last year. Maybe a lot of these issues are stemming from mental health and not knowing how to let go.”

To be completely honest, this OBGYN was probably the best I have ever been to. He listened and demonstrated an extreme amount of care. It was so validating to have that. But I still left feeling like I was at rock bottom and no idea how to get myself out.

The next morning, I woke up and went to the gym. I saw my friend Alison and we were chatting about a book on inflammation she had gotten me. She asked how my symptoms were, I said they were the same and began talking about them. She said, “You know, it honestly sounds like you really just need to learn to let go and breathe. Don’t overthink this or convince yourself there is something wrong with you. Get back to the basics and what diet, exercise, habits, etc. work for you.” 

At this point, I was like, “Okay. I’ve had 3 completely different people tell me the exact same thing in the last 24 hours. I think God is trying to tell me something.” That same day, I took my journal and Bible on a bike ride down to the water and I began making a list, not of people who wronged me, but of people I needed to forgive. I literally wrote down every person and situation I could think of.

In that moment, for the first time in a long time, I actually let go.

The next few weeks I began to see progress in the issues I was having. I had energy and peace for the first time in years. I wasn’t struggling with migraines every week. For the first time in a year, I stepped on the scale and saw the number go down instead of going up or being the same. I was waking up feeling rested. I had joy and felt like 1,000 lbs had been lifted from me. I began to realize that my mental and spiritual health was the root of these issues.

I don’t mean for any of this to sound flippant or like I was new overnight, because I wasn’t. At the time I’m writing this, I am still in counseling and working through some mental health pieces. In addition, I’m having to make sure I’m doing all the things we know we need to do: creating boundaries for a better work/life balance, getting more sleep, drinking more water, eating a healthier diet, getting exercise in, etc. But, what I experienced is not uncommon when forgiveness is utilized: “Research has shown that forgiveness is linked to mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety, depression and major psychiatric disorders, as well as with fewer physical health symptoms and lower mortality rates” (Weir, 2017)

More and more studies are showing the effects forgiveness and spirituality have on our mental and physical health. If you would like to dive in a bit more, I would encourage you to read the articles here, here, and here.

To me, this is great news because anyone can work towards an attitude of forgiveness and experience healing. I share this season of my life because I have experienced first-hand the power our mind has over our body. Stress, anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, among other emotions can wreak havoc on your physical health and I don’t think we give enough attention to it. 

In addition, I’ve experienced the goodness of God and one of His “severe mercies”. I wish I had not had a breakdown or gone through a year of physical and mental pain. I wish there could have been an easier way. I also realize sometimes bad things happen and there is not a solution or antidote like there was for me.

But, when God intervenes, I believe we’re supposed to give Him the glory. And, when He doesn’t intervene, I believe we’re still supposed to give Him the glory. I know that I will experience many more seasons of pain in my life, but when we can’t see the good in the present, I think we’re supposed to look back on what God has already done and what we know He’s going to do. 

I don’t know what season you are in right now, but I want you to know that you are not alone. I want you to know that it’s okay to be honest and real with God about how you are feeling. It’s okay to express that you are angry, depressed, anxious or anything else. If you look to the book of Psalms, David expresses all those emotions and more to God. He already knows your heart, so I would invite you to tell Him. Healing cannot happen if you continue to stuff or bottle up feelings; healing only happens when you learn to let go.

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