The Lessons of Bitterness

I have worked with hundreds of people in the course of my life and most have just faded out of memory. A few have become my dearest friends. There aren’t many against whom I hold a grudge. However, there are two that betrayed the trust and confidence I held in them.

Over the course of a long and full life, we all experience betrayals. A parent, a friend, a co-worker, a lover, or a child betrays our trust or love or faith. First, we are profoundly shocked. Then, profoundly angry. Then, often, we become profoundly bitter. A permanent bitter taste.

How do I find my way back? After descending into the depths of bitterness, I finally realized that this is not the way I’d like to spend my life. I thought about the state of mind and heart I’d rather have. Then, I tried to face the realities of the unhappy relationship honestly, without discouragement or judgment, seeing my part in the problem. Even though I found I couldn’t forgive my betrayers at present, I set the intention to forgive them at some future time. Hard as it is to let go the angry clutching and holding of betrayal, I know the only release from bitterness is to forgive. It can be a long, long process.

When I was young, I thought that once I had forgiven someone, they would stay forgiven, but I found that in similar circumstances those feelings rise up again. It is as if that profoundly bitter experience creates a spiritual sensitivity that won’t quite heal. Sometimes I don’t even recognize that the sudden rush of anger in an entirely different situation is directly linked to an old wound.

I learned to ask myself “What is the first time I felt this way?” and I often uncover a connection to a previous experience. With this question, I recently discovered that angry feelings toward my co-worker have some of their beginnings in my relationship with my father.

Did that make forgiveness and release easier? Not really, but I have become aware of my own bitterness and begin to look toward a brighter future. I know I’d rather be happy and at peace about the people in my life and past. I am doing my best to face these relationships directly without discouragement or judgment, and finally I try, again and again, to release the situation and move forward.

In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing; a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window…my daughter in a yellow dress…the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learn to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy over and over again.

Barbara Kingsolver
from High Tide in Tucson


About Christa King

Christa King has a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in Information Resources & Library Sciences, both from the University of Arizona. In her public life, she is executive assistant to a department chair with the University of Colorado. In her private life, she is a poet, writer and editor, gardener and adventurous cook.

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