“Until you learn to heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed into the future.”

– Iyanla Vanzant

Last night I watched Oprah’s Life Class: The Tour. During the program she gathered together with 4 of her Lifeclass teachers—Iyanla Vanzant, Tony Robbins, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Deepak Chopra. They discussed forgiveness and how to let go of the past.

During the live event, Oprah ran a world-wide Twitter poll and asked the question,” Are you struggling to forgive someone in your life?” 73% of the people who responded said “Yes.”

Are you holding onto a grudge?

Are you refusing to forgive someone who has done you wrong? In his book, “Let it Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven,” author and minister, Bishop T.D. Jakes says, “Unforgiveness unchecked becomes a cancer in our soul. “We think that unforgiveness protects us, but in reality, it really doesn’t. It poisons us, rather than protects us. If you think about it, forgiveness has everything to do with you and nothing to do with the other person.” The worst part of it is that instead of just cutting you off from that person, it blocks you from taking the risk of loving and trusting again. Your fear leads you into a state of isolation. You become a prisoner of your past, giving up your power to the one who has robbed you; not just of the moment that they violated you, but of your future as well.”

According to Jakes, unforgiveness is like a cancer of your soul, spreading and moving to every area of your life, poisoning everything it touches. Think of the ways it affects your mood, your energy, your attitude, your relationships, your family, how you treat other people, your ability to trust, your willingness to give and receive love. It all gets affected. Unforgiveness eats up your personality, your creativity, your faith, your peace of mind, your health and in a worst case scenario your will to live.

You may hold resentment toward someone in your past and whenever you’re reminded of that person, you will have a tendency to overreact. For example if you’re angry with your ex-husband, and your current husband does something to remind you of your ex, you fly off the handle and start reacting to your husband as though he were your ex. Guilty until proven innocent. Pretty soon you’re building walls around yourself to keep the wrong people out.

Forgiving Doesn’t Mean Forgetting

By forgiving others who have hurt you it doesn’t mean that you forget about what they did. You can’t forget about it. It was a powerful lesson that made you who you are. Forgiveness means that you willingly let go of the emotional ties that keep you feeling hurt and victimized each time you think of the person or remember the incident. You take back your power.

They say that holding onto old resentments is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die. So why do we do it?

We refuse to forgive and hold onto the past because we are afraid that forgiveness means that we condone the horibble things that people have done to harm us. Having been shaken to the core, we also really want to know that those who have betrayed us are suffering for what they have done.

I held onto my story as a victim for a lot of years. As a woman who has survived a great deal of sexual and emotional abuse, and a lot of tough times, I’ve learned that holding onto the anger and the hatred that you feel towards those who have hurt you, will only make YOU miserable.

For decades, I lived under a dark cloud of sadness, feeling so deeply ashamed of my body. I kept telling myself that this was my lot in life and there was nothing that I could do about it. I figured my future had been stolen from me by my past and I didn’t see any possibilities up ahead for a brighter future.

Everything about me screamed victim. My body language, my blaming, my tendency toward being a martyr. I procrastinated and put off and made so many excuses for not wanting to live in the present because I was stuck in the past. Enraged at being violated, I resorted to stuffing my feelings, trying to suffocate my rage. Because I believed that good girls didn’t get angry and express their emotions or were bold enough to ask for what they needed, I used food to tranquilize my pain. Now I realize that the forgiveness that I withheld and the anger and resentment I was holding onto wasn’t hurting anyone but me.

Loss and sadness is a natural part of life and most people are in the process of healing from some kind of hurt, whether physical or emotional. It’s our nature to try to avoid feeling pain. We tend to seek out ways to self-medicate that are most familiar.  My drug of choice was food. What’s yours?

Some of the things we do to distract us and escape our reality are:

Zoning out in front of the TV, eating a gallon of ice cream, working ‘round the clock, drinking the whole bottle of wine, popping pills, taking drugs, shopping, gambling, masturbating, one night stands, pornography, spending hours surfing the web, smoking, playing video games. Just a sampling of how we try to hide from our emotions.

To paraphrase the beloved 70’s singer, Barry White, “Too much of anything is not good for you.” Anything that you do as a means of trying to escape the way that you feel is like putting  a band aid on a broken leg.

But what do you do when you’re hurting and you just want to make the pain go away?

My Recipe for Forgiveness

In the process of writing my book, “Lovin’ the Skin You’re In” I went through a lot of grieving of my losses. After years of trying to cover up my hurts using food and blaming my fat thighs and curvy body for my misery, I realized that the problem was not what I was eating. It was what was eating me!

One day while standing naked in front of my mirror, I heard the old familiar angry voices in my head, saying that I was fat, ugly and stupid. In that moment, I finally realized that voice wasn’t mine. It was someone who had hurt me in the past.

My dad was someone who I loved deeply despite his inability to love me. I realized that in my unending quest for his approval, I had become as critical of myself as he was of me. In an effort to hold onto some small part of him, I had somehow become my own worst enemy.

As I began the process of healing, I realized that the reason my eating was out of control was because I was hurting so much. So much sadness. When I looked deeper into and explored that hurt, I confronted a lot of anger. As I took steps to deal with those angry emotions, that’s when my desperate hunger began to quiet down. Here is the 7 step RECLAIM system that I use myself and teach others. It’s helped me to lighten my load, so that I could let go, forgive and take steps to rebuild my life:

1. Take 100% responsibility for your life. Accept that your life turned out the way it did for a reason. You may not like the horrible things that have been done to you, or the circumstances you’ve faced, but they have made you who you are. Be honest with yourself right now. Be willing to open your eyes and see what’s in front of you. Start where you are. Then if you don’t like what you see, gather the courage to do something about it. Stop blaming others and realize that the power to change your life lies in your ability to make choices.

2. Embrace your emotions – Carve out some time in your day to listen. Meditate, pray or sit in silence as often as you can. That’s the best way to drown out the busyness of your life and tune into what’s really going on inside of you. Ask yourself how you feel about things. Are you really okay with what you say you are or are you just settling? Pay attention to your emotions. Face the truth of what you are feeling. Listen to the wisdom of your inner guidance, your intuition, God or your higher self.

3. Cope with your stress: Whenever you recognize that you’re off balance, angry, feeling overwhelmed, confused, sad, anxious, fearful or any other emotion that makes you feel out of control and upset, cope with your stress. Do yoga, meditate, get a massage, go for an acupuncture treatment, take a hot bath. These are all great ways to live more peacefully with fewer pills and less pain. As a Certified Energy Coach, I like to teach my clients an energy psychology stress relief method called Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. By tapping on certain comfort spots on your body while focusing or verbalizing what’s bothering you, you get a double whammy stress bustin’ benefit. It’s like getting a massage during a therapy session. In all the years I’ve spent in therapy working on my many issues, I wish I knew about it then. There’s nothing quite like EFT for working on forgiveness or anger. In a matter of minutes, you can melt away years of tears and find joy and peace where there was once only pain.

4. Love your body –It’s your body. Own it. Dress the body you have, stop waiting for the one you want. Go out and get clothes that make you feel and look good. Whatever size and shape you are, it’s important to love and accept your body in order to feel comfortable enough to live with yourself. Stop doing all things that are not honoring of your highest good. Remind yourself often that you’re absolutely perfect as you are. Then send love and positive energy to your body and think empowering thoughts. Reconnect with parts of your body that you may have long ago disowned for being imperfect. Touch and caress those parts of you that are still overweight and not exactly the way you want them to be. Get some massage oil and rub it all over, setting an intention to connect with yourself at a deeper level. Consider for a moment. What parts of your body have been lacking love? The next time you overeat ask yourself the following questions: What’s happening? How am I feeling? How have I overcommitted myself? You’ll quickly switch from blaming mode to being more compassionate.

5. Act to Attract: Clean house, inside and out. Do what you can and leave the rest to God, the universe or whatever other name you give your higher power. Go through your house and heart and make a list of everything that gets under your skin. Anything you can actually do something about to change your situation, do it. Don’t carry the world on your shoulders. Delegate responsibility to others. Dump or donate whatever doesn’t fit in your life anymore. When you clear your space of clutter, emotional, physical, spiritual and mental, you’ll feel lighter, more relaxed and free. This includes letting go of all past hurts, resentments and disappointments. Forgive yourself and others. To regain your self-respect, negotiate new rules. Set boundaries. Be willing to face rejection. Recognize that you deserve the very best. Know your deal breakers, and stand by yourself no matter what.

6. Set a powerful intention: Use the power of your mind to create and envision a better life for yourself. Spend time focusing on what you want your life to look like. In relationships, see yourself interacting with the important people in your life in healthy ways, enjoying their company and being happy. This can create a new point of attraction that changes the dynamic of your relationship. When you change the way you act, others will follow. Visualize your goals. This is the best way to create effortless change. As my dear friend and mentor, professional singer/songwriter, Jana Stanfield says, “Let the change begin within. “

7. Mastermind. – You are the company you keep. If you want to create more happiness in your life, spend time with happy people. If you want to learn how to love yourself more, surround yourself with those who have the ability to show love. Whatever you want to achieve, you can get there faster, by spending time with others who are of like mind.

These are the steps that have worked for me to recreate my life and help me to move past a lot of sludge in my life. Give them a try and see if they will work for you. As author, Jack Canfield says, “When you have something wonderful to focus on or look forward to, you become a happier person and your life becomes richer. And isn’t that you really want?