The Raw Hell of Vulnerable Honesty

Forgiveness is an empty word if you can't apply it to your own life.

by Dori Hartley
Dori Hartley
Dori Hartley

For the past two days I’ve been talking to myself in a thick Irish brogue. Why? I have no idea. I cannot blame it on the laryngitis that has claimed my voice, nor can I put it on the repeated viewings of Timothy Olyphant kissing assorted actresses. All I know is that, in my head, I sound absolutely brilliant.

I can’t identify myself as entirely altruistic when I say that — on occasion — I write so that others might have a voice. But the truth is, I am conscious of this vicarious ticket, and I welcome those of you who have come to feel as I do to ride upon my words and allow them to act as your very own. 

The selfish part is that I’ll be writing them anyway, whether you like them or not, because the feelings are there. And when you’re me, things like feelings can’t just sit in unopened boxes, flapping around like bats in the belfry— they have to take flight, as words.

Not all feelings are universal—in fact, some are uniquely characterized and seem way too personal to assume that there’s another damned soul alive who might feel as you do. But more than likely there is someone. After all, how many experiences boil down to some universal plea?

What does it mean?
Why me?
Can I be loved?
Am I a failure?
Am I worthy?

Then there are those terrible words like “forgiveness,” which only confuse, especially when we’re to apply the concept to our own lives. Why do they confound? Because we don’t really know what forgiveness means, its definition is so iffy, so uncertain, so “up for interpretation.” We look at our lives and there comes a time when all we see are our mistakes and the cruddy roads we took because of them — and we who have any backbone at all know that it’s time to forgive ourselves for being such imbeciles, for making such mistakes…but the forgiveness doesn’t come, does it?

It’s just another word. 

I’ll give you an example. I can’t take a compliment on my looks. I simply can’t believe you — but I won’t let you know that. I’ll just thank you and give you the respect you deserve for being generous with kind words. And if I’m in a particularly self-indulgent mood, I’ll even think you’re feeling sorry for me and overcompensating. And forget it if more than one person compliments me at a time. My eyes just delglaze over.

It’s senseless, I know this. And it stems from a deep insecurity that has only been reinforced by all the bloody mistakes I’ve made over the last few years. (Did you hear my Irish accent in there?) I simply cannot forgive myself for being stupid, and this manifests as me putting my physical self down.

Then there’s the universal plea, “How could anyone love anyone as revolting as me?”
And you think: “Well, what on earth makes me think I’m as revolting as all that?”
You then answer yourself: “Look what you’ve put up with. Look at the stupid choices you’ve made. You’re the sum of a thousand rejections, what else do you expect?”

And you look over all of your great traits, and you can actually see that they outnumber all the vile things you believe you’re the embodiment of, but it doesn’t matter, does it? Because you can take compliments all day and all night for the things you’ve agreed to recognize as great — but it’s the things about yourself you haven’t forgiven that will simply not allow the happiness to pass through.

And if you’re anything like me, you sit there, day after day, on an odd little pedestal that was put up for you to balance on, where you hear the most splendid of things said on your behalf…where you know yourself as someone so capable, so willing to make a difference — an artist, a voice.

And all these people love you, and compliment you. They tell you that you were the one they all loved once, that they all envied you your courage and nerve — that you were the most talented person back then and still are now, that your words move them to tears, that you never deserved to be treated badly, that anyone who could turn his back on you is a fool, they know in their heart that if anyone can rise to the top — it’s you.

And you sit. And you allow all this love and respect to reverberate in your mind and in your soul, and the trillion little affirmations bounce around, trying to stick, trying to manifest into one solid feeling, something real, something less abstract and more substantial.

But if you are like me, all you can say is, “If everybody loves me so much, then why is there no one here to love me?”

And you say it alone and if you’re lonely enough, you say it in an Irish accent.

“Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.”

– Sting  

Dori Hartey is an author, essayist and freelance writer living in Florida. Her novel, "Angels and Echos," is available at

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First Published Sun, 2011-10-16 20:47

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