Black, White, and Gray

There’s a kind of comfort in the stark, unyielding nature of the black-and-white. Sometimes when you’ve been hurt, it feels good to cast the person who hurt you as the Bad Guy, to strip them of nuance and think of them only in terms of the pain they caused you. Sometimes it feels like it’s necessary, especially when there’s a part of you that still wants their attention, that still desperately seeks validation and approval from them. In order to silence that longing, you make a caricature of them in your mind: a two-dimensional cartoon villain so irredeemable that even the most naive and forgiving parts of you can’t possibly continue to want anything from them.

The black-and-white is a place to pass through, though; it’s not a place to live. It’s an in-between world we escape to when we’re hurting, a world where real people can’t follow – you go there alone, with only the specters and ghosts of the impacts others have had on you for company. Sometimes you need that solitude. Sometimes you need to give yourself permission to not care about other people’s feelings so that you can focus on yourself and on healing the wounds others have inflicted on you. Spend too much time there, though, and you might start to think that’s all other people are – the sum of the cuts and bruises they’ve given you.

Real people exist in their own realities, completely irrespective of yours. They are made up of more than just the parts you’re able to see and touch and interact with. To think otherwise is to walk a dangerous line: if you reduce others to only those qualities that affect you, then you have stopped seeing them as human and have begun to think of them as the supporting cast in your own personal story. You reduce your capacity to connect with others, and you reduce the size and depth and breadth of your own world. You reduce yourself.

Leaving the black-and-white behind and coming back to the real world lowers the emotional contrast and lets the gray seep back in. Reality and time both work to dull the edges of your pain. The person who hurt you is just a person again: flawed, imperfect, human; and so are you.

That black-and-white world might be necessary sometimes, but it’s not always good. We tend to be at our most hostile, self-centered, and irrational while we’re there, and since we’re fundamentally disconnected from others, we often hurt them without even realizing we’re doing it. Hurt people hurt people, as they say: the more we’re hurting, the more myopic we tend to be about the injuries we inflict on those around us.

If my life was a book with me as the protagonist, then this past year would be one of its darkest chapters so far. I didn’t just lose a relationship. I lost myself. I lost a community. I lost friends. I lost a sense of connection I’d spent a year trying to foster. For the first time since adolescence, I had the feeling that death would be better than the pain I was in. It’s been a really shitty half-dozen months.

I was very hurt, and I inflicted a lot of pain in turn. I’m not proud of that. But I’m also not planning to hold it against myself, either. For all the times I’ve forgiven other people’s selfish, irrational behaviour because I knew they were hurting, I’m also going to forgive my own. I deserve that consideration, if not from anyone else, then at least from myself.

To those I’ve hurt: I am sorry for causing you pain.

I don’t need your forgiveness, though, because I’ve already forgiven myself.

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