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On Bitterness and Forgiveness With My Mental Illness

Posted by Alexandra Van Rijn on

Written by Marie Bartz 
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a group of friends about “spirit foods.” We had exhausted the topic of spirit animals (I’m a fox jumping head first into the snow), and for some reason, foods seemed like they were the next best challenge.
One person was a deemed to be a blueberry pie, due to her sweet, classic nature, and another was a jalapeño popper because she is quite the firecracker. When it came time to give me my spirit food, one of the girls in the group chimed in that she knew exactly what I was. She said, “You’re like a 99% cacao dark chocolate. Like, you’re really, really bitter, but people like you anyway.”
Externally, I laughed at the comment, but internally (surprise, surprise), I was bitter about it. 
Was it my frequent use of sarcasm? Did I complain far more than I meant to? Did I come off as more of an abrasive person than I thought I did?
I joke about this moment from years ago and say that it was meant to be. After all, my name Marie means “sea of bitterness.” But years after having this observation about my bitter nature brought to light by someone else, I can’t help but think about just how right they are.

Some of my struggle with mental illness seems to not have a particularly clear cause.

While I have been upset by the unwelcome existence of depression, my negative emotions surrounding it have been, more or less, mourning the life that I wish I had. My frustration has not been directed at any one factor, but rather at my generalized state.
With my diagnosis of PTSD, however, I found my pain to be much more directed. In the beginning, I had someone to blame—myself. Through a combination of victim-shaming, gaslighting, and self-stigmatization, I truly believed that I was to blame for being raped and sexually & emotionally abused. 

Over time, one of my primary goals in the healing process have been to realize that it was not my fault. However, instead of simply lifting blame off of myself, I shifted to blaming those who had wronged me.

I do not mean to say that they do not deserve the blame. In this scenario, it is relatively clear where the blame lies. The difference is that rather than simply acknowledging the fault of my perpetrators, I began to harbor a bitterness and anger toward them.
How could they have done such things? Why did they do it to me? My life has been derailed, and I may never live up to what I could have been because of them.

But let me tell you, being angry is exhausting.

I was discussing this bitter anger with a new friend last Tuesday morning, and without skipping a beat, he enlightened me to a quote that hit close to home:
“Bitterness is the poison you drink hoping the other person will die.”
That stuck with me for the rest of the day. It probably will for the rest of my life.

I do not gain anything from harboring livid anger against these two men who have so terribly wronged me. They will not learn anything from my internal toil. This will not make my pain go away. If anything, it has given me a new form of pain to ruminate about.

I am setting myself back in recovery more and more every day by reopening my wounds and pointing fingers at those who cut me open. If I continue as such, soon enough I will be more scars than skin. I must find a new way to move forward. I foresee this being easier said than done. However, I understand that I must turn away from the path I have been following and blaze a new trail. Since bitterness has been so clearly not working in my favor, I believe I must take a radically different approach in proceeding: I must learn to act in forgiveness.

In this phase of my life, I hope to learn to forgive myself for the blame I still hold and to forgive others for the actions they have performed.

Though I have my struggles with the Christian faith, nonetheless I find C.S. Lewis’s explanation of the “love thy neighbor” commandment to be highly applicable in my journey to healing. And thus, in hopes of facilitating my forgiving healing (and perhaps yours as well), I leave you with this:
“‘Love your neighbor’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him.’ Hate the sin but not the sinner. However much I myself dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and be made human again.”
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity p.116


  • Dearest Marie,
    As your adopted 2nd mother I am very upset that you have experienced such darkness. I just want to be there to hug you and remind you how much you are loved. I have no words of wisdom, just wishes that tincture of time and good friends and family can help heal some of your wounds. You have always been an extraordinary individual, beautiful, talented and loving. Allow yourself to be bitter because those of us who really know you, see the sweet that is always there. I am here if there is anything you need.
    Love You!

    Lori on

  • As your loving grandmother, it is hard to read about your pain. It makes me want to tear someone apart. You are such a smart and wonderful girl. I hope you are feeling better. Aunt Cathy is correct you are a good writer.

    DIane BArtz on

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