I distinctly remember the first time I was placed in handcuffs (and every subsequent time, sadly) and how helpless I felt. I’d never felt such grave despair as I did in that moment and every instance thereafter. My will was over; the officer’s will was all that mattered and prevailed over mine. The handcuffs were in large part the deciding factor in that happening.
Although I was still in custody when we arrived at the county jail, when those cold, steel handcuffs were removed, my brain immediately calculated a sense of liberation — albeit not in its truest essence. It was certainly still enough to make me appreciate the little bit of “freedom” I had in being able to move my arms and hands as I pleased, even if my entire body was still being held captive. Yet, ironically, I cannot tell you how often I have picked up a set of handcuffs, slapped them on myself, and locked them only to soon find myself complaining about their severe discomfort and remarkable restriction. I’d be glad to explain.
Countless people find themselves continuing to carry shame stemming from their past — a past they rationally know they cannot change. For instance, many who believe in a religion that declares their sins are forgiven if only they confess them through prayer and humbly ask for them to be forgiven will readily admit that although they believe their Higher Power has forgiven them of their sins, they still have a hard time forgiving themselves. They “give it” (the burden from the past) away to their Higher Power, then time after time they snatch it right back. Why? Is it an attempt to retain some control over their transgressions, even though they intuitively and cognitively know that’s impossible? Is it because they feel they are not worthy of being forgiven and living without the burdens of their past? I don’t know. What I do know is holding on to past shame and regrets as though you owe them something is nothing less than staying handcuffed to them. If you allow it, the past has a way of constraining you in every imaginable way: careerwise, relationships, friendships, mental and physical health, and much more.
Similar to not forgiving oneself for past transgressions is harboring resentment toward another. We all know at least one person who can stubbornly hold a grudge for years! Yet, it is not the person (or people) he/she detests that is being harmed, it is the one who has chosen to carry the animosity. In all likelihood the other person has long moved on from the incident and doesn’t even have a clue that a grudge is being held against them, while the other person seethes day after day, month after month, year after year, not allowing themselves to break from the past and freely move into the future. This common occurance is tantamount to waking up every morning, grabbing the handcuffs off the dresser, and locking them onto your wrists as you attempt to get your day started. Can you imagine how limiting this would be if you actually did this with a tangible set of handcuffs? But is there really a practical difference between the limitations one is faced with when confined by physical handcuffs versus the constraints of metaphorical mental and emotional handcuffs? In fact, the argument could be reasonably made that metal cuffs merely limit your physical movement while the other kind impacts your life in every other meaningful way, having far more consequential and debilitating effects.
The past is the past for a reason: we can’t go back and relive it, change it, or erase it. But the present is also the present for a reason: we are meant to live in it, cherish it, and treat it as the gift it is. When we allow (emphasis on ‘allow’) our past to affect our present, which in turn affects our future, we are giving it far more power and influence than it deserves. The handcuffs we willingly wear that keep us bound to the past are only keeping us from the many promises that the present and future have to offer. Remember: forgiveness of others is not for their benefit, but for ours. It only harms me if I carry around the burden of bitterness, so I choose to relieve myself of that insidious grief by forgiving others as I hope they would me. Understanding that reinforces my need to let it go. Doing this ensures those steely cold handcuffs stay right where they are and not locked around my wrists — and my life.
In 2013 Martin L. Lockett published his memoir, Palpable Irony: Losing my freedom to find my purpose. During his incarceration, he has earned a Certificate of Human Services from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. He continues to tutor in the GED program at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon, and co-facilitates an impaired driver victims impact panel. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.