When I was active on isurvive from 2003 through~ 2007, forgiveness was the LAST topic I wanted to think about. The abuse was too terrible and the aftereffects too pervasive for me even to CONSIDER forgiveness. After all, my abusers did not DESERVE to be forgiven. They deserved to suffer just as badly as they had forced me to suffer.
The problem was that without forgiveness, my abusers continued to hold power over me. I would think about them, and I would feel the anger, shame, and pain wash over me again. I grew angry as realized just how frequently I was thinking about my abusers. They already took away my childhood. Why should they take away my adulthood as well?
I made a life decision to stop feeding the bitterness. I had absolutely no interest in forgiveness, but I recognized that I no longer wanted my thoughts to focus on my childhood pain. So, each time my abusers would come to my mind, I would make conscious choice not to think about them (much less relive the abuse) and, instead, focus my thoughts on something else. I learned through an isurvive member that the term for this is shlemut. She said it was a Jewish term meaning that I was not choosing forgiveness or reconciliation, but I was choosing to stop fueling the bitterness so I could heal myself. The Christian term that is most similar is forbearance.
I stayed in a place of forbearance for several years (from ~ 2005 through 2014). I made a conscious choice not to dwell on my abusers or relive the past in my head. As new memories surfaced, I worked through those, but after I processed each one, I chose not to let them suck me back into nursing the bitterness toward my abusers, no matter how tempting it was.
In 2013, my faith grew enormously as I made the life decision to start my day each morning in quiet time with my Maker. I explored what unconditional love means … not the warped, selfish misrepresentations of love that I saw in childhood but real unconditional love. As I grew to realize how fully and completely loved I am by my Maker, my emotional wounds healed, and as I filled with unconditional love, it began to overflow to those in my life around me.
In the Fall of 2014, I felt led to begin praying over my abusers every morning. Let me tell you, this was hard. Even though I had spent many years choosing not to continue fueling the bitterness, I also did not feel “loving” toward them. However, I made the decision to do this … day after day, week after week, and month after month. And then, one day, I realized that I had forgiven my abusers!
How do you know when you have forgiven them? They no longer hold emotional power over you. If they come to mind, there is no twisting of the stomach or tension in your body. You no longer see them as monsters. Instead, you pity them because you recognize how emotionally wounded they must have been to do what they did to an innocent child.
I just had lunch with one of my abusers a couple of days ago … at my invitation. While I don’t feel “loving” toward her or want a relationship with her, dining with her did not hurt. I was no longer the helpless victim fearful of the person in front of me. Instead, I was an empowered woman offering grace to someone who does not deserve it, and I felt good about shining some kindness into the life of someone who had not been kind to me.
Does she deserve this kindness? Absolutely not. Nobody ever deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness is grace that we give out of the overflow out of our own healing. Enough pain has taken place in my life. I now want no interactions with anyone else that are not healing. I have not forgotten the many terrible acts she did to me, but those memories no longer hurt. My choice to eat lunch with her is not about her – it is about me being true to who **I** am and extending grace to someone who does not deserve it because my Maker has extended grace to me that I did not deserve. I am paying forward what has been given to me, and I feel so richly blessed to continue extended grace through sharing my story with you.
If you are not ready to forgive, that’s OK. This process took me over a decade to complete, and it might take you even longer. All I can tell you is that I know what it feels like to live angry, and I know what it feels like to live free. I choose freedom.
This summer brings us three important books — a cornucopia of information and support, more than we have had in the whole past year.
As far as I know, this is the only anthology of writing about healing by survivors and only the second anthology of survivor writings, period. The first one came out in 1995. Can you imagine! There had been nothing for almost twenty years and then somebody saw the need, responded to it, and invited others to respond to it. Hooray!
Ani Rose sees the book as a collective endeavor and honors each person’s point of view and voice. She doesn’t footnote, explain, or change wording, she just lets each person’s wisdom shine in words that come straight from the heart. Although the stories and poems and styles are very different, all twenty-one chapters have truth, hope, and courage in common. Each is inspiring.
You may recognize some of the names: among them are Wanda Karriker, Lynn Schirmer, Alikina, Janet Thomas, Ani Rose Whaleswan and Jean Riseman. Others will be new to you. You will find that they have every bit as much to say as the more well-known authors. Many of the entries are full of ideas I never thought of. Many are intensely spiritual and brought me to the verge of tears. All of them touched me deeply and will stay with me for a long, long time.
I’ll end by quoting from Ani Rose’s introduction.
“We have come far, and we will continue on – as we always have. May the real life experiences here inspire you with the knowledge that you are not alone as a survivor or a professional or a friend, and encourage you to continue on, to share your own stories when and where you can, to educate, to whistleblow and advocate safely, and to always remember that we are always stronger – and we are stronger together. A braver, kinder world is possible, and we are helping to create it, globally.
It is when we connect that we are strongest. Abuse is always about isolation, about power-over, about difference. But life itself, and living it fully (perhaps the best definition of “healing”) is about connection, power-with and what we all have in common.”
May you never again believe that you are alone.”