(Here Comes the Comeback – Danny Gokey)
It was only a handful of months after breaking free of the abuse that I first wrote a note offering forgiveness to my abuser. I wasn’t allowed to send it, so it sat in my folder waiting for the day I graduated and could send the letter. It was edited a little over the years as my writing style changed, but despite the fact that I graduated over a month ago, it has not been sent. Why is it still there?
Well…umm…there are actually two reasons.
The biggest one is that at the point of graduation I was very strictly in survival mode. I am proud of myself that I got at least most of my thank you notes written and sent out…and TBH there are still a pile of them on the floor in my bedroom. It kinda feels less embarrassing to just skip some people than to send them this late…surviving and sending thank you notes to people I appreciated was more important to me than sending a note of forgiveness to someone who hurt me so deeply.
The other one is that forgiveness is a gift that the pain in my life made it harder to give. When an interview topic comes to difficult interpersonal relationships, naturally the first thing that my mind encounters is the abuse. Besides the fact that it is probably not recommended to identify oneself as an abuse survivor in the interview, I wasn’t allowed to talk about that situation. Before I could come up with anything else (also difficult to label a situation as difficult when compared to the abuse), I was swallowed up in the pain of the abuse. Definitely worst in the one-on-one interviews in a big room as that somewhat approximates the primary setting in which the abuse occurred and in which any pause on my part was going to be interrupted with an expression of disdain, leading to even more vivid memories. I do think this is something that made the interviewing process less successful for me. Secondly, once I put more thought into it I realized that although I felt like “everyone” thought I couldn’t be a pharmacist, in reality while there were a few others who were a bit negative, she was the primary person telling me I couldn’t do it, telling me I wasn’t good enough, telling me I’d never make it and no one would want me…She said so many hurtful things to me, and while I was for a while able to not believe it and defiantly continue to follow my dreams to prove to her and the world that I really was good enough, not matching made the make believe go away and I was faced with the reality that she was right – I wasn’t good enough. As it turns out, I did get a job that is probably more high level than what I was looking for which indicates that I am good enough…even though the rejection and failure to obtain one of the ones I wanted still makes me feel inadequate.
So the grief is intertwined with the abuse, and the grief is something I still experience deeply. It is difficult to forgive when the wound is so fresh – like I saw on a quote somewhere once, “stop asking me to forgive you when I am still coughing up water from the last time you tried to drown me.” Actually, I think the quote used the word trust rather than forgive, and I think that is where I am getting stuck. I am so low on trust that forgiveness feels like trust even though I know that forgiveness does not mean that you ever have to trust the person again…I found a couple blog posts about forgiveness recently, and they spoke some truth into my heart…here are some key concepts. Trust is earned, but forgiveness isn’t. You can forgive without trusting. Forgiveness comes with healing. It is hard to heal in a warzone, so the first step towards healing is to run away from the pain. Forgiveness does not mean that others are not accountable for their actions or lack thereof, and it doesn’t mean we should let ourselves be abused again. It doesn’t mean that we have to take a victim role, nor does it mean that we ever have to get along with someone again, but it means that we are giving the right to take care of justice back to God, the only one who really ever held that right. Forgiveness doesn’t mean denying the reality of continued offenses, is not based on other’s actions. I don’t want to stay stuck in hurt and resentment, so it was a helpful reminder to read that forgiveness starts with a mental, not emotional, decision, doesn’t mean forgetting, and isn’t based on pressure to create acceptance. Forgiveness is for the benefit of the victim, which is why it is perfectly okay to not even share the forgiveness. Grace and forgiveness do NOT require remaining silent about the bullying and abuse. This is super important. I don’t think hiding the abuse as a secret does anyone any favors. Pretending it never happened just makes it easier for other people to get hurt. It is the powerless who need protection and defense yet too often it is the powerful who receive that defense and protection. This was the primary response that I experienced. I was powerless and expected to play the role of a lemming keeping my mouth shut and following along with whatever while the person who had so much power was treated like royalty. There was someone trying to reach me, but one against many is an uphill battle. Forgiveness does not demand superficial reconciliation and preclude justice. Superficial reconciliation brings only superficial healing, but true healing is messy and hard and may include the justice system and punishment depending on the transgression.
My mom recently reminded me of when I was a teenager who when told to call for a ride home from school when I was ready said I couldn’t possibly do that because I wouldn’t know what to say. Even when given one sentence to use I screamed and cried that I couldn’t do that and it was too hard…that is how bad the social anxiety was…I honestly don’t remember it ever being that bad even though I definitely can imagine how that must have felt…my memory of phone fear starts with only being okay with calling my parents and only when I’m alone and not being watched (yeah, my first cell phone could have been just as effective as a long-distance walkie talkie for the first few years I owned it)…but considering I was someone who by college couldn’t always use her words to say hi to her friends, I don’t doubt that it was true that I couldn’t call home for a ride…(although it is very possible that there are also other components of that story that my mom is leaving out such as the real reason I was struggling being that she wanted me to ask to borrow someone’s cell phone for that in which case knowing what to say to her on the phone was the least of my concerns…)…anyway, the point of that story is to say that although I have grown a lot in my communication abilities, there is one other much smaller reason I haven’t sent the note…when my stress levels are very high, my comfort with communication is decreased, and communicating with my abuser is one of the last things I am interested in doing, so actually sharing that forgiveness was a final stumbling block in the way of reaching the ability to forgive…it seems so silly to have written that note so long ago and not to use it, but forgiveness is not words on a page.