Originally published on Levona.org, July 1, 2020
There always comes a time in your life where you can’t keep running anymore. And we all try to put that moment off as best as we can, but the truth is that when we finally face it, we always wish that we had faced it sooner.
I have been asking people about forgiveness for maybe about six months now... I wanted to hear their stories. I thought I was “doing some research” for what might be an upcoming blog post.
But let’s face it...The truth is that I was avoiding my own story.
So here it is. I’m offering this as a perspective. Forgiveness has been a very big deal for me in my life, and I can at least share my own experience. Maybe this will become part of a bigger conversation. Amen.
I make it no secret that I was raped at a young age - this is something I have spoken and written about many times by now. But I want to talk about forgiveness. And one of the reasons why I consider this story to be a good example of my struggle with forgiveness is because it was so easy to blame the guy that did it to me: I had been a toddler. I don’t think I could have been blamed for being careless, or dressing provocatively, or walking down a dark alley on my own at night. Not that any of these things could ever justify any rapist, but I just want to point out that in my case, even these ridiculous arguments were obviously out of the question. I think that I may “hold in my hands” one of the easiest scenarios in the world in which to call myself an innocent victim.
And that is where I want to begin.
I could have stayed a victim all my life. I had every justification to do so. I had had this nightmare thrown upon me, and I was the martyred saint. I was the oppressed. I had the right to be angry. I had a reason to be broken, hurt, and damaged for life. I had as much reason as anybody could ever have to cast the blame and the responsibility on somebody else.
But then… where would that leave me? Was my healing going to depend on somebody else, just as much as my original wounding? Am I doomed to be broken? Forever? Is this how I want to live my life? How long can I continue to live according to someone else’s dictations and actions? And did I really think that he could fix it for me, that it was so “up to him”? Even if he came clean, if he apologized, would that heal me? And even if he could heal it for me, how long was I going to wait around for him to do that?
In my experience, you can split forgiveness into several parts. Can you solve them all at once? Yes, theoretically, I believe that you can. But usually, that’s not what happens. And so, for the sake of getting something done, I am going to talk about it in parts.
The only part that is under my control is my own part. After being raped, I had the pain to deal with. That was now my pain. Regardless of where it came from, I had to deal with it. Even if the guy that did it to me came with good intentions to apologize, it wouldn’t make much difference if I was not ready to let go. That was completely up to me, and I had to deal with that pain. And so, how do I do that?
If I had to say only one thing about forgiveness, it’s that it is an emotional business. We can rationalize it as much as we want… I used to believe that there were two kinds of forgiveness - the one where you process what happened in your mind, and make sense of it, and possibly even “understand” the person who did it to you; and then there is the forgiveness that is in your body, where you clean the pain out of your guts. But I’ve seen enough of this, and I am telling you from the bone-filled closet of a victim of rape that there is no rationality involved. It’s all in your stomach, in your guts, in your emotions. It’s true that you have to “make sense” of it in the end, and that does indeed happen in your head. But that’s actually the last stage. You can’t start there. Anything that comes out of your mind when your body is still hurting - can be tossed in the trash. Don’t waste your time thinking about it. Worry about your pain. Worry about your anger, your fear, your sorrow, your disgust, your guilt. Whatever you feel. Your brain will make sense of it later.
If you are looking for ways to clean out your pain, by the way, they are in no shortage. Therapies, healings, modalities… I don’t think I need to devote time to that aspect of the process. Just open up your door and start looking. Focus on how things feel, viscerally. You’ll find a way to clean them out.
And after you heal your pain, you will find that what happened to you makes sense in a new way now. Your new point of view is likely to contain some aspect that didn’t occur to you before, or in the least, something that you didn’t fully understand until you healed your pain.
And that is the first part of forgiveness: Your own part. You don’t need anybody else for that.
The second part of forgiveness is that of the perpetrator: Does he or she forgive themselves? In order to find that answer, they must undergo the very same journey: They must deal with their own pain. They must come to terms with what they did, and how they felt when they did it; and if they do it genuinely, then inevitably they will also come to terms with how their victims felt. I, as a victim, felt the pain of my perpetrator. We shared a moment in time. Everything has a light and a shadow, and there are two sides to every coin. If you want to be forgiven, you must first forgive yourself.
And then comes the third part, which in my experience is quite rare: When both sides meet.
Oftentimes, one side has done their processing and they are ready for forgiveness; but the other side is struggling still. They may even still be in complete denial - a disease that often afflicts both the perpetrator and the victim. In times like these, you will know whether you have truly finished your side of the process. Because if the other person is not done, they will throw it back at you. And if your “house is still full of junk”, what they throw back will hit something in you, and that something is gonna get broke. Or get thrown back at them. So tread carefully. Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t try to heal old hurts with someone if you haven’t done your own homework. Heal your own pain first. Then we’ll talk.
And if you’ve truly healed on your end, and they’re not ready, then you should be capable of letting them go. You have healed your pain, and you have extended your hand for peace - and not for retribution. You have done your part, and you can rest. Let them do their own part in their own time - that is out of your hands.
But if you cannot rest, then rest assured that you are not yet done. Explore your pain again, and you will surely find it.
I want to add here that, even if I do consider myself to be wholly innocent in this scenario, the man who hurt me can still not be wholly to blame. He acted within a culture, within a world, and doubtless he was coming from his own pain - which in turn was not inflicted on him solely by himself. And so, one of the biggest understandings that I came to in healing my own pain was that I could view him more clearly, and see that he is, too, at least in an important way, a victim. That is not to say that people are not responsible for their own actions. How we choose to react to what life throws at us is entirely our choice. But there is always a reason why people do what they do; and even the most hurtful of hurters is, in the very end, just as human as I am.
After having forgiven him from my end, I have found that I now view other rapists as human, as well - certainly not in the sense that I could trust them with my life, but I do see their humanity, and their own struggle. I have been fascinated by the emotional symptoms of rapists, and I know that they can be hauntingly similar to those of their own victims. And they often feel completely broken, and unworthy of love.
If this is too much for you right now, by all means put it away for the time being. There is a time for everything. If you are dealing with your pain, then do continue to do so. I am sharing the later stages of my healing, and yes, these include forgiveness. I realize this may be very difficult for a lot of people to hear. But I am deliberately being very open about it. When the dust settles, our struggle is not to kill the bad guys. It’s to make peace with them. Look at where you are now, and worry only about taking the next step.
We have all been hurt by love, and we can all heal from it. That much I know, from experience.
Photo by Suliman Sallehi, Pexels