I sat on the chair, fists clenched, hot tears streaming down my cheeks. How could they do this to me? I was just a child! They took away my innocence, my sense of trust and security, my safety. They took away my ability to love and receive love. They took away my life. How could they?
In the days, weeks and months following my discovery of childhood sexual abuse, I was caught up in a whirlwind of emotions. My heart was filled with rage, and I fantasised about what I could do if the perpetrators were paraded before me.
These fantasies gave me an illusion of control, but in reality, there was nothing that I could do. They had gotten away scot-free, and I’m left to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Child sexual abuse possibly tops the list of depravity because it robs children of their basic sense of identity and intimacy. When the most private parts of a child are violated, they lose the ability to draw the lines that are required to manoeuvre around the world.
They face difficulty in creating and guarding their boundaries. They struggle to find their voice and assert their needs. They go on endless attempts to find someone who can help them feel safe enough. They surrender their will to others, because they do not think they could protect themselves. There is no end to the damage caused.
I won’t lie – I wanted revenge. For every time that they had laid their hands on me or made me do or watch things I shouldn’t be exposed to, I wanted them to suffer even more. Don’t I have the right to make them pay their dues? Who will repay me for all those years that were lost? How will I ever get back my childhood? Because of what they did, I felt dirty, worthless, and full of shame. Who can make me clean again?
The sad part of reality is that all these desires for revenge are nothing but fantasies. These monsters will never be brought to justice, at least not on this earth. They are free to roam the streets, while those they hurt are left to pick up the broken pieces on their own.
In my quest for justice, I became a prisoner of my own bitterness. My thoughts and emotions were consumed by hatred. The traumatic memories played over and over like a broken record.
My decision to forgive wasn’t for them; it was every bit for myself. While I can’t change the past, forgiveness allows me to re-write my future. I didn’t heal overnight. I still have to face the same demons. But it was the beginning of healing.
I’ve heard from other survivors that you can never forgive or heal. But I believe forgiveness precedes healing. Without letting go, I could not move on. I was powerless when I was hurt as a child; now the only way to get my power back is to refuse to allow the perpetrators to continue hurting me. And the only way out of that is to forgive.
Healing is a long process. I learned that I have to consciously decide to forgive over and over again. Sometimes I thought I’d forgiven only to find that familiar rage rising. I do not know how long this will take, but I’ll get there, slowly but surely.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. To forgive is a choice that I continuously make to cancel the debt, but I will never forget what had happened. The experience will always be part of the puzzle that forms my life. But I forgive so that the dark pieces will be essential pieces that complete my puzzle, and not just something I have to put up with.
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of forgiveness is letting myself go. Every child who has been violated will blame themselves for the abuse. Why didn’t I run or yell for help? What did I do to make them treat me this way? Was I a bad, naughty child?
In order to heal, I had to learn to forgive myself. I was vulnerable and in no position to defend myself. I chose to place responsibility where it should lie. I’ve never had a childhood, but I won’t hold it against myself anymore. It wasn’t my fault.
The perpetrators do not deserve my forgiveness, but I deserve to be free. I don’t need to waste more years locked up in the prison of my past.
Forgiveness sets the stage for my story of redemption. It allows the grace of God to be manifested through my pain. I don’t want to be someone who had merely escaped a tragedy; I want my story to be victorious. And it begins when I unlock my prison doors and step out into a life that was originally intended for me.
If you’re journeying with someone who has been through traumatic experiences, I hope that you will find the grace to walk through this path with them. While it is important to let go, don’t ram forgiveness down their throats. Understand that they have every right to feel angry and sorrowful. In fact, these emotions are essential for healing.
Recovery may take months, even years. But there’s no rush. Let recovery take its course. You may not understand what a survivor is going through, and you do not have to.
It is not an easy process, and I do not pretend to sail through it. I still have to face the anger and grief. Such traumas take time to heal. The perpetrators had meant to harm me, but God will turn it around for good. And wherever life’s journey may take me, I will declare that all is well with my soul.
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