I was living a hell on earth. I had literally never been so miserable in my life (which is saying something)! The hellish misery went on and on…from hours to days to weeks. On a level so deep that words don’t form, I didn’t know if I was going to make it out alive.
Words we use to describe what I was experiencing include, “mental breakdown,” “hitting rock bottom,” “hitting a breaking point…” You get the idea. Notice the words, “break,” and “hit.” They aren’t fun words when you’re talking about your emotional and mental stability. Usually the major breakdowns we humans experience come after a prolonged period of what feels like unbearable mental torture. That was the case for me. My PTSD and the stress caused by reactions to my abuse disclosure finally caught up with me, and I couldn’t function anymore. I felt extreme anxiety ALL my waking hours…except for maybe 30 seconds when I first woke up in the morning. I would stare at food and be unable to get it from the plate to my mouth. So I ate baby food instead from those new-fangled spill-free bags you suck the fruit and veggies out of…or whatever. Turns out, those aren’t very fattening, so the pounds dropped away. Watching Winnie-the-Pooh movies helped distract my mind, but of course, those are for toddlers.
Anyway, perfect time to try to forgive my perpetrator, right? I mean, I didn’t have anything else to think about or deal with, so why not go ahead and forgive the one causing all this unnecessary pain?! The one who is NOT experiencing the consequences of the abuse, and for all I knew, was happily trekking about in the sunshine.
But alas, I woke up that fateful morning with a seven words inserted into my brain, as if by some outside force or Being: “Are you ready to forgive your [perpetrator]?” Well, good morning to you, too! Dang. Harsh, right?!
But there I was, lying on my back, enjoying those 30 seconds of relative peace before the horror story continued. And the words were unmistakable — almost audible and clear as shattering glass. I couldn’t figure out whether it was my therapist or God asking me, but in a since, it didn’t matter. My therapist was the person in my life at that time who most clearly channeled God’s love to me, anyway.
So I took in a breath, thought a moment, and said yes. I said the words, prayed the words. The words of forgiveness. Forgiveness even for abusing an innocent, sweet little girl. Oddly enough, it felt great! Really great. It’s like the 30-second period of peace was comfortably frozen for me, holding me for a bit. Like someone hit the pause button on my anxiety.
And then. Then that voice in my head asked about the other stuff: the more recent abuse by the same person. The abuse of being told you are making it up, that it didn’t happen at all, that you are the crazy one, the messed up one. It’s a heinous kind of abuse that will mess you up like none other. Forgive this, too?
No, I said.
Not even. Not interested. Not yet. Not ready yet. Nice try. Thanks for asking. Answer’s no.
Now this is the part where I’ll lose some of you, and where some of you will nod your heads in sympathy. I couldn’t let it go! The nudge to forgive even the recent jabs from my abuser wouldn’t go away and leave me alone! If you were raised in a Christian home, or similarly religious home, you’ll understand. Some of us emerge from our childhoods with seriously sensitive consciences. [Insert inappropriate expletive here] tender consciences! There is no escape! (Hashtag, christianproblems.)
Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. But believe me, the internal battle that morning was no joke! Hurt-and-abused-Anna versus hurt-and-abused-Anna-who’s-being-nudged-to-forgive. Wanna guess which “side” won? Yeah, I pretty much said, “Fine! I forgive that stuff, too!”
And it was truly a relief. Was that moment a turning point in my healing? Yes, I think so. Did it mean that I was miraculously saved from my anxiety? That I didn’t have to go into intensive treatment a few weeks later? That I never experienced again the dark thoughts of a desperate soul? I wish.
To be honest, life-shaping moments like this one remain burned into my soul’s memory, but exactly how they change me moving forward? It remains a mystery. I only know the journey I’ve walked over the last year and a half since that morning. I don’t know the journey I would have walked if I’d said, “no, no, and no” to that maddening voice. Maybe it would have been pretty much the same. Maybe it would have been really different. I just don’t know.
I like to think I made a good choice. I also think I would have been given many more chances to forgive. And because forgiveness is usually a process, every day offers a chance to continue to forgive, I suppose. Tune back in when I’m a grandma and maybe I’ll have something to say about that.