***As a follow-up and response to my two open letters to her (Part I & Part II), my friend wrote the following letter back to me. She intended it to be anonymously shared with my readers. I’m honored to do so.***
Though thousands of miles now separate us, you’ve truly earned the title of “friend.” You listened when I called, still shaken from a flash back. In fact, you took my story, one that I struggle to communicate sensibly, and whittled it into poignant, articulate language. You wrote my story down and helped me understand myself, and the abusive relationship that nearly destroyed my life, so that I can move on.
For years since I was abused, I’ve been hiding. I hide from “him.” I hide from anyone associated with “him.” I hide from the anger, self-loathing, and insecurity he tattooed upon my soul. Ironically, he’s probably not even thinking about me. Although I hope it’s not true, he’s probably moved on to abuse others and to continue degrading himself, while I am but a notch in a belt of many.
Because of this hiding, I also determined never to share my story, though I felt a moral urge to do so. Who knew? Maybe he would find out, maybe he would track down my family, and maybe he would wreak the revenge he promised when I escaped.
Then I told you my story. Weeks after I told you, I told a therapist. Then weeks after I told a therapist, I told about 130 people in one day. Damn.
A pregnant silence fell over the room as I spoke. One girl hid her face behind a jacket and peered at me with eyes that said, “me too.” Another approached me afterward and said her mom had escaped a similar man, but sometimes they too felt the pain return long after “he” was gone.
It was in that moment, and in reading your blog, that I understood the urge I’ve felt so long, even through all my tenacious hiding. Our stories of abuse must be told, somehow. It is for us and for those who listen.
I told my story to young people, aged thirteen to fifteen, right on the cusp of dating and adulthood. They needed to know the words I shared with them, and perhaps someone reading this blog needs them too, so here is what I said that day:
“When I was in college, I dated a guy who abused me. I won’t go into details because that’s not necessary. Abuse is abuse.
He seemed like a nice guy, and I took it as a huge compliment that someone was even interested in me. I was terribly insecure and had been since middle school. I was that girl who hardly spoke and when I did, it was barely above a whisper. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I didn’t really think I was worthy of respect.
After a short while of dating, he became abusive. Why didn’t I just leave? Well, I’d been taught to be “nice” my entire life. (Nice = Christian). I had no idea how to properly stand up for myself. I didn’t understand that sometimes you simply have to disappoint people. I thought it was wrong (ahem…unchristian-like) to ever displease anyone. I didn’t realize then that Jesus wasn’t a people pleaser. If he had been, he wouldn’t have ever saved a soul. So I forgave this guy, somehow believed it was my fault in the first place, that I was offering Christian grace, and believed that if I just did things right, he would never abuse me again. Of course, when you put a people-pleaser with a person who can’t be pleased, the former always looses.
This went on until I finally made the agonizing choice to escape. If I had stayed, I don’t think I would be alive today. Now, every morning that I wake up, every time that sun rises, I know that it is a total gift. I have a beautiful little family I love with all my heart. Life is beautiful.
Here’s the thing I learned from all that: All of you. Every. Single. One. Of. You. Is worthy of absolute respect. You are also meant to be a person who respects others. When I look at my own baby boy with my burning mother’s love, I occasionally think about that man. I think about how he was once a precious baby boy too. I think about how all evil men were once precious baby boys.
I understand now that he was never meant to act like he did. He was never meant to grow up and abuse and degrade people. He was never meant to degrade himself. Neither are you. Whatever ugliness surfaces in your heart, and it does from time to time in all of us to different degrees – that is not you. That is not meant to be you. You were never meant to be that person and you are meant to be respected. That is what I expect and demand for each of you.”
Friend, this is where your letter comes back in. You wrote about the priest who told me to pray for the man who abused me. I too have wrestled with those words. After I told my story, I finally understood.
The priest told me that when I struggle to forgive, I should pray for that man to have all the good I want for myself. In the four years since he said that, I always believed it meant I should pray for him to have temporal, material things. So I prayed that he has a nice house, a nice spouse, and a nice job. It seemed so hollow at times, but then I realized something profound last week.
What I ultimately desire for myself is not financial or relational security, its redemption and healing. Ultimately, I want to be the good, whole person that I was meant to be from the beginning, before the world’s ugliness tainted my soul. Now that is what I pray for him. I pray that he finds redemption (which means he must face his demons and probably some consequences). I pray that he becomes the whole man he was always meant to be, not the degraded, empty, wallowing soul I knew back then. This. This is what has allowed me to finally forgive. Back then, the priest also told me that I should somehow share my story. I never realized that forgiveness and storytelling would go hand in hand.
Thank you, friend, for opening this platform. Thank you for being an instrument of healing as you share your own story.
God bless you,