Once upon a time, I got lost in a relationship.
I fell into the arms of an abuser and almost died.
And then, I got my life back when he was arrested.
I didn’t know who I was, where I was or even how I’d got to that place in which I was living with such deep, dank desperation and sadness.
I’d done things and behaved in ways I did not think were possible for me.
And yet, there I stood amidst the devastation of my life having to acknowledge the truth; I had become that woman who lost her moral compass and fallen into the abyss of abuse.
After his arrest, I looked around me and realized, I was lost. I had seventy-two cents in my pocket, a few clothes and my trustworthy Golden Retriever who had walked beside me for much of that journey. I had to find my way back to living without fear, to living with joy in my heart, and it had to begin with me.
I remember the morning after his arrest when I began writing in my journal for the first time in years. Since I was a child, I have always kept a journal. On the pages of my journal I could write without censorship. I could face myself and find where I stood in my life, regardless of the weather blowing outside.
While with him, I did not write. Writing is about truth for me and I knew my life had become a lie. His lies had become my truth and I was too broken to face it. So I did not write.
Writing it out to face the truth
That first breathless morning after his arrest, I wrote and wrote through my tears. The words poured out as I tried to exorcise the ghost of his existence and my revulsion of who I had become. I wrote of my horror at what I’d done. My disbelief that I could have believed him, have been so gullible, so stupid, so naïve.
And I wrote about ‘never’. “I’ll never forgive myself.” “I’ll never forget what he did.” “I’ll never be able to get over this.” The ‘nevers’ went on and on to the point I thought they’d never end.
My journal did not disappoint me. I had to face the truth. If I held myself to ‘never’ I would not heal. And I wanted to heal. I wanted to reclaim myself. To rebuild my life and to reconnect with my daughters.
In facing never on the page, I asked myself, “Is this true? Will I never be able to forgive myself for what I did to my daughters’ lives? Will I never feel joy again?”
And then I asked. “Is this what I want in my life?”
My answer was an emphatic “No.”
What I want could only be found through forgiveness
What I wanted was to live without fear. I wanted to live with love in my heart. And most of all, I wanted to reconnect with my daughters. During the final three months of that journey I had disappeared without a word and they had waited for a call from the police telling them that I had been found – dead or alive. They feared the worst.
When he was arrested, my daughters were thankful that I was alive. They were also justifiably angry. At 15 and 17, they did not deserve that terror.
I could not change what I had done. All I could do was ask for their forgiveness.
Forgiveness is healing
Forgiveness is a powerful tool for healing. To receive forgiveness, I had to be able to give it, without qualification or reservation. That meant, I had to be able to forgive the abuser. And, I had to forgive myself.
When I forgave him, I didn’t say, ‘you are not accountable.’ I didn’t forgive him to let him know I forgave him. I forgave him so that I would not have to hold onto anger, blame, shame or guilt. I forgave him so that I could be free of him.
Forgiving him wasn’t ‘easy’ but it was straight-forward. I have never spoken to him again since his arrest. To forgive him I continually repeated the words to myself and accepted them as truth. “I forgive you.” When the little voice inside me rose up and said, “But…” I reminded it that I had forgiven him and could not harbour resentments, questions or doubts. It was the only way to stop thinking of him.
Forgiving myself was more difficult. I wanted to hold myself pinioned to the sword of self-blame. I wanted to chastise myself. Berate myself. Condemn myself for having been a fool, for having hurt my daughters so much. But, to do so would have meant I did not believe myself worthy of my daughters’ forgiveness. By telling myself I would never forgive myself, yet asking them to forgive me, I was withholding from myself the very thing I wanted to receive.
I forgave myself so that I could be free
And so, I forgave myself. I didn’t qualify my forgiveness. I didn’t define it or limit it to specific events. I simply forgave myself.
I cannot give what I do not have. I cannot receive what I am not willing to give. To receive forgiveness, I must be willing to ask for it, and to give it.
I cannot change the past. I can forgive it.
And so I did. And so it is.
#fbf – Flashback Friday — I wrote the original version of this post in February 2006, almost 3 years after he was arrested.