Note I say forgive. Not forget, nor excuse them. Not pretend they’re good. Not try and let them believe they were in the right. Just to forgive. I forgive them all; every single person who has caused me, my children, and children around me, harm and unspeakable horror. I don’t forgive them on behalf of the children – I can’t speak for the children. I forgive them on behalf of myself – a victim and witness.
And also, I’m not forgiving them for their benefit, but for my own.
Last night, I drifted to sleep to have nightmares about recently surfaced memories, and also about my babies, also about my younger sister. I had nightmares about overwhelming pain from torture, of being chained to a wall, of being so weak I couldn’t even lift my head. Of crying my eyes out as I held my forever asleep baby. Of screaming into my late girlfriend’s hair. Of running to protect someone, and being held back by my waist by an abuser, of my throat raw from screaming for them, my fists pummeling into the strong arms around me. Memories of silent despair, of sitting on my knees, just staring at the floor, tears streaming down my face, my arms limp by my side. Or the other kind of despair, curled up in a heap, hugging myself tightly and howling. I had nightmares about walking the streets at night, desperately looking for someone to sell myself to, to confirm my feelings of self-hatred, to numb me into oblivion. I looked into the eyes of children I will never see again. My body contorted and rippled with shockwaves from body memories. I felt the agony of being raped by a corkscrew and knife. I felt the cold terror which haunted so much of my life. I felt the agony of being forced to do things I would never want to do, but the fear of the other – worse – option left me powerless. I felt my hands softly combing a sleeping child’s hair as he slept. I felt the lukewarm, dank water from where we cleansed each other’s wounds. I kept seeing my number. My number which was my name, my identity. I heard the bitterly cruel and cold words, like knives cutting into my head and heart again. I had nightmares about being so detached, and so weak, that the only reason I knew I was being beaten up was the fact my body moved from the force. Of watching in slow motion as the punches came down, or the boot, then sped up to real time in the second of impact. Of being so detached that I didn’t even blink as the punches came. I remembered lying in bed, crying softly to myself, the weight of an entire world on my shoulders. I remembered the disorentation of being strapped to a chair, blindfolded, with no idea where the next physical pain would come from. Of looking into the frightened eyes of a sheep about to be ‘sacrificed.’ I dreamt about having to breathe onto the frozen floor beneath me, to thaw some of the ice, so I could sit without my skin sticking to the stone floor. I dreamt of imagining moths and pretending to write messages on their wings, in the hope someone might see them flying and read the message, and come rescue me. I had so many nightmares.
But I also dreamt of the children’s laughter, laughing with bruised and bloody faces, and our laughter was so stomach-deep and genuine and beautiful. I dreamt of giggling at my little girl. I dreamt of kissing my late girlfriend, and waking up in her arms. I dreamt of my friends today, their expressions just before they face-palm, their smiles of absolute kindness and humour, of the very silly memories we have all created. Of one friend racing down the motorway so we didn’t miss a ferry. Another going ‘err left or right?! aaahhhhhh!!’ and turning the car into some kind of zig-zag creature whilst re-calibrating herself. 😉 I dreamt of giggling our heads off at the back of choir rehearsals with two fellow alto singers. I dreamt of laughing so hard it HURT with one particular elephant-lover of a friend. Of the warmness in all my friend’s eyes, the moments of stupidity and hilarity, and also the moments of absolute compassion, of waking up from a flashback and someone instantly being there to hold my hand. I dreamt of friends talking to socks whilst putting them into pairs. Of friends who eat porridge for dinner. Friends who are so brilliantly sarcastic it’s hilarious. Friends who have some superhuman ability to just disappear on the spot, then reappear like a ninja again in a place which – defying all laws of physics – was considerably further away from where they disappeared on the spot. I dreamt of laughing over a relaxed meal in a pub. I dreamt of goodness.
I dreamt of everything which was so normal. Of what was such a constant normality in my life, and what has grown to become my life. Of so much horror and pain that once was. And of so much humour and kindness, that still is.
At about 5am, I woke up, as the nightmares grew too unbearable. My face was sticky and wet. I lay still, my eyes closed, and settled my breathing back towards something vaguely calm and normal. Then I went to the bathroom, to splash water on my face.
Then I studied my reflection, closely. My face was red and puffy, my eyes as full as ever. They seem to alternate lately, between full and empty. My eyes looked so sad, so heavy, and yet fresh and light by the memories of goodness, even those memories of compassion and laughter in the hell itself. They made so many repeated, and insanely sick, efforts to turn me into a monster. And I’ll hand it to them, they tried damn hard and I could see how – if I hadn’t had genuine friends and kindness around me – it could have happened. They pushed me to the point where feeling compassion meant feeling guilt, and feeling grief, and feeling fear and overwhelming pain. They pushed me to the absolute point where I genuinely wanted to forget all of my emotions. Wipe them out. Turn emotionless so to save the pain, god help me. A couple of months ago, they pushed me to the point where I hated, more than anything, my ability to be compassionate.
And at this point I was scared. I was really scared. My compassion was part of my values, of who I was. If I neglected it, I was neglecting myself, in order to survive? And I knew if I blanked out all of my emotions, if I turned the off switch on my compassion, I would be like a puppet in their hands. I would have no capacity to care, to feel guilt or sorrow. To keep the risk of feeling emotions at bay, I would just stay numb and empty, and do as they wish. And that is their exact method of creating the next generation of abusers.
And I refuse, more than anything, to become an abuser.
So then my next option was suicide, to escape the emotions. I would – and always will – prefer to die than switch off compassion in order to live. I will not put other children at risk for the sake of my mental health, or perceived sake of my mental health. After a tornado few weeks of attempted suicide attempts, whilst juggling being President of the music society, generally trying to think about a degree, and seem ‘normal’ to the outside world, I seemed to reach a point of being able to accept and welcome intense, mixed emotions. I no longer was scared of them – emotions can’t kill me, but I can kill myself. And I refused to be put in another forced choice situation – switch off and become one of them, or kill myself to prevent it. I refused to play that game. Life isn’t a series of binary choices.
I made my own choice, with the help and support of friends and professionals. I broke that cycle. They will never turn me into a monster. But they won’t kill me either. I have survived too much. And I need to show other survivors that there is a way out – you don’t need to turn in order to survive, and neither do you need to throw yourself off a bridge. You can be who you want to be; make your own choice, don’t play their messed up game and be backed against a wall. You’re stronger than them.
So I did. I chose to live, and be who I am.
I was and am still being blitzed by overwhelmingly horrendous memories. As the nightmares showed, the level of horror throughout my life is something of the extreme, however I am always aware it could have been significantly worse, and I am grateful that I was spared that much.
So last night, I stared at my reflection and realised there is another part of the cycle I need to break – hatred. I didn’t hate them, but the more memories surfacing, the more I could feel an inner rage firing up (which is healthy) the more I was risking leaning towards hatred, towards a lifetime of bitterness and asking ‘why me’.
But what good would hating them do? None. None whatsoever, at all, ever, none, zilch. It keeps the cycle going, gives them a hold over me somehow, will no doubt excite them and amuse them that they managed to get some part of my heart to turn black with anger and hatred for them. I don’t expect they’d personally be offended by my hatred, won’t lose sleep over it, but would be fuelled by it.
So again, I refuse to play their game.
I forgive them. Every single one of them, all throughout my life, who has personally caused me harm – whether physical or psychological – I forgive them. I thank them, for allowing me to meet so many heroic children, for giving me a fighting spirit I may not have had otherwise.
I stared at my tear-stained face, my tired eyes and body, with echoes of children screaming and abdomen tight with body memories, and I decided in that moment, that I forgive them all.
I pity them, I pity those who were stuck with the two-way forced choice situation I described and didn’t have friends to help stop them from drowning. I feel sorry for them. I do. I believe they were compassionate and kind, hurt, once too. But trapped against a wall without giggly memories of genuine friends to rescue them. Nobody was there to save them.
I pity those who are just inherently monsters. They will never know the real value and beauty that comes from stomach-clenching laughter. Of roadtrips in summer, with windows down, and music blaring. Of the joy of holding their child for the first time. They will never know the simple pleasure of leaving a pub, linking arms with friends, laughing and giggling, carefree for a few precious moments. They will never appreciate the colours of green on trees, of how the breeze touches everything and everyone. They will never know compassion – its gentle, unbreakable power, and the beauty it brings to life. They will never know trust as anything other than fear. They will never know how to live.
I pity them all.
The world needs more compassion and humanity. Hatred is something created; if I hated them it’s because they made it so I did. If I forgive them, offer them compassion, offer them a hand to hold should they ever find it in themselves to ask for help to get out of the mess they are trapped in, remind them of their right to be something other than a cold part in a vicious machine…if I do that, then I am living, and living as me. I will never condone what they did and do. I will never excuse them.
But I do forgive them. I am compassionate towards each of them, even the absolute monsters who laughed as I screamed. Who hurt me out of boredom. Even those, I feel compassion for. I feel sad they know nothing other than blackness, cannot imagine how heavy and miserable their lives must be, even if they themselves are not aware of it. They provided me with a hell, which contained heroic giggly brave children, an inner fight, the search for something better. As part of my recovery I have made some truly exceptional friends, heroes in their own right, by their ability to smile…make me laugh when everything hurts, and show me compassion for memories full of agony.
To every single abuser – I forgive you all. I urge you to seek help, stop what you are doing, and discover elements of life that every human being deserves to feel. Love, compassion, kindness, nature, laughter. Free yourselves from this system you’re trapped in. Get help, hand yourselves in, turn your lives around. I hope your heart doesn’t remain black forever, or that you remember your heart was actually never black in the first place, and you don’t have to be a monster if you don’t want to be. There is a way out.
To all survivors, don’t get lost in the two-way forced choice crap. Make your own choice, and LIVE.
I forgive them all. I feel compassion for them all. And with that, I had an inner sense of calmness fill me, as I stared into the mirror, and I gently cried….then slept…and woke up feeling lighter, reeling with pain from the memories, but more calm, more me, and more like I have broken another part of a vile cycle.
Compassion is our strongest tool, our strongest asset, and a beautiful core value. Keep hold of it, even if it hurts.
What they did was horrendous and horrifically wrong.
But, for the sake of my own heart, I forgive them. I have found the courage to forgive them, to let go, to strive for a better future which they are not a part of. My heart is now protected, my grief less crippling, my greatest kind of revenge achieved – simply that they no longer have a hold over me, and losing that hold over me did not require me to turn into a hate-filled monster.
Recovery is possible. For *all*.