In some cases, forgiveness has come naturally to me.
In others, it has taken a lot of effort.
Forgiveness is a commonly used and encouraged word. In my experience, though, knowing exactly how to forgive isn’t so often spoken about.
But forgiving the unforgivable is one of the hardest, yet best, things that I’ve found the ability to do.
For years, I would panic any time I saw my abuser’s face or heard his name. And guaranteed—without fail, no matter how brief the thought or exposure—that night I would have the worst nightmares about him. I would wake up soaked in sweat and tears, feeling terrified.
Forgiveness was extremely necessary to begin my healing. But how do you forgive the unforgivable?
For a long time, I was unwilling. I thought forgiveness meant acceptance—and I could not accept what he did. I could not say that it was okay. It wasn’t until I read HeatherAsh Amara’s book, The Warrior Goddess Way, that I learned what forgiveness really is and how to find it. (I highly recommend reading it if you struggle with forgiveness.)
Amara taught me that forgiving doesn’t mean saying, “It’s okay.” And she provided exercises to practice. The one practice that stands out in my memory the most was writing out everything that I felt in a letter that I never have to send. It served as a way to confront him in the security and safety of my own journal, in my own home.
Writing “to him” about what he had done to me was step one, and it wasn’t even the hardest part.
Step two was challenging myself to see what happened and why from his point of view. I considered his influence, his state of mind, and the damage that had been done unto him, understanding why he is the way he is and allowing myself to find the gap between acknowledging and excusing.
Step three was to sit down with an object (I chose a teddy bear) and read my letter out loud to it, finishing with a tear-filled, “I forgive you, and I allow myself to release this burden that I carry.”
The day I did this was the day the nightmares stopped. I slept peacefully that night, and no dream I’ve ever had about him since has been as bad.
It’s been four years since I discovered how to forgive him. I am still processing. I am working with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) to release lodged emotions and find new insights. When he shows up in my dreams, I’m no longer afraid. But many times, stressful events will put his face on another’s, and other times, I dream of what life without the abuse would be like.
I still suffer from the affects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I still get triggered, and I am uncomfortable around men and sexual intimacy more often than not. The important thing is that I no longer live in constant fear of him. I no longer base where I go or what I do on “what ifs” about him. And I’m able to hear, speak, and think about him, even for the briefest moment, without it ruining my entire day and night.
It was not an easy process. I felt a lot of pain, shed a lot of tears, and I wrestled with myself quite a few times. But I am forever grateful to understand, now, that it is okay to forgive the unforgivable.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that I’m saying, “What you did is okay.” Forgiveness just allows me to release the grasp.