“Forgiveness is healing the wounds of the past.” Louise Hay,”Using the Treasures Within You: Embracing Change,” Audiotape.
“You will never feel loved until you love yourself.” John Welwood, “Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships.”
When I started writing my book on my sexual healing process, I was certain that “Ground Zero” for sexual healing was reclaiming empowered, embodied sexuality. While reclaiming my sexuality has been life altering, empowering, and wonderful, I am now realizing that for me, there really is more to this journey. I also realize that each survivor heals in his or her own way and that each piece of the healing process may come at different times/in different ways for each person. There is no template to follow in healing from sexual abuse.
Recently, I have come to believe that my new “Ground Zero” is forgiveness—for my perpetrators but more importantly, for myself. Let me explain.
As a sex abuse survivor, I did not do anything wrong—and I know that and always have. And yet… Sex abuse doesn’t make any sense to a child. The only way a child can reconcile what has happened is—at some level—to blame him/herself. The result can be a tragic loss of self-confidence, sense of worthiness, or even taking on the deeply held belief that there is something really wrong with us. Even worse: when we consciously or subconsciously blame, chastise or shame ourselves for being sexually abused, we disconnect from our own hearts.
For my own peace of mind, I have worked hard to forgive the men who sexually abused me and I know that I have in fact forgiven them. I truly have a sense of compassion for each one and their circumstances, as well as a sense of how each might feel upon reflecting on their actions so many years ago. That’s a heavy burden—it’s theirs to bear.
More importantly, however, is that until recently, I absolutely chaffed at the notion that I blamed myself at any level for being sexually abused, especially at ages 9 and 12. The strength of my denial was remarkable: I truly didn’t see it at all. When my denial system finally failed, initially I was devastated—dropped to my knees in agony. And I could see how—for the first time—for years, I had subconsciously condemned my sweet little 9 and 12 year olds for trusting two different older neighbor boys who were friends of my older brothers. As a little kid, I had no reason not to trust people who essentially were family friends!
I am so grateful that my denial system finally shattered—painful as it has been. Because when I could see how I had condemned my innocent little ones at 9 and 12, many important healings resulted: I could feel their pain over the violation and betrayal and I could let them off the hook for someone else’s hurtful, wrong and criminal behavior. This also enabled me to shift the blame to the perpetrators, where it belonged. As important I could forgive myself for blaming myself for being abused at 9 and 12, psychosexually abused and manipulated at 15 and 20, and date raped at 18.
My self-forgiveness has been utterly transformational. Directing compassion to myself, to my younger selves, and to the sad and confused inner critic that emerged from the distortions of abuse—has yielded a tenderness, deep compassion and understanding for myself for the first time ever.
It is hard to convey in words the power of self-forgiveness. What it most evokes is peacefulness and a sense of completion. Yes—this feeling of wholeness. An impossible sweetness as I recognize that I’ve come home to my heart. And it was there all along—whole, untouched—waiting for me to reconnect.
“The heart is itself its own medicine. The heart all its own wounds heals.” John Welwood, “Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships.”