Forgiveness. Absolution. Amnesty. No matter what you call it, sometimes it takes a big person, and a big heart to muster the compassion to pardon someone when they have done us wrong. But forgiving doesn’t mean that we forget or that we condone what has been done to us. Forgiving allows us to let go. It allows us to take back what has been taken from us. It makes us whole again.
You believe strongly in forgiveness?
Absolutely. I think that when you hold on to something someone has done to you, when you’ve been wronged somehow, you give that person even more power over you. They’ve already wronged you, they’ve already hurt you. Now, you’re allowing their actions to control how you think and feel.
Do you feel like there is a limit to what is forgivable?
I honestly don’t. I mean, don’t get me wrong. There is a huge difference between condoning what someone has done and forgiving what someone has done. I think we’ve blurred the lines so much between clemency, and mercy and forgiveness and all of those things. If someone hurt my child, if someone did something horrible to them, I could never, ever, condone that. I couldn’t forget it. I couldn’t offer them or ask on their behalf for leniency, or even mercy most likely. But I could forgive their actions. They would still have to pay for what they had done. But forgiving them, letting go of what happened, would allow me, and my children or whoever were involved, to move past it. To leave that person far away and out of our minds and lives and hearts.
That’s pretty impressive. I don’t know a lot of people who could take that approach, especially where their family is concerned. But that is just a hypothetical, right? You have a personal situation where you actually did have to practice extreme forgiveness though?
I did. First let me just say if someone were to say, and I don’t even like to use it as an example, but God forbid, someone were to molest my child or something as horrific or even worse, I’m not saying I wouldn’t want every possible punishment coming to that person to be brought down upon them like a hammer. I’m just saying that I have to dig in and separate myself from that. From that hatred, and that feeling I would have of wanting to just tear them limb from limb. Because those feelings don’t punish that person. Those feelings only punish the person feeling them!
So tell me about the real situation you were in?
I spent a long time in a very abusive relationship. I was a prisoner basically. I was told what I could and could not do. Where I could and could not go. What I could and could not wear. Who I could and could not see. I was called names. Hit, kicked, pushed, slapped, my hair pulled. I had my clothing ripped if he didn’t like it. I had earrings ripped right out of my ears. Eventually, I had a knife pulled on me.
I know this is the obvious question with the impossible response, but why did you stay?
Threats mainly. I know a lot of people stay because they have nowhere to go or they’re scared or insecure. I stayed because I was told over and over that if I tried to leave, various people who I cared about would be hurt or even killed.
I am so sorry. That is awful. You obviously made it out of that somehow. What happened?
Nothing. Everything. I think one day my rational side just got the better of me. I realized that this person was a bully and a coward, and that he was never really going to have the balls to do the things he threatened to do. That he was only a “big man” because he was able to boss me around and control me and run my life. And that if I could break away, I’d take his power with me.
Wow. But you had to be scared though, taking that chance. Weren’t you?
I was scared. Not even really for me but more on the chance, the tiny chance, that he would make good on his threats. I would never have been able to get through that. But I can’t tell you how miserable my life was. I mean, I prayed for death regularly. I just figured if I died, his grip would be gone, the people I loved would be out of danger, and everyone could get on with life.
So what changed?
Honestly, I stopped praying for my death and started praying for his. You know just hoping that he’d get hit by a bus or something. There was one particular night when I found myself out with a friend, and I knew he was looking for me (no cell phones then), and I knew he’d been to my house. When he found me, there was no telling what was going to happen. I remember the sinking pit in my stomach. The fear and the panic that I was feeling was crazy. I think that was the moment that I realized that if I couldn’t get out of this, my life was over.
What did you do? How were you able to get out of it?
Well, that set off a chain of events that began with me simply telling him I was done. I’d never tried just breaking up with him before. It seemed way too easy. What would happen if I just said, “Hey, I don’t want to be with you anymore?” As expected, it didn’t go well. I was told that was not an option. There were a few months of back and forth. I’d try to hide, to get people to cover for where I was and what I was doing. I tried to stay with people all the time, everywhere I went. But he’d always find me. One day he found me alone. There was a struggle. I wound up breaking free and running. I was able to call for help. Once the authorities were involved it was a huge weight off of me. I felt so stupid for not doing that sooner.
Did you ever see him again after that?
Oh yeah. We lived in the same neighborhood and so forth. I mean, he really didn’t get in too much trouble for what happened at all. He was away for a very short time, but during that time I got a lot stronger. He still tried to intimidate me, just did it a lot more secretively. But, I couldn’t be bullied into going back.
Were you still afraid of him?
Petrified. I looked over my shoulder for the next 3 or 4 years. But not scared enough to go back to square one. No way.
So, this was several years ago, have you seen him since then?
Not in person, no. Not since that 3 or 4 year period was over. He’s on Facebook though. I mean, we’re not friends but I know he’s on there. I’ve looked at his page. You know how that goes. I know he’s out there. I know he still exists. But I haven’t had to be face to face, toe to toe with him in many years.
And you were able to forgive him for all that he had done?
You know, I think for a long time I didn’t. And it only hindered me. He wasn’t loosing any sleep over whether or not I’d forgiven him. He’d moved on with his life. He never even said he was sorry. He was not at all encumbered by what had happened. It was all on my head. I lost the sleep. I lived in fear. I couldn’t move on. I wanted revenge.
So what changed? What allowed you to go from hating and wanting revenge to forgiving and letting go?
I think time was a big part of it. Time washes away some of the sting of events that we hold on to. And I think finding people who liked me and loved me, and didn’t recognize me as a victim. Knowing that I had been a victim, his victim, long enough. And knowing that he could never make what he did right. So it was up to me to make it right. I let it go. I forgot that I wanted him dead. I forgot that I wanted him to experience extreme pain. I let go of the idea that someday I would act out my plan of revenge. I didn’t have one of course, but I figured if given the chance, I’d just make one on the fly. But that just brought me down to his level. He was ill. He had mental and emotional issues that he did not have a clue how to handle. And he took that out on me.
Do you think that by forgiving, you are no longer affected by what happened?
You know, it happened. It affected me because it happened. It changed me. It already occurred. You can’t ever take it back. Forgiving doesn’t reverse it, it doesn’t make it go away. It just allows you not to let it impact your path. It keeps it from continuing to affect you. Forgiving is almost never about the forgivee, it’s about the forgiver. It’s not like I walked up to him waved a wand and said “poof! I forgive you!” He doesn’t even know that I’ve forgiven him- or care is my guess. No, the forgiveness was 100% for me!