There are many ways that we cripple ourselves. Probably one of the most damaging is unforgiveness. Some of us have suffered things that are so horrible, that to forgive feels like we are absolving the offender. I fall under that category. I was severely abused in multiple ways by my father. It was systematic, and went from early childhood until I left home. Back when I was growing up, the term “child abuse” did not exist. So I grew up thinking that this is how fathers treat their sons — that this is normal.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30s (ed. note: I am now 58) that I realized what I had endured was not normal. I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol at the time. Because adult CAP members interacted with teens in the organization’s cadet program, I had to go through a training program about abuse. Part of this training employed a video program produced by the Boy Scouts. In this presentation, there was a segment describing the 10 signs of child abuse. I realized that, as a child, I exhibited 9 out of the 10 signs. The only sign I did not show was visible bruising because any bruised I might have had would have been covered with clothing.
I got very, very upset. I sought out the chaplain who was involved in the training. “Why didn’t they have this for me when I was a child?” I was close to tears. I felt betrayed by the system. For the first time, I acknowledged that I was abused, because now I had a label for my suffering. This also became how I saw myself. I really got in touch with my anger over what happened to me. I saw how my life was affected by the abuse. One might think that this anger was bad for me. While it is not healthy to have so much anger, I found that after living so many years as the victim, it was empowering to reach a place where no one was ever going to be allowed to mistreat me again.
Only recently have I been working to move beyond the hold my past has on me. The past month has been dramatic in its insights. Learning that I have Aspergers has enabled me to finally answer one of my biggest questions about the abuse, “Why?” While there is never a valid why for parents to harm their children, I did find it helpful to have a reason from my father’s perspective of why he might have done what he did. Knowing that my biggest childhood ‘defect,’ the rocking, was due to something beyond my control, has helped tremendously in letting me detach from it. In detaching, I now can see how difficult it was for him. Again, I’m not making excuses for him, but I can be a little gentler in my thoughts towards him. This was a huge step for what came next.
Four years ago, I was at an intensive 3-day seminar. It went from 9 am to 11 pm Thursday and Friday, and from 8 am to 8 pm on Saturday. In one of our exercises, we were asked to sit with our eyes closed, and imagine that sitting across from us was someone that we were angry at. Immediately, I saw my father as he looked at the end of his life, his body bloated from his cancer, sitting across from me. I truly felt his presence. I felt a benevolence from him, a true love and caring. He told me, “You can let go of the anger if you want. But if you need to hold onto it longer, that is okay.” There was no judgment, only love and concern. In that moment, I was able to forgive him. I burst out crying.
Ten days later, I wrote:
“I have felt so light and unencumbered. I am much slower to anger. I also feel a bit of disorientation. Something that was such a huge part of me is now gone. How does this define me?” I realize now that whatever work I am yet to do in the lives of others, I needed to get this behind me first. So I am now on the threshhold of something great. Forgiveness has healed my soul, and has put me in a place where I can more profoundly enrich the lives of others.