“Can you forgive your father?” the doctor asked.
I stared at him from my safe spot across the room. Was he insane? Why on earth would I want to forgive my father? How was that going to help me?
I entered therapy to be able to have intimate relationships, to be able to enjoy touch and touching. I wasn’t here for a revival, and quite frankly, I saw no value in forgiving him.
We never touched on the subject again, except for one time about four weeks before I concluded therapy. I had been through all the memories my mind had to offer, answered the questions I needed to answer and had found a great center of peace that I had never experienced.
We had been working on my phobia. It had been a good session and I was reflecting on the new life that was emerging from within me, how different I was from the first time I entered therapy. I was saying how I wasn’t sure how I felt about my father, more wondering aloud than posing a question. I wasn’t ready to use the word love and father in the same sentence, but I couldn’t use the term hate, either.
I didn’t think the doctor was even listening because he was filling out my bill at the time and seemed rather engrossed in the process. He surprised me when he asked, “Do you want to see your father punished?”
“No,” I said softly and almost immediately. “I think enough people have been hurt by this.”
And it was true. I had seen my sisters suffer for years and I couldn’t imagine how more hate was going to solve anything. I wanted my father to find peace.
I wasn’t ready to see then what I would come to realize as my salvation: It wasn’t my father I needed to forgive; it was myself.
You must forgive yourself first, for the laws of this Universe are absolute and inarguable: you cannot give what you do not have. I have come to understand forgiveness in this way: Forgiveness is an undoing…and I believe to be at the heart of all ailments. If we can learn to forgive, we can learn to live in peace.
ACIM states “Can you imagine how beautiful those you forgive will look to you? In no fantasy have you ever seen anything so lovely.”
I am not unique. There is nothing special about who I am, the life I have lived or the events I have experienced. My story is not new. It has been told a million times over, though the places and names have changed.
I am a woman who was molested as a child and took that trauma into adulthood. That trauma manifested itself into a life of fear and isolation, where touch became intolerable and terrifying, making relationships impossible.
I do not tell the story of how I was molested because it has no value. Hearing other people’s pain only contributes to more pain, and I have made a conscious choice to add love to the world.
Often times hearing other people’s stories about their traumas fosters competition and judgment. Thinking about my own story, I remember judging myself many times thinking, “What’s wrong with me? It’s not like I had anything so terrible happen to me like Sybil did. Why is this such a big deal 30 years later?”
But it was a big deal. It was interfering in my life. It was driving every decision I made. I was not free. That event had shaped my beliefs. And my beliefs had shaped my life. That would have been fine, and it was for decades, except I wanted something else. I wanted to be free.
Rather than lament about my past, I chose to tell my story. It was something I had never done. Putting words to something gives it power, and I didn’t want it to have power. But what I was discovering was that it already had chained me to a life I didn’t want. And that was the real power of not telling.
I had to first tell my story to myself with the help of a therapist. As I became familiar with it, as I took responsibility for my emotions, I was able to accept who I was, and I discovered something I had never expected to find: I liked who I was.
I recently watched He Named Me Malala and was struck again by the power of our words. This young lady risked her life to speak out against what she believed was wrong. The Taliban shot her in the head for daring to go against their ideology. But out of that event came a stronger, more determined girl who suddenly had a purpose in life. In her pain and struggling, she inspired millions of girls to stand up for their rights, to speak out against repression.
I have long believed that there is a purpose for everything. If you have experienced a trauma or life event, remember Malala and look for what it is you can do. What is the lesson you are to learn?
If you can answer that question, you will have found your purpose. And your pain will not have been for nothing.