As a survivor of several childhood traumas, I remained chained to my perpetrators for thirty-eight years. My perpetrators who were my stepfather and mother had stopped abusing me the day I finally broke free of the reign’s they had on me, which was the day I moved out of the house I was raised in, and broke off all communication from them. Unfortunately breaking off all communication from my stepfather and mother meant I broke off all ties with my brother, stepbrothers, stepsister, sisters-in-law and brother-in-law. The latter three never did any harm to me, yet I turned my back on them as I did my stepfather and mother.
Even though I had severed ties with my stepfather and mother, my mother managed to wiggle her way back in my life, at least for a short period of time. I never did hear from or see my stepfather again. I might have severed my ties with them, however they still owned me to the extent that I allowed them to rent space in my head for over thirty-five years. You see for all that time I abused myself worse than my stepfather and father ever did. How’s that possible you say? I’m glad you asked.
The one thing about un-forgiveness is that it keeps you chained to your perpetrators, and I had a massive chain keeping me attached to my perpetrators. That chain came in the form of negative self-talk, self-sabotaging, and only being able to identify myself as a “victim.” Don’t get me wrong, that chain also drove me to success, but only in the form of material things. If you were to pull back the veil of that success you would find a shallow, empty, self-loathing and fearful little boy.
I’ve always considered myself as a leader; successful in everything I have done and still do. This is in part how I controlled what others thought about me. As long as I appeared successful and as though I had all together on the outside, then you would not know how broken and tainted I was on the inside. When people would compliment me I would down play the compliments by saying things like; “It’s really no big deal, anyone could have done it.” “Great job today Randy” – I would point out all the mistakes I made. If I wasn’t doing things perfectly, I was a failure. If I wasn’t doing things perfectly my stepfather would beat me. Both my stepfather and mother would tell me how stupid I was and what a failure I was. I heard these words and experienced my stepfathers beating so many times, that even as an adult at a subconscious level, I was still afraid to disappoint them in fear of a beating or tongue-lashing even though all evidence was contrary to my thinking.
Matters were made worse by my drinking and drug use, which only fueled my anger and resentment. Eventually I turned that anger towards my undeserving wife, Cathy. In fact countless times, if Cathy tried to make me feel better when I was in a cycle of anger, shame, or depression, I would shout at her, “Don’t say a damn thing to me until you have walked in my shoes!” To my way of thinking back then, anyone who approached me with the idea of “forgiving, forgetting, and moving on” deserved to have his head torn right off his shoulders. I never believed it would be possible to my forgive stepfather and mother. I thought that forgiving them meant letting them off the hook, admitting that what they did was okay and that I probably even deserved what they did to me. I thought that forgiveness meant that I was the bad one all along. I thought that forgiveness was intended to make them feel better.
The reality is that forgiveness is the last key to total freedom and happiness. Forgiveness is about me. It is an entirely selfish act, which often can make the difference between survival and recovery. I still remember the day that I felt the first sense of what forgiveness could mean for me. I was walking out of my therapist’s office, feeling physically lighter, as if decades of anger and resentment had been a literal weight on my shoulders, sinking me deeper into the ground.
But wait, Randy! You might be thinking. You have no idea. My abuse was different….
We all have different stories. No two survivors have had the same experience. I may not know exactly what happened to you, but I probably know how you are feeling, not only from my own experience, but also from working with hundreds of survivors over the years. The metaphorical knives that wounded us in the past may have come in different sizes and shapes, but the wounds they left behind are remarkably similar.
Forgiveness is a process. You might start by forgiving someone verbally, but saying the words is not enough. Too often, we say the words because we think they are what other people want to hear from us. Or we believe the words express the “right” or “spiritual” thing to do. Verbal forgiveness can be a step in the right direction, but it’s not true forgiveness. It won’t free you from the pain you carry inside.
If you do the work it takes to truly forgive, you must do it because it will make you whole and happy, not because it’s the “right” thing to do. For me, the final step to finding true peace and happiness was through the fierce grace of forgiveness—the alternative to living in a state that I call “unforgiveness.” If you are having a hard time forgiving try this; forgive who ever harmed you just for TODAY. Worry about forgiving tomorrow when tomorrow comes. All you are guaranteed is this day, this moment. Do not let past harms rob you of the beauty today holds for you.