Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Terror of Forgiving the Abuser

I am an expert in forgiveness. I have forgiven so many terrible things so many times I couldn't even begin to count.

I learnt early in childhood that forgiveness makes me feel better, so from then on forgiveness was a practical matter. I forgave in order to feel good.

I forgave abandonment, neglect, rape, physical and psychological torture. I forgave being hungry, lonely, cold and dirty. Forgiving was my only way to remain sane. When hatred and despair sucked me down a black hole, forgiveness was the light that pulled me back out again and placed my feet firmly on solid ground.

Forgiveness disengaged me from the unbalanced adults in my life. It unhooked me from their crazy. When I forgave I began to be fully me again, vibrating in my own energy system, happy and innocent.

Later in life I began teaching mindfulness meditation with a strong emphasis on loving kindness, which has at its core forgiveness. Hour after hour, retreat after retreat, I spoke the words that in order to be fully free we must send good wishes towards everyone in our lives - especially the indifferent or difficult people. We do this not to pretend that everything is OK when it obviously isn't, but in order to process uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and then take inspired action to make things better.

I explained how it is possible to wish even very destructive people to be healthy, as in mentally healthy, free, as in free from nastiness, safe, as in safe from their own destructive behaviours. I taught that loving kindness was actually an empowerment meditation that can lead to very strong action, action that would be impossible when we're being drained by blame.

Compassion heals and creates powerful, protective boundaries. It is infinitely practical and never invites us to self harm.

It was compassion for myself first, and my father second, that lead me to report all the years of rape to the police. It was compassion that kept me from killing myself, or him, on the days when consumed with such thoughts.

And it was the forgiveness and compassion of loving kindness, coupled with meditative enquiry that finally popped the bubble of terror holding me back from forgiving my father completely. Loving kindness dissolved the final layer of defendedness around my heart and allowed me to let go of the past - for good.

When someone attacks us we either fight or run away. This is the natural biological response to danger. When we cannot fight or run away we freeze. Then, when we're safe enough, all the energy suppressed when frozen is discharged, and our energy system goes back to normal.

When we're cornered for a long time and/or this freeze response is a regular occurrence, it distorts into a 'fawning' or 'flopping'. This is where we become ultra complaint and subservient, or simply fall asleep exhausted.

Fight-flight-freeze-fawn-flop are all ways in which our natural impulse to survive negotiates danger. For me, thinking of this impulse to survive as having a biological, preserving, love at its core brings its movement into focus more clearly. Our innate self-love keeps us alive by initiating helpful responses.

When I was a little girl I forgave. My father attacked, I froze, reeled, then healed and forgave. He attacked again, I froze, reeled, then healed and forgave. This went on for years and years. Forgiving was how I cleared hatred out of my system and got him out of my head.

But there is a blurred line here - between forgiveness and fawning.

Alongside my compassion I was stuck in the fawn response. I tried so hard to pacify and appease him I had little sense of who I actually was. My personality was just a reaction to his insanity. My life was all about him - how he felt, when he was home, when he was away... I can see now how it was a form of Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages become consumed by and allies of their kidnappers. There was no 'me'.

Then I got away from him. I went to university and began melting the coating of defence away. During my twenties I loved myself to the point where the natural protective biological aggression, or fight response, emerged and motivated me to tell him to stay away from me.

In my early thirties I went deeply into meditation retreat and melted more and more layers. I went to the police and spoke out loud all the years of rape and torture. As I spoke the truth more layers fell away.

As I entered my forties I wrote a book about how I had healed. I found a spiritual community that supported me in feeling free and safe enough to consider forgiving him fully.

This was the first time in my life I hadn't imagined him coming to my house and shooting me. A pattern in my brain played it out day after day, year after year... could I hide against the wall under the window? what would I do with my dogs and cats? would he kill them first? would he come in the back door? would he hire someone to do it for him?

Then a few weeks ago I touched the core fear that was stopping me from letting go completely.

I realised that I was afraid to forgive him because I was afraid of going back into the fawn response. I didn't really know the difference between forgiveness and fawning. I was terrified of being under his control again, of being so passive, shut down and mummified that it would be all about him again.

This man was my primary caregiver throughout childhood and had treated me like I was worthless, like I was completely unimportant. I couldn't let that final barrier down or I would be opening myself up to that treatment again.

I meditated my way through all the fear, and the blurred line between forgiveness and fawning began to sharpen.

I knew it was time. I had reached the perfect moment to be fully free. This couldn't have possibly happened before now. Everything had come together, inside and around me. Even the day before would have been too soon.

I realised that I had never actually directly addressed him in all my years of healing. The last words I had spoken to him had been 15 years before, when I was 26 years old I had told him to stay away from me or I would go to the police.

So I sat down and wrote him a letter. It was a mix of my own spiritual insights about his actions and outlining everything I forgave him for. It was long, and I added to it over three days. I forgave the darkest of his actions - breaking my bones and trying to kill me.

As I wrote I felt, finally, like his equal in power. A grown woman, 41 years old, standing in front of an old man, speaking her truth.

I forgive you for... I forgive you for... it went on and on.

Then I sat back and read it one last time. I saw the fawning and fighting in it and realised that sending such a letter would perpetuate the very thing I wanted to release. I would be engaging in battle with him again, when all I really wanted was peace.

I sat back again and saw myself as the skilled meditator that I am, and said to myself, 'You know how to melt all this away'.

So I wrote a new letter.

I told him that before he dies I want to forgive him for everything that he did to me. I said that I hoped he would face what he did and make peace with himself. I told him that I was not opening a line of communication - that that would never be possible, but that from my end this was over and I released him to his own healing process and karma.

I posted the letter the next day and told some close friends and my spiritual group. I honoured the event by buying myself a beautiful ring. I felt so free and powerful, and also adrift in unknown territory.

Over the following days some horrible body sensations arose - the pain and numbness of the fawn response emptying out. I meditated my way through it. My sexuality fully shut down over the next two weeks, as I could feel his mind on me. I meditated though it.

Then, it was over. He was gone from my energy system completely. The sparkly ring on my finger a symbol of finally being myself and never having to submit to such behaviour again.

Now I am free of him it feels epic. There's so much space and possibility around. I can feel in my bones all the good things joyfully flying my way...

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