80. A New Beginning

80. A New Beginning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

A New Beginning

Forgiveness is not something you do for someone else; it’s something you do for yourself.

~Jim Beaver

They say rape is murder of the soul, and they are right. Unfortunately, I know this truth all too well. When I was eight years old, I was raped by a family friend. My innocence, purity, and zest for life were stolen from me. The vivacious, energetic little girl who loved life and people instantly disappeared, and in her place was a broken, scared child who immediately became shy and afraid of strangers. I went from being a talkative kid with many friends to a quiet wallflower who kept people at arm’s length. I learned how to be in a room filled with people without anyone ever knowing I was there. I became a different person.

I wish I could say I immediately went to counseling and got the help I so desperately needed, but I didn’t. It was a time when sexual abuse was taboo, and few people talked about it, let alone believed it could happen in their families. My parents knew something was wrong, but I never uttered a word about the horror I had lived through, so they were clueless as to the enormity of what had occurred.

Like many children, I blocked out the rape and forgot the man who hurt me. Yet the effects of that moment were far-reaching and followed me into adulthood. I became so depressed that I put myself into counseling during my sophomore year of college. It took a couple of years, but eventually, I began having flashbacks to a time my mind had turned into a black hole. My mind did such a thorough job of blocking out the rape, I could hardly remember anything about my elementary school years. But with the help of two good counselors, I began to put together the pieces to the puzzle.

Although remembering was vital to my recovery, it was the hardest thing I have ever endured, even more so than the actual rape. Flashbacks aren’t like normal memories. They transport you back to a time and place you don’t want to be. Your body may stay in the present, but every other aspect of you is somewhere else. You can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel everything as if it were happening to you all over again. My flashback was so real I even felt the physical pain of being raped for days after I fully recalled what I’d been forced to endure.

With that remembrance, I was filled with the most intense anger I’ve ever experienced. Gone was the kind, peace-loving woman and in her place was someone I didn’t know, a person whose every waking thought was consumed with rage and hatred towards everyone I blamed for my pain—the man who raped me, my parents for being friends with the man, and God for allowing it to happen.

Suddenly, it didn’t matter what I’d learned from my parents and Sunday school teacher. I didn’t care about doing the right thing and letting go of my anger and bitterness, and I certainly didn’t care about forgiving those who wronged me. They deserved my wrath. I couldn’t go back in time and change what happened to me; I couldn’t make the person who raped me pay for his brutality; I couldn’t wish away the trauma of the past and present. All I could do was hold onto the emotions of reliving that terrible moment. It was the only control I had.

For a time, everything in my life seemed to stand still. I still went to work, spent time with family and friends, and said and did the things that were normal, but inside, I was frozen in time. I had hidden from the truth for so long, I was afraid to let go of the raw emotions the rape caused for fear it would negate the truth. I thought moving on and forgiving those who hurt me would be like an ostrich hiding her head in the sand.

To this day, I’m not sure what caused me to reach that conclusion, but it was one of the most profound moments of my life. I realized the thing I was so desperately fighting for—a semblance of control—was the very thing keeping me from it. Refusing to forgive my rapist, parents, and God was destroying me. It was stealing my joy and destroying my relationship with my parents. Even worse than that, it was giving a rapist even more power over my life than what he’d already taken. The first time he stole from me I had no choice, but holding onto my hatred and being unable to move on with my life was my decision.

Once I realized this, I did the only thing I could do. I forgave him. It wasn’t easy. It took countless hours of counseling, journaling, and praying, but in the end, I beat him. I won the victory over my rapist by forgiving him. He may have stolen my innocence, my sense of security, and my self-confidence for a time, but he didn’t get to keep them. The moment I made the choice to forgive him, I got everything back. Gone was the sense of foreboding, the fear that continually plagued me, and mistrust of strangers.

That day, I became a new person. I was finally able to move on with my life and get the new beginning I so desperately needed. And though that time in my life was the hardest thing I’ve ever faced, I learned a valuable lesson. Forgiveness isn’t weakness, and it doesn’t mean the one doing the forgiving has been defeated. On the contrary, it is one of the greatest acts of courage and strength a person can ever do, and when one forgives someone who doesn’t deserve this kindness, it is the sweetest victory one will ever know.

~Erin Elizabeth Austin

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