87. I Am a Survivor

87. I Am a Survivor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

I Am a Survivor

Forgiveness is the experience of peacefulness in the present moment. Forgiveness does not change the past, but it changes the present.

~Frederic Luskin

To My Uncle:

I’m writing this letter to tell you that I forgive you for all the things you did to me as a child. I don’t need to remind you what those things were. You already know. I have another reason for doing this, and that is I want you to know how your abuse has affected my life, both good and bad.

To forgive you doesn’t mean that I forget. That old cliché is such a lie. Once those memories are imprinted on your brain, you cannot erase them no matter how hard you try. I am a survivor, and survivors always carry with them the events and circumstances that brought them safely to the other side.

I had no recollection of your abuse for nearly twenty years. My mind completely blocked it out. It was having my own son that brought that forgotten child within me back into focus and I began to remember. I don’t know why my mind chose to block out what happened. But I truly believe my mind was protecting me, keeping those memories locked away deep inside until I had reached some level of emotional maturity where I could better deal with them. I have vivid memories of a happy childhood up until around age five. But from age six to ten or so, things are a bit blurry and I have entire blocks of time, years even, that I don’t remember much. That particular timespan coincides directly with the years that you came to visit us.

As a pedophile, you fed off our family for decades. I know there are others because I’ve spoken with them, and all of their stories are eerily similar to mine. I cannot imagine a more hurtful act than to steal the innocence of a child.

There are no words to describe the amount of pain that you have caused me. Your abuse has affected nearly every part of my life. I can’t speak for the other victims in our family, but I know that the emotional toll must be great, especially for those who, although very young, didn’t block out their abuse and can recall vividly the acts you committed against them. I know because they told me.

For many years I’ve battled depression and anxiety. I’ve tried various things to ease the pain, not knowing where all this emotional turmoil was coming from. Then after recalling the abuse, enduring years of helpful but painful therapy, and seeking God’s guidance in my life, I can look back and say that most of my life has been, to some degree, shame-based. And it’s all because of you.

Ashamed as a child because no matter how hard I tried, I never felt quite good enough. Ashamed of my changing body during puberty, then later using my budding sexuality by acting out with boys, and beating myself up emotionally for years because of it. Even now, I still deal with issues concerning body image, intimacy, trust, inadequacy, and a profound fear of failure.

I give that shame back to you. It is not mine. It’s yours.

Now for the good stuff. As hard as it is for me to admit, many of the traits that are deeply engrained in me to this day are, I believe, a direct result of your abuse and its aftermath. I have a strong empathy for others and can sense the emotional pain of others. I hate to see anyone suffer, which is probably why I chose to become a registered nurse. My career choice has been greatly rewarding. I would like to think that in the twenty-four years I’ve been practicing, I’ve helped in times of need to those I’ve ministered.

My mother told me that around age six I began to develop a strong creative streak and vivid imagination. I couldn’t do enough arts and crafts, and I would make up stories about heroes rescuing young kids from all kinds of perilous situations. That creativity and imagination, along with a passion for music, would follow me all my life. Several years ago I discovered the joy of writing. I am happiest when I am being creative. But it’s my writing that has truly been my salvation. It does for me what no amount of Prozac could ever do. And no one can take that from me.

I have a wonderful husband who loves me despite my many issues and flaws. He has stood beside me through everything, always encouraging me to do whatever it is I need to heal. He loves me even when I’m difficult to love, and he’s the greatest blessing the Lord has ever given me.

I’m also a better mother because of what I’ve gone through. I was always vigilant, admittedly maybe too vigilant, about where our son went and with whom he came into contact. We encouraged him to talk to us, no matter what the subject matter. And when he was old enough to understand, we talked about good and bad touching and what to do if anyone, no matter who, touched him inappropriately. We have an open, honest line of communication to this day because of the foundation we laid all those years ago.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to know that you didn’t break me. I am a vessel with scars and cracks, but God still uses vessels like me.

There is a verse in I Samuel 16:7 that reads, “…for the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

I’ve heard this verse numerous times over the years, but the power of that passage never really made an impact on me until recently.

It was such a random, uneventful day as I pushed my shopping cart across the parking lot of our local supermarket. I’ve battled with my weight for most of my life, and I was feeling especially “unpretty” that day because I had stepped on the scale that morning to find I had gained back ten of the thirty pounds I had lost over the past few months. My self-esteem plummeted, and I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to do my hair or put on make-up before I left the house.

After loading my groceries into my car, I got into the driver’s seat and turned the key. I caught sight of my reflection in the rearview mirror and I stopped dead. I pulled off my sunglasses and stared at the unkempt hair beneath my husband’s old baseball cap. I looked down at the sweatpants that felt a little tighter today and the ratty gardening sneakers I had on, and I felt that familiar wave of shame start to wash over me.

Then that particular verse popped into my mind and before I even realized what I was doing, I looked back at myself in the mirror and said, “God thinks you’re beautiful.”

I cried like a baby all the way home because, for the first time in my life, I truly knew what it felt like to be unconditionally loved.

That day was a catalyst for me. I am finally learning to love myself, and in doing so, I have come to the realization that I have to let go of all the anger and hatred I’ve had for you all these years. Only then can I be truly free.

I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. And God thinks I’m beautiful.


Your Niece

~Cheryll Snow

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