Thursday, January 20, 2011


Some questions came up after yesterday's post. How do you heal from those kinds of hurts?

It's a hard question to answer because I don't think it's the same for everyone. But here's how it worked for me. The first thing was that I had to really confront what happened head on. I couldn't just bundle it up into an "I was abused" package and move on from there. I had a lot of repressed memories and I had a lot of memories I just didn't want to acknowledge as being real. I had to bring those memories to the surface and face them head on and accept that they happened to me, they were real, and I wasn't just making things up. That was some of the hardest work I did. Facing those memories meant flashbacks at times, lots of tears, stomach aches, heartache. Thankfully, I was in a very safe place to be able to work through them since I was in a locked down unit of a hospital. When I agreed to go into the hospital program, I was serious about changing my life. I was serious about doing the work. I didn't know how hard it would be- but I knew I'd survived it once and would survive it again.

The next step was forgiveness. First, I had to forgive myself. Not because I bore any responsibility- but because I needed to recognize that I bore no responsibility. For me, forgiveness of self was my way of accepting that I was innocent and that I hadn't asked for it. It was how I came to terms with what had been done TO me.

Next, I forgave the people who were in my life in my childhood. Teachers, my parents, my family, my friends, people at church. All the adults in my life that I had hoped would know something was wrong. For a lot of reasons, I never told. For a lot of reasons, I didn't attempt to bring in an adult to save me. I wasn't angry with those adults in my life, but I needed to forgive them and recognize that there interactions with me as a damaged child were still filled with love and good intention.

It was hardest to forgive my abuser. But it was the most necessary. If I didn't forgive him, I would hold on to the bitterness and anger and hurt that he had chosen for me. If I didn't forgive him, the pain and damage he'd caused would continue to live inside of me. Forgiving him was my way of releasing him from me, taking back control of my head and heart.

But how do you forgive? That's where my faith comes in. My relationship with God was such a huge part of my healing. I suppose different people have slightly different understandings of forgiveness based on their life experience or faith foundation. I like the Wikipedia definition: Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, and/or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. Concluding resentment, indignation or anger. That says it for me exactly. I had to stop the ugliness that continued to grow and fester and brew inside myself. I was ruining my own life with the choices I was making because of how much that anger, resentment, rage, sadness, guilt, shame, ugliness was eating me up inside. My bad and hurtful choices were a way of letting some of that inside ugliness show itself. The only way to live an authentic, genuine, loving life would be to get rid of the ugliness inside of me. Trying to let it out in little leaks didn't work- and only caused more pain and hurt around me and inside of me.

To become who I was meant to be, the ugly had to vacate the premises. The ugly wasn't my fault- but I had to forgive myself. The ugly wasn't the fault of the adults in my childhood- but I had to forgive them. The ugly was completely the fault of my abuser- and to conclude the ugly inside of me, I had to forgive him. It didn't happen overnight. It didn't happen in the 2 weeks that I was inpatient or in the months that I was outpatient in the hospital. It happened in little steps and stages over the course of several years.

Maybe you're a survivor, too. Maybe you have done some of the steps already- maybe you've confronted what was done to you, what you survived. Are you ready to start forgiving? Are you ready to start concluding? It's a big step and it can feel so scary- I was so used to the ugly inside that not having it was terrifying. I spent years scared to death of life being good because it could only mean that something terrible was about to happen. It's taken almost 2 decades to get to a point where I truly know I can handle the bad stuff and that it's just part of life and I'm not looking for it at every corner.

And you can't do it alone. For me, it took God, my parents, professionals, a therapist, and some important friends. I was the one doing the hard work. But if I tried to do it by myself, I would have failed over and over again. God held me in the most difficult times of my healing. Whenever I thought I felt the most afraid, the most alone, I would pray and open myself up to His love and grace and realize that He was with me- not only at that moment but also when things were happening in my childhood and that He cried with me. I had my parents by my side- paying my hospital bills, coming to family therapy, hearing what I was willing to stop protecting them from. I had friends and teachers who sent me cards, talked to me on the phone to keep my spirits up, came to visit.

There are resources out there to help you. Contact your local United Way, your church, or seek out a non-profit in your area that helps. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Talk until someone listens. Healing is hard. But it can happen and you can live your own authentic, genuine, regular life. You deserve it and can have it.

A lot of people say they want to get out of pain, and I'm sure that's true, but they aren't willing to make healing a high priority. They aren't willing to look inside to see the source of their pain in order to deal with it. -- Lindsay Wagner 

 Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. -- Helen Keller 

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. -- Lewis B. Smedes 

 Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn't you - all of the expectations, all of the beliefs - and becoming who you are. -- Rachel Naomi Remen 

 There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with. -- Harry Crews 

 Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion. -- Buddha



Garret said...

I'm so frickin' amazed that you could put together a great post like this in so little time considering work, family and life.

This post simply confirms my previous beliefs. You.are.amazing.

Michelle said...

Somehow, for me, this song will always be about your healing.

Michelle said...

And also, you might know me better as the Queen of Cloth. Or Michelle. Whichever you prefer.

Eternal Lizdom said...

Michelle- I love that song. And my friend Ashli posted lyrics to a song we sing in church that stays with me all the time, too:

Unknown said...

I am so thankful that you were able to work through that process. It has helped you so greatly as you have continued on with your life.

noexcuses said...

You are an amazing woman! Once again, I am in awe of your courage and strength to share pieces of yourself with the intent to touch someone in need.

You came through loud and clear. God bless you, Liz!

Karen M. Peterson said...

I love the idea of forgiveness and a process. Too many people seem to think that forgiveness is supposed to be as simple as saying, "I forgive you." It's not that easy.

I spent a lot of time thinking there was something wrong with me because I had told someone I had forgiven them, but I still felt that burden. It took a lot of time and years before I had truly forgiven them in my heart.

Alison said...

The definition of forgiveness you posted interests me, because it doesn't indicate a sense of saying "It's alright what you did" to the person who wronged you. Perhaps that's why it's often hard for us to forgive, because we have that sense that we're saying to the other person that their behavior was ok. But your definition is simply to stop working up the anger or hate...I wonder if I could do it.

This was such a great post to give us a way deeper understanding of what makes you tick. I'm amazed that you can talk so openly about it--a testament to your healing.

C. Beth said...

Liz, I just now read both of those posts. I wish no one would have to be hurt in the ways you were. But I love that you FOUGHT for your healing, FOUGHT for your life (where "life" means truly LIVING.)