I’ve pondered the idea of being grateful about the sexual abuse I endured as a child at the hands of my father. While I’ve long forgiven him for his selfish thievery of my innocence, I still struggled with how this all ties in with the life I’m left. Now what? Am I crazy to think that I could be grateful to have been abused by him? The idea seems insane!
The three stages to healing
Until recently, I’ve always understood my healing to have happened in three stages: denial, grief and forgiveness. But I think I have discovered a fourth: gratefulness.
To understand the process of becoming a survivor of personal trauma, I will break down each stage and how it relates to my life. I’m sure these are all common things laid out in some counsellors textbook, but to me, I’ve lived them.
Stage one: Denial
Many of us will deny that trauma has ever happened in our lives. Realizing those deepest and darkest secrets from our past will create an intense storm of raw emotions, it’s best to put off feeling them until tomorrow right? When whatever excuse we made today has worn off. But tomorrow becomes today, and the cycle continues until BAM! your lifetime has flown by, and you’ve remained a miserable victim.
I’ve spent 20 years of my life in complete denial. I knew that if I ever came out about my abuse, my actions would dramatically disrupt my family. That kind of revelation would isolate me and I would need to build a completely new support system. But I never made preparations for that journey and I didn’t have any reason to. I was comfortable living a life of unresolved pain, even if it was breaking my soul and perplexing those closest to me. It was upon the realization that the only exit to my denial would ultimately be through my son that I knew I had no choice but to move on.
Stage two: Grief
After you get past denial and realize that you need to face the trauma in your life, grief settles in. Like letting go of a loved one upon their death, the grieving process of sadness, confusion, and anger settles into your life. Here’s where unfelt pain of the past is finally felt and it’s messy! In some way, you’re grieving the person you were to become the person you are meant to be. There’s never any comfort in this change, and often many people relapse into the comfort of denial.
It was just about ten years ago when I came out with my experience with sexual abuse as a child. Most of this decade of healing I’ve spent process of grieving. In the first couple of years, I became confused and guilty. Then as I sorted out my relationships with my family, I became anxious and depressed about my future. Sprinkled in there were feelings of anger, fear and shame. Somehow, in the mess of grief, I managed to forgive my father for what he had done.
Stage three: Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not about absolving the other person of the pain they have caused you. It’s absolving yourself from it. Getting control of your life and your reactions all come from deep within, and it all starts when you forgive. The thing about forgiveness is that it can sometimes overlap with grief. When you let go of the pain that one person has given to you, it can also release feelings of guilt, shame and anger. Over time, those feelings will subside, provided you resolve to remain in control over your reaction to each of those feelings.
It was when I genuinely forgave my father for his sexual abuse of my ten-year-old body that my healing really progressed. The human body completely regenerates itself at a cellular level every seven years. The physical body I use now is not the same my father used when I was ten. So, why hang on to that memory in such a painful way? Once I’d embraced the 10/90 mantra (life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it) things finally made sense to me. I took my reaction out of my feelings and let all of them them go. The memory of my abuse is no longer dark and frightful.
I’ve gone through the 20 years of denial. I’ve moved on with ten years of grief and forgiveness. I cleared the deck! So what’s next? It’s that longing for meaning in all of this that has had me genuinely searching for that answer. I am growing as a person, and I am living my best life without any baggage from the past, but what does 30 years of being a survivor mean to me? And does it have any bearing over me now?
Stage four: Gratefulness?
Recently, my father had left a comment on one of my blog posts. I’ve not spoken to him in nearly ten years as I’ve completely unattached my life from both of my parents. Even after years of navigating a police complaint against him and returning Christmas gifts sent by both of them and destroying cards and other letters sent in the mail, in true narcissistic fashion, he continues to reach out to inflict control over me. This time, his comment didn’t move me negatively at all. I surprisingly did not react in any way, and instead, after reflection, I realized something. I think I’m grateful to have Been abused by him!? Say what?
Dad here. You are a good writer -that is for sure. We were watching Christmas movies from 1990 to 2009. You loved Christmas and your birthday parties with the boys. The night of the
Keroki-we had a laugh. The one thing I seen a lot is that you loved helping me. We were good together. Why we were doing this is transfer vhsover to DVD . My god how you guys got older looking. We want to know if you’d like a copy -maybe 3 to 4 dvds.
Comment left by “Rick
nagle” on Febr uary26th, 2019
While most of what he writes
I’ve learned through his example, never to surround myself with people like him. And through my emotionally-felt experiences in life, I can identify people like my father in a heartbeat. What an amazing lesson to have learned so early in my life.
An authentic life learned the hard way
If it had to be a couple of instances of the physical act of sexual abuse that I had to endure as a ten-year-old, the exposure to pornography as a pre-teen or the continual sexual innuendos he shared in conversation with me to make me who I am today and not who I was yesterday, it was worth it. Yes, I paid the price of 30 years of my life, but here I am at 40, and I love who I’ve become. I still have a lot of good experiences to live, and I’ve learned to surround myself with only amazing people who are learning and growing right alongside me.
This version of me is the best version because of the work that I’ve done to eradicate the pain handed to me from my parents. I don’t hold them to blame for that pain; they didn’t know better. But now, I do. However, I do feel saddened that they live a life in denial like so many people around the world do. It’s a sad way to live. I’ve been there.
So, can I be grateful to have been abused?