“I forgive you.”
That is one of the hardest things to say to someone who has hurt you. But healing can only take hold with forgiveness. Without it the pain will turn into bitterness and destroy who you really are. In time, you know forgiveness is needed. However, knowing what you need to do and actually letting go is a long, difficult road to travel.
Forgiveness is even harder to give if the other person never asks for it, but that is my story. Not of the horrors I endured, but the strength I gained on my journey to healing. I chose to forgive him, letting go of the overwhelming hate and anger I felt every day. Seems so easy to type that out, but that last sentence was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Forgiveness is divine, and I did not get there on my own. My faith, combined with a broken but trusting heart, gave me the power to overcome. I found peace and joy at the end of the road. But to appreciate my story’s end, you have to know where it began. (I will only be referring to the person as “he/him/his”.)
For four years, I was trapped in an abusive relationship. In the beginning, he was the perfect gentleman, but that slowly descended into emotional, mental, and physical abuse. When I look back at that time in my life I don’t see me. I see a hollowed out version of myself, empty and trapped. Like being tied up in complete darkness but not fighting to get free. It feels surreal to think back to that time when I was in his shadow, bracing to protect myself and praying it would be over soon. In those dark and terrifying moments, I would remember a song my mother would sing: “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. In a nutshell, that song tells about the Lord’s love for things that the world deems unworthy or insignificant. It was a song that spoke deeply to my soul when I needed it most, because he made me feel like I was less than nothing. It brought me comfort and hope.
“You need to get out.” Those words came from my Christian therapist that he was paying for me to go to because there was “something wrong” with me. Yes, you read that right. He was paying for me to go to a therapist to fix me, because as he put it, “You made me do this to you.” Little did he know that would be his undoing. With very little effort, he convinced me to go, and I went every week just to make him happy. I never told her what he did physically, because I was terrified of what he would do if he found out, but I eventually told her the things he said to me. After a few months, she bluntly said, “I believe you are in a highly toxic and dangerous relationship. You need to get out.”
I was shocked. I hid this from everyone, so to hear someone be that direct caught me off guard. The realization of the relationship I was in hit me like a ton of bricks, and I wept in her office. It’s all I could do. All the fear, pain, depression, betrayal, and hurt I kept in for four years was released, and I told her everything. She held me and told me everything was going to be okay, and then she prayed. I will never forget her loving act of compassion as long as I live. I was scared to death of breaking up with him, because I didn’t know what he would do. She encouraged me and said she would help me get out or get me in touch with people who could help me. I left her office after regaining my composure, and I knew I had to act quickly because he was in “the good phase” at the moment.
For those who have never had an abusive partner, I have to explain something. An abuser keeps their victim in the relationship with a cycle of emotional and mental codependency. The abuser will start by subtly belittling or criticizing them regularly, and their victim becomes obsessed with the abuser’s approval and gradually loses their sense of self-worth and independence. Sometimes physical abuse is the next step in the cycle and this is “the bad phase”. After that, the abuser wants to keep the victim under their power so they go into “the good phase”. The abuser will apologize, rationalize their behavior, and become the perfect partner for a short amount of time. And the cycle continues.
I knew that if I broke up with him during the good phase, there would be less of a chance of him killing me. As shocking as that is to read, at the time that thought was not a new one for me. One day he would go too far, which happens in most abuse cases. As confident as I felt about my choice to do it, my new friend, Dan, offered to go with me and wait in the car while I broke up with him, which was a huge comfort. I don’t think he realizes how big of a gesture that was to me at the time.
He took the break up better than I thought he would, and I left unscathed. A week or two went by without any problems, and then the harassment and stalking began. He would call me every day and night, so I changed my phone number. Then he would follow me from my house to wherever I went and made sure I knew he was watching me by rolling down his window and staring me down. I stared right back, even though I was terrified. He broke out the windows in my car and stole things out of it, which Dan vacuumed up for me at 2 am. While I was at work he stole my license plates so I couldn’t drive anywhere. I called the police to make a report every time he followed me, and they also made reports of all the vandalism, but obviously there was no proof he did it. This went on for a few months. As if all that wasn’t enough, his mother harassed my coworkers so much I was forced to quit my job. It was a nightmare I couldn’t escape.
After making another phone call to dispatch about him following me, the operator told me that she was going to send all the reports to a detective and he would call me later that day. The detective called and after talking with me, he asked for his mother’s phone number and said he would call me later. He called me back after about 20 minutes and the first thing he said was, “I don’t think they will be bothering you anymore.” The detective told me he explained to his mother that if the harassment did not stop immediately, I would be filing a No Contact Order against her son, which states that neither he nor anyone in his family is allowed to contact my family, co-workers, or myself. If that is violated, her son would be arrested. The nightmare ended. I thank God for that detective every day.
How could I let someone do this to me? Why didn’t I get help sooner? Why did he do that to me? What’s wrong with me? I thought I was stronger than that. How am I going to ever feel like myself again? Lord, how will I ever get over this…
Those thoughts came like a roaring flood everyday. I continued going to the therapist and fully opened up about his alcoholism, drug use, and violence towards me. She gave me the psychological tools I needed and brought my focus to the Lord.
Even though my dad, mom, or brother didn’t know the details of what I went through, they continually prayed and helped me remember who I was. My brother, Jake, saw the depression I was in, even though he didn’t know the cause, and invited me to play an online video game with him to pass the time. Instead of laying in my room feeling completely numb or crying uncontrollably, I played World of Warcraft with Jake. It was an escape, but one I desperately needed. I was able to fully be myself and enjoyed every blessed minute of it. Simply playing a video game was one of the things that helped pull me out of my misery on the days I wanted to give up.
My mom would come into my room when I was sleeping and pray over me, without me knowing. My dad fasted and prayed for me several times, feeling there was something wrong but not knowing what it was. To this day, I don’t think they know how much all that meant to me. But they knew I needed their support, even if they didn’t know the reason why.
It took a while but I was finally able to share more details with them, and they were a huge source of the Lord’s love here on Earth. They listened and comforted me with their gentle, kind hearts. Dan and all my friends helped me have fun and let me see the happiness I give to others when I didn’t think I was capable of making others happy. I will always be indebted to every person in my life for giving me unconditional love during my journey. Slowly the hollowed out shell I had become began to fill up with love, hope, and joy.
I live with the scars of that relationship every day, but I wear them proudly because I overcame, trusted God, and chose to forgive. I look back and see the strength and compassion it gave me. The Lord was my guiding light through the darkness, and forgiveness gave me the power to heal. I know myself better now than I ever did before and as strange as it sounds, I’m thankful for what I went through. I’ve been able to help others who were in similar situations. Because I went through it, I was able to help save others from a terrible fate. That is the greatest gift I can give. Taking something evil and using it for good.
Years later, I decided to get a tattoo to symbolize the power I gained from this experience, and my then boyfriend, now husband, Justin, was there with me the whole time. He is my best friend, and I love that I can share everything about me with him. I told the tattoo artist a little about my story and asked him to come up with something for me. I wanted to combine two birds, the sparrow and a swallow. He came up with a flying sparrow with a swallow’s tail. The sparrow represents the song that gave me hope and a swallow always knows how to find their way back home. I cherish that tattoo every single day. It was a very long, tough journey but I made it back home. All it took was three small, but powerful words, “I forgive you.”
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
– John 1:5