Moving On, and Why You Don’t Have to Forgive

When I read my own writing from my first year at Kenyon, my heart beats faster and I become very aware of my own breathing. I wrote a lot. I kept notes and a journal, and I wrote pages upon pages of poetry. Even as I was shrinking I was bursting at the seams and often I wonder why I don’t write as much now as I did then. It might have been because he didn’t like it, because he didn’t like that I had secrets that I kept from him in the words I wrote. He permeated everything I put to paper, but ultimately, those words were mine. I held onto my identity as a writer, as a better one than he was, even when I lost most other things that I was. All of the pieces from that calendar year sound strange, contrived and just not like me. I wrote, but I had no voice. Friends and family tell me now that I didn’t sound like myself when I spoke either. I wouldn’t answer questions, I faltered when they pressed on anything at all, and, most of the time, I sounded like I wasn’t really there. To be fair, I wasn’t. When enduring emotional abuse, or any other type of abuse, a lot of people find themselves in this sort of dissociative state. Reality isn’t safe anymore, so part of you retreats inward to seek refuge. You still experience life, love, and pain, but you’re absent.

Emotional abuse also often comes with an altering of the reality you’re in. The sky becomes green because your abuser has said so. You always thought it was blue, but they say, “It’s green, don’t you see? Why would you be so stupid, come on, you’re smarter than the rest of them. It’s fucking green, okay?” Moral of the story, the sky is not green. It’s still blue, but it really is green to you. That’s how it works, that’s why you sound weird on the phone when you call your mom, that’s why your writing doesn’t ring true. You live under a green sky. About a year later, I’ve had my blue sky back for a long time. Everyone says they recognize me more, and while I don’t write as much, what I do write is all my own. My life is fairly bland, and I’m super, super happy about it. I go to the zoo, I do all (most) of my readings for class, I call my mom, and I don’t always cry. I’m excited to go home this summer because I’m not running away from anything. I, crazy enough, have recovered.

This is not to say that I don’t still feel it, that I don’t still have that place inside me that grew so dark and so small. This is not to say that I forgive him. I think there’s this ideal, stemming in part from Christian ideology, that forgiveness is required to be a good person. If you hold a grudge or you don’t offer a second, third, and forty-fifth chance, then you’re not really making progress. I would like to posit that this is not true. You do not have to forgive your abuser. In fact, I might encourage you not to. I’d strongly encourage that you forgive yourself, that you don’t judge or blame yourself. But your abuser? The person who made you feel worthless as though it were a game? Forgiveness, like respect, is earned.So I’ve moved on. It’s been almost a year, and I’m pretty sure I moved on months ago. But, as the school year draws to a close, the comparison to my past self is more concrete. Last year feels like it hardly existed. Eons have passed, and I could not be happier that they did. At the end of the school year, I needed him to stay. During the summer, I just had to survive. Now, I want to keep moving forward. I am very lucky to have had endless support and resources that I could draw from in my process. I will be forever grateful to the people who stood by me and weathered my storm.

 

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3