You look over at the clock, it’s 3AM.
You’re lying awake in bed; tossing, turning, silently crying. Your partner is fast asleep next to you and has no idea that this has been your nightly routine – for years. Tomorrow, when you wake up, you know you have to go about your day with a phony smile on your face and a caffeine induced pep in your step.
You’ve been holding on to an agonizing secret, one that has been eating away at you for as long as you can remember.
You often think to yourself, when will I get over this sh*t?
Hell, you’ve probably even thought, maybe I deserved it – all of it.
Everything in your life is in shambles…
… You’re on the verge of being fired.
… Your partner has expressed leaving you.
… The debt collector won’t stop calling.
… Your friends don’t want to hang out anymore.
You know in your heart of hearts, you can’t go on living like this.
What happened happened and you can never change that. That part you know.
And you’ve tried everything to heal your open wounds.
You’ve tried therapy.
You’ve read every self-help book you can get your hands on.
And you’ve probably attended every spiritual retreat known to man, yet…
Those feelings and thoughts keep coming back and continue to haunt you – over and over, year after year.
I know this pattern all too well. I was once a chronic victim of my past. Just when I thought I’d dealt with all of my baggage, life threw me yet another curveball – you know, for good measure.
In October of 2011, my (then) best friend and roommate beat me up.
I never thought something like this could ever happen to me. In fact, I was so blindsided by the whole thing that I walked around in disbelief and thought it was just a bad dream.
But it was real.
The police came. They took pictures of my face and neck, where his handprints were glowing red on my skin. They wrote up the report. Then, they asked me that gut-punching question:
“Do you want to press charges?”
Without thinking, I said “no.”
And they left.
But something happened in the first twenty minutes after they left.
I broke down. My mind replayed the entire scene: his soulless eyes hovering over my face, his body straddled on top of me, his hands wrapped around my neck. I struggled to fight back but I was overpowered by his position and the rage seeping through his hands.
I felt violated, disgusting, and kept thinking to myself, how could I let this happen? What did I do to deserve this? Why me? Why now?
I scrubbed my face and neck in a hot shower thinking I could wash away the whole experience. In a blip of clarity, I thought about the women who never stood up to their violators.
I asked myself, why the hell am I still protecting this a**hole?
So I called the police and told them I wanted to press charges.
They told me it would be a lengthy process, that I shouldn’t expect to hear anything sooner than six months.
So, I waited.
While I waited, I relived that moment over and over. I got angrier and angrier. I cried every single day. And I kept it all to myself, I stuffed down my emotions. I refused to speak about it because I was too embarrassed and humiliated. This doesn’t happen to someone like me. I told a couple of close friends, but I suffered alone for what seemed to be a lifetime.
And then it came.
Six months later, I received a subpoena to show up in court.
My mind went berserk.
“Can I face him?”
“Am I ready for this?”
“Do I really want to go through with this?”
On and on it went.
But I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and decided to show up.
I wasn’t going to let him get the best of me; he needed to be held accountable for what he did.
I sat outside the courtroom for an hour. Every minute ticked by in slow motion. Thinking it was him, my heart jumped out of my chest every time someone passed by.
“What am I afraid of? I’m in a courthouse. Plus, he’s a coward, he’ll never show.”
I was right. He didn’t show up, so they set me up with an appointment at the City Attorney’s office a few days later to go over the case.
In the office were a woman and a man, both dressed in suits, both stern in their demeanor.
I was not prepared for what happened next.
They asked me to listen to the dispatch tape.
The dispatch tape. I hardly remembered calling the police and what was said.
He handed me a transcript.
“Have a seat”, he said.
“Please listen carefully and look that over for accuracy”, she said.
She pressed play.
I had to relive the whole thing all over again.
I listened to it gripped with anxiety. It’s a mind-bending experience to hear yourself in a fit of anger and fear.
My heart pounded out of my chest. Tears fell from my eyes.
I knew why women don’t go through with this. It’s confronting and it’s hard. It wreaks havoc on your emotions and unravels your peace of mind.
You wonder what’s worse, having to relive the event in a public forum or moving on knowing you let someone get away with such an atrocious act.
You begin to doubt whether you are strong enough to go through with the legal process.
“Is that accurate?” she asked.
“I think so…” I said, shaking.
“He might claim self-defense”…
“Self-defense?! That’s absurd! How could he claim that?!”
“We’re not saying he will but it might come up as one of his defense strategies. There were no witnesses, so it’s your word against his.”
“Okay, what are my options?”
“You can drop the charges or we can go to trial.”
“I’m prepared to go all the way.”
“Okay, we’ll let his defense attorney know and we’ll keep you posted on next steps. By the way, how much do you weigh?”
“Thanks, we’ll be in touch.”
I had this sense of duty to myself and other women. I had to take a stand for what was right, but I was seething when I left their office.
Those five little words, he might claim self-defense, rang over and over in my mind. Those words hooked and sucked me back down the rabbit hole of destructive thoughts.
“I should have listened to my gut and never asked him to move in.”
“SELF-DEFENSE?! I wouldn’t put it past him, that cowardly piece of shit!”
“I should have known better…”
“I should have seen it coming. It was so obvious he had a drinking problem.”
“I should have…”
“I should have…”
“I should have…”
I was blaming myself for what happened. I felt humiliated and now it was up to ME to prove he beat the sh*t out of me and HE might claim SELF-DEFENSE?!
I was livid.
“He might claim self defense. Can you believe that?” I said to a friend.
“Just let it go, move on with your life. You’ll never see him again so why put yourself through this?” she said.
I considered letting it go and dropping the charges, but I was too far in. I’d learned he had a violent history with many of his former roommates and this was his pattern. How could I have missed the red flags? Then I started thinking about the people who would come into his life in the future.
“F*ck that. He’s not going to get away with this. He can rot in jail.”
I was in too deep. There was zero compassion for myself or for him. It was mental agony waiting to hear back from my attorney.
And then the call came a few days after our meeting.
“He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to eight Anger Management classes and eight Alcoholics Anonymous classes”, she said.
“That’s it? It’s over?”
But it was far from over for me. For months I lay awake at night replaying the assault and the tape and all of the things I wish I could have said to him in the heat of my rage. The waves of emotion came with fury and fear. I closed up and pushed people away. I was frightened by the world around me but had to keep my composure for work so I put on a phony smile and pretended everything was okay.
He robbed me of my sense of security, trust, and peace of mind. He ruined a seven-year friendship, a friendship that was always supportive, caring, and loving. He robbed us both of that, and to me, what he did was unforgiveable.
But I asked myself,
Do They Win If We Forgive Them?
Them, as in everyone who has ever wronged us or has done something atrocious to us or the people we love. And what does forgiveness truly mean? Does it let them off the hook?
“Forgive – to give as if before” is the definition I’ve come across that resonates with me the most. It means to get back to who we are, to get back to our essence, to get back to our peace of mind and peace in our hearts. It means to be free of our self-induced suffering.
And that’s what I wanted. I wanted to get back to the woman I was. I was happy, trusting, and joyful. I laughed every single day.
But I also wanted to be right about him being wrong for what he did. I held on to that and everyday became an ordeal and everyday I sank deeper and deeper into depression.
It felt like my soul was battling my ego and for nearly a year, my ego won. I couldn’t see past the pain. That’s disastrous because we get stuck on that point of pain and it rules every aspect of our life. When we repeat the cycle of being victim to our past, it robs us, and the people we love, of our very presence.
So how do we get there?
Is Suffering REALLY Optional?
Nearly a year had passed since the incident and I was still being triggered.
If someone mentioned his name or if I received a piece of his mail I’d go into an uncontrollable tailspin.
Enough is enough! I’ve gotta put an end to this.
I thought about going on anti-depressants but knew better to decide against it. Drugs would only mask the pain and I wanted to be free of it.
At some point, sometimes after years of anguish, you realize there’s no way out of it except through acceptance. It happened, nothing can change that, but now you have a choice.
Be aware of the way you respond.
Continue to let it run your life.
Both take an enormous level of awareness and complete responsibility (ability to respond [not taking blame] to/for what happened).
Once we see that our life happens for us and not to us, we can mentally reframe our experience to empower us rather than let it continue to destroy us.
I reached that point. I was ready to make peace with it and move on.
“I think I’m going to call him and just say my peace”, I said to a friend.
“I would highly advise against that”, he said.
Most people would have offered the same advice.
Write him a letter, say your peace that way, don’t call him. That will just suck you right back in. Come on, you should know better.
I did write him a letter (that I never sent). I meditated and chanted my peace mantras. I revisited courses I had already taken and reread self-help books.
And against everyone’s advice, I called him.
It was late October 2012, over a year after it happened.
I was on a short break, in between sessions for a course I was in, and for privacy, made the call in my car.
I was nervous and didn’t know exactly what I was going to say. I didn’t even know if he had the same phone number, but I dialed it anyway.
It rang a few times and his voice came on.
I cleared my throat, settled into my body, and spoke from my heart.
My voice shook and my hands trembled, but I said, “I’m sorry our friendship had to end this way. I wish you all the best. I forgive you and I release you.”
It was the first and last time I called him after the incident, and the first time I could breathe a sigh of relief. I had finally closed that chapter.
That night, I slept like a bear in hibernation.
How Do You Know You’re Finally Free?
After I called him and said my peace, I felt a weight lift off of my life. I finally had closure for myself and could carry on with a lighter heart and clarity.
In hindsight, I see that what happened was a gift. It gifted me the opportunity to grow, to put everything I learned into practice, and to set me on the path of total freedom. And I can see that it couldn’t have happened any other way or at any other time, and I’m actually grateful for the experience.
We all struggle with forgiveness even though we know it’s the key to being free.
It takes guts and being audacious to confront the people who wronged us.
But the payoff is complete freedom from suffering.
Imagine going to bed with peace of mind and peace in your heart.
Imagine being fully open, loving, and trusting again, not experiencing life through a hardened heart.
Start with yourself and with these simple words…
“I’m sorry and please forgive me.” (Repeat as necessary until you feel an internal shift.)
And then, move on to those resentments and grudges you’ve been holding on to.
Say to it, “I forgive you.” (Repeat as necessary until the memory no longer triggers you.)
And you’ll be free to live through your loving audacious heart.
And perhaps, you’ll find that forgiveness is the answer.
Linda Pharathikoune is the CEO & Senior Writing Coach of The Writing Room, LLC; she is also author of The Audacious Heart: Lessons On Letting God & Letting Go. Her book helps women (and men!) find their way to forgiveness so they can live with an audaciously open heart. Grab your copy and live audaciously here: The Audacious Heart. You can find her on Twitter.