Today’s letter comes from one of my Feminism 2.0 colleagues and author, Kate McGuinness. Her legal thriller about a female lawyer fighting sexual harassment is titled Terminal Ambition and will be available as a free Amazon Kindle download through July 2. Tweet her @k8mcguinness. See more of her writing on her blog, womensrightswriter.com.
The Sin City Siren asked me to give advice about dealing with childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual assault. I hope my words will help but I offer a TRIGGER warning for those still gripped by their own violation.
Anger has consumed hours of my life, indeed entire days of my life. If I added up the time, I probably have devoted years to anger. Not just being mad or upset, but harboring poisonous fury. Fury that arose from wrongs that couldn’t be made right, injuries that couldn’t be redressed.
When rage seized me, I felt as if I had a cage perched below my collar bone and above my sternum. The cage was crowded with rats biting and clawing each other in a frantic battle to wound or kill their cellmates. By inflicting injuries, they would be “seen” by their cellmates. This visualization gives new meaning to the old aphorism, “Misery enjoys company.”
Victims of abuse and assault aren’t seen by the perpetrators. The victims aren’t even real people – just objects for the perpetrators’ sexual gratification. So being seen by someone, even another victim, becomes a vindication, a victory of sorts.
Eventually, the anger would exhaust me. Depleted by the futile fury I often fell into depression and guilt for my desperate attempts to be seen. I realized the anger was destructive. It eroded my health and my relationships. Simmering fury magnified the pain of daily disappointments.
My intellect told me I had to defuse it. I tried conventional and unconventional techniques: psychotherapy, meditation, yoga and spirituality. I heard pronouncements about forgiveness as a tool to overcome the rage. But I just couldn’t forgive or wouldn’t forgive. In retrospect, I believe I made a choice not to forgive because the wrongs were so grievous, so undeserved.
I stumbled onto the key to inner peace when I decided to give up anti-depressants. Yes, they helped my deal with the anger that had become depression as it turned inward. But they dulled all my feelings. I wanted happiness, joy, laughter.
This time I tried healing touch. In addition to clearing my energy fields, the practitioner gave me a set of affirmations, keyed off “I will my heart to forgive.” The practice discharged anger collected over a lifetime of perceived wrongs and mishaps – but not the core injures of sexual abuse and sexual assault.
For weeks, I valiantly repeated the mantra, wanting it to work its magic on the deepest wounds. But it didn’t. Not until I remembered a Buddhist aphorism, “Weigh the cost to the heart of anger and forgiveness, then decide.”
I am no longer willing to pay the cost of anger. I have chosen to forgive.
If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please seek help in your area or get help online from RAINN or by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.