Rape and Forgiveness: Do Those Words Belong Together?

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with the person who wronged you.”

I forgive you.

Three of the most powerful words in the English language.

Its beauty: captivating. Its energy: elusive. Its elements: freeing.

But deadly as poison if kept locked inside.

I drank the poison. For seven years I drank the poison. It nearly killed me.

I was justified in my anger. The hatred was deserved; he had done the unspeakable. He had committed the most heinous of crimes. He stripped me of my dignity and robbed me of my most prized possession. He took my innocence and left me lying there, in a pool of blood. My world was forever changed. He deserved to die.

But I was the one that died that night. My soul became dark. My heart turned cold. Everything I believed about myself, the world, and God was no longer true. I was no longer kind. The world was no longer safe. And God was no longer there.

I am alone.

I am scared.

I am worthless.

I am used.

I am broken.

I spent the next several years escaping. I drank so I didn’t have to feel. The bottle was trustworthy, it was predictable. I knew as long as I had enough of it, I could stay numb. It became my comfort, my strength, but eventually my ruin.

The more I drank, the more vengeful I became. I vowed to never again be as helpless as I was that night. A desperate quest for control dominated my every move. The world became a stage for my cruel, vindictive game. People were nothing more than pawns;  made sure to hurt them before they could hurt me.

My escape plan, however, stopped working. The bottle was no longer predictable. The desired effect was no longer there. After severe emotional, physical and legal consequences, it was time to put it down.

For the first time in four years, I spoke about what had happened to me. He raped me. The secret was out: Game over. I remember that day well. It was the day I stepped out of hiding and began the slow, painful journey to forgiveness.

I remember several years ago hearing something profound that has stuck with me. When something bad happens to us, we have three choices in how we respond:

We let it destroy us.

We let it define us.

We let it develop us.

I love this idea but don’t believe it’s a simple choice. My response to this horrific trauma was a long, painful process. I buried it at first and it destroyed me.

It took years of intensive therapy to sift through all of the emotions that I had buried. I processed the shame, betrayal, sadness, grief, humiliation, guilt, sense of worthlessness, and loss of faith that resulted from that night. The more I uncovered my emotions, the less they destroyed me.

I found comfort in owning my story. For years, I had silently believed the lies. I deserved what happened to me. I must have somehow been asking for it. It was my fault. But by telling my story, I was able to hear the truth. I wasn’t at fault. I didn’t deserve it. I was a victim. I began to find value and worth in identifying myself as a survivor. The shame of being raped no longer destroyed me. The strength and resilience of surviving rape began to define me.

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But even after all of the therapy and healing, I still wasn’t ready to forgive. I found that being defined by such a traumatic event added fuel to the flame and brought it’s own kind of poison. My ego grew, pride lured me in and self-sufficiency began to dominate. The most dangerous of evils for alcoholics. I learned that sobriety could not be sustained as long as justified anger perpetuated this self-righteous mentality.

I can’t tell you exactly when I let go. When it was that I decided to finally put the poison down. But what I can tell you is this:

Forgiveness has nothing to do with the person who wronged you.

My decision to forgive him was not about him, it was about me. Holding onto such a deep resentment was killing me. It was burning a hole inside of me that nothing and no-one could extinguish. No-one, that is, except God.

The moment I stopped believing that because of what was done to me, I was undeserving of God’s love, I was able to forgive. I was finally able to crawl out of the pit of despair, past the pain, past the fear, past the self-pity, and into the light of God’s world. I was finally free.

I began to see the reality of living in a broken, sinful world. What happened to me was awful. It was wrong. It wasn’t fair. But bad things happen ALL. THE. TIME. It’s part of the human experience. God hadn’t abandoned me, I had abandoned Him. I had chosen bitterness over peace. I chose self-sufficiency over grace. I chose to imprison myself in the walls of indignation instead of walking freely into forgiveness.

The moment I chose to forgive him is when he stopped destroying me. It’s when he stopped defining me. After seven years, I was no longer controlled by him. The reigns were dropped. Ironic though, isn’t it? I had been the one holding the reigns this whole time. He dropped the reigns seven years ago when he walked away a free man. I was the one that picked them back up. And until I was able to fully forgive, I held those reigns tight. I allowed them to suffocate me.

I forgive you.

The three most powerful words I have ever spoken.

I am finally free.

Forgiving him is what allowed this tragic event to develop me. What I believed about myself after the rape destroyed me. It defined me. But the forgiveness that happened in me, through God, will forever develop me. The forgiveness, not the rape, is what ultimately changed me. It’s what sustains me. It taught me the most valuable lesson I will ever learn. It taught me humility.

And by forgiving him, I’m not saying that what he did was okay. I’m saying that because God loves me, I can allow God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness to restore me. And because I am restored, I can let God love him through me.

Christine Suhan
Christine Suhan is a wife, stay at home mother to three wild toddler boys, and writer/creator at www.feelingsandfaith.net. She has a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and enjoys helping people through openly and honestly sharing her journey through life, recovery, mental illness, marriage, parenting, and more. You can find her on Facebook. 

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