*Warning: this post includes my story of an abusive relationship. It references a letter I wrote one year ago today.**
Dear Nina–who finally told the truth,
A year ago exactly today, you write something here on the blog in a language you don’t fully understand yet, one that still has the power to freeze your voice and leaves panic thrumming like butterflies beating their wings in the back of your throat. This language is the one necessary to tell the truth about what happened to you, what he did to you, and how or why you kept quiet.
A year ago today, you press publish, despite the avalanche of fears. One of the first to message you is one of his teammates. Before he can say anything, your mouse hovers over the delete button; one click and all of this will be gone since already there are people reading this you never expected.
But then, do you know what his teammate says? I’m so sorry that happened to you. What he did is not okay (with some more colorful language thrown in) and when you profess your thanks, trying to use this new language you are learning to let him know just what his acknowledgement means, you mention something like: I just want and need to tell my story. I don’t want to assassinate anyone’s character.
And let me tell you, now a year later, you have not forgotten his teammates’ response: You deserve to tell your story. It needs to be told. And that piece of garbage doesn’t deserve any of the attention (his words, not mine/ours).
On the day you write the first letter to yourself, a year ago from this very day, you will be humbled beyond belief at this and at the other men who reach out to you–who admit that yes, there is a problem because this happened “in the church,” because the people you opened up to “in the church” only ever called you angry and unforgiving, because the boy who did this to you, who while you lay incapacitated from having your wisdom teeth removed, mouth full of gauze, coming down from anesthesia, just having taken your first Vicodin, did everything but to you was being “mentored” “in the church.” They call it discipleship. So while you were thinking: I could be anyone. I am just a body. I could be a blow up doll right now. Why is he doing this? he was meeting one-on-one with other guys. In another two months, he would lead a Bible study.
So to those men who reach out with humility and grace and kindness, true brothers: they may never know what their words mean but you will know. Just to hear these guys, your brothers, admit there is a problem…This is worth the fear you feel in sharing your story so nakedly.
More than that, there are the women. Within 24 hours, you will have over a hundred emails, Facebook messages, texts–from some women you do know but mostly women you do not know, using their own language to tell their own stories. Their words are precious and weighty. You have been entrusted with these stories.
Your heart will break with each one–as it should–but each story will make you stronger. You will take each message so seriously. You will write from the deepest depths of your soul. You say: I’m sorry and what happened to you is not okay. But it seems paltry. You will pray. You will hope that somehow your written words are infused with more, even knowing no words can erase what happened to them.
It is not okay though–the number of women who can relate in only 24 hours on your baby blog. None of it is okay.
Now, you don’t think of him often. It’s hardest to forget the couch–the anger, the rage, the pushing and shoving, the pinching beneath the table–those things fade with a bit more ease.
It’s hard not to forgive yourself for not having the language to tell someone what the couch was: sexual assault.
You are braver today than the day you first wrote the letter and on that day you are so afraid but you are so very brave too. A year later, you will be learning more about violence against women. Those women who will reach out to you after your letter are still with you now. You know with confidence that God is knitting together a future where you are somehow a part of the solution.
And to that boy, today, a year after telling your story, you say: I forgive you.
And today, you name the things you forgive him for because by now you know that words have power. So: I forgive you for yelling at me so often. I forgive you for losing your temper. I forgive you for the unsaid rules, the things I could never get right that resulted in you pinching me beneath tables and on couches with plenty of people around but no one to see. I forgive you for those pinches too. I forgive you for the multiple times we set a boundary for purity, you tried to cross it, I said no, I tried to stop you, and then the same thing happened again and again until I gave up because maybe I wanted to “make out” too. I forgive you for making me “the keeper of the guard” when it came to purity. I forgive you for blaming me for why purity was such a struggle for you–in our relationship and on your own. I forgive you for making me apologize for what I wore and how I temped you. I forgive you for all the rules of how I must dress and wear my hair. I forgive you for shoving me into doors and walls. I forgive you for the bump on the side of my head and the back of my head too. I forgive the bruises. I forgive you for telling me at 120 pounds that “no guys wants a fat girlfriend.” For the emotional and physical abuse, I forgive you.
I forgive you for what you did to me on the couch.
I forgive you for sexually assaulting me, even though you probably don’t remember it and if you do, it’s just one more time “we messed” up when it came to purity. I forgive you for not having my consent because I could not give it (as I could not speak with my mouth packed with gauze and blood) and was incapacitated (due to the surgery and proper drugs). I forgive you if you think this sexual assault was one more heat of the moment mistake though I know different. We couldn’t even kiss. I was a series of body parts. And still, I forgive you.
Nina, in the coming year, that is 2016, I ask that you try to forgive yourself now–for being young, stupid, in love (what you thought it was then), confused, afraid, for feeling trapped when you could have gotten out, and for not telling your story earlier. I ask that you forgive yourself for not standing up to him. Forgive yourself for keeping quiet about the couch for so long. You’ve learned a new language–one where you can tell your story–use it.
To those who read the letter but do not reach out and to those who do not believe it or cannot believe it or do not want to believe, I can only offer this with a strength I didn’t have when I first wrote the letter: just because you can’t acknowledge it, just because you don’t want to think things like this happen to girls like me by boys like him, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I have no reason to share the humiliation of the couch with the world. There is nothing for me to gain.
To the other women and the men, who have experienced any shade of this, I say to you, with my heart in my hands: I am so sorry this happened to you. It was not okay. What was done to you is so far from okay. I forgave because it was right for me personally. I am by no means telling you to do the same or even what to do. I am just standing beside you shoulder to shoulder.
And to anyone who says or ever said: I believe you. I’m sorry. What he did was not okay…To anyone who supports you as you write the first letter, there are no words, there is no language. My throat is blocked with tears as I humbly and gratefully tell them: thank you. I have not forgotten your kindness a year later.
I still wholeheartedly believe there is beauty from the ashes.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).
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