I Was Abused and Declared Dead at the Age of 3
My auntie left me on a park bench and never came back. My uncle used me as a commodity. Surely they were to blame for my addiction. So why did I forgive them?
“You’re going to have to forgive your uncle and aunt,” my counselor in rehab told me.
I remember thinking how crazy that sounded at the time.
Why would I forgive my auntie who had abandoned me at the age of 3 and then declared me as dead? Why would I forgive my uncle who had made my childhood a living hell through abuse and neglect? Throughout my 20 years of alcohol abuse, I had never considered forgiveness.
After all, I blamed them completely for destroying childhood and causing my addiction.
But I did forgive them. Here’s why:
From the moment I tasted drink as a teenager I knew I had found the answer I had been looking for — something that would remove the pain of the past, and something that would take away the fear of the future. Alcohol was my hurt healer, my confidence booster, my friend.
Growing up without my auntie was hard, and growing up feeling it was my fault she had left me was harder. The drink was the only way I could manage the feelings of emptiness and guilt. The horrors of being brought up by an authoritarian and sadistic uncle simply compounded my belief that I was unlovable and worthless.
Alcohol helped me cope because it enabled me to switch off. It made me numb emotionally and physically which was a million times better than living in reality.
As my dependency increased, so did the chaos in my personal and work life. Desperation set in as my tolerance to drinking soared whilst the self-medicating effects stopped working altogether. No amount of alcohol could stop the mental torment. I couldn’t physically function without vodka day and night, and psychologically I was a complete mess.
I battled to find ways to quit but I slipped deeper into my addiction. Thinking the only way out was suicide I made an unsuccessful attempt to end my life. It was nothing short of a miracle that I survived and was offered rehab straight from the hospital. Finally, I was willing to do whatever it took to be rid of the demons of the past. The medical detox was tough but it was nothing compared to the trauma required for emotional recovery.
Acknowledging and being willing to forgive was crucial to my healing and continues to be a necessity for my sobriety. I realized that I could no longer allow my past to dictate my future. Neither could I carry on living a life full of bitterness, anger, resentment, and unresolved vengeance, because it was killing me.
With the support of the wonderful team at rehab, I came to understand that holding onto unforgiveness wasn’t hurting those that had harmed me. My uncle had died and my auntie had refused contact so they were never going to be aware of how their actions had impacted me. All the time I had been destroying myself drinking under the misperception that I was somehow getting revenge. Of course, the only person truly paying the price was me.
Realizing this was wonderful! It meant I had nothing to lose by forgiving them but so much to gain. It was important to remember though that forgiveness did not mean forgetting or condoning, in order to forgive there had to be an acceptance of what had happened. It was over and nothing could bring back my childhood. I made a conscious decision that my miserable past was not going to hurt me for one more second of one more day. But to do this completely I need to make the choice to forgive my parents.
Forgiveness doesn’t come easily or quickly
It wasn’t a one-off-event with an instantaneous feeling of wellbeing. It was a process of letting go that involved hours of talking, tears, and prayers. But as I started to rid myself of what had gone before and started to focus on what lay ahead I genuinely began to feel the dark cloud of shame and anger lift. Choosing to forgive was releasing me from the prison of my mind.
Dr. Martin Luther King said that “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”
I believe he was right. I had to practice not slipping back into unforgiveness if something triggered a memory of an event. Frequently I would need to remind myself that I wasn’t ‘letting them off’ and that I was doing it for me because I deserved to be free.
With this revelation, I decided to forgive others who had offended me. That was an easy choice because quite honestly once I had found the strength to forgive them. it made anything else anyone had done to me appear pretty insignificant. Finally, (but just as essential to do) I forgave myself. In doing so, I cut the cord to the past and said good-bye to the drink. I had no need or desire to see either of them again.
Today I can say that I have forgiven my auntie for abandoning me and my uncle for abusing me in a spirit of complete peace. Knowing how to forgive has been essential in my 13 years of sobriety and if I use alcohol today it is not their fault, it is mine.
If you feel you are unable to forgive someone, think again. Don’t do it for them, do it for you!