By East River Lady
(CW & TW: child and sexual abuse; suicide)
“Ask God for forgiveness first.”
“Okay. God, please forgive me…”
Right before my teenage cousin told me to perform a sexual act on him, he told me to pray to God and ask for forgiveness for the sin I was about to commit. I was around six years old at the time. I realize now, it wasn’t me who should’ve been asking for forgiveness. And I realize he was distorting the beautiful gospel principle that forgiveness is. At the time, I didn’t even think for a second my cousin was at fault. Perhaps it was because I was used to it. Around the same time, my mother had a friend with a teenage son. One evening, when my mother and her friend were in the other room talking, the son took a break from playing a computer game and came over to where I was sitting on the couch. He then proceeded to sexually molest and abuse me.
Growing up, I thought nothing of it. My uncle would make detailed comments about my body and how beautiful it looked and would have me spin around to show his brother how pretty I looked. And then I would be given a dollar. This same uncle would even watch pornography with me in the room. He told me to cover my eyes, but I could hear. It was my father, surprisingly enough, who let me see. He would show me pornographic pictures on the internet. Again, I thought nothing of it.
But my soul knew differently. I ended up hating my body. I despised the way I looked. I despised the way I felt. I despised the thought of living in my tainted body. I became suicidal. I would constantly cry myself to sleep. In middle school, I tried to escape the feelings of sadness I had. I would lock myself in the bathroom and repeatedly bang my head on the wall, hoping that the next hit would end it all. In high school, I even had a breakdown and was hospitalized for thoughts of suicide. But, thankfully, it was also in high school that I was introduced to the LDS Church.
Knowing the LDS Church helped me to know God and feel pure and undefiled love. But knowing God and knowing what I’d been through, made me question Him, even though I knew of His mercy, grace, and love for me. How could a supposedly “loving” Heavenly Father do this to me? Where was He in my hour of need? Why didn’t He protect me when it was my own family who hurt me so badly? Where was He when my mother’s girlfriend was emotionally and physically abusing me during my adolescent years? Did He not see the pain I went through? Did He even care?
It took me a long time to forgive Him. Over the years, I learned that despite the pain I went through, He allowed us agency and to choose between good and bad, even at the expense of my pain. I still struggle with that concept, but through some miracle, I forgave the God I once believed forsook me. I became aware of the fact that my God was always there for me. He had continuously provided me with blessings and assured me of His love. I knew it all along, but it took some time for me to see. I partially attribute it to this scripture from 2 Nephi 1:15,
But Behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.
I wept when I first read this passage. I doubted Him no more. My heart was overcome with peace. My soul has been redeemed from the hell I endured through forgiveness and the pure love of my Heavenly Parents. I came to forgive my God and my Savior slowly, but surely. I have come to finally know for myself that my Heavenly Parents wept for me. I also know that Christ knew every pain I felt and suffered sadness with me. Through finally realizing and acknowledging their love, I forgave them and I became completely “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.”
Forgiving God was somewhat easy. The hardest part was forgiving those who put me through my hell in the first place–– my family. Through therapy, prayer, and, unashamedly, medication, I am starting to forgive. If I ever have children, I don’t plan on my kids having frequent contact with my family. They will see and spend some time with their grandparents, but only under my strict conditions and approval. As for my extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles, I especially don’t plan on having tight-knit or open relationships with them, if any. And my children will not have any unsupervised contact with them, if they ever get to see them at all. That trust has been broken and there are some wounds that cannot be healed. My family is not forever, and for the most part, I don’t want it to be. I rely on the kindness and care of other families who set the example for the future family I want to have. They will be the close extended family my children will have. Still, I have forgiven my flesh and blood, for my benefit and for theirs. I can’t imagine the pain they went through to do what they did to me. I pray they have worked out their consciences with God and have sought His forgiveness. Regardless, it is not my place to worry about God granting their forgiveness. I only have to worry about me forgiving them and taking control.
I am now at that point in my life where I’m learning to do that. I’m learning to take control of my life, my reactions, and my body. I used to go from thinking my body was a disgusting vessel that only housed only the empty, broken spirit inside. I am not yet empowered by my physical form, but I do have control of it now. I can choose for myself how to dress, how to use it, and what to do with it. Because of forgiveness, I can let go of the pain and sorrow I felt. I am free now to make my own choices and to regain charge of my body, my beautiful temple. I am free to regain charge of my life.
Forgiving is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It has taken everything within me to not let anger, revenge, fear and sadness to determine or control my feelings. I truly believe this is why the Savior commands us to forgive–– it is one of the most godlike qualities we can have, exactly because it takes so long and so much effort to develop. But it is worth it. It is forgiveness that has opened my heart to peace and personal fulfillment. Forgiveness has allowed me to embrace feminism and realize I can take control of my life and make my own choices. Through forgiveness, my heart is now open to the fact that I can find and experience happiness, whereas before I never thought such a thing could be possible. I no longer see myself as worthless or broken. To forgive is to become empowered. This simple commandment has allowed me the opportunity to feel the joy I never fully experienced before in life. Forgiveness has allowed me to be my true, happy, authentic self. Truly, it is a miracle.
East River Lady is an only child who was born and raised in New York. She now lives in Utah for the time being and will to return to New York in the near future. She is in her last year of studying public health in college and hopes to work professionally with those who suffer from addictions, sex workers, and other survivors.