Sensitive material: Mention of rape/sexual assault
By Kari Cowell
What is forgiveness? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “forgive” as “[to] stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.” Spiritual gurus and psychologists recommend finding compassion for those who have wronged us and letting go of any anger or resentment we harbor toward that individual lest it eat us up inside.
But are there instances where it’s okay not to forgive?
Yesterday, the group intention in yoga class was forgiveness. The instructor said, “Think of someone who challenged you. Think of someone who you need to forgive and dedicate your practice to them.” I was raped the summer of 2011, and I chose my rapist. Logically knowing that forgiveness will heal whatever is left in my body of the incident, I’ve been working for the past year on forgiving this person. And it’s damn difficult.
My rapist was a healer. He was a Reiki practitioner and massage therapist. I was visiting and we went to dinner and talked about healing. I told him I never had a Reiki session and could really use a massage and asked if we could set up a session before I left town. He offered a session after dinner and gave me a choice: If we had the session on his bed, he wouldn’t charge me because he was feeling too lazy to take out his table. I had known this guy for years, so I didn’t think anything of it and agreed. He raped me during the session. At the time, I was working on being assertive instead of aggressive, and still hadn’t quite figured out how to verbally express what I wanted without sounding bitchy. Upon reflection, I now know there are times when it’s okay to sound bitchy. But my body language was a clear no. I repeatedly moved his hand away from my lady parts, but he kept returning. It took me doing that 3 times before he finally stopped.
Afterwards, we processed what happened together. I was incredibly calm. I told him I couldn’t be his friend anymore, and then I went to the hotel and called the police. When we were processing, he told me the reason he offered a free session was so he could do that. His admission rocked my world. So this whole time was premeditated? You premeditated rape?? I don’t know if rapists usually premeditate their crime, but I couldn’t wrap my head around planning to hurt someone and violate not only their body, but also their spirit.
My greatest defense mechanism is forgetting, so most of the time it’s a distant memory. But it does creep up subtly in various areas of my life. For instance, I started seeing an acupuncturist shortly after the rape. I had to tell him what happened and how I felt incredibly anxious and nervous because he was a male healer. I find myself dissociating when I talk about the rape or when I’m in sexually stressful situations. If I get into a debate on rape culture, I can go from calm to wailing and crying on the floor in 60 seconds. The side effects of this incident are never predictable, they just hit when they hit.
I’ve been working on forgiving this person for a year. While my anger towards him is less than it was 3 years ago, I’m still angry. I don’t understand how someone can violate another person like he violated me. I just want to know what his thought process was. Perhaps if I had some idea about why he did it, it might be easier to forgive him.
I struggle often with wondering how to forgive such an egregious act and whether or not I even have to forgive him. Is rape forgivable? While writing this I started to wonder if it was possible to hate the action but not the person. Can I forgive him but not forgive his actions? Aren’t they one in the same? If the incident doesn’t hugely affect my life and I’m happy and healthy, but still angry when I think about it, is that okay? Is that normal? Does it mean I’ve forgiven him if I’m not dwelling on my anger about it?
I don’t have any clear answers to these questions. But I want to let anyone else out there who is having trouble forgiving their rapist to know that it’s okay not to forgive. What they did to us is egregious.
The long lasting consequences of this incident, I’m not sure I’ll ever truly know. After writing this article, I emailed it to a few friends for feedback. My wonderful friend, Martha, responded with, “I would love for you to write a paragraph about how you have forgiven yourself and how you have compassion for that person you were on that bed.” I felt like I was punched in the heart upon reading that. The enormous secret is…I haven’t forgiven myself. It was so secret, in fact, I wasn’t even aware of it.
Logically, I know it’s not my fault. I know there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it and that I did nothing to deserve it. I absolutely know I wasn’t foolish to trust him; he was just good at hiding negative intentions. Emotionally though, the victim blaming is heavy. How could I, a strong, capable, intelligent woman, allow this to happen to me? Why didn’t I walk out of the room? Why didn’t I scream and yell? Why didn’t I do any number of things to empower myself and get out of the situation?
I’ll never know and there’s nothing I can do to change the past. Whatever happened in that moment was meant to happen; I truly believe that.
What I can do is accept. Accept that it happened. Accept I may never know why. Accept that, in this moment, I can’t forgive him and I need to start forgiving myself and that what I did in that moment was totally okay. Forgiveness – for me and for him – will come in time. It may take years, decades, who knows. But I know that if I force finding compassion for him, I will be inauthentic and I won’t heal. The more important thing to do right now is to forgive myself. To let go of that moment in time and tell myself now and myself then, that the actions I took in that moment were perfect and enough.
In the meantime, I am letting go of the idea that I have to forgive him to heal. I will continue to live the best life possible by being fearless, open, and authentic. This time, with the added knowledge, that I still have work to do.