A few people I know have suggested I should forgive and forget, that I am perhaps needlessly holding on to the pain of my abuse, or that I chose to allow my memories to take over and chose pain over pleasure. Some have suggested that I chose my fate for spiritual reasons. Contrary to what some might say, I do not believe that my abuse or the suffering it caused was a masochistic choice I made in order to learn spiritual lessens or that I am choosing to hold on to the pain. Abuse has no positive value and should never have happened, but I can't forget it because it is forever a part of who I am. I guess pain is the price for being alive. My pain has made me sensitive, understanding, optimistic, artistic, compassionate and full of humor. I guess those are the gifts in my abuse or maybe despite it, but I would never say that I chose to be abused so I could be a sensitive person or so I could get masochistic pleasure. Sometimes choosing to heal looks like choosing to hold onto pain, but there's a difference.

Even though it is painful, I have to remember. I have to know what I am letting go of and find healthy ways of coping to replace the unhealthy ways before I can truly and fully let go. Letting go is a long, slow process. To me, it is one of the last steps in a repeated cycle of remembering, mourning, learning new ways to cope, and coming to a meaningful understanding of my humanness, limitations and history, a process which is self-affirming rather than self-denying. It involves having compassion for myself and others, removing denial and self-blame and releasing the negative feelings I have toward myself and possibly my abusers, but not forgetting. I can't just forget the abuse, but I can foresee a time in the future when my life is not so cluttered with painful memories because at some point they will just float by without the hold they have on me now, and the feelings that belong to those old memories will float by as well instead of coming to me in painful flashbacks of physical, sexual and emotional violations.

This is such a lonely process because the experience of sexual abuse and childhood trauma is largely denied in our culture, which leaves few sacred places for survivors to come together to mourn our losses, to grieve in good company. Our society does not sanction the mourning of child abuse or sexual abuse. There are only a handful of expensive therapists and support groups devoted to abuse survivors to make us feel less alone. Some of the best, most accessible support is here on the web. I feel very fortunate to have found a few friends and resources that can actually acknowledge and offer some understanding and support for what I've been through. Allies and witnesses are so important in the healing process. Most people just want to avoid the subject.

My abuse has made me fear people in a big way. I have seen the worst of what people are capable of. It has given me a profound sense that I live in an unsafe world and has caused me to form many maladaptive though protective elements in my personality based on fear and mistrust. It has programmed me to have urges to harm myself, to feel suicidal, to neglect myself, to badger myself, to dissociate, to over eat, to withdraw, to fear my emotions, to isolate myself, to project negativity on others, to blindly enter abusive relationships, to avoid pain at any cost... I am in a long term struggle to replace my programming with healthier coping styles and non-threatening, life affirming experiences little by little so I don't get so overwhelmed that I sink back into old, familiar coping modes. It's a fine line balancing how much is too much or too little change, though I think over the years I have made a lot of positive changes and released many of the negative feelings I had about myself. It's a long, hard process that calls for respect, a process that cannot be rushed or forced. It is a process much more complicated than simply forgiving and forgetting. I will let it go when I am ready and not a minute sooner.

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