Today’s blog continues the discussion on the topic of forgiveness….specifically, all the places we are invited to be loving and forgiving of ourselves.
Words of Wisdom
As I pondered about what I might write in today’s blog, the following words came across my desk from the Enneagram Institute: In this week before Christmas, reflect on Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. As a One, make this Affirmation today: “I forgive myself for my mistakes. I see my mistakes as opportunities for learning discernment and patience.” (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 362) After reading these words, I knew that I needed to write the blog on forgiveness that has literally haunted me and which showed up just yesterday through a terrifying nightmare.
In the fall of 1983 as a freshman at the University of Iowa, I was a victim of sexual assault. I can’t tell you the details of the assault because I was either drugged or experiencing an alcohol-induced blackout. For a long time, I denied that it even happen. At the deepest part of my being, however, and supported by the glimpses of memory I did retain of that night I knew that I had been raped. For years I either denied the experience or played it down as “no big deal,” primarily out of the profound shame I felt for “having put myself in that position in the first place.” In other words, it was my fault. ( for the record: Sexual assault is NEVER the fault of the victim). The nightmare I had on Sunday night woke me up to the guilt and the shame that I was still carrying from that assault, along with the trauma of the event that apparently still lived in my consciousness. The appearance of this nightmare has given me an opportunity to take another look at forgiveness – specifically forgiveness of myself.
On Sunday night as I was sleeping, I found myself in the middle of a narrative dream. The dream was harmless enough and seemed to be communicating something that was important for me to know. And just as I was reaching to grasp the meaning of this “something important” I found myself wracked with physical as well as emotional terror. I woke up screaming, “No” and like I was trying to defend myself against attack. As I lay in bed trying to catch my breath and calm my pounding heart, I pondered the meaning of this dream. Out of all the possible meanings, it was the sexual assault from college that kept rising to the surface. I settled on that and asked myself, why is this showing up now and what am I supposed to do with it? Then I remembered that I’ve been doing a lot of work around forgiveness and wondered if this was somehow connected. DUH!
A Word About Trauma
I remember as a child being plagued by nightmares and being afraid to fall asleep because I didn’t want to have these scary and sometimes terrifying dreams. I prayed and prayed and prayed for God to take away these nightmares. And……God did. Now, I’m not so sure that was a good thing. One of the things I have learned about nightmares is that they are often our body’s way of releasing trauma. When in the face of danger we choose freeze (as opposed to fight or flight) the adrenaline produced in the face of fear gets stuck in the body and until it is physically released, it stays there. Trapped traumas cause physical, mental and emotional harm to us and can eventually become debilitating. Nightmares are one way that the body gives release to the trapped adrenaline that might otherwise cause us harm. So, nightmares aren’t necessarily a bad thing and in fact, can be a source of healing. The nightmare of Sunday evening certainly served in that capacity….releasing another part of the trauma of sexual assault.
So, I’m grateful for the release of that dream, but more importantly, I’m grateful for an opportunity to continue this practice of forgiveness that the universe has placed in my path. I have long since forgiven my assailant, but apparently, I had not yet forgiven myself. So…..this is the intention that I now carry thanks to that dream. And the good news is that this is really all I need to do. I hold myself in loving compassion and carry in my heart the Aramaic mantra of forgiveness knowing that it is God doing the actual work of forgiveness….I just need to be open to receiving it. And in this particular situation, I am more than ready to receive.
Where are the places where you carry shame or regret for your own perceived “faults”?
How are you being invited to offer forgiveness to yourself?
What are the things of the past that you are being invited to let go of?
Authentic Freedom Ministries