February 17, 2017

A Little Girl Forgives.

Violence lives in your neighborhood.

Do you see it? Do you see the little girl with matted hair and stained clothes that don’t fit, who’s painfully shy, and scared of everything?

Do you think to yourself, “She’ll be okay,” or do you pull her hair back into a braid and remind her she’s safe?

Do you see the young bully feeling left out and angry? Does his trouble start at home? Do you know who taught him how to hurt? Will you be adding to his pain? Or, will you invite him over for dinner and ask him about his day?

How do we know if children were taught to fear, hurt, and harm? How do we know if they need our kind words and helping hands? Are we to assume they were just born this way?

I once looked like a frightened and meek little girl, a troubled teenager with a bad attitude, a careless and wasted young woman—and I was not just born with all of that fear and anger.

I experienced violence as a child. As a result, I was painfully shy, terrified to speak, and scared of life. Deathly afraid of the dark, of the light, of going to sleep, of losing my mom. Definitely too terrified to tell anyone. I thought if I just showed up, cleaned, helped, did good things, and stayed quiet, then bad things would stop happening. So I stayed very quiet for most of my childhood.

I grew into an angry, snotty, hateful teenager ready to bite back at life. I was bullied at school. “You look like the neighborhood dog, go back to the hole you climbed out of,” and many more mean words were spewed at me before I finally decided no more Miss Nice Girl.

I found alcohol at 15, and then I could loosen my tight grip for a few hours. Next up were heavier drugs that numbed me out so I could sleep and cope. I stopped caring about anything besides my next drunken and drugged extravaganza.

I grew up just a little and started having kids. I started to feel like a crappy human for my past and my bad habits. I started to put my life together piece by piece by removing the pieces of the puzzle that didn’t fit into my fairy tale ending.

But my anxiety and depression took their toll on my body and mind. I had to rewind and figure out how I went wrong, so I could start to go right.

It was time to give a voice to my little girl—the one I shut up so long ago. The past was my present, because I never healed my old wounds. I had to go back and feel what I tried to bury and numb so that I could let it go for good. I wanted to experience what now felt like without the burden of the past.

Looking back at my childhood, I realize there were teachers, parents, family, and children who made my already deep wounds deeper. Others gave me so much love and hope in humanity; they’re the reason I’m able to sit here today.

I want to encourage you to be the latter in a child’s life, no matter how difficult they may seem.

My spirit was broken too many times to count. I gathered painful memories and moments that I still need to forgive. So I start with gratitude, move to forgiveness, and end in gratitude:

I sit here safe and loved now, even though he stole parts of my childhood. I remember that I did climb trees, ride bikes, splash in the pool, and cuddle with my mommy every chance I got. I enjoyed the horse that lived in our neighbor’s back yard. I did play in the woods until dark, eat fresh apples and pears off my father’s trees, raise baby ducks and geese, and always had a dog.

I acknowledge the pain, but I don’t let it own me or my past anymore. It happened, it sucked, I’m okay…moving on.

We don’t have to carry around our sadness and regret when we forgive. When we let go of the pain, we leave room for love to surface. We can finally see that there really were little blessings hidden in the heartache.

When I remember my childhood now, I recall more happy and healthy moments than ever—not because my memory is improving with age, but because I finally let go of the traumatic experiences that I’d wanted to cling to. Once I did let go, all that was left to remember and embrace were the hugs, sunshine, mud, hide-and-seek and playing in the creek.

I don’t have to be a victim anymore when I forgive.

I’d always identified with the victim. Then I became my own abuser, using drugs and alcohol to numb myself. Not being the victim is hard when unfortunate circumstances have always led you to identify yourself as one. Choosing to forgive lets me identify with who I want to be and become, rather than clinging to the pain of the past.

Forgiveness feels good. Really good.

I have been able to mostly heal a petrified little girl, quiet a mouthy adolescent, and calm my inner drunken and drugged self using forgiveness and gratitude. I am able to look in the mirror and see a kind, compassionate, helpful, loving, loyal, and creative young mother, woman, and wife with plenty of room to grow.

I didn’t and don’t do it on my own, and neither should you. Life is hard enough without trauma. If you’re healing major pain, pull in the reinforcements and ask for help. Let a therapist or life coach guide you. You are not a trained professional, and your healing will speed along much more smoothly if you ask for help sooner rather than later. I wasted a lot of precious time assuming I could do it myself.

My family’s support, therapists, life coaches, hundreds of self-help books and blogs, church sermons, journaling, meditation, yoga, and more have helped pull me out of my darkness and shed light on my heart. But, I had to drag my butt off of the bar stool and focus on finding the loving tools and people I needed to lay my past to rest.

I know that life and people can be difficult and challenging; I know that the weight of your burdens can be too much, and I know you want to be happy and free. Let gratitude and forgiveness show you what freedom feels like. Let your little girl or boy speak and feel. Let them turn their pain into passion, anger into action, bitterness into forgiveness, and grumbles into gratitude.

I can tell you from experience that a smile can save a life, a “thank you” can transform a mind, an “I’m sorry” can close and open doors, and forgiveness tastes like freedom.

I hope we all have more moments where we are able to bite our tongues and swallow our pride so we may savor the simple and satisfying flavors of life.

Hateful, rude, inconsiderate, angry, aggressive, and evil people exist, and they impact some of us more than others. Running and hiding from what happened won’t fix it. Pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t work. Being ashamed and embarrassed is useless. Repeating the pattern is dangerous and damaging. And staying the victim will minimize your spirit.

If you can find the time to sit with your pain, and the space in your heart to forgive, then you can do what you came here to do: turn pain, evil, and darkness into love.

Little Girl. {Poem}

I’m sorry you were scared and alone.

I’m sorry no one picked you up and carried you away to the safe place you craved.

I’m sorry you cried.

I’m sorry for all of the times you had to run and hide.

I’m sorry that everywhere you went, your time was spent trying to protect yourself from fear and pain.

So little and fragile, just trying to grow every time it rained.

Instead always feeling emotionally drained, never knowing what the next breath would bring.

More screaming, yelling, throwing, strangling, hitting, sobbing, my heart throbbing, and my hopes and dreams for a life of love slowly dying. You were prying the innocence from my mind as you filled it with thoughts that would scare me to death and keep me up at night.

“Hide, run, go!” She screamed at us with a knife at her throat. The hate in his eyes—would he take her life? I closed my eyes, paralyzed in fear once more, as this has happened before.

He finally loosened his grip, let her slip to the floor, where she begged and pleaded, “please, God, no more!”

I was a helpless witness and an innocent victim at the mercy of him.

I could let my urge to play those rolls linger.

I can cry, scream, and yell about all of the injustice, all of the wrongs; or I can choose to sing a different song. Because many times I was loved, hugged, cuddled, kissed, and given reasons to smile.

And, sometimes I was allowed to be an innocent child.

Some days others took my hand, held my heart, and made feel safe.

And, those are the memories I will choose to cherish and recreate.

I will allow all the love I did feel and learn to outshine all of the fear, pain, anger and hate that you placed within me. I’ll be the voice that sets me free.

I can’t wait for your apology, or permission to let go.

Many years I have wished I could hear an, “I’m sorry, I love you, and please forgive me,” from everyone who did and didn’t notice my pain. But, that won’t restore the love in my heart, again.

Some said sorry, some did not; most still don’t realize there was a reason to be sorry at all.

But, I no longer need to hear the words I once sought.

Because, you taught me what it looks like to hold onto resentment, anger and a victim mentality. You showed me your pain. I saw it, felt it, and lived it.

And, so I say for you: “I’m sorry, I love you, please forgive me.”

I know you wish you had the voice to say it, and mean it.

I know you wish you didn’t know the pain well enough to share it.

I know you wanted to be stronger, do better. And, in those moments when I was brave enough to look into your eyes, I understood that you were scared and alone, too.

In those moments, I wished I could help you forgive yourself, and move on to new. I’ll let go—for me and for you. God bless you.


Author: Danielle Atherton-Rutledge

Image: Courtesy of Author (Photo Credit: Renee Atherton); Harlow Heslop/Flickr

Editor: Toby Israel


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