The October heat was beating down, and the only relief was a gentle wind that always came just in time and always left far too soon. It was my sister’s wedding. I was standing at the corner of the venue, watching from afar, in a breezy sage green dress down to my feet. It was the first time I had seen him in over five years, and I was shaking in fear.
I couldn’t bring myself to move closer than the outskirts of the property. I blinked back the tears and forced my mouth to curl up into a smile when my family came close. The festivities carried on long into the day. After the sun set, I disappeared into the shadows and reemerged after he finally left, ready to go home.
There’s this thing I’ve been ignoring for far too long, and each time I feel just a little further from it, it manages to creep its way back into my purview.
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve never felt like I had any sense of security or safety. I’m always looking around, keeping watch. I keep my distance, I stand in the corner, and I never let myself be secluded from the view of others. But I’ve not always been this way.
Bitterness shrouds the memories of the past that led me to this insecure, fragile, and frantic way of life. When I was in high school, I suffered an experience of sexual assault. Then I found myself in a similar situation, yet again, in my marriage.
I’ve harbored bitterness towards my first offender for over ten years now. I always wished I could make him pay for what he stole from me. I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to feel the years of pain and fear that I face every day because of what he did. I wanted him to pay for his crime, and I still do.
A decade went by, and yet not much has changed. I’m still crippled by the experience. When I started to feel like I was on the mend, the one person I trusted most at that time in my life inflicted the same kind of pain yet again.
The first time broke me. The second reminded me just how broken I was. And that made me hate the first person even more.
I’m bitter about many facets of that part of my past. Of all those things, there’s one that draws more affliction than the others. On that one day, he stole so much from me. And in losing so much, I lost myself, too. Since then I’ve been clawing my way back to who I remember myself to be, and it’s been a long, uphill battle.
That moment in the past is stuck in the back of my brain like a throbbing headache. It’s held me back. It’s suppressed the joy I used to have. It’s made me fear everything. It’s made me closed off and cold. It’s made me…
Or has it?
Maybe I’m the one that let it cause that much damage.
I’ve recently come to realize something during my years of mourning all I lost, all I rebuilt, all I re-learned: I was robbing myself of so many good things instead. Not only did bitterness cause a wound to perpetually fester, but it also caused me to grasp on to that anger and held me from so many opportunities, moments, and possibilities.
I felt that if I let go of my pain, it would excuse or release him of his injustice. Like my daily torment was somehow living proof of what he did, and maybe one day he could see just how far the damage of his actions had spread. But at some point—and trust me, this one was hard to realize—I had to come to the understanding that he probably didn’t care about his actions at that moment. And maybe he never would.
But even more than that realization, my grappling with that bitter memory was only hurting me on another level entirely. It kept me from the potential God has for me, the future God has for me. Daily, I have to choose to give people a chance. To let people in. To step out of the shadows. I don’t have to be defined by what happened to me. But even more than that, I don’t have to let the bitterness from what happened to me rule over my life.
Did I let go of this bitterness after one prayerful afternoon?
I struggle with this daily. But I also get a little better each day with the help of those around me. Every time a fear, a doubt, or an overwhelming urge to go back into hiding comes over me, I have to also fight away the inclination to be bitter about why I’m feeling those things in the first place.
Some days I don’t win. Some days I drive 45 minutes to a place I really want to visit and then sit there, never even opening my door because of fear. Do I drive all the way home anxious, angry, and bitter that the only reason I’m so scared to step out of my vehicle is because of some past hurt? Yup.
But then there are those other days…the ones where I get to laugh so hard that my stomach feels like it’s going to explode. And the ones where I get to splash my toes into a waterfall that I hiked miles to see. And the others where I dare to open my door and step out of the car.
And on those days, I feel just a little bit of myself finding its way back. On those days, I feel God freeing me.