I never intended to forgive the two young men who gang raped me when I was 13 years old. I wanted to hate them forever. As far as I was concerned they were evil, sadistic animals and I wanted someone to kidnap them, tie them up, beat them up, rape and torture them just like they had done to me for hours on end.
But in 2003, a series of events released memories that I had previously locked deep within. My eldest daughter was turning 13; I was attending workshops, and studying for a psychotherapy course. The memories of that night started to come back. They haunted me in a way that they hadn’t before, and I was no longer able to block them out.
The memories were very disturbing; like a porn film running in my mind and, to be honest, for a long time I thought I was going mad. Surely if it were that bad, then I would have remembered it? I now know that it’s common for our minds to numb out and shut off disturbing memories after a trauma, but they can resurface many years later, once your mind thinks you are strong enough.
Understanding the Past, Transforming the Future
So I decided I needed some help to get rid of the memories. But, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t get rid of them. I had to face them and learn to accept what was done to me to recover and heal from that night. I learned that the way in was the way out.
It was during therapy that my therapist suggested to me that maybe they weren’t born rapists. I could not believe what I was hearing and was completely outraged by what he was saying. But he planted a seed within my mind, and that seed started to grow.
The boys weren’t much older than I was, perhaps 17 or 18, and I wanted to understand what went so wrong for them. How did they know how to be so violent to another human being? What had they heard, witnessed, or experienced that changed them so much?
I do believe that we all come into this world the same way, as an innocent baby – like a blank sheet of paper. I don’t think anyone is born a rapist, murderer, or burglar. Rather, that we are conditioned by life, which shapes the path and decisions we make.
A good friend of mine used to be a midwife, and she told me that she has delivered thousands of babies but has never once met an evil one. This idea stayed with me. And once I truly understood that truth, I felt for the young men.
In their dehumanizing of me, I realized that they had dehumanized themselves and were cut off to their own source of aliveness. And the more I thought about being gang raped, I couldn’t help but take them into my heart, and I started to feel compassion and forgiveness towards them.
Forgiveness as the Best Revenge
I came up with a plan which I called my “best revenge” many years ago. I decided to become a mother and live as good a life as I could. I chose to be happy, but I often wonder what must it be like to live with what you do to another human being.
Forgiveness for me initially was an act of self-love as I had so much blame and shame for what had happened to me. And then it became an act of understanding towards them.
I chose to let go of all the pain, hate and resentment I felt for years, which has resulted in a much more peaceful and content way to live my life. After all, they would have no idea if I was consumed by hate, bitterness or revenge. The only person it hurt was me and all those in my life.
My healing came when I finally faced all the details of what they did to me on that night and learned to integrate it. I realized that I’m not my body or the things that they have done to me. The real essence of me could never be touched.
And if I am not what was done to me; are they what they did to me?
Madeleine Black is a counsellor and lives in Glasgow. Growing up in London in the late 1970’s she was brutally raped at the age of 13 by two American teenagers. In 2014, having come to terms with how the trauma had shaped her life, she decided to share her story publically for the first time. Madeleine was featured on The Forgiveness Project in September 2014.
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