certain longings : some reflections on coming to terms with the legacy of abuse, trauma and hurt.

Certain longings we cannot articulate and so the body bears the burden, certain feelings will never gain a platform or an audience and certain pains will remain from things we could not change so that perhaps at times forgetting would be the better option even though we are told so often we need to remember in order to make sense of it all or not lose sight of the painful ‘truth’ or ‘reality’.

I feel so tired today. I took my sister out again, and it was a lovely afternoon of togetherness, I am glad we could talk of things and I see at times a different kind of vision of our family in that I was the very youngest. So much has gone down over years that cannot be changed, only understood.

Saturdays can be a time I miss my Mum it being the day we so often got together, at times there is a freedom in knowing we are released as God knows its been hard to live my life outside of all the trauma of illness that dogged our family over so many years. I understand my mother’s early life now, I realise she gave us the best she could, I wish I had understood some things more clearly before this and then perhaps I would not have shunned connections so much, nor lived in the isolation that I chose to, BUT I CANNOT CHANGE THE PAST NOR PAST DECISIONS and I know we often only gain maturity, clearer perception and wisdom in hindsight, which is why self forgiveness is very important and is the basis for our forgiveness of others.

In the chapter ‘Remember to Forget’ of his book Australia Day, journalist Stan Grant explores how pain and wounding and grievance when held onto and remembered over and over again becomes like an unhealed sore that we keep picking over. He speaks of how failure to let go, failure to forgive and desire to keep remembering over and over and over again, wounds, injuries, injustices, hurts, abuse or pain done to us often only makes things worse. He sites the example of Holocaust survivor, Jean Amery (formerly Hans Meier) who was tortured by the Gestapos and survived interment in Auschwitz but refused to ever relinquish his resentment and died by his own hand as an example of what German philosopher Nietzsche calls ‘resentment man’, “a prisoner of a past, driven by historical grievance and driven by hatred and desire for revenge”. Amery’s inability to forgive meant that his resentment turned in upon himself and so he bore witness to something Albert Camus once wrote “resentment is always resentment against oneself.”

In a very powerful paragraph, Stan, who is of mixed blood indigenous descent, and whose own relatives suffered much abuse at the hands of white colonial settlers writes :

I could never truly let go of the pain of the past, but I can forget and there is a difference: forgetting is not amnesia it is a choice to acknowledge, commemorate and put aside.

Grant does not lie about his own struggle with pain and resentment but grappled with them, in fact the entire book Australia Day I see as a testament to his struggle with pain, wounds, loss, an ancestral lineage of damage and hurt which ultimately leads him to a far more peaceful and reconciled place should he have turned his back on forgiveness and continued to nurture his resentment.

This fundamental issue is one that all sufferers of abuse and neglect, betrayal or abandonment struggle with in the course of their healing. Old scars still remain but never the less some of us regain strength and grace in the broken places. Our wounding hopefully and ideally deepens in us experience of compassion and wisdom, having looked into the dark side of human nature, we partly lose our innocence, but our capacity to keep loving and reaching for life, rises out of our capacity to forego revenge or turning the pain back inwardly upon ourselves over and over and over. It frees us from the prison we create when we fail to let go of that which in deeply scarring us, can never be changed.

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change.

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