How Nannette Ricaforte found healing from abuse through her fight against human trafficking.
The speaker was already in the middle of his presentation when I walked into the darkened auditorium looking for an available seat. I took a break from my volunteer duties at the justice conference hoping to catch a few experts speak on the subject of human trafficking, abuse, child slavery, and trauma.
I had no idea who the speaker was but I squirmed in my seat when I realized he was talking about forgiveness. I wondered what forgiveness had to do with human trafficking and abuse.
The act of forgiveness made me feel uncomfortable. For so many years after I left my abusive marriage, I held my anger close like a shield to protect me from further pain. I believed if I remained angry and nursed all grievances I wouldn’t fall prey to an abuser again.
I understood my natural tendency to exact revenge on someone who wronged me but forgiving someone meant weakness and vulnerability. I was hardly interested in what the speaker in the auditorium espoused on forgiveness until he shared a survivor’s story.
Those words caused an avalanche of anger and bitterness inside me to pave a new path toward healing that years of therapy never accomplished.
Etched in my mind were a few points of forgiveness, which Kerry presented at the conference:
- Forgiving does not mean your offenders have changed. (You don’t need your offender’s permission or cooperation before you can forgive.)
- Forgiving does not mean reconciliation. (Anyone can apologize and make promises but change is demonstrated by how people live over time.)
- Forgiving does mean letting go of bitterness. (Justice does not free you from bitterness, only forgiveness can.)
- Forgiveness does mean abuse was part of your life but not the most important part.
- Forgiveness puts abuse in its place.
It’s been three years since I sat in stunned silence at the justice conference. The road to my own healing was tumultuous, yet, rewarding. I spent hundreds of hours on extensive research learning about the correlation between victims of abuse, forgiveness, and healing.
I discovered my anger and bitterness never shielded me from further pain but caused damage in the way I functioned in relationships because I never addressed or processed my trauma. Instead, I buried them with drugs and alcohol, congratulating myself for the numbness I confused with healing.
In my volunteer work with My Refuge House I’ve met survivors of sex trafficking, rape, and domestic abuse, including social workers who’ve helped me understand how forgiving myself was also essential in my recovery.
I’ve heard testimonies from a few survivors who amaze me with their resilience of letting go, not for the benefit of absolving the perpetrator from their crime but for their own mental and spiritual freedom.
Acknowledging the pain I’ve caused others while allowing myself forgiveness for the pain was a pivotal moment in my journey to restoration.
Amrita Maat, a nurse and child abuse survivor, advocates forgiveness as the foundation of healing from abuse:
“You have to forgive,” she says. “You have to forgive yourself and you have to forgive those who’ve hurt you. When you’re a victim, you’re often angry – because you have every right to be angry, right? But anger, focusing on blame and thinking of yourself as a victim only perpetuates the dysfunction and the pain it brings.”
Amrita points out the importance of identifying the pain you’ve caused people and in yourself, delving deep into the intricacies of its manifestations. She believes “forgiveness was possible when I released the hurt because it no longer served a purpose.”
Today I look back at the decade I spent in an abusive marriage without the searing heat of anger and resentment burning in my chest. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened but it felt like the gradual absence of a heavy burden I unloaded on my travels.
I tell people fighting against human trafficking is my calling because I can be the voice for the voiceless. The unexpected truth was the voiceless gave me the key of forgiveness, which unlocked the self-imposed prison I placed myself in for years.
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Photo: Nannette Ricaforte