Fearless Forgiveness: How A Nightmare And A Picnic Changed My Life

Forgiveness must come. It is the only way to heal yourself from the pain of betrayal. Eventually, you must forgive. Not only the perpetrator, but yourself.
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After my recovery from my mother's murder, I have always known I wanted to do something to honor her. Sure, I get that, in some ways, my whole life has honored her. I would agree. I have lived, on some level, healing the legacy of my mother and father's pain/abuse/betrayal (all of that and more).

This week, something special happened. Something radically wonderful. In truth, a dream come true. The other night I was the voice of honor for Linda's Voice, a nonprofit foundation created by three daughters (yes, I am the middle of three girls myself) who lost their mother to murder at the hands of their stepfather.

After 25 years of staying silent with their pain, last December Kelley, Amanda and Summer Whitis confronted their stepfather in prison (he lived; their mother died). Amanda, the middle daughter (just like me), called me before that fateful day asking for support, advice, maybe even a little permission.

One of my dear mentors, Marianne Williamson, had sent this amazingly beautiful, albeit fragile, woman to me so I could help guide her through the second-most difficult day of her life. I was beyond honored. And talking to Amanda about how she should support herself, what she might ask, anticipating what he will say (and not say) healed me, too.

When you give of yourself in a true, real way, I don't think you can stop another layer of pain from scabbing and closing up for good. Working with her through her worries and fears reminded me how far I had come (I could be with her pain) and how, for so many years, I had been afraid to confront my own father. He was dead, after all. But that didn't keep my need to do it from going away. Fourteen years after his death, I did confront him, in a way I will never forget. It was the turning point in my life.

That night started off the same as usual. I couldn't sleep. I was 28 years old, freshly sober, and once again terrified to go to bed because I knew what lay waiting for me. My father, once again, would chase me through the woods, putting bullet holes in my back and sides and front. He never stopped once he started shooting.

This is the way it had gone for 14 years... night after night, my father would lie in wait until I shut off the light, closed my eyes and there he would be. Smiling. Waiting. Knowing there would be no escape. He was bigger and stronger and could outrun me, so each morning I woke up the same: exhausted, depleted and never fully believing that I could get out of bed with so many big giant gaping holes torn right through me. I could literally feel them. Some mornings I swear I could put my finger, my whole hand sometimes, from one side of my body to another.

It only got worse when I got sober. At least when I was drunk, I would have a mini-stroke informally called a blackout. What made me an alcoholic was, those blackouts didn't stop me from drinking... they made me drink more. Each one a brief yet welcome relief from trying to outrun my father as I lived my own terrifying version of 'Groundhog Day,' my father murdering me night after night after night.

But this night would be different for one reason. I couldn't take it anymore. Now that I was sober, I felt everything. I felt my hopelessness, my anxiety, my worry, my guilt. I felt every single feeling.

And I could feel him. Right there in my closet. Just waiting. But now there was no drink for me to dull my senses. And no man, either, to distract me. When you drink for a living, you attract drinkers, and when I quit drinking, my boyfriend of two years was gone, too.

Within one month of getting sober, I lost my boyfriend, was hit by a car and couldn't work as a waitress because I had stitches running down my entire face and my jaw was practically wired shut. But those are all stories for another time.

This particular night I was exhausted and lonely and, dare I say, angry. With my father in the closet, but my body desperately needing sleep, I had to make him go away. But how?

I tried to talk to him. But I only got silence in return. Out of sheer hopelessness, I quit trying to be nice and rationalize and talk sweet. I just start screaming: "Why are you here? Why can't you leave me alone? You've been dead 14 years! Why do you haunt me? Get out of here. Leave me alone. Please. Just leave me alone."

I collapsed on the bed, tears streaming down my face, my throat stinging from yelling so hard. In that moment of silence, with no results at hand, a new thought flashed in my mind. It seemed silly and trite. It did then. It does now. But this is what popped into my head: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Don't ask me why that particular phrase came to mind. I have no idea. It just did. And this is what I did with it.

I knew in that moment exactly what I had to do. I wiped my tears with the back of my hand and said ever so softly, almost too soft for him to hear but thank God he did: "Daddy, come over here."

In a millisecond, he stood before me and I half whispered: "I forgive you, Daddy. I forgive you." My snot running full-steam-ahead with buckets of tears falling, I just kept repeating myself. "I forgive you, Daddy. I forgive you."

I opened my arms and he walked into them. We sat there, embraced, as I cried, and after a few seconds of holding me he whispered in my ear: "That's what I have been waiting for."

I cried myself to sleep that night and my nightmare, once again, started up. My father chased me through the woods shooting at me. But this time I didn't try to dodge his bullets. This time I turned around and faced him.

My feet firmly planted on the ground, I stretched my arms way out so he couldn't miss. And said, "Go ahead. Kill me. Just do it."

He grabbed his gun. Took aim and pulled the trigger one, two, three times. And nothing. No bullet grazed my skin. I didn't move. I looked him dead in the eye just as he had me on that fateful day.

Again, he lifted his gun, taking careful aim, and shot one, two, three times. Nothing. I was standing there and no bullet touched me.

He looked perplexed for a second and then threw his gun to the ground and said, "I guess that's over. Do you want to have a picnic?" And from out behind the stone wall that was right beside him, he grabbed a basket that had been hidden from view, pulled out a red-and-white checkered tablecloth and proceeded to spread out a meal for the two of us. He gestured for me to sit down and together, for the first time in my memory, we sat down, just he and I, under an oak tree, and broke bread.

I have not had a nightmare since.

I call that a miracle.

I thought back to that night when Amanda was telling me her fears of facing her stepfather. I understood. It's hard to stand there with your feet firmly planted in the ground, eyeball to eyeball with your own worst enemy. The person who could be so easy to blame for ruining your life.

I told Amanda the story about the nightmare. Not to ask her to forgive her stepfather -- she wasn't ready for that -- but to let her know that that day was coming. Forgiveness must come. It is the only way to heal yourself from the pain of betrayal. Eventually, you must forgive. Not only the perpetrator, but yourself.

Standing there under the tree with my father shooting at me in broad daylight, arms wide open, made me feel powerful. Made me feel untouchable. Made me feel free.

As I was honored by Linda's Voice for sharing my mother's story, I silently thanked my father, because, let's face it, it is his story, too. Their lives ever entwined with each other, and with my sisters and me.

Kelley, Amanda and Summer are now on their path to healing. By going public with their story and actively participating in the healing -- and saving -- of women everywhere who have suffered at the hands of someone who tells them "I love you," they are practicing loving themselves. And by starting Linda's Voice, they are planting their feet firmly in the ground and saying, "No more."

I officially made myself their big sister that night. I have walked their path and I will light their way.

May we all have way-showers as we walk our fearless path. And may we all have brave women like Kelley, Amanda and Summer, who will stand for us when we can't stand for ourselves.

I am honored to be a new member of their family. Join us, won't you? Spread the message of Linda's Voice and my mother, Ena's, voice, and perhaps someone you know who needs someone to light their way.

As the famous commercial for Motel 6 says, "I will leave the light on for you."

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

For more by Rhonda Britten, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.

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