OPINION: Survivors must forgive their abusers — and themselves

I fell in love with a guy who bought groceries and cooked dinners, who adored my cat, who turned the bare apartment I lived in into a real home.

He was freewheeling and spontaneous and authentic. He treated me like more than a boyfriend; he made me feel long-term. When he said “you’re my soulmate,” it didn’t ring hollow — it echoed loudly in my heart and through my mind, drowning out most everything else. I still hear it to this day.

The first time he hit me, it just didn’t make sense.

How could he cross this line that can’t be uncrossed? What about all the good things we had going for us? Doesn’t he understand that there’s no going back after this?

But there was a way to go back.

The past can’t be changed — but we can pretend it didn’t happen.

I could forgive and forget, and the little life we were building wouldn’t have to die. The humiliation would wear off. The bitterness would fade and life would be sweet again.

And for a moment, after each and every time he laid a hand on me, all those things were true. 

Love teaches us to overlook. To see the best and ignore the worst. To focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.

When people ask why I put up with it so long, why I went to the hospital but left before I got admitted, why I didn’t get a restraining order sooner, why I let him violate the restraining order and move back in, why I gave him money to hire a lawyer, why I didn’t cooperate with the investigation, why I loved someone who could do this to me over and over again … I remember the reasons I gave myself.

He needs help, not punishment.

He can’t control his emotions.

He can’t control his addictions.

He’s already on probation.

He’ll get deported.

He has nothing left.

He’ll never forgive me.

I will lose him forever.

It’s my fault, too.

It was the quiet moments after the damage had been done that kept my hope alive. The moments of reconciliation, of being embraced and listened to, when it was just the two of us, and everything else faded into the background. The moments where pain had stripped us of our defenses and we could see each other for the frightened little creatures we were. Where our love for each other was visible and unclouded by resentment, wounded but still alive.

That’s what made it worth it. So I looked for the light at the end of the tunnel and paid the toll with silence. What did silence buy me?

Red handprints on my cheek. 

Welts in the shape of electric cords and belts.

A dull pain in my ribcage that stung whenever I got up or sat down.

Infidelity. Mistrust.

Broken electronics, kicked-in doors, enormous repair bills.

Excuses for neglecting my family and friends and work and wellbeing.

Lease violations and the threat of being evicted.

And blame. Blame for inciting the reaction. Blame for reacting. Blame for provoking. Blame for minimizing. Blame for exaggerating. Blame for not caring. Blame for caring too much. Blame for telling the truth.

The last time he hit me was this past July, when I found him at a run-down motel in the middle of the night. It happened to be my birthday, but he hadn’t remembered anyway.

As morning neared, I lay in bed alone, face up, my lips too swollen to shut, my pillow bloodied and soaked with tears. As my ears rang and my head pounded, I tried to think about my birthday the year before, the beautiful sunny day he gave me on the beach in Santa Monica, before the betrayals, before the bruises, before we got lost in the darkness of the tunnel.

I never expected to find myself in an abusive relationship. I never wanted to be a victim. I never wanted to file police reports or see him get arrested. I never wanted any of it.

I just didn’t want to get hit any more.

But lying there, all I could think of was that I’d failed miserably. Nothing had changed. In my mind I heard the things he would shout at me routinely, inches from my face:

You’re nothing.  You’re a joke. 

You’re stupid beyond hope. You’re broken beyond repair.

You’re a retarded, fat, uncultured slob, the son of a poor Mexican and a redneck, and you’ll never be anything more than that.

You’re an embarrassment to me, an embarrassment to mankind, foolish and unfixable, undeserving of mercy, unworthy of love and unworthy of life.

I lay there looking at myself and how I’d gotten there, and it was hard not to think he might’ve been right.

But he wasn’t right.

I was not a lost cause.


Today is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the High Holy Days. It’s the start of a new year in the Jewish calendar, but it’s not an occasion for partying. It’s a time meant for introspection.

It’s a time not only to forgive those who’ve wronged you, but a chance to forgive yourself, to repent what you’ve done wrong, and ultimately to seek atonement.

It’s an opportunity to thank those who’ve been there for you during your darkest hours. And a chance to make a new promise to yourself not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

It’s not about casting blame.

It’s about accepting the past in order to accept the future. If you seek it, it will lead you out of the darkness

No one can tell you how to do it.

No one can do it for you.

But you are not alone.

EDITOR’S NOTE: WEHOville invites you to share your stories of forgiveness, repentance and atonement during this sacred holiday week in a comment below.

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Jimmy Palmieri
Jimmy Palmieri
11 days ago

Brandon,
Thank you for a truly couragious move, in sharing your story. It is through honest writings like this, that we learn. I’m glad you are on the other side and hope you have nothing but happiness. You deserve it. We all do.

hifi5000
hifi5000
18 days ago

From what I have read,abuse is pretty common in our society.When it happens to oneself, we can not quite believe it that a loved one would do something terrible.

All I can say is if you get involved with someone,be sure your values line up with each other and live with them for awhile before making things permanent.You need to know that other person.Any inkling of problems could be spotted and dealt with before more serious moves are planned.

Dignity
Dignity
18 days ago

Don’t ever give away or let someone take away your dignity.

voter
voter
18 days ago

Forgiving oneself for any actions that led to the abuse is necessary for the possibility of happiness. I find that forgiving abuse by others is mostly temporary as real abuse is ultimately unforgivable.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
19 days ago

Forgiving someone means to merely dismiss them.
They’re not worth another minute of your time, either for reconciliation or revenge.

Rick
Rick
19 days ago

Brandon thank you for sharing your personal story. It reminded me of a relationship I was in when I was years old, and yes I have the small scar near my right eye to remind me, without getting into the details after 8 months he was out. On my 24th birthday I made a wish and I asked God for someone to spend the rest of my life with. That was 1984, this October I celebrate 38 years with the man of my dreams. If it can happen to me to can happen to you. Never give up, believe in… Read more »

Last edited 19 days ago by Rick
William Seegmiller
19 days ago

Thanks for sharing your story, so many of us can relate and are here to support your healing. Male survivors of intimate partner abuse still face double stigma, lack of male-specific resources and legal insivibilization by the system. For support and resources for male survivors, please visit 1in6.org

carleton cronin
carleton cronin
19 days ago

I am moved to add another comment as I recall Oscar Wilde’s lament in his Ballad of Reading gaol: “Each man kills the thing he loves…” The barriers we humans erect to intimate conversation and good communication keep us from being all we can be. The brave climb over the barriers and move on.

Joël
Joël
19 days ago

Nice that you are open about this, But I absolutely disagree with the forgiveness trend. I lived through a similar experience with a past boyfriend. Therapy helped A LOT. Until my therapist came to this subject of forgiveness. Besides the abuse from my boyfriend, therapy helped me get through years and years of family abuse. Dealing with stuff that is, and was, absolutely unforgivable. Absolutely. I could not, and would not get over this hurdle of forgiveness towards my abusers. I was steadfast and stubborn about it — I would not forgive them. Many sessions about this, and how forgiveness… Read more »

Art
Art
19 days ago
Reply to  Joël

I agree–unburden and move on to happiness.

carleton cronin
carleton cronin
19 days ago

Pulling back the covers in this fashion is brave and empowering. Your sharing of such an intimate part of your life must give hope to others who have experienced similar disappointments in life. Thank you, Brandon..

Susan
Susan
19 days ago

Brandon. Thank you for sharing this with people who will never be lucky enough to know you. You have beautifully written a true profile in courage. Shana tova – wishes for a new year that is brimming with good health, joy, love, and peace

Jeremy
Jeremy
19 days ago

I was beaten and abused by my father for being different. Every relationship I had would end in abuse. I pushed away family and friends who cared for me and did drugs until I almost died. When my mother came to the hospital for the last time I realized how my
life failed and the good angel inside of me beat the devil down and with help and rehab I started my journey out of the darkness. It was painful but it was worth it.

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