Adverse Childhood Experiences and the path towards healing. You are not alone.
I share my trials, my victories, and my stories with you in hopes that if any of you were ever touched by childhood abuse or neglect, as I was, you will see yourselves in my experiences and feel strengthened to voice what you had not been able to before. I hope we can learn together why we respond to life through a particular lens, and that there are ways to climb out of this prison of pain, silence, and shame.
My name is Bess Hilpert

Forgiveness through the Heart

How Do You Forgive Someone Who Sexually Assaulted You? …

As I shared last week, I believe grace interceded in my ability to forgive my father for the terrible physical and emotional abuse he heaped on me day in and day out. Forgiveness of those that sexually abused me, however, only grudgingly came with time and age, and much pain and confusion. With time, professional help, and that help’s acquired awareness that trauma is not the event, but the wound left behind, I got better. After a long battle.

Trauma wounds run deep. The chasm cuts to the core of one’s spirit, leaving one feeling dead, without the hope of resurrection. For me, those cuts started early in my life.

I do not know how old I was when that first large monster woke me in the night, brought me to his room, and explored my body. I am guessing I was five, tiny, and silent. I remember trying to be as small as possible in hopes he would not see me in his bed. Forget I was there. Stop touching me. But he did not stop.

As time went on, I learned to disassociate and will my little body into a corner of the ceiling where I would be safe. Whatever was going on down there, was not happening to me up here.

On occasion, I would be passed from one bed to another only to have to climb higher into the sky for refuge. Even today, sometimes at night, I can still smell the smells of those sweaty bodies; and find myself upright in bed, screaming, with my heart racing in fear.

I moved from going to bed under cover of sheets and blankets to underneath my bed. When that was no longer safe, I hid at the bottom of my closet under heaps of clothing. When my closet floor became danger zone, I moved to another closet. But I was never safe. The cover of darkness was their green light, and my terror zone.

Sleep eluded me. Fear moved in and took up residency. My sense of self was stolen with each continuing inappropriate touch. I was broken and alone with my shame.

No one saved me. No one rescued that little girl so miserable and alone.

Time passed. And so, one day, I walked into the world a lifeless, sad, broken little girl now a fully-grown woman. I carried the curse of my old wounds into my new life.

Out in the world, I struggled with hypervigilance. I was certain everyone was out to hurt me, harm me, steal from me, kill me. It was hard to find meaningful relationships as I was always on high alert for danger. I created a barrier between me and others and the world. I thought it would protect me, but it did not.

Once again, I lay tattered, torn and raped at the bottom of my loft building’s ground floor in New York City. I fought. I hit. I scratched. And I lost.

I lost more than my body. I lost my soul that night on the concrete floor. I did not know how to heal or how to ask for help. I sank deeper and deeper into a depressed state. I know I screamed. I screamed at the top of my lungs. No one saved me. No one came out of their apartments. No one rescued that little girl, now grown, so miserable and alone.

I no longer felt safe. I no longer could look anyone in their eye. I was racked with shame. Racked with pain. I thought my only option was to move far, far away. Far enough that I could find peace and sleep.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk explains: “One of the most devastating effects of trauma is that people’s biology changes into a biology of threat; that is expressed on multiple levels, in stress hormones, immunology, and what the brain selects to pay attention to. Traumatized people stay on hyper alert; they feel chronically unsafe and in danger, and they have problems feeling calm and enjoying the moment.” This described me. Does this resonate with any of you?

I have thought about that young man who raped me on the cold concrete entryway over the years. I have thought about the monsters of my childhood past. I have thought of the man who raped me in a bathroom stall of a bar my head trapped between the urinal and wall and the man who kidnapped and raped me over and over while traveling in Europe. I can see each of their faces, smell their smells, and re-experience each violation. I remember what they stole from me. The loss of self. The inability to trust. The inability to recognize a situation for what it truly is versus what my damaged mind imagines it to be.

With all this playing in my head, one thing became shockingly, painfully, obvious. How could anyone love this mess of a shell of a person?

As I have talked about, Adverse Childhood Experiences are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, substance use problems and suicidal tendencies. Sadly, I have been touched by all of these. So, it was when I found myself curled in a ball on the floor, in the middle of the night, naked and alone that I knew I needed help. If I did not get help, I would not make it through another day. I could not smile and say “I am fine” another time. I could not lie. I could not pretend I was someone I was not. If I had a chance at this life, I needed help.

For more than forty years I have traversed the couches of various therapists, behavioral health specialists, psychiatrists, healing doulas and more. I have tried various medications, yoga, meditation, Reiki, movement therapy, and attended multiple healing retreats to get in touch with the depth of my emotions. I have sought inner healing in hopes of reclaiming the “I” of me that was first stolen as a small girl.

This has been a very difficult journey, and it continues to be. For most of my life, I was afraid to be in the same room with my perpetrators. I would shake uncontrollably with anxiety and terror. I could not walk the streets of NYC alone or go to a bar. I stopped traveling.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was time to meet my suffering with love. Because I would not give up on the desire to heal, I made cracks in my armor slowly, ever so slowly, over time. Cracks that opened my heart. Cracks that said “Yes” to life. Cracks that eventually led me to “Ed,” my husband. And to love that wrapped me securely enough to let me peek out over the armor to realize at least one fundamental truth.

Everyone has a story. We all carry suffering. I had often mused on why me, why then, have they even thought about what they did to me, where are they now, and more. I read Yehuda Berg’s “Hurt people hurt people” and it dawned on me that while I perceived myself as a magnet for abuse, these horrible events probably weren’t about me. And that these perpetrators were probably also victims as well. Over time, these musings opened my heart to stirrings of compassion. Compassion for me and compassion for those that hurt me.

Forgiveness slowly set in without the need for confrontation or reconciliation with these men. It seeped into my long-frozen heart, loosening the stranglehold that their actions forced into my psyche.

Yes, I am still hypervigilant. I still become afraid walking alone in the dark. I park in the closest, well-lit space. I still always look for safety. But my heart has been awakened. My heart has released the past. A past which no longer lords over my life.

Father Richard Rohr commented “When love is expressed as compassion, the spirit enables us to come out of ourselves. In forgiveness we transcend ourselves, so that the past does not have the last word and cannot close off the present and the future.”

Let us all be compassionate with ourselves as we meet our sufferings with love. Let us together awaken our hearts, allowing forgiveness to spill into our vibrant green toolbox.

Here is to your present and your future.

Until next time friends.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *