I have been wrestling and nestling with forgiveness for some time.
We all have and we all are.
For we have all been wronged, been harmed, been hurt in some way.
Our pain may not even be our own. Sometimes it is ancestral. Centuries of oppression, of abuse against a body because of race or gender. We are all walking with the weight of unresolved, unacknowledged, unforgiven hurts.
It may be that you carry the wound of an oppressor, that you have harmed another, or that your ancestors harmed an entire people, and you hurt yourself by turning that shame inward. Turning that violence toward yourself, or those closest to you, unable to find a way out.
I know this pain. Of being both a victim, but also part of an oppressive lineage of people.
To come home to South Africa, is to look this hurt in the face every day. Humiliated, confused, stumbling over words, over actions, trying to reach out and realising in my reaching, I was reenacting power dynamics, falling into white saviour complex, entrenching supremacy just in my beliefs that I knew what needed to be done, that I could somehow “fix it.” One has to stumble though to learn, and I realised through this journey that there was still work to be done within my own wounded body.
I was recently asked why I do not speak online about race as much as I had previously, and the truth is I got swallowed up by a movement of performative allyship. Posting on social media, calling out other white friends & family for their ignorance, feeding into polarisation that is birthed from trauma, and only creating a more hostile environment for all. I also needed to take a long hard look at the intention behind why I was doing what I was doing.
Trauma creates binary thinking – the us vs. them, the good vs. evil. Being a victim of abuse gave me an identity, a place in the room with other victims. It felt like finally we were being noticed, someone was paying attention to us. Survivors blame themselves first. Taking responsibility because the perpetrators often never do. This then manifested for me as the need to prove to the world that I was not a bad girl. That I was a good girl and it was not my fault.
I was perfectly primed to be swept up in a movement that would feed this wound of needing validation. I took, and still do take, a very active stance in calling out bad behaviour but the intention behind it, is what I needed to get honest about. My white guilt had sneakily taken over the reins at the time and the dopamine hits were helping me find temporary relief from this shame.
There is a saying in trauma therapy that is, “too much, too soon, too fast.” This urgency to do something, to fix it, comes from a fight/flight response in the body and we are often unconscious of it happening. After months of somatic abolitionism work with incredible trauma therapists and transformative justice coaches, I found my centre again. I realised that I must be careful not to act out of old wounds, out of that people-pleaser place.
We have to stumble and fall to learn, and I certainly learned a lot during this time of online lock-down cancel culture. I watched the rescuer in me feel oh so righteous in her role of saving people online. There is an initial assumption here that the other person even wanted saving in the first place. Toxic codependency or triangulation is often a result of this dynamic and we see rescuers robbing victims of their own self-empowerment. As someone who is devoted to healing and creating a more equitable society, maybe this was not the best route to go about it.
What we are also seeing online is a splitting effect, which says, if you are not with us, you are against us, and if you are against us, then you are one of them - bad. This leaves victims feeling forced to be vocal about their trauma and also assumes that they feel themselves to be victims in the first place. I know many women and black friends who are quietly observing the unfolding, hoping not to be picked up by the surveillance police for not shouting as loud as the rest. It feels as though we’ve all been subconsciously called to take on a visible role as victim or rescuer, otherwise our needs won’t be met or we won’t be seen as relevant. I know for myself that I used to judge those who did not partake in the social media storm, assuming them to be weak or uncaring.
This culture of surveillance has also made a lot of us watch every word we say, so afraid to make a wrong move. We have stopped asking ourselves what is our truth, and just run with the truth of what the ‘right’ side is saying. Even writing this blog post on forgiveness, has me wondering if I will actually post it or just store it away in my folder of unpublished musings, because my nervous system gets tired of dealing with the backlash and trolling.
I am not saying that it is all bad. There has been exceptional changes in terms of the growing awareness that has come with victims bringing visibility to what needs to change. As Kai Cheng Thom, a trauma therapist I was in a workshop with recently brought up, we are also dealing with a case of “too long and too slow.” Why is it that we are still hearing stories of women being murdered by those who are meant to be protecting them? When will we see reparations being made for indigenous, black and brown people who were stripped of so much? There is a lot to be angry about, and as an Aries fire being, I am the first to rally a war cry. Anger and the sparks are what has led to revolutions so do not get me wrong, I am for change, my question is… and then what?
What do we do with the perpetrators? With the bad guys? Is punishment, our age-old ritual of transferring violence from one traumatised body to another, working? Does locking someone up behind bars, so they too can be abused, really solve the issue? Does it make me feel safer knowing that there are prisons of perpetrators?
Our hunger for war, for more violence, has been our way for centuries and perhaps it is just part of what makes us human, makes us primal beings. As my partner recently pointed out, nature is not forgiving. It is life and death out there and it is certainly not always pretty and peaceful. As a witch though, my devotion is to healing, to evolution, and so is there not another way besides this constant reenacting of oppressor-oppressed dynamics? Of power over another?
I acknowledge that it is easier for me to have these thoughts, from the safety of my home, and that for my fellow brothers and sisters living in far riskier situations, the urgency is a lot more real. We live in a country with the highest rape rate in the world. The news can sometimes leave me feeling absolutely hopeless, and then I meet young men like Siyabonga and Luyolo from Langaformen.
Both of these young men lost their mothers to gender-based violence, and have dedicated their lives to making change in their communities. They have made a conscious effort to approach the issue from the root – looking at how our patriarchal culture conditions young boys to suppress their emotions and stay “strong.” This false sense of strength causes the wounds to fester and often results in more violence. A newborn baby is born innocent, perpetrators learn to be violent and oppressive, and that means they can learn to be protectors too.
Langaformen ensures that everyone is welcome in their spaces. Past abusers are invited to reenter the circle, I have not seen this happening before. They create a truly safe space for everyone. Their programs in schools educate young boys on how to treat women with respect. There is even a new branch of their organisation that is Langa for LGBTQI, where young queer and trans folk educate their communities on their needs and experiences. These youth are the future leaders of our country and bring so much hope. I am truly humbled by their hearts.
Hear my heart when I say, this piece is not to deny the hurt. The pain is real. The scars we carry may never heal. Once the mark is there, it is not one that can be wiped away. I have learned in this work that closure is a nice word, but it can also be very damaging. To expect a client to move on is to ignore the very real mark of the scar. The scar that never goes away. We learn to live with our scars, though, to tend to them, knowing that this is not the end of our story. That these markings are pathways on our soul’s journey, and if we can find forgiveness, we may even find the gift under the wound.
In my family WhatsApp group there was a reading from the bible that spoke to forgiveness. I was truly moved by the sermon and was reminded again and again that every religion, every faith, comes back to the same truth.
Prayer is the way. You may feel tired of fighting, tired of weeping, tired of screaming into your pillow, wondering when someone will ever hear you. It is in these times of aloneness that I pray. That I get on my knees and trust that there is something out beyond this physical realm that may appear so fraught with pain and trauma… trust that there is a light that comes from even our darkest hours.
My most profound understanding of the power of prayer was when I was in North Dakota, at Standing Rock, protesting the DAPL pipeline with hundreds of activists and tribal nations from around the world. Witnessing sacred sites being destroyed by greed and ignorance brought up so much rage in me. I remember feeling this urge to get to the front lines and fight. An elder chief in the camp felt my energy and asked that I spend the day working in the kitchens, he told me this was a peaceful protest and that my energy was violent and needed to be transmuted, as it would disrupt the space.
I learned that day that we do not point fingers at “them.” That even though the police were water cannoning innocent elders and dragging activists into police vans, we held our commitment to prayer. We were asked to pray for our brothers and sisters, the police. To send healing to those humans who were acting out of fear, asking Creator to open their eyes. Although the results were not what we hoped, the ripple effect of that prayerful protest was unstoppable. There is far greater awareness around the rights of indigenous people and we are hearing for the first time, the call to listen, to protect, to pray.
And so, as I explore my own somatic healing around forgiveness, for myself first and foremost, and then for those who I believe have harmed me, I realise that I am the one who has the power to free myself from the cage. That it is my choice to put down the weight of expectation. For forgiveness does not come with a perfectly packaged, “I am sorry. I was wrong.” That is not forgiveness, that is compensation. And the truth is that even the highest repayment will never remove the scar.
And so I am crawling out of this cage of separation, this pattern of pain perpetuation. It takes time. I cannot say I am fully there yet, but prayer helps.
Our scars may not be the same. Some are big, some are small, some are old and deep, some are young and sharp. Some are collective and some are individual. This piece is not to compare or underplay another’s experience of oppression or trauma. It is to find the thread that runs through and connects us all together.
Collective trauma repair requires us to look at the greater impacts of historical trauma, from a wider lens, and how it has broken up the fabric of our social life and social interactions. This damage has created what feels like permanent segregations, and exposes the collective element of trauma that must also be considered. True repair and rebuild will not be done by individual people, our shared commitment is key.
I love Kai’s honeycomb metaphor of all these honeybees, each operating in their cells, but which are ultimately feeding into a much larger connected hive. This post is a musing on my own journey in and out of the beehive, getting stung, stinging others, and the humbling and courageous journey of finding forgiveness.
For they say we will not rebuild and be free without forgiveness. And is it not time for the rebuilding?