The People We Need to Forgive Can be Our Greatest Teachers

“The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.” ~Marianne Williamson

I lay huddled in a ball, my arms tightly around my knees, screaming at the top of my lungs. “Stop!” I wailed.

It was November 30, 2006. The next day I was turning 13, and it seemed like my life was crumbling before my eyes.

Earlier that night I was on my computer mindlessly clicking, with the usual soundtrack in the background, my mother and stepfather screaming at each other—until I heard a shattering smash. For minutes the house lay silent.

I crept out of my room, down the hallway to see my stepfather throwing my mother’s broken glasses back at her face. I saw the glass coffee table shattered.

“Go through to your room Toni!” my mother yelled. I refused and stubbornly watched.

My stepfather and mother continued to yell. Next the television hit the floor, and that’s when I found myself in the ball, screaming for it all to stop.

After that night we moved into a women’s shelter for the abused and homeless. In a haze of Valium, depression, and nightmares I watched women pass me by. Their children’s eyes spoke of horrors.

I spent the next five years of my life in a chaotic darkness within my head. I blamed myself for what had happened that night and despised what I was.

During that time, my mother and I flew to the other side of the planet and back many times over, chasing fleeting moments and running away from ourselves.

Eventually, my mother went back to my stepfather. Things quickly escalated and we again moved to another country, then to another state.

After that night, a huge resentment boiled inside of me, particularly for my stepfather. Still, I would go up to visit him every now and then after we moved back to Sydney.

These visits became poisonous for me, as I blamed him for everything—for moving me to Australia when I was seven, for the dark detours my life took seemingly because of him, and for what I felt and saw.

With every drop of alcohol that passed his lips, his smug face became more and more arrogant; his sickening grin was like nails to a chalkboard.

As years flew by I turned 17, moved out of our home, stopped talking to my mother, and cut everyone I knew off.

My stepfather was a constant presence inside my mind. I replayed the scenes over and over, drowning in tides of painful memories.

I felt deep down that my time with him was not over; there was unfinished business.

After turning 18, I made some peace with myself, my family, and where I was in terms of geography. A sense of direction and meaning slowly crept into my life. Yet, like a concrete wall, there lay the past and my stepfather.

The path of forgiveness was never going to be easy. Although I knew I needed to take that path, inside I was conflicted and confused.

One night, clicking mindlessly through Facebook, I saw a friend request from my stepfather. Sirens wailed in my head; was I ready for this? Over the next month we talked. In the daze of confusion I felt grief, compassion, and empathy.

He was a lost boy, a child inside, so badly hurt by life and other people that he felt comfort in unleashing on others. Were his actions right? No.

But understanding his pain and past helped me come to terms with mine.

Next month, on December 1, 2012 I will be 19. Unlike the previous years, when I spent the preceding months mourning what could have been, I feel comfort.

Slowly, I am making peace with my past and my stepfather; I forgive him for his actions and want for him nothing but happiness and fulfillment. The thought of his loneliness pains me, yet I feel it is through his loneliness and struggles he may manage to forgive himself and find peace with his past.

At times down the path of forgiveness, I heard a voice inside saying that I was letting him off easy, but a wiser one told me different. What good was to come of holding onto this ball of poisonous energy? It was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode within.

I now feel thankful for my stepfather’s influence and presence in my life. He has been one of my greatest teachers; he just doesn’t realize it.

That’s often the case with the people who’ve hurt us. When we can see what we’ve gained from having them in our lives, it’s so much easier to forgive.

Photo by Fey Ilyas

About Toni-Yvonne Keddie

From seeing the sunset across Europe and vast deserts blanket the Middle East, Toni-Yvonne has racked up impressive air miles and a love for airports. A blending pot of cultures and experiences, she writes about everything that crosses her mind at, and her latest food blogging project

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  • KCLAnderson (Karen)

    I am in sincere awe of what you were able to do at such a young age…it took me until I was well into my 40s to achieve the same. Better late than never.

  • SB

    Wow. I am so proud of you for taking a negative experience and turning it into a learning experience which contributed to your growth as a young woman. I too am in complete awe over your wisdom and maturity. A lot of people don’t get to where your at until at least 40. Bravo!

  • Roger

    Thank you so much for this! First, I have to say how impressed I am by your insight and how early in your life you have sorted this all out. It took me another 20+ years to come to some of the same conclusions you have after coming from a similar situation. Your insights are wonderful, heart expanding gems of knowledge. I especially love what you said:

    “That’s often the case with the people who’ve hurt us. When we can see what we’ve gained from having them in our lives, it’s so much easier to forgive”

    Thanks for being a teacher as well as being taught.

  • Stacy

    Beautiful insight to such painful memories. I too, have dealt with abuse and living in shelters as a child. These are a part of your history that created the wisdom that you have today. The wisdom that you can share with the world to help others. I find it a challenge still at age 39, to forgive and let go of the pain that loved ones have created in my life. However, I have learned that in order to grow, you have to feel it first and then you are able to let it go. Learn from it and BE THE CHANGE……Thank you for sharing Toni-Yvonne. <3 much love and peace to you.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. Incredibly inspiring. I, too, recently forgave someone. It’s hard and still something I battle daily but it’s not as loud as it used to be, nor do the moments of sadness last as long. Thank you.

  • ConfesiunileUneiImprastiate

    Hi, is nice to see things this way. I had problems with my own father, and it was a time that only hearing about him made me crazy and uncontrolled, but the time has past and i realize i have to forgive him and try to understand him and so i will understand me and how to make mi life better. It’s not easy, but the time helped me to feel better, to se myself apart from him and now i feel better, i see that things are turning diffrent for me and i hope that everything will be ok, and in a few years i’ll thank him for a lot of things. Thank you for sharing this! Hope you will get a better life!

  • Dochy

    Toni, you ROCK! Hats off for your awesome perspective on life at such a young age! ANd wish you a belated HAPPY BDAY! Hope this year is your best yet with loadsa love, joy and success in every li’l thing you do!

  • Thank you so much 🙂

  • Thank you, I feel this pat of my life has helped my compassion and empathy for others grow, and feel many who go through it (if they get out the other side okay) also grow in that way! Which is definitely a positive

  • Stacy

    The compassion and empathy I have for others has developed in a way that definitely comes from my life experiences and choices I’ve made in my life. I’ve dedicated my life to healing through massage, yoga and positivity. When i think about all that I’ve been through in my life, I am amazed at myself! I’m grateful that my heart is full of love and peace and not anger and resentment. Not to say I didn’t have my share of struggles, because that has been the journey to where I am today. I feel that my purpose is to raise my children in a house of love and positivity because I know the difference and I am grateful for that. 🙂 Continue to share your light with others…<3

  • ImAnonymous

    Thank you.
    I am currently struggling with my own pain and resentment over being hurt, though I truly want to forgive. Your words came to me at a moment of much needed clarity and have given me peace of mind.
    Again, thank you.

  • Toni, you are an inspiration for the world. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more from you in the future. Looking forward to that! 🙂

  • kr

    amazing post-especially for someone so young. i can really relate-but it took me many years to see things in the perspective you do. i still struggle at times with issues related to witnessing domestic violence as a child.

  • Alexa Quill

    You are wise beyond your years, Toni-Yvonne. I am 6 years older than you and I just forgave someone who was in my life (he died) for something that I viewed as unforgivable at one time. He did something that wasn’t nearly as bad as your step-father but it took time for the wounds to heal. You are a great person. Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • acergirl

    Hi you’re really amazing that you’ve come out of those horrible times so well. I’ve been abused as a child too. I’m 18.

    But I personally have to disagree though with what you said about abusers being teachers. A lot of Abusers actually think this as well & think Abuse is an acceptable way to discipline someone. My abusive dad made a comment in one situation that he ‘trained me’ or something.

    There this book someone wrote about extreme child abuse they experienced ( it was the 3rd worst case in their country at the time) better not say the name of the book though. When they confronted their abuser as an adult, they eventually forgave them. But what I’m trying to say is that each person is different & you do not have to forgive the abuser. It is entirely the victim’s choice.

    It’s not the abuser who has been the teacher, it’s just the adversity in general that has been the teacher. Because adversity can bring out the best in people, their bravery shines then. It’s not them that is to be praised, it’s YOU.