Asher wrote personal letters of apology that he will read to each of his siblings during victim mediation. We spent hours with each child reading their brother’s letter in advance in order to address anything that they didn’t understand, want, or believe appropriate. Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan wrote notes in the margin when we returned the letters so that Asher could better learn the why behind his siblings’ needs and not just the what. And at this point, Georgia’s letter is finished with only minor adjustments remaining for Nathan and Olivia. We all feel good about the alterations. Whether the wording was too cavalier (“I understand that I hurt you but I couldn’t control myself.”) or too generic (“When I acted out, it was bad.”), every sentence was combed through and read with an eye for the ultimate purpose of reconciliation. Our thought remained: If Asher really wants to show he is sorry and that his heart is to change and reconcile, then he will want a better understanding of what his sister/brother needs in this apology. If he does not accept these alterations, then we know that he is merely jumping through the hoops for his own benefit and not for a greater good.
We learned from Jon that his initial reaction to the first set of edits was rather disappointing. His only thought appeared to be a deep sense of frustration that everyone was not fawning over him for the effort he put into them. Jon actually kicked him out of his office because his response was so selfish and lacking. That was also before the counseling session when we apologized for any ways we participated in hurting him during his own years of abuse. However, since those first rewrites, Asher has applied himself to accepting the feedback and taking it to heart. And even though none of us will be surprised by what the letters say, I am hopeful that we will all be surprised by the genuineness of Asher’s heart when he actually reads them aloud during mediation.
Knowing that there is a time for response, and recognizing that it is important to make the most of that time, I told Georgia, Olivia, and Nathan that we wanted them to write a letter in return. The letter could share anything they believed important while recognizing that we all know there is much more work to be done before relationships are healed. In other words, this is not the time to bring up everything. But as a starting point, these moments bear a weight that matters and can set the trajectory for a future path.
This is Georgia’s letter:
There are a few things that I believe are important for me to share with you. I struggled with many side effects of the abuse but all of them ultimately fall into one of three issues. These three areas directly relate to our unhealthy relationship and ways your abusiveness hurt me.Georgia Reynolds, February 2019
First, I was bitter for a long time because I felt like you stole my childhood. So much of what I remember from being little is abuse. In many ways, my innocence was taken from me by your words and actions. I didn’t feel like a normal child with a normal family, but I wanted to so badly. I remember looking at other people’s families, especially ones with older siblings, and watching them interact with one another. They seemed so ordinary – without the secrets that made me feel guilty and ashamed for what I believed I was allowing you to do. I wanted to tell Mama and Daddy about the abuse but felt like I couldn’t because I believed that it was partially my responsibility. This just caused me to see our family as even more dysfunctional and messed up. I kept asking myself why did this happen, but I couldn’t do anything to change or fix it. I would have given anything to go back to when I didn’t know about sexual activity or mental abuse – when I was happy and carefree. So, I kept denying what happened and acting like it wasn’t a big deal. I dwelt on what I lost for so long, and grew so bitter about it, that I couldn’t even recognize ways I had the chance to move forward right after you left.
Second, because you acted as though I was never good enough for you, I grew to believe I was never good enough for anyone. I was always trying to prove myself to you and others. That made me feel like I wasn’t worth being loved by anyone. It took a long time before I began feeling that I am worth being loved though it is something I occasionally struggle with even today. You rarely showed me kindness or appreciation. I took that and put it on other people, believing that if they weren’t complimenting me and telling me how good I was, then they must not like me. It took a long time to realize that even when people aren’t always telling me how good I am, they still care about me. But now I can struggle with pushing myself very far to be good and live up to expectations. I never disappoint my coaches or teachers.
Third, and most importantly, I started using an unhealthy coping mechanism once I began therapy that required me to completely deny emotion and shut down to everything. Because I kept telling myself it wasn’t that big of a deal and wasn’t that bad, I eventually believed it. But that caused me to go into a state of emotional numbness that lasted almost a year and half. The only real emotion I felt during that time was anger – and specifically anger towards you. But you weren’t home! And I had no way of contacting you. I ended up taking out my anger on Mama and Daddy and our siblings. I never felt happy or excited and nothing seemed to matter to me until I finally brought myself out of the numbness and started being able to feel emotions. Looking back at that year and half, I can’t remember very much at all. Our siblings will share memories of camping trips and activities that I don’t remember anything about. This is the biggest issue that I’ve had so far. I feel like that year and half should have been spent in better ways than being numb and causing pain to the rest of my family. I was an angry, bitter person that no one wanted to be around. I didn’t like being as angry as I was but I didn’t know how to do anything about it and feeling helpless just made it worse. Working to grow through the bitterness and numbness has allowed me to become a much happier person. I now rarely get depressed or sad. I’m thoroughly enjoying my life. I do school and work hard at sports – all of which allows me to have a lot of fun. I enjoy being around people and I’m content with where I’m at.
I want you to know that I forgive you for abusing me. We once had a close connection when we were younger. I’m looking forward to having a close relationship with you again. I’m excited to see what our future will hold. I know it will take work. I also know that it must be a combined effort and we will both need to pursue a better and stronger relationship with one another. But I want you to know that I love you and I’m excited for the future.
Joseph and I are ridiculously proud of her! We are hoping that Asher is able to take these words to heart and see that where there is pain, there can also be healing.