Photo by Amber Cashio

Liz Stone was just 16 when her best friend was murdered; compounding her existing depression she was later hospitalized for attempted suicide. After a series of abusive relationships, she married and started a family but the trauma of her past caught up with her.

I’ve been held captive twice in my life. Once at the hand of another, and later by the unresolved pain and shame of my past.

When I was sixteen one of my best friends and her mother were brutally murdered. They were killed by the estranged and abusive husband of my friend’s stepsister when he showed up at their home distraught about the separation. My friend’s death added to the spiraling depression I was already experiencing and I was later hospitalized for attempted suicide.

Two months after my release from the hospital I was raped by a childhood “friend”. Ashamed, I never spoke of it again. Shortly after, I began dating a young man. We were quickly engaged and moved into a small basement apartment. I was just 17 at the time.

I was honestly surprised the first time he hit me. Over time every argument erupted in violence and always ended the same. Tackling me to the ground, he would strangle me until I passed out. Soon I knew it was coming and would beg to submit on my own. The familiar blacking out sensation would come as a relief, not only from the excruciating pain of his weight on my chest but also from the terror. When I awoke, I would still be lying on the floor alone in the dark, with one hand handcuffed to one foot. Dosing off again, I would often wake to his sobs and profuse apologies reassuring me that it was because of his love and fear of losing me that he had to use restraints. Other nights, I woke to him sharpening knives. He told me he would kill us both if I ever left. I believed him. Remembering how my dear friend had died, I` felt I could never risk going to my family for help. It took nearly two years before I found the courage to leave.

The years following were spent largely suppressing those memories and self-medicating with alcohol, relationships, and working long hours in an effort to numb the pain. After one failed marriage, I married a man that has taught me that love is gentle and kind. Together we started a family and I was happy to leave the past behind me. But as I found out, unresolved pain just waits.

Fifteen years later, the walls I had put up to protect myself came crashing down and as the memories came flooding back I suffered a nervous breakdown. My husband found me lying in the fetal position on the grass. Gently picking me up like a child he took me home, unaware that it would become my whole world for a time. I had flashbacks and night terrors, waking up gasping for air and soaked in sweat. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Agoraphobia.

It was only when I stopped running and faced my past, turning my heart and will over to God, that the process of healing began. I started talking about what I had lived through for the first time. I also felt prompted to write which unexpectedly spurred the forgiveness process. The first person I had to forgive was myself. I too had acted out of fear and pain and hurt people along the way. Not wanting to be judged by the mistakes of my past made it easier to see the humanity in others and to forgive.

Twenty five years after my escape I began to feel the distinct impression that I needed to confront and forgive my captor.  After locating him on social media, with my husband at my side, I once again stood face to face with this man.  He was visibly shaken when I looked him in the eye and asked if he remembered me. As I attempted to tell him why I had come he began to deny everything.

Dropping my head briefly I began to wonder if I could really still forgive him.

Softly the answer came; ‘forgiveness is mine to give, his reaction is irrelevant’.

With a power that swelled inside me, I again met his eyes and said, “Even though you aren’t able to stand here and be a man right now, I FORGIVE YOU”. Handing him a letter I had written, I walked away. In the letter I wrote that my experience with him had taught me more about the resiliency of the human spirit, the love of God and his awareness of each one of us, the power of forgiveness, and the beauty of second chances than anything else I had ever experienced. I told him I forgave him because I no longer wished to be held captive by those memories.

By forgiving him, I feel liberated.

Forgiveness is the key that liberates the captive.