When Andrea Martinez was seven years old, she was sexually abused by a relative. After being unable to speak of her abuse for many years, Andrea began to confide in a family friend who had suffered a similar abuse. From there, she began to consider forgiveness as a way of healing, and to channel her experience into acting.
My own dad was never really there for me as a child but I had this male relative who was an amazing dad to his children and therefore I always looked up to him as a father figure. He would do everything for us, and buy us whatever we wanted. I remember praying at night that when I woke up he would be my dad.
I was seven when I started staying over at their house. I was the same age as one of his children and we shared a room. After her dad put us both to sleep, he would lay in bed with me for about an hour, telling me how much he liked me and that I was really special. He abused me, but never raped me. This happened so many times that I can’t remember when it began.
I didn’t know how to deal with it, or if I should tell my mum and dad, so I just blocked it out. I became depressed at a very young age and felt betrayed. Because I had looked up to this man as a father figure it made what he had done even more hurtful. My self-esteem was very low, and I often felt worthless and used. I was given counsellors at school, but I wouldn’t speak to them, or to anyone, about it.
When I went to secondary school, I became very rebellious, drinking and bunking off lessons. I was always smashing things and getting into fights. My mum was concerned about what was going on, so she got me to see a therapist, but therapy didn’t do anything for me.
My depression got worse and worse, so my mum spoke to my stepdad, who told a good family friend of ours called Geoff Thompson about what had happened. Geoff had had a similar experience, and my stepdad thought it would be good for me to speak to someone I could relate to, to understand how they had dealt with it. Speaking to Geoff was amazing. He was the only person I felt comfortable talking to at the time, because he could really grasp how I felt.
He asked me if I had any artistic hobbies or interests, like singing or dancing, and I remembered that I had always wanted to act. He told me that people like us are blessed in some way, because we can put our pain into art and make something beautiful out of it. Acting became my way of releasing whatever I was feeling.
Geoff also told me that forgiving his abuser had taken a huge weight off his shoulders. At the time, I wasn’t ready to think about forgiveness, but I knew that at some point I would need to look at it. So I lived with my anger for several more years. I didn’t understand why I should forgive my abuser, or even how to forgive him.
Deciding to forgive was a process, it’s not something that can happen overnight. As I got older, I realised that I couldn’t keep holding all of this anger and hate inside me. I needed to get rid of it. I also realised that I was not in control of anyone except for myself and my emotions, and that they could only hurt me if I allowed them to. Remembering that there are many other people out there who have been through much worse than I have keeps me humble. For me, forgiveness is about reminding myself of that every single day.