Dr Shoshana Garfield survived years of abuse at the hands of her parents, a paedophile ring and countless violent partners, to eventually find a place where forgiveness began to blossom in her life. Passionate about the subject, Shoshana, now trained and working as a psychologist, works to help people through trauma, and to spread the possibilities of forgiveness.
I was born to a drug addicted mother and a then-abusive, now fully reformed father. Abuse and addictions escalated down 3 generations; my mother was on crack cocaine, and took me to drug parties when I was 4. I was taken to a back room, and savagely used and tortured by a paedophile ring. This went on for about 9 months.
It wasn’t just the torture, it was not being able to tell, not being able to get help with it all, having to keep this unbearable secret. By the time I was 5, I had a multiple personality. When I was 6, I tried, I really really tried, to kill myself with a stack of pills. I started to feel absolutely awful and I told my mother, but she told me to leave her alone, she was busy watching television. After somehow awakening early the next day into a still, gray dawn, to miraculously silent New York City streets, and after I convinced myself I was not actually in Hell (i.e. my alleged home), I realised that things can be different, that, somehow…. what seems mundane can hold secrets of quiet I had never known. From that moment forward, an ambition was born, to make my life different. It was all that kept me going for a very long time.
I managed to finagle my way into therapy with a deliberately botched suicide attempt when I was 11 years old and away from home. I spent – I kid you not – 20 YEARS IN THERAPY. And at the end of it, I still didn’t like myself, I still had disastrous personal relationships, still suffered clinical PTSD and was basically rather unhappy.
But it was so much better than when I had started, that I counted myself very, very lucky indeed. I had integrated the major alters of my multiplicity. I had found immense courage to face my demons and just be with myself, and slowly, the self-loathing had mellowed into mere insecurity and dislike. What did I have to complain about? And, I was still loyal to that 6 year old’s faith in – something.
It wasn’t all recovery – I spent years adding to the addiction repertoire of my maternal line with my own sex addiction, phenomenally dangerous in NYC in the late 80s and early 90s. Somehow, I managed to escape with ‘only’ countless rapes and one violently abusive marriage, and with immense luck or blessing, no sexually transmitted infections of any kind.
I spent years cursing my mother and wishing her a painful death. I spent years not believing in a God that could let this happen to me, then believing in a God of complete mercy, then cursing THAT God too because he loved my torturers as much as he loved me, which was just sick to me at the time.
And still my inchoate ambition held.
Then, whilst I was doing my PhD in psychology, I had the amazing good fortune to be introduced to Dr Phil Mollon, a clinical psychologist, author of several psychoanalytic teaching texts and founder of Psychoanalytic Energy Psychology (PEP). PEP is a marvellous synergy of psychoanalytic wisdom, and then using wisdom from eastern cultures of the body’s energy system (e.g. meridians from acupuncture) to release deeply held trauma rather than stop with compassionately understanding it. I loved the relief I got so much – finally no more PTSD – no more nightmares, no more thinking about my torture every day, no more defining myself by what I had survived. Finally, almost 4 decades after my first wonderfully unsuccessful suicide attempt, I was beginning to figure out what I was ambitious for. Happiness. Joy. Serenity.
By this time, my third (!!) marriage had turned abusive as well, triggered by the death of our second child. (I had a daughter by then; I had even got myself psychiatrically tested to ensure I would be a safe mother!) My son’s death was another bomb in my life, yet it only reinforced the faith I had by then of the world’s intrinsic goodness.
It was during this time, after discovering PEP, that the forgiveness started blossoming, practically on its own. I realised that my living in a state of unforgiveness was costing me far, far more than any of the abusers I would never see held accountable. My ongoing grief and pain and dysfunction didn’t bother them at all. I realised I had to let go – not for their sake, but for mine, because otherwise I was going to turn into one of those insanely unhappy adults I had suffered growing up. I discovered that there is nothing too big to let go of, and forgiveness is really just letting go. Forgiveness became my litmus test – every time I wasn’t willing to forgive, there was just more pain and rage that needed to be honoured, and acknowledged, and healed. And if I just focused on the clearing work, the forgiveness would just be there. I had philosophical shifts too. I figured out that for me to be as happy as I possibly can, it’s useful to believe that as human beings, we all have the seed of redemption in us. It’s useful to believe that forgiveness, letting go for one’s own sake, does not contort the moral fabric of the universe. It’s not OK to torture children. It will never be OK. But I can be OK. And that’s the point of forgiveness for me.
I am now completely passionate about forgiveness. The last few years I’ve spent building up my business as a clinician, making available to others the tools that helped me over the barbed-wire fence of trauma, and doing what I can to spread the real possibilities of forgiveness and a practical framework on how to get there, no matter where you might start from.
I realised how far I’ve come personally when another memory came to me, only a month or so ago now. It was the details of a particularly sadistic torture session. As it turned out, I had no anger left to excavate. There was pain and fear to release, which I did within hours using my nifty methods, but the anger had already truly gone.
I had so much to celebrate, so much to be grateful for, in this discovery.
I’m also celebrating breaking the chain of breaking the children. Being able to gift my daughter with truly unconditional love is one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. Since I have done the work to forgive my mother, there are no haunting shadows from my relationship with my mother darkening this next generation. With forgiveness, I have so much more to offer to everyone.
I’m so grateful for my new life, my new healthy and loving partnership, my children, my work helping others to emotional freedom. I’m so grateful for the PEP techniques that finally helped me see, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, that “Freedom has returned to me everything I thought I had lost”. Not even my innocence had been stolen.
And now I can honestly say that nothing BAD has ever happened to me. Challenging? Sure. Agonisingly painful? Oh, yes. But nothing bad. It just was. For me, joy is the grammar of our very existence. Forgiveness has a natural place in me, in the very centre of my heart.