Angie finds the way to forgive her abusers
Angie Cummings of Gleason is an adult survivor of child sexual abuse. For many years, Angie was able to bury the memories and the pain of her experiences.
An unexpected sharing forced Angie to confront her past and find the path to healing. “Someone else told my children about the abuse and I lost it. For a little while, I was angry,” Angie remembers. “I was hurt. I felt like a thousand-pound weight had been dropped in my life. But then I remembered whose I am—God’s. I chose to confront and discuss with my children what happened. Boy, was that ever hard.”
That challenging and freeing moment came after years of Angie trying to find healing and to free herself from the lies people told her. “When I was little, I thought God was judgmental and I was going to hell. That was the message I received from the people in my life,” says Angie. “The abusers’ lies where they tell you that you asked for it. They tell you that you were a willing participant. They call you names and degrade you. They made me feel ugly, unloved and unwanted.”
For years Angie struggled to find her way. It was not easy.
“I would take one step forward and three steps back,” she says. “I didn’t value myself. I didn’t understand that I could be forgiven because I couldn’t forgive myself. I felt like I was in shackles. The fact is, I put them there. So, I had to work, little by little, at chipping them away. If I couldn’t deal with it, I would keep making bad choices that affected my health and my relationships.”
In her journey to come to terms with her abuse, Angie felt guided by Jesus. He brought people into her life who helped lift her up.
Many of these earth angels were from the Catholic Church.
“I had so many different priests and deacons that lived their Faith. I met with them and shared some of the story,” Angie says. “It’s hard emotionally to share the whole story. But over time, I think I was able to so they could show me I had a choice. I didn’t have to listen to the old voices. I could listen to the voice of truth—God. One of the most special people was a CCD teacher, Susan, who recently passed away. I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for her. She challenged me. She taught me the value of life. She taught me to fight for life. All life. Even mine.”
In addition to years of counseling, group therapy, reading and writing to guide her, Angie confronted her abusers. “I spoke to each one and let them know how much it hurt me. I told them it was wrong,” says Angie. “But I also told them I forgave them. If Jesus can forgive me, then I needed to find a way to forgive them.”
Although some of the interactions with her abusers lifted Angie up, not every confrontation had a satisfying resolution. One abuser, in particular, was uninterested in taking responsibility for what he did to Angie. “But that’s OK because his actions don’t get to determine how I handle what happened—I do,” she says. “I get to choose to be God’s child. I get to choose moving forward and not dwelling in the past.”
Angie’s first marriage ended in divorce. With the help of a deacon in the Church, she petitioned for an annulment which was granted, lifting her from a bad marriage.
“This deacon is the reason I knew I wouldn’t lose my Catholic Faith when I chose divorce. That relationship wasn’t good for me. I couldn’t live in it anymore,” says Angie. “It’s been many years since the divorce. I am now in a loving, committed relationship with my current husband who treats me very well. He is a wonderful husband and father. I thank God for him being in my life.”
Through her therapy and work to heal, Angie knew she had to keep her children from falling into the cycle of abuse. “I made sure my children were protected. I loved and cherished every moment with them,” Angie says. “I did the best job I could. I feel this is breaking that cycle. When we can be kind, loving and considerate; that’s how we show Christ’s love. We bring people to Jesus and the Church and teach them His ways. When we cherish the sacraments and each other, we grow.”
Healing is an ongoing process for Angie. She trusts that God will guide her along the way.
“Healing takes place in layers. Understanding takes place in layers. I think it’s God’s way of saying our human condition cannot handle this all at once,” says Angie. “I want to thank Father Martin at Holy Name of Jesus Parish for being my spiritual director and helping me. I want to be free of the guilt and shame. I want to show that this doesn’t control my life; this doesn’t define me. It’s a part of me that built who I am. But I am a child of God. I am His. I am forgiven. I want to be the light. I want to direct people to Him. It’s important to me that I not hide what happened, but trust in God’s plan to use it for good. Shining a light can bring about change. Let’s be that light.”
There are many people who struggle with abuse. Angie understands the impulse to hide from past abuse, but she wants those who are struggling to know they can’t hide. Healing can be found in the Faith, and it is waiting for them.
“I released the anger and moved to forgiveness,” she says. “I chose healing, forgiveness, God, Faith, the Church. I remembered God’s promise that He would work it for good.”
Her advice to others caught up in abuse is simple. “When you feel small, insignificant and nobody loves you, that’s Satan talking to you,” Angie says. “Don’t listen. Listen to Jesus, who tells you how important you are. He tells you that you can rise above whatever your circumstances are. He tells you not to dwell on the past. He tells us that He will use whatever Satan meant for evil, and He will turn it to good.”
Story by Mary Kay McPartlin
Published in the April 2022 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine