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Forgiveness the key to true healing

Dancing On The Edge by Kay Forristal, Carolan Press, 7 Abbey Park, Ferrybank, Waterford (12 Euro, incl postage); ISBN 0-9548809-0-0.

IF you have ever wondered about the damage that bullying and physical abuse do to a child, then this is a book you should read.

Better still, if you doubt the ability of the human spirit to rise above that abuse - without recourse to Redress Boards or Tribunals - then this is essential reading.

Kay Forristal has written a gripping account of a life which, as the title intimates, was lived "on the edge" for many years due to the physical and mental abuse she suffered at the hands of a nun in primary school.

She describes vividly how this affected her - the loss of self-esteem, the belief that she was ugly, the depression into which she sunk and for which she could find no cure, despite a happy marriage blessed by lovely children and a loving husband.

If you have lived a "normal" life, you might wonder how this could be. You might think that surely the blessings of her later life would eventually outweigh the misery of her early childhood. Of course, it's not as simple as that - and that is why a book like this is so important.

Here we are introduced to a world of quiet, private desperation, where it takes an almighty effort to find the courage to even go outside the door, where panic attacks are induced by the sight of a nun (any nun), where the victim avoids looking into the mirror because of the belief inculcated into her mind that she was extremely ugly.

It could be a horror story, but it's not, because the author has a nice, light touch, and doesn't over-do the telling of her tribulations. She moves the story along, telling about the good days as well as the bad, all the while building to a climax, which was to free her - to heal her - after more than 40 years of suffering.

She is a very brave woman, for she came to the realisation that only by offering her oppressor forgiveness could she be healed herself. So she set out, back to her roots, back to the convent school where she had been educated, and she confronted her former teacher.

She had already sent her a poem she had written "A Wounded Child" but the nun denied any recollection of the hurt detailed. Finally, Kay said "I forgive you" and put out her hand, but it wasn't accepted.. When Kay went home she was able to look at herself in a mirror for the first time without pain.

However, Kay's trials were not over even after that magnanimous gesture. There were still the dreams to be made sense of, and the compulsions, whether they be over-eating or gambling. Something still wasn't right with Kay.

Eventually, after a school reunion, she found the answer. Once more, back at her old school, she finally released all the pent-up anger that she had kept at bay for one reason or another for over 40 years.

Meeting her old tormentor again, she said to her: "I told you several years ago that I forgave you for what you did to me, but I didn't really forgive you. I couldn't have, because I hadn't felt the real anger that was locked inside me. Now that I have, I can say I forgive you and mean it." This time her tormentor appeared to take the message on board.

The aftermath of this confrontation led to Kay suffering the most intense pain. "I felt as if my teeth were being extracted without anaesthetic and I felt as if my whole body was being penetrated by millions of shards of glass. My wrists and fingers were twisted in pain and it felt as if a cement block were lodged in my chest.

"I screamed and begged God to take the pain away, while memories of my school life as a small child raced through my head. Eventually I got physically sick and the crying subsided.

"Within days the pain left my body completely and my normal breathing returned. The block that weighed me down had dispersed into a million fragments and I was totally at peace."

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Kay's book. Principally, though, it is a brave book written by a victim of what should have been the happiest days of her life and were instead the opposite. It is a healing book, which should bring hope and help to many other victims who suffered similarly whether at the hands of religious or lay teachers.

© Seán Ryan, 2005

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