Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.
― Oprah Winfrey
They say your life flashes before your eyes, right before you die.
Well, it’s true. It does.
I experienced it at the hands of my husband.
At seventeen years of age, I decided that my life was boring. I longed for something more exciting. I found that excitement in the streets. Gangs. After being around several of the guys, I had met a man who became my boyfriend. Then fiancé. It was abusive from the start, and I knew it.
I had no family or friends to turn to because being with him, a gang leader and drug dealer, meant I had to keep a low profile, from police and from enemies. I was in so much emotional pain. During the times he was incarcerated, many times I cried for hours and asked God why he just didn’t end it all for me. I asked God to end it all because I didn’t know how to mentally process people being murdered around me, being isolated from family and friends, playing the role of law-abiding citizen and covering up my husband’s tracks. I tried to kill myself, only landing me in the hospital. I was still haunted by being gang-raped a year prior and by the people I hung around with who were there one minute and then the next being murdered. I had let the mental anguish cut me down.
By eighteen years old I married him while he was in prison. By nineteen I was pregnant with our first child. However, the verbal abuse continued. One day he threatened to kill me. Another day he hit me while I was pregnant with our second child. By the time I was twenty-three, I was raising a two-year-old, a four-year-old and pregnant with our third child, all while finishing my university degree. What came with the territory of being a gang leader and drug dealer’s wife was the stress of continually changing cars and phones, checking under cars for bombs and concealing things that just shouldn’t be in the hands of a law-abiding citizen. By then, I was numb to other people getting hurt. I couldn’t care less.
Then one night I was away on an overnight shift at work, he called me back home claiming there was an emergency.
After I walked through the door, he punched me in the face, knocking me backward as the lens on one of my glasses popped off. I found myself on my back on our expensive white three-seater leather sofa. The impact of his hit was so hard that my whole body shook me and I couldn’t see for several seconds.
He got on top of me while I was debilitated on the sofa and proceeded to choke me with his hands. I was in immediate shock and disbelief at what was happening. He was six foot one and around two hundred and seventy pounds at the time, a “big boy,” as many described him. So it didn’t take much for him to smother my five foot four, one hundred thirty pound frame down. He looked straight at me with a cold look in his eyes as he said, “I’ll kill you.”
I struggled to breathe. My hands were on top of his, trying to pry them off my neck but my strength disintegrated rapidly as my oxygen was getting cut off. I panicked as I gasped and could barely make any sounds from my throat. He let go as I got a few desperate breaths in before he choked me again. As I was losing consciousness again and trying to catch any hope of oxygen, three thoughts set in within what seemed like microseconds: One, “My children won’t have their mother”; Second, “My parents will find my body here; Third, (which was my catalyst for what I’m doing today) was “This Isn’t fair. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do.”
The room spun. Panic rushed in through my entire body again. I got myself up in the midst of fear and as I walked a few steps away from the sofa he came from around the corner in the foyer with impressive calmness and picked up an eight-inch stainless steel kitchen knife off the white ledge in the main hallway, which he must have placed earlier when I was not looking.
He slowly walked towards me until we were facing one another front to front. I sunk into the most fear I’ve ever felt in my life. I knew what he was here to do.
Immediately I started to apologize and say whatever I could to miraculously change his mind.
I begged for my life.
“I’m sorry. Please don’t do this! Please don’t do this! I’m sorry! We can talk this over! Plllleeeease….” I squeezed my eyes tightly in anticipation of the pain of the knife entering the top of my head, praying it wouldn’t hurt too much.
Abruptly, I felt the knife pierce the top of my scalp. In. Then Out. He suddenly stopped and walked away.
I was in even more shock. I was waiting for the big finish.
By this time, adrenaline was pumping hard as ever, and I was disoriented. Time seemed to slow down just like in the movies. The more that relief set in that he stopped stabbing me, the more that my adrenaline levels dipped and physical pain started to sear throughout my back, neck, and head.
I walked by the foyer sliding mirror door to see myself. Raising my head up slowly with fear and embarrassment, I slowly gazed at my face. I wanted to check the damage that was done. My face was covered in small red and purple dots. My head was throbbing from the beating and overall stress of what I had just experienced. Two bottom teeth were chipped, and I could feel the grits of enamel fragments scattered in my mouth as I moved my tongue around. Chunks of hair were falling out as I touched my head, the aftermath of having a knife in my head.
Numerous red scratch marks covered my neck. My neck burned and burned with pain. My right hand was searing from a chunk of meat hanging off my wrist. Between the scorching pain seeping from my neck and right hand, I cried. I felt utterly broken at that point, emotionally, physically, spiritually.
I was defeated.
I heard my husband take off in one of our cars and I saw that as my opportunity to escape.
I sped upstairs, skipping every couple of steps, and nearly falling over my feet just to grab my kids, a couple of toys and some blankets. I yelled at them, “Guys, we gotta go! We gotta go!” I raced down the stairs with them and threw them and their stuff into the other family car in the driveway. Off I sped, blood seeping from my knife wounds. Eventually, I got to the hospital. I looked at their young faces, and even though I was terrified, I knew deep down that we were on the brink of a new chapter in our lives.
My husband was arrested months later and sentenced for the attack. With a strong support system of a solid team of lawyers, a well-to-do employer, new friends and parents that stood by my side, I left the marriage for good while he was still in prison.
One thing I told myself was, “Jess, you didn’t get beat nearly to death for nothing.”
And from that moment I vowed to give back to the world as much as I could. I decided it was time for me to live life on my own terms. It was my time to live on purpose. I knew I was still alive for a greater reason. Deep down I knew things had to change.
As for my children, I couldn’t bear to see them worried about mommy’s black eyes or other injuries anymore. I couldn’t allow myself to raise them in a violent home. They were my everything and were the primary reason I insisted on living.
He died suddenly just after getting released from prison, but not before I forgave him face to face in person for what he did. I did it because forgiveness is freeing. Up until then, the only person holding me in the bondage of my emotional pain was myself. The resentment, anger, and disappointment were eating me alive. Forgiving him did not excuse what he did to me and did not mean we were getting back together; instead, it was about acknowledging the attack as merely an experience that was sent by the light so I could grow, as horrific as it was at the time.
The day before his funeral I met with a guy who held up a gun to me for not having sex with him when I was in my teens. My heart of hearts told me I needed to express my forgiveness, again to free myself of the residual emotional pain of the past. He quietly listened, and for the first time, I felt like he finally saw me as a respectable human being. I also took another step forward after the funeral service was over by requesting a meeting with the guy who instigated the gang rape when I was younger, as he was also present at the funeral for my husband. Like the other guy, he quietly listened and didn’t say much, but I knew he fully heard and got what I was saying. For me now to have zero charges or resentment at the thought of what I went through in the past, be it the night my husband tried to kill me, the day some guy threatened me with a loaded gun, or the night multiple guys raped me, is insanely freeing. I have had the space to live my life powerfully and attract the most beautiful opportunities and people because I no longer have toxic energy taking up space in my life.
The beautiful gift in the rape and abuse has been my contribution to humanity and mass consciousness. I’ve since helped women who’ve been through sexual trauma reclaim their sexuality. I’ve mentored young adults in Uganda, helped wealthy CEO’s expand their spiritual practices, and helped ex-drug dealers create social impact through the power of storytelling. I wake up each morning thrilled about living on purpose. I am fulfilled. I am at peace.
I now have one job in life: joy. Joy is my only job.
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About Jessica Santonato
Based in Toronto, Canada, Jessica Santonato is a TEDx Speaker and inspirational speaker who shares the message of forgiveness and finding the gift in pain. She is an award-winning author featured alongside Lisa Nicholas, Neale Donald Walsch, and SARK in a book series called “Pebbles in the Pond”. In her latest memoir “Flip The Script” (Fall 2019 release), she shares her journey of living a criminal lifestyle, assault, attempted suicide and domestic violence before the age of 30, to her rise in conscious leadership and philanthropy by the age of 35. Recognized for her leadership abilities, she was one of three people chosen by an American personal development company to help more than a thousand entrepreneurs from across all continents achieve success through the power of vivid story sharing and communication.
Flip The Script, an organization Jessica founded, is a raw and unfiltered story sharing community where everyday people inspiringly share how they’ve overcome adversity and discovered the gift in their pain. Proceeds from events support their story sharing program ‘From The Streets To The Stage’ for males who’ve been (or are currently) incarcerated and/or who are recovering from addiction.
She has been featured in media such as Cosmopolitan Magazine, Rogers TV and various podcasts, and has given talks at Humber College, Mississauga City Hall, inner-city schools and at an event for international peace activist/conscious hip-hop artist, Emmanuel Jal.
Click here for more info: http://jessicasantonato.ctcin.bio