Alka Writes takes a deep penetrating look at herself in this piece on her journey for Closure.
To practice healing, over and over again. I thought I had been doing so well, that I had started believing this time I had reached beyond.
Living in dysfunctional relationships often involves either denial or growing scabs and scars over early wounds. Living in an abusive one means not getting a chance to let the bruises heal, the cuts and scrapes scarcely stop bleeding when new ones are laid on top, till one flinches every time someone comes near because one’s flayed flesh and exposed nerves can’t take any stimulus, not even love or pity. Making the decision to change or leave only escalates the war, something not often mentioned enough.
We think getting to that decision is hard, taking that first step is hard, but there are always other battles to fight with family, friends, community and sometimes even complete strangers. But here one has clear wins and losses, not that ongoing blur of denying what is wrong.
Finding safe spaces and isolating from the general world was my way of healing. It really helped me to ruthlessly cut off anyone who would question my decisions or raise tiny doubts when every ounce of my energy was needed to stay strong. I have great respect for those who manage to stay in status quo and yet make enormous changes in their lives. For myself, I pared down to what was essential and could not be cut off, and functioned at that war time footing for several years.
Over and over again, I recognized there were those who meant well, who were bewildered by my actions, hurt by my refusal to engage. But I just didn’t have the breath to even tell them that I can’t explain, I can’t justify, I can’t begin to describe what this feels like – this realization that the pillars of my life had to be destroyed, that I had to set my world on fire because I couldn’t begin to understand what was good and what was wrong. All I knew was that I couldn’t live in that life anymore.
Even when I cleared the rubble, the task of rebuilding was daunting. And I had to learn the skills of doing things right. Even as I had to teach my kids what I myself was learning – my space, my independence, my control – skills that parents should encourage in their own children. To learn and know boundaries, how to establish them, defend them, negotiate without rancor and hold them. To have not just emotional but functional life skills, the lack of which had been part of the prison in which I found myself.
Rage, for me, was a great motivator. Too many people told me that I needed to forgive, to let go of the anger. What they didn’t understand is that the fury had supported me for years. When there was nothing, I had rage for encouragement. I could not let circumstances defeat me. I knew clearly what I thought was clearly right, principles I knew I wanted my children to learn from me, of duty and kindness and taking responsibility for their actions.
It was when that was almost done, that I allowed myself to start recognizing the deep grief which fueled that anger. Now that I didn’t need to hold up the sky, I could kneel and examine what wounds I had sustained, and mourn what I had lost. Have compassion for what I had been through, and forgive myself for being stupid, for making mistakes, for not acting earlier, for harsh words that created deep crevasses of guilt and blame. Dragging myself out of that cycle of expectations and failure took longer.
What I learnt
I learned that resilience is a skill. Giving yourself permission to not engage, to say no; to allow myself to rest without calling it laziness; to recognize disagreement without naming it negativity or whining.
There is no closure with the world, there are no neat endings. No obvious villains who get defeated and no heroes with capes. There is just the grinding wheel of time, and what one chooses to do with one’s portion of it.
Closure is what one negotiates with oneself, what one chooses to learn from what happened before, how one chooses to live one’s life from here onwards.
You aren’t a certain way, there is no compulsion to keep repeating old patterns. It is extremely hard to let go of addictive familiar behaviors, but that’s what they are. Today you can choose to do it differently.
Yet the old vulnerabilities exist, and if you return to the appearances of the past, you can find yourself slipping back into those old worlds. Like any other addict, I need to stay vigilant even though it feels like I have “healed”. In times of exhaustion or frustration, it’s very easy to be who I was for so many years, and lose hold of the new. There will be lapses but I will keep choosing to be healthy actively. Keep choosing to accept the past is done and there is nothing that will miraculously show up to negate the loss.
Healing is ongoing, it’s making choices to be who you want to be. If something didn’t work, you try something else. You make sure you don’t repeat what made you vulnerable to slipping. Recognize even tiny things in your environment that will cumulatively affect your day.
Learning to accept the grief
I am often asked why I still get depressed from time to time, why I don’t feel happy and strong and proud of myself. Reality is this journey, even with the help of trained counselors and supportive friends, is still one of loss.
Something to keep in mind is that over time, any relationship involves not just the two of you, but the entire social structure, your friends, family, community, your own beliefs, that kept you in that relationship. So successfully breaking the relationship is close to losing all of that, and that is a loss that will cause grief, should cause grief. Facing that reality will be akin to losing a loved one. So allow yourself to grieve without confusion or shame.
What worked for me:
1. Recognizing there is a problem
After all the years of trying to power through, accepting that this was a problem that I won’t be able to resolve was shocking. There was great relief as well, in giving up, in admitting failure. For so long I had worked under the impression that all I had to do was just try harder, that I was surrounded by those who wanted better for me. Decades of striving to improve, to please finally came to the point of failure, and breakdown. An ocean of pain that I faced defeat.
2. Getting away from ongoing, immediate harm
Just because the abuse is emotional or mental doesn’t mean the ongoing damage isn’t significant. I remember being asked early on why I wasn’t happy that I have left behind what was “upsetting” me, that I should now be “happy”. I had left behind my home, my pet, security of predictability. While they were abusive, I had lost the whole construct of marriage, parents, siblings, friends. As tribal beings, we depend on our place in our group in many small and big ways. To suddenly find yourself alone takes getting used to.
3. Accepting the reality of abuse
In our society today, there is significant baggage associated with the idea of being a “victim”. I have found those who are able to survive and leave abusive situations have a history of being thought of as “strong”. To move from that label of strength to being a “victim” is very painful. Also to think of how you have been treated as abuse is very hurtful, because that means you have to accept the intent of those you considered your loved ones.
4. Allowing yourself to question and protest
This is a big one. Somewhere along the way, you have been groomed to not question or protest. This is something that is one of the earliest fundamental change that happens in targets of abuse. You are taught to consider any objection as a rebellion or unreasonable temper or whining/ complaining, and so made to feel ashamed or guilty about even giving your feelings and thoughts ANY space. This is what often gets triggered in therapy, where you have to fight constantly against the idea of being a loser, being stupid, or weak.
5. Seeing the reality of your close relationships
For me this is STILL the greatest source of pain. To accept that my loved ones saw me struggle and still continued down the path they knew was causing me pain, that at no point did they feel pity for me, this is still the greatest source of grief to me.
6. Examining why you stayed
This one is tough as well. To know I was so desperate for love and approval, that time and time again, I ignored obvious red flags, this was a tough pill to swallow. I look back and despair at my insistence on blaming myself despite reality.
7. Accepting your own part in the situation
I was never the nice one or the pretty one, I was the smart one, the independent one. To accept the fact that I believed things that were obviously wrong, I accepted the label of difficult and unreasonable and hot tempered. I questioned myself over and over, a habit that is proving so hard to break.
8. Reducing your reactivity
This is where I am, for now. A lot of abuse is completely dependent on the abuser being able to keep the target triggered and anxious. That’s the only way he can ensure the target has no energy or time to really examine him or his actions, no time or calm to question anything he does or says. To that end, targets end up with many many sore spots, some obvious and some deeply hidden. Being this reactive, hyper emotional , intense is exhausting.
9. Practicing healthy habits
Letting go of a lifetime of bad habits and beliefs that leave you vulnerable to abusers is HARD. Learning to think in a completely different way about yourself and the world is even harder. It’s understandable to feel tired frustrated and depressed. There are times when I feel so depressed that I wonder if I CAN change at fifty. To stop oversharing, to calmly establish boundaries, to hold strong with getting angry, to not react to every provocation, to sit back and accept the reality of the situation, to evaluate the worth of engaging, to value myself, to enjoy being alone, to stop questioning my feelings and desires.
10. Forgiving and letting go
I’m told this happens. That you can come to terms with not getting closure or justice. That you can get used to just accepting what was and letting go of bitterness. Maybe I’ll be able to update this answer when I reach that point.
11. Its ok to grieve.
It’s ok to feel depressed. You have been through a long period of intense abuse. And also been groomed to think of your pain as something shameful and weak. Acknowledging pain is not a weakness, how can you find solutions if you aren’t allowed to first accept the depths of your loss?
12. Be compassionate to yourself
Accept your feelings as valid and deserving of space and respect. If you won’t have compassion for yourself, it will be hard to accept it from others.
Alka Writes is a poet, artist and women’s rights advocate. Her work is inspired by her own journey as a woman, an immigrant, a financial analyst and a mother. She works as a senior financial consultant, and has been trained as a physician with an MBA in Finance.