I hear the voices all around me. I hear them everywhere I go and in everything I do. They’ve always been there- from the fragmented echoes of my childhood, with their sweet bullshit lullabies of happily-ever-after, to the relentless edicts of today that I heal from past hurts quickly, move on immediately, forgive indiscriminately, and to never, ever bring baggage from the past into new relationships. Don’t be bitter, they say. No matter what else you do, do not ever punish your new love for the mistakes of a past love. Because it’s so easy to do that, right? Wrong. I know because I’ve been there. And I wish, oh how I wish, that I could silence all those shaming voices!
Because sometimes, sometimes it’s not so easy to move on. Sometimes one can heal from the betrayals of relationships but emerge from them smarter and wiser about the world, and therefore not quite so starry-eyed about love. And the truth about love that no one ever seems to want to acknowledge is that sometimes love is not sweet or good. Sometimes love causes more pain than happiness. Sometimes love blinds us to the selfish intentions and actions of others. Sometimes love breaks us down instead of building us up. Sometimes love is nothing more than the traumatic bond that occurs between the innocent and the abusive, sociopathic, and vile. And I am tired, oh so tired, of always being expected to pretend otherwise when doing so obscures something honest and heartfelt and real. Sometimes the truth doesn’t smile, isn’t happy, and cannot forgive. Sometimes the truth is angry. And sometimes it needs to rage, to stand up and speak to the agony and sorrow from whence it was born.
This is the truth in my life. Once upon a time, as most people who know me already know, I was married to an abusive person. He hurt me physically and emotionally, betrayed me in the worst ways possible, and very nearly destroyed me. And no matter how I try, I cannot just walk away from those things or deposit them in a safe place far away from my life, because they are my life. They are a part of who I am now. And because these things are a part of me, there is also rage. I try not to dwell on it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, boiling, festering, binding itself in solitude as it waits impatiently to smolder itself into oblivion.
The rage in my marriage came slowly, as the happiness and the hope I’d held on to for so long slowly gave way to confusion, frustration, and despair. One thing that many people find difficult to understand is that the abusive process doesn’t happen all at once. It occurs in stages, comprising a series of events and circimstances over a long period of time. Emotional abuse, which often manifests through isolation, constant conflict, hostility, jealousy and manipulation, is so subtle that the process of awareness alone can be painfully lethargic in its arrival. By the time I was able to see past the hope and the dreams of happily-ever-after to the person I’d married for the monster that he was, I was at his mercy in every way imaginable, and he knew this, it was his design, and so he delighted in it. And so I was terrified of him, of the devastation that could be wrought with the flick of his wrist, the slap of his hand, or the slip of his tongue. Eventually though, the anger began to burn inside me. And when it did, it very neatly obliterated the grief and sorrow that had animated my life for so long. But it did nothing to assuage the torrent of fear, which had long since cultivated a life of its own from the wreckage of my childish dreams and believed itself immortal. (And I fear that it is indeed immortal).
That doesn’t mean I didn’t fight back. Oh, I fought back. And when I fought back, I validated his belief that I was worthless garbage, and when I didn’t fight back, I validated his belief that I was worthless garbage. Or so he said.
And round and round it went, and round and round I went, slowly, decisively, the remains of our fragmented life together spiraling out of control somewhere deep inside, twisting and turning and feeding itself into a crescendo of madness, ferocity, and rage. I tried to stop it. I tried to stop it. I left then went back, left then went back, left then went back, left then went back.The harder I tried to escape the harder he tried to hold on. He didn’t fill my head with empty promises or pretend to be sorry. Instead, he filled my head with bleak predictions of how hopeless my life would be without him there to guide me, to support me, to prop me up like the paper doll he’d always proclaimed me to be, and then he set about making it so. And he was able to make it so because I was so afraid of him, and my fear was his power.
But that was then.
That was then and this is now. And now, he is out of my life and has been for quite some time. But the fear isn’t gone and neither is the anger. Even after all these years. Nor are they feelings that can be chastised or shamed away and I refuse to go on trying to do so. I do not know how these things that I hold on to are supposed to play out in my life or in my future relationships. All I know is that they are.
I had someone who loved me very recently. And he tried with all his might to show me that I could trust him not to hurt me, but I just couldn’t see it. For more than two years he laid himself bare and made his life and his heart and his mind an open book to me at the expense of everything, even at the expense of himself. And he did it with love and compassion and patience and kindness. He was goodness, and he believed in my goodness, and he fought the good fight. And then one day he just couldn’t do it anymore and so I lost him. And I am still mourning his loss. I still cannot bear to look at him because I fear that doing so will turn the blood in my veins to water and then I will drown from all the tears that I do not want to cry. He believed in me and I caused him nothing but pain.
And now I sit quietly, reflecting on all of this and wondering where to go from here. I do not know the answer yet, but what I do know is that I have to find a way to shut out all the voices that demand forgiveness and healing and happiness from me, because believing that I should when the truth is that I can’t isn’t helpful at all. The voices that admonish me relentlessly to just get over it already really just need to stop talking already. The thing is, a vital part of the healing process is acceptance. And so, okay. I accept that some scars from my past are permanent. As someone very astute once said, some wounds bleed forever. And no matter what I do I cannot change that, so I choose to accept it instead. Isn’t that “healing” enough?
Perhaps on another day I might mourn the loss of innocence and the sweet broken promises of which the dreams of childhood are made. Maybe there’s time yet for me to sit face to face with a professional and discuss all the ways in which I will never fully heal from my past or unlearn the ugly truths that my marriage taught me about life (despite her likely insistence to the contrary). Not that I plan to ever do those things. I’ve lived my past and I cannot unlive it, all I can do is accept that it is an indelible part of who I am. Perhaps I am bitter. But I believe the truth is much more complex than that. Wisdom is generally a celebrated thing, and so should it be celebrated rather than denigrated when we wise up about love and people and relationships. Loving blindly is not, nor should it ever be considered, a virtuous thing, something that we should all aspire to. And yet….and yet…it is. Why is that?
Perhaps the truth is that I am better off alone. I know I certainly am happier alone. What I don’t know is why I keep pushing back against that simple truth and trying to make a life lived with someone else work for me. I’m not sure that it ever will work for me. That is what feels natural to me. To be alone. Is that bitter, or is that smart? I know which one I think it is.
And so today? Today I am going to set fire to cupid and watch the motherfucker burn.