Healing is Other People
I read lots of blogs that helped me deal with coming out of an abusive relationship. I'd wanted to join that network of helping others, and also needed others to reach out to help me, so I wrote Abuse is a Ghost. This is a response to that, four months later.
When you’ve gone through some really shit-in-your-fuck events, healing is a lot like the next time you have chicken tenders: inevitable; you’re a human being going through life. Maybe it happens on a date at a fair. Maybe when driving across the country and needing to stop for a sec. Maybe you say fuck it and seek out all the ingredients and look up online how to make it and do your best and they’re the least satisfying chicken tenders you’ve ever had.
As somebody who’d been awaiting healing with the calm of a birthday boy pretending to give a fuck about breakfast, about getting dressed, about anything besides the upcoming cake and presents, my frothing at the mouth had been scaring it all away. Writing and (albeit quietly) sharing a piece about my own experiences with partner abuse was one of the best things I’d ever done for myself—I needed help—and to the folks that reached out after, I owe you a lot more than I let on at the time. For every person I’d met who turns their confusion and pain into harm towards others, I’d met a dozen who turn it into connection. (Do yourself a favor and find a single ex that you care about, be them as a friend or memory or mutual trader of insta likes, and luxuriate them out of the blue with love. Make clear this isn’t an invitation to come up for a cup of sex, but a caring reminder that somebody kind once found them magical, and somebody kind will again. Let the unraveled conversation be as brief or recurring as it likes. There’s too much climate change out there to be stingy with fondness.)
After months of rambling to myself till the early morning, getting drunk alone until I could no longer experience hate, and locking myself in my room so that nobody else had to endure me, your outreach gave me months of stocking puppy toys at a new job, walking my dog around the neighborhood before finding a small forest to let her eat wood in, and emailing back and forth with fully-funded writing programs. I stopped being friends with folks that had been accused of abuse, ashamed to say that this is what it took for me to realize the depths of what that meant, and apologized to a victim for how that lack of accountability must have made her feel all these years. I only let myself be around kindness. I lived quietly, the swallowing chaos of the past less of a disease in remission and more of a shitty profile picture from middle school that you refuse to delete still.
One day—as I’d long felt full healing eyeing my front door tentatively, still locked out by the riddle of “Why the fuck did any of this have to happen?—I shamefully contacted a former flame to ask them if I'd ever done anything to them like I'd had done to me (a fun little game with no winners I played out of desperation for catharsis.) But they didn't just respond, they called me. Met with me. When I moved back to Michigan, we kept in contact and they met me again. We talked endlessly and pointlessly. While I'd love to say that a romance exploded out of this, we were 2,000 miles apart and a vocal and passionate advocation for one another was the best we could build responsibly. I don't mean to paint the walls with gush and sap (looks hideous in the sunlight) but the best person I'd ever met told me they fell for me and they had to actually call it there before the logistics of what could've been got painful.
Back when my abuser and I started dating, I’d been frolicking with depression after failing a million times in my writing career and through the lens of that, my life. I permitted being alive by being generous to others and brutalized any hint of selfishness by denying a self. And I now realize that every awful thing my ex would go on to do to me was just aping something I’d done to myself. With small exceptions, they advanced any harmful or outright false claim I’d proposed—and think about it: if your partner falsely assumes they’re in the wrong at every intersection, aren’t you kinda off the hook for agreeing with them every time? Through that lack of intervention, you two coordinate an unspoken but agreed hierarchy of accountability, which devolves from convenient escapes to opportune returns, and you’ve galloped headfirst into a system of abuse. “Max must be punished regardless of what happened” wasn’t something they’d created alone, and how do you decry somebody for agreeing with you?
Other people disagreeing.
Healing is not a decision. It isn't a timid guest. It isn't a body achieved solely through diet and exercise. Not even chicken tenders. At least not for me. Healing is a transmitted disease. It's a group project where the other members don't know they're enrolled in the course. In the world of trying to live after trauma, abuse is the ghost that insists your past makes you unlovable, and healing is the other people that accidentally prove it wrong by loving you.
I didn't need a relationship with this reconnection (boy oh fuck would that have been great though). I didn't even necessarily need external validation. I needed a person so worthy of being held high in the air that I had to stop lying on the floor to give it to them. We're social creatures—socialization is one of the most vital pieces to our evolution, hence literal fucking language. To adore one another isn't just nice, it's water, bread, Vitamin fucking All. This person didn't just help me find myself again; I wouldn't drink when I knew we were FaceTiming later because it obscured the view. Every mental rant about my abuser and the folks who enabled them got interrupted by a new text. I went out with friends. I introduced plans with others without thinking I was a virus to be politely avoided till I lost all hosts and died. How could I think that when I'm so wonderful? I'm clearly so wonderful.
We’re in our twenties and we’re all experiencing trials that we fail. Some are more confusing than others. My therapist told me he couldn’t intervene without me outright threatening suicide—why I censored that topic—and I refused every prescription because I thought I didn’t deserve them. If given the chance to do that whole trial again, I'd do every single thing differently. When my abuser admitted for a moment they didn’t know if they deserved to be forgiven for what they did to me, I didn’t know how to disagree despite the modesty of that acknowledgement. But now I condemn my previous self for denying himself humanity out of self-hate, and I forgive him for failing that trial. And I still can condemn my ex for becoming an abusive partner, but I can forgive them for failing too. It’s suddenly a hassle not to.
I want them to move on from what they did, to hold themselves accountable in the future, and I’m actually even sorry that they had to date somebody who was sick. I’m never gonna let anybody make me believe unkind and untrue things about myself again, especially myself. If I catch a whiff that my ex has gone and shat another well, I’m ready to support and comfort whomever they hurt. They’ll figure it out, maybe they’ll even apologize to everyone, but I personally don't need them to anymore.
Reader, I have no idea if any of this is helpful to you. Heck, you may have gotten every teacher, friend’s parent, and circle of older kids behind the summer camp mess hall to believe you were wise and independent beyond your years, but just because they fell for a costume doesn’t make you a character. "You're only sick as your secrets," so tell the shameful truth that you need help to people that’ll hear it, and Marie Kondo people that won’t. We’re an amalgamation of the personalities surrounding us, and I’m happy to now be more like the many people that helped me, and happy to be good enough for those folks to collect as well.
And to the one person who got me here, who put the moon in a basket, if anyone ever tries to lie to you and insist that you aren't worth true celebration, I will fucking teach them their bones. Thank you for helping me. Thank you.