By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
The concept of healing is something that our society seems to haphazardly toss around. Healing has been constructed as this thing that most of us want to do but, we have no clue how to get there. We can “heal” from breakups, from loss, or from disappointment but, no one ever hands us a road map explicitly saying how to do so. This is especially true for those who are healing from interpersonal violence (IPV) of any kind. How do we heal, or recover from violence? Let it be physical, emotional or sexual violence, it causes pain. For some survivors, probably many, healing is this obscure concept that pisses us off by constantly remaining at an arm's distance away. We wonder how we will ever get there and sometimes are left to grapple with just how far away we are from it. Is the idea of needing to heal, of longing for the normalization of our minds’ and bodies’ following a non-normative act of violence, even necessary?
For a long time, as I stepped my toes into the IPV advocacy world I found that healing wasn’t something that I wanted to do. In fact, my anger and hurt drove the feminist work that I was doing. Smashing the patriarchy, which I felt created the men who abuse, was one of my favorite past times. During this time I was angry at more than just the person who had hurt me. I was mad at the people around me who witnessed and ignored my abuser’s violent tongue thrashings which left me feeling worthless. I hated the sport that had once brought me so much joy, but now was clouded by feelings of rage and betrayal. I hated men, or at the very least was afraid to look at, and speak to them. I didn’t like myself, my mind, my voice, my body--I hid all of those things away for a long time because I felt that they were so unworthy of noticing. The person I just described wasn’t someone who was ready or wanted to heal, rather she was someone who wanted to learn, and grow and fight to make change happen.
After some time I without knowing it I began to soften. I wasn’t quite as angry at the universe, but I still felt something. I felt immense emotion walking past a softball field. I felt like I had spent so much time hating myself that I no longer knew how to love myself. I felt guilty and embarrassed that I had not yet gotten over a form of violence that is seemingly so tiny. I wondered, does my experience even count? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? During this time I wanted so badly to forgive the person who hurt me that I often tricked my mind into believing that I was healed. I pretended that my relationship with this person was fine, and that I had never experienced any kind of emotional abuse. I told my brain that he had never said such horrible things about me, things that my brain intrinsically was unable to forget. The person who I described was not yet healed. The truth was that I did not forgive my abuser, and that I did not have to.
Finally, was my most recent phase of healing, the “oh sh*t phase”. This phase contained all the hard stuff; it was made up of processing, and allowing myself to remember and hurt, to cry and then process some more. This was the phase where I decided that any form of abuse, even the most seemingly insignificant, counted as abuse. It was phase where I was able to see my abuser as a hurt person needing to maintain power and control but, who did not have the right to hurt others. During this phase I spent time picking at old scabs with my therapist and exploring different topics through reading and journaling. I pulled out photos from my childhood, apologized to the little girl who was hurting and told her she was worthy of love. I placed a photo of my happy childhood self by my bed and smiled at it every night knowing that I was, and always will be inherent of worth, just for being.
During this time I didn’t necessarily try to ‘heal’, I just lived my life. I found new hobbies like gardening and working out, and reconnected with old ones that had once reminded me of the ‘hurt me’, like baking and softball. I didn’t claim to be healed, though I didn’t claim to be broken either. I just existed. Then one day (as all magical stories begin) I was sitting on my bed staring off into space, and it hit me...the anger that I had once held so close to my heart like a cloak of darkness was gone. Sadness and hurt no longer engulfed my being. I was so much more than anything that I had ever experienced. I thought to myself, “oh my goodness, I’m healed”. This moment wasn’t followed by fireworks covering the sky, there was no confetti exploding all over, or even cries of happiness, it was just as simple as a passing thought, “I am healed”.
That all brings me to this—I think as a society we focus way too much on the idea of healing. There was nothing wrong with the Sara that wasn’t healed, she was just as strong, and brave and brilliant, she just didn’t know it yet. There’s nothing wrong with survivors who feel like they won't ever heal. There is no prize at the end of the race, in fact, there is no race. I don’t expect other’s paths towards healing to look like mine. In fact, they probably shouldn't. We all have vastly different intersections of experiences and identities and, there is no one-size-fits-all path to healing. I see healing like anything else in life...a journey. And while for now I feel like I’m ‘healed’, I have the right to become un-healed (if that’s even a thing). I have the right to be triggered, to break down, to be mad, to be sad and to question my journey because that’s just it—this is MY journey.
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