[Copied and amended from my Instagram account where the bug to share my photography, thoughts and writing has bitten me again.]
2017 was a tough year for me, I don’t feel much sadness watching it come to a close. In 2017 I finally found the strength to remove myself from a situation where I was being treated badly and I was able to shut out the source of my hurt. In the process I shut down my entire life and gave in to the fall. I learned to be okay with not being okay, to just accept how broken I felt and that I didn’t know how to move forward anymore. The aftermath was exhausting yet surprising; I’ve learned many valuable things about myself and the people around me. It took more courage and resilience than I knew I had; but here I am, I made it through.
I ended 2017 in a much happier place, but I will not forget the battle it took to get there. Nor will I forget the people who helped me along the way. It’s been surprising how people reach out to help and heal in whatever way they can. This past year I’ve witnessed both the horrible and heartless ways that some people are willing to treat others, as well as the myriad ways that many express kindness and caring towards others. They gave me back hope in the goodness of people and the understanding that I am deserving of that kindness too.
2017 also found me witnessing the joys of sisterhood, both in evolving relationships with my biological sisters and friends, and in a wider understanding of the sisterhood that binds all women together. 2017 was a powerful year of revelation for women everywhere, and though the widespread abuse that women have experienced has been shocking, it is heartening that silenced people now feel like they have a voice in the world. In those growing voices I found a despair at how there are so many people for whom cruelty is so easy, but also a hope at how many more people are willing to lend their support and their impact to others who need help.
At the end of everything I find myself with a strong drive to be the opposite of what I experienced. To be the kind of person who brings joy, friendship, and kindness to others. To be a woman who supports my sisters everywhere rather than help to tear them down. To be vulnerable and honest, and to recognise the courage that takes. What I do and who I choose to be makes a difference, I want to always be the kind of person who makes a positive difference in the world around me.
In 2017 I learned many difficult things. I learned the meaning and realities of phrases like intermittent reinforcement, gaslighting, triangulation, crazy making behaviour, pity play, and covert abuse. I learned what it means to be codependent, to have poor boundaries, to seek validation from all the wrong sources.
I also learned one very important thing: sometimes an apology is just a tool for further poor treatment. It took me until 34 to fully understand that not everyone thinks the same way, that not everyone feels, understands or intends the same things as me. That an apology that is meaningful to me can be utterly meaningless to the person offering it.
This lesson took me some time to learn. For a long while I accepted apologies that were full of lies and manipulation because I trusted the intent of the person offering them. Each time I was dragged back into the destructive cycle until it was revealed that I had been fooled again; each time I crumbled a little further inside and trust was destroyed.
After I realised I could no longer give in to this form of manipulation, I discovered something freeing: forgiveness is not always necessary nor deserved. We’re told all the time to forgive, even if it’s just for ourselves, that it’s necessary in order to heal. I no longer believe this. I think in certain circumstances (especially where trauma is involved) it adds pressure to victims to make some sort of impossible peace with actions and intentions that hurt them deeply, that changed their lives immeasurably. Let go of the anger, the hurt, the humiliation, let go of the source, but hold on to the boundaries that keep the pain at bay. Having compassion does not mean allowing people who choose to continually cause you harm to remain in your life.
I’ve learned to trust actions over words, it was one of the toughest lessons I’ve had. It’s not enough to trust the intent of someone who has a history of poor behaviour. An apology is only meaningful if behaviour changes afterwards. This seems so obvious now, but hindsight is a difficult thing and cognitive dissonance is one hell of a battle to fight.
On a train to Amsterdam in late December, I finally knew I was going to be okay. It was the first time in well over a year and half that I felt genuine excitement, happiness and confidence that wasn’t fleeting. The first time I could see the future again and looked forward to a new adventure. The first gentle light in the sky after a long dark night. It wasn’t an easy dawn, it took me a long time and a lot of effort to haul myself out of that darkness. I know I will never be the same person I was before this happened, but I’ve stopped believing that this is bad thing. I’m wiser in many ways and learned to care deeply for myself.
The hardest part of all of this was the realisation that sometimes you just have to give up on people you love, and their endless identical apologies, in order to heal yourself. I didn’t want it to be like this, but if I wanted the pain and the toxic cycle to ever stop, I had no other choice.