“As long as we are setting the agenda for someone else’s behavior, then we are seeking to be their jailer, not their lover, and we will not know peace.”
Just over 6 years ago I looked in the mirror and saw someone whose implicit biases had turned her into a woman of bitterness, of rage, of lost hope, and hatred.
This was a direct consequence of experiencing abuse. I believe it relates to racism. I believe it relates to hate. I believe it relates to supporting people, ideas, and systems that maintain inequality and discrimination. In fact, it doesn't simply relate to these situations, it is the root of them.
Before I was able to tell the truth about experiencing childhood abuse, I was full of rage.
I didn't know this because I numbed my emotions and dissociated from my body. It showed up in my actions when I snapped into blind anger if someone did something similar to the person who abused me or to my family members.
If someone said a speech pattern or was a female in an authority position or was a member of my family, I shut down. I felt angry. I isolated myself and said and did things that made it clear it was me against them. Them being something I could never be faulted for and that I could never be the same as.
This hatred supported and protected me back then. It allowed me to believe others were unlovable, ugly, and unhuman. This is what abuse taught me about myself and I had permission to project that onto them. I was allowed to blame my pain on other people, referring the responsibility and fear of recovery off of me and onto them.
This perspective of separation I subscribed to is a lie. The truth is I can not separate myself from other humans. When I do, it creates division and perpetuates hate and violence within myself and against everyone else.
Pretending I was incapable of hurting someone the way they had hurt me is at best false.
Thinking we can not be the monster is the quickest way to become one.
I was sexually abused for ten years. I knew the statistics of me abusing another child were higher than if I hadn't been abused. I thought if I spent time thinking about and researching pedophilia, I would become a pedophile. I thought because my grandfather was abusive and an addict that I was better than him. I believed because my family didn't fit my expectations that I didn't have a family at all. I thought the best way to get along with my parents was to pretend they didn't hurt me and isolate from them. Other times I thought the best way to heal was to speak cruel words.
I wished for them to feel as deeply pained as I did. I wanted revenge for what I saw as injustice. I believed if they could feel how deeply I reeled in the aftermath of trauma, that life would be fair and this version of justice would heal me.
This is a microcosm of a national family; a global family. I would have marched in the streets carrying a torch against all white men over the age of 65. I would have worked to condemn mothers who responded to stress by avoidance. I would have locked them up alone the way I felt for years. I would have dropped a bomb on my family's houses. And I would have felt righteous about it, as if I was making the world a better place.
My perspective was aligned with other groups we have seen in the world: racists, anti-LGBTQ groups, sexists, religious hate groups, ableists, xenophobes, ageists. If you are like most humans, you just read that list and a part of you, conscious or subconscious, thought, 'I would never be one of those people, never a part of these groups. I am different than them.' This may feel hard to swallow: I'm saying, no you aren't. No we are not.
Somebody taught them pain, explained or modeled it was because of skin color or gender or ability or sexual orientation, and then gave them a space to feel included and loved that aligned with these messages. They feel just as ethical, as passionate, and as righteous and you and I about our beliefs. I did, too.
Yelling at my family didn't help me. Isolating myself to steep in anger didn't either. It festered hate for people who looked like them and talked like them and for others who loved them. It divided me from an entire group of people. I felt hate for them all.
Ending these cycles, whether it is interfamilial abuse, racism, sexism, xenophobia, or any discrimination takes patient love. Those words sound fluffy and peaceful. The truth is the deepest love that creates change is difficult, messy, determined, and sometimes painful. It is grueling work at times—the hardest work I know.
Recovery is my work because I know how scary it can feel, how laborious it can be, and how freeing it is to experience. I can't change your experiences and neither can you. We can work together to live in a different way, though. We can do the internal work that reflects into our relationships and then into the world.
This is how we find freedom.
My call is to invite them (and you) into my life now—whomever that may be that feels the deep pain similar to what I did. You are part of me because I also feel bias and exclusion. I refuse to divide from you. I have felt hate and rage. We are all capable of it. I want to hear and see you and understand you. Come sit with me. Tell me your injustices.
If you find yourself looking in the mirror one day to a person reflecting bitterness, rage, lost hope, and hatred, know that in that moment you have a choice: to continue this way or to do the work. Recovery is waiting for you, inviting you to experience freedom, peace, hope, and love. I promise to be here to support you when you're ready.
I promise it is worth it.