Collateral Beauty

I made this blog in a time when I felt I could not use my voice. I remember experiencing a “coming of age” moment (post high school). My teen angst prompted me to find an outlet, and I decided to express how I was feeling through the art-form of writing. It felt natural.

It’s been 6 years since creating this blog. I thought I’d know more by now, and yet I feel I am still re-learning some of the same lessons when I was 17.

It would be an understatement to say that there have been times when I felt I could not use my voice in the past two years. I wish someone offered a course on “How to Survive Your Early 20’s” because I would’ve been the first to enroll. I understand “adulting” isn’t easy, but I wished someone could have told me how exactly to navigate all the things I was about to experience prior to entering into grad school.

I wish I could write a post on how I’ve mastered the art of detachment, and how I am grateful for the challenges I have endured—it would be a much prettier blog post to read. But here’s the truth: I am angry. I am angry at the fact that these last two years have felt like constant life lessons on repeat.

If you anticipated me coming to terms with a resolution, there isn’t one right now. I have no gratitude to offer towards anyone or anything who has contributed to a time that has felt like an undoing. I have learned so much about myself in this process—one of the major lessons being, this is not about me. While that may seem odd, it’s true. People who hurt other people are deeply hurting. There is no other way to word it. You have to have a lot of self-hatred to hurt someone and call it love. I know this is an important lesson to learn—but if I am being honest, I wish I could forget the entire thing. I don’t want the memories. I don’t want to remember.

Sometimes I recall a certain memory tied to the hurt I am describing, and I pray it will be wiped away. I say a prayer of something along the lines of God, help me forget. I don’t want to carry the memories because it has nothing to do with me. The pain, the hurt, the shame, the false beliefs, the self-hatred—all of it has nothing to do with me. It is not my burden to carry, and it never was. In trying to save someone else, I lost myself.

Just because I am angry, it doesn’t mean I am “unwell.” The way I am feeling is exactly how it sounds—I am justifiably angry. Frankly, who wouldn’t be? How could you put a person through months of pain and expect them to be okay?

What I am learning about anger, however, is that it isn’t something to be afraid of. Anger can help us process some of the most emotionally-challenging parts of our lives and move us into a place of self-awareness and love. Even in my anger, I have found love. No, not love for the pain, nor for what I have endured. In fact, I don’t think this lesson needed to have happened.

The love I have is for myself. I know that I am strong, and that I am capable. I loved myself enough to believe past what I was being told about myself. I loved myself enough to leave. I love myself, and I deserve the love that I give to others. I know that love doesn’t hurt.

They say “time heals all wounds”, but I don’t think this is the case in what I am experiencing. This is trauma, and unlike minor wounds—trauma lives in the body. I’ve had to reorient myself to approach things differently. I changed pieces of my environment just so I could feel safe again.

Of course, I’d imagine that someone reading these things might think I am writing this blog post to victimize myself. Or perhaps this blog post signals that I am “too sensitive” or rather I “need to get a grip.” Honestly, I don’t have the energy to reply to this voice. A figure that once used to be present in my life is now etched into my memory. That is all I have to say.

The truth is that I am the happiest I’ve been in a long time. When my anger arises, I process it. I welcome it. I deconstruct what is making me upset to get to the root of it. If there is one thing I have gathered from the last four months, it is that I don’t want to become a person bound up in anger or self-hatred. I have seen anger eat away at the soul until it seeps into one’s life: Anger takes over, and now all one can do is think about the thing or the person they dislike. I don’t want this for myself. I love myself enough to know that I am better than this. I want my anger to be a source of strength—not a weapon or a mechanism used to pose harm onto others just so I can cope with my own inner turmoil.

It is ironic that in losing myself, I have found myself again. The things I was being told about myself helped me to discover the truth about myself—but it wasn’t because of someone else. It was within me all along—you do not get credit.

I want to believe people can change. Believe me, I held onto this belief pretty tightly as I justified why it was okay for me to be getting hurt just to accept love (or what I thought was love) from someone else. I do believe that people can change—but I am done putting out fires for people who cannot hold themselves accountable. Change is bound up with accountability. If someone is not taking accountability, they will not change.

A note on love: Hurting someone and calling it love, is not true, genuine love. This pattern of treatment is far from love—and this form of bonding is cyclical.

For so long, I thought it was my fault. I felt that the pain I endured was a byproduct of not “feeling enough.” Yet, I know that I am enough. I know that this experience is not unique insofar that I am not the first person to be in this position. This is a cycle, and I was caught in the line of fire.

In coming home to myself, I had to sit in a place of despair. I was deeply saddened by the ending of something—but the reality is that I was grieving something that never actually materialized. I kept thinking things would get better, that the amount of apologies I offered would serve as the catalyst for someone else to change, that the response wasn’t to let go but simply “work harder.” I thought if I just tried to “be better”, “not show emotion”, or take accountability for someone else’s pain, that things would change.

It is hard to revisit the past and tell yourself it is not supposed to be this way. Every memory I have is tainted—and I hate that. I have had to retrain my brain and tell myself that what I went through is not love.

Walking away is hard. If it were easy, I wouldn’t be resorting to writing on my blog months later, trying to make sense of what I just went through. In walking away, I have been able to reflect on everything. One of the things I have had to grapple with is that I can walk away—but people, who hurt other people, cannot escape themselves.

A note on friendship: My friends from school took shifts with me that night as I struggled to process the last four months. My friends from home and undergrad had to meet me where I was at as I tried to find myself again. I see God through the work of community, and I believe God was present as I learned to love myself again. As I grappled with what was happening, I felt I was waking up.

There are days when I forget for a bit about this past season of my life, and I feel carefree. There are moments, however, when I see a leaf fall— and I am transported back to October, thinking about everything that has happened since then. For a few minutes, I am haunted.

But when I start to feel haunted, I look to my friends: I see the joy they exude. I look to the spring blooms, and I feel hopeful about the next season in my life. I think about the ways in which I am growing, and this helps me to ground myself.

A Whale snake plant

I have a baby whale snake plant in my room (it was a gift). Truthfully, it has been hard to disassociate the plant from its origins, but in some ways, I feel deeply tied to this plant. In February, when I was struggling to process everything around me, I kept watching the plant grow. I told myself that I’d wake up one day and have a revelation on what to do in my predicament—I felt that God would speak to me through this plant, and it would all make sense. News flash: the plant still is curled up, and I didn’t have a divine epiphany. Yet, the plant has grown since February.

Recently, I looked over at a sign in my room that reads, “beautiful things take time.” It occurred to me that the beauty I was searching for was not found in a majestic epiphany but rather in who I am and who I want to be. Yes, I will be overjoyed the day my snake plant has grown full size. But for now, I can acknowledge beauty from within. It seems like such a simple message for such a messy season, but it helps me find peace.

-Ekman