Freedom is Just the Beginning

I have been quiet on the blog for almost a month now, though my mind had been buzzing with numerous ideas for posts I barely got the time or the energy to pen them down and post them. But what dominated the thoughts of posts was the ordeal faced by the freed women in Cleveland. I first came across the news on twitter and did not think much of it till I turned on the TV. 

As Amanda Berry’s photos with her sister and daughter flashed across the screen I could help but going back to the torture and trauma I had faced not so long ago. The thing with power play and abuse is that they start almost in a similar manner but in different situations and are of different intensities. The underlying psychological games of making the victim feel worthless and powerless without the abuser remain the same. The flood of physical and mental abuse, though might vary in intensity, is present in every abusive situation. 

As I thought about the way I submitted to the psychological manipulations of my ex and his family I could almost imagine the trauma these brave women endured. The worst part of continued abuse is the fact that it can be very difficult to adjust to normal life at a later date. By normal I mean enjoying the rights provided to every human.

There are still times when I jerk out of any leisure activity be it sleeping, watching TV or reading a book, guilty and fearful that I should be pleasing my ex and his family so that I do not have to listen to their tirade of abuses. It takes me some time to re-orient and realize that I am in my own house, to do as I please. This surprisingly was echoed by Elizabeth of the Fritzl Case when she found it difficult to sleep on a soft bed after being held captive and raped by her father for 24 years in a dungeon.

This makes one realize that attaining freedom is just the beginning of a whole new arduous journey of healing through every bit of trauma. It also includes dealing with the moving on of life, as Berry did with the passing away of her mother, when the life of victim was made to stand still by cutting her off from her support system.  My heart goes out to them along with prayers that their healing period is short and sweet to propel them into success later on. 

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Start at the Beginning

The last couple of weeks have been absolute mayhem, torture and have turned my life topsy-turvy in every manner possible. But as they say that system is born from chaos:

A few nights ago I had a really odd dream. I was living with my ex on good terms with him and also his family. The dream followed all the routines my life did when for the first few days things seemed good. In my dream my ex was preparing for his GMAT and I had the brilliant idea to prepare along with him but was confused as how to go about with the preparation process. So after this (hold your breath) the golden words of advice came from none other than my ex “start at the beginning”.

I had this dream the day my divorce case in the courts went crazy and the Family Court Judge wanted me to go back to my ex despite knowing the abuse and violence I was subjected to. The Indian courts and the society has a very funny way of victimizing the victims and not ostracizing the perpetrators of crimes against women. So basically for the Judge I was an uncultured, uncouth and ill-mannered woman (mind you, not lady) to be asking for a divorce from my husband who provided a roof on my head, clothed me and fed me despite the regular instances of domestic violence. These according to the Judge are obligations from my ex to me and not basic human rights which must be provided to everyone.

I listened to this lecture for 45 minutes seething in anger all the while and finally came to the decision that I will not tolerate this humiliation and nonsense anymore. I walked out of an abusive situation earlier and I chose not to remain in another. This essentially means that I will not be bothered about what turns my divorce case takes anymore. I also do not care if my ex gets out a decree against me. I do not need an idiotic judge telling me whether I am sane or not or even whether I am a good or bad person.

My life has been restructured since and I have decided to go back to school to upgrade my skills which I will require to survive in the corporate world. So as of today I will be starting school from next month and working at the same time to build my life- this time completely on my terms. I am also taking a holiday next week to remove every remnant of stress, tension, depression, pain and frustration from my system. I need a fresh start and a clean slate. This break will provide me exactly that.

So I start at the beginning after advice from my subconscious conveyed strangely and ironically through my ex!

Candyfloss Romance

Candyfloss romance is a fair weather friend. In it, all things are pretty and perfect. The girl is perfect, gorgeous and poised, the boy is tall, dark and handsome and they live happily ever after.

What most do not realize is that happily ever after is a continuous state of being requiring constant work and effort. Marriages might be made in heaven but they are  endured and worked upon on Mother Earth. In reality we realize that diamonds might be forever but love and marriage are not always so, platinum love bands can help you find your day of love but not make it last and gifting chocolates and roses on V-day does not necessarily signify true love.

Hence happily ever after is finding your significant other standing by you through thick and thin, loving you in sickness and in health for richer or poorer. Happily ever after is finding that steady hand on your back supporting you through the journey of achieving your dreams, holding your hand allaying your fears of reality and nightmares, being told that you look gorgeous when you look your worst, laughing on the silliest of jokes and still hanging onto the phone to talk through the night like teenagers despite being married for years.

I have seen two fabulous marriages before me, one which lasted over 4.5 decades and the other 3 decades and still counting. These marriages were long before V-day celebrations, diamonds or consumerism made their appearance in India. They showed me that love is like wine which tastes better with time and maturity. True love and commitment do not require gifts delivered to each other through cash-on-delivery on V-day or birthdays or flowers for expressing the love; they will make their presence known through the small gestures that matter the most.

So with another V-day around the corner poking its candyfloss romance into my eyes I make a promise and commitment to myself of loving and cherishing myself. I may not be important to my unfortunately-still-legally-married-to significant other, but I am important to me and so on this V-day I just might gift myself flowers and chocolates to reaffirm the promise and commitment made.

The Fleeting Satisfaction of Revenge

Revenge they say is a dish best served cold. This dish becomes even colder and fraught with every ounce of bitterness you can garner, in case the revenge is against a betraying and cheating spouse.

I too started out on my path of recovering from the betrayal of not just my ex but his entire family, swearing revenge in every form I could. I have always strongly believed that-

Nothing can inspire forgiveness quite like revenge.- Scott Adams.

But the experiences ever since I started out on my path of revenge have taught me that revenge can never be enough. Through the days of suffering of my ex and his family, because of many things I quietly set into motion, I was never satisfied with practically anything. I would find myself feeling satisfied for just a few minutes and then again restless at what I could do next, to increase their sufferings to match what they had put me through. But what could I do to make them suffer to the extent of what they put me through for a year, one against six of their family, with scars that would last for a lifetime?

Honestly, nothing. Even if I tormented them for the rest of their lives it would mean nothing to me. This started the process of realization which also jolted me into seriously thinking about my life. Did I really want to spend the rest of my life plotting and scheming against them? During this time I was also hooked to the primetime soap opera Revenge. Anything mentioning ‘revenge’ during this time and I would be hooked. As the show progressed I started questioning myself even more about whether I really wanted a life like Emily Thorne, the protagonist of the show? Even though the answer was clear, my mind was disturbed with another thought. What was I without the revenge? What would I be after the revenge? The answer was clear and extremely disturbing- nothing better than my ex, a person who plots and schemes to destroy someone else’s life and in the process destroys his own life.

Floundering like a survivor adrift in the sea I started looking for something to give my life meaning to go on. Embarrassingly I even Googled ‘how to get the best revenge?’ The answer which I had known for long stared at me through every search result-live your life well, do not give others the satisfaction of watching you suffer.

Following this unfortunately takes a lot of time and effort especially if you have lived your life doing for others, looking for happiness by making others happy and admonishing yourself if the other person is not happy. This made me learn that the hardest thing is often saying sorry to yourself and loving yourself, sometimes even putting yourself before others. Nonetheless, stumbling and faltering on a path that was completely new to me, I started on a journey to live my life for myself for the first time.

At first, it was difficult, to say the least, but slowly as I found my footing, things got easier. Within months my appetite was back and more importantly my peace of mind. I could sleep peacefully at night, enjoy my hobbies once again and also enjoy shows/movies that did not center around revenge. Given the short span of my marriage, there were times I feel as if it never happened. Though I refuse to let this prevail, since no healing can be complete if one has not accepted reality or wishes to completely ignore the hurtful episode.

I had started not just living my life, but enjoying it, despite the fact that in the courts I was still fighting for it against all odds including character assassination. Then came a time when for the first time since the separation I came face to face with my ex and his family. I could see them from a distance waiting eagerly to see if the divorce had taken a toll on me or my family. Their eyes searched for signs of depression, frustration, weight loss, despair, hurt, anything.

But there I was, happy,  plump-if not overweight, pampered by my family, confident and completely at peace with the happenings around me. On the other hand, what my ex’s eyes searched for in me, astonishingly I saw it clearly in him- sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, weight loss, tensions, bickering within the family, despair and frustration.

That is when it hit me that despite everything I had done to them in the previous year to make them hurt nothing surpassed the feeling of being able to live my life on my terms, in a way I wanted right in front of their eyes. This was the best revenge ever-living the life they so badly wanted to snatch from me, and surprisingly the satisfaction remained, for now my life will continue even after the court cases are long over.

I Will Survive

The months between November and February are difficult but the transition from January to February is particularly strenuous. This should have been the time of celebration of love but as February moves into Valentine’s day I am shuffling and dragging my feet, hoping with every ounce of faith in me to find a fast-forward button or an Einstein-Rosen bridge to help me move out of this dark, depressing and heart crushing period into bright sunlight where I can breathe freely.

Every trigger is painful during this period and the worst was a daily soap on an Indian TV channel which details the horrors of child marriage, rampart in North India. Even though the age of marriage might differ in my case with those in North India, the instances of torture are unfortunately very similar. It is the same story everywhere, abuse, molest, harass till such time the spirit and soul is broken beyond repair so that the girl cannot find an iota of strength to fight back.

Of the few who have dared to come out in the open with the horror stories, they believe that their counterparts living in the so-called modern cities of India, educated, financially independent and married well after the age of 18 years are better off. Sadly the reality is otherwise. Through decades, countless stories and horror tales of oppression have been testimony to the fact that PhDs and fat pay packages do not necessarily mean the right to be treated like a human being instead you are treated as a sex slave apart from a baby and money vending machine.

During the times I have a hearing in the court, the glimpses of numerous sad if not broken faces combined with heart breaking stories reported in the media every day, leave me depressed. But then again there are stories like these [Raging Angels] which bring hope to an otherwise frustrating situation. It is heartening to see women fighting back and making themselves self reliant.

A voice is rising [Insult after Assault] against centuries of oppression and humiliation. The voice is rising hopefully this time in unison not just to make the streets safe for women but also our homes. It is also about time a voice rises against the insulting character assassination defense lawyers use to their advantage on a daily basis in Indian courts.

This voice gives me the hope that when there is a will there is a way. This time we will not be tortured into silence. This time the mean and insulting words will not be enough to make us slink back into the corners of the house. This time we will come out and fight. This time we will survive.

This time I will not just survive but the live the life you so wanted to snatch from me and then, if you can at all, you will realize that I just enjoyed the best revenge ever.

Security Provided by a Handbag

‘Who will give us money to eat?’

This was my question to my mother at the age of 3 when I saw my father leaving for an official tour. Despite countless reassurances from my mother who opened her handbag to show the money she had to provide for us during my father’s absence, I did not stop repeating the question till my father came back. My mother was a housewife in the early 1990’s and hence I always equated my Dad’s presence with safety and well being of our family both in emotional and financial terms.

This thinking was not surprising then for in a patriarchal society the power lies with the men because they earn, so any family without a man due to unforeseen circumstances is thought to be unstable, insecure and unhappy.  But something deeper entrenched itself in my mind and that was equating financial status with security and stability. Though over the years I managed to shake off this thinking by realizing the power of love for survival and also healing, the thoughts came back during my marriage where I was kept completely financially dependent on my ex and his family to prevent me from raising my voice or worse, walk out of the marriage. They also went to the extent of belittling me and portraying me to be unworthy of being given even paltry amounts.

So once again I am battling thoughts in my head which tell me that the more I work, the more I earn and the more secured my future is. I have also come to notice the change in my attitude in the times when I leave my house with or without my handbag. I have a certain spring in my step, confidence in my walk and a look as if everything is in my control when I have my handbag neatly tucked under my hand with my financial security in place.

The confidence grows when I recall the times I was berated simply because I was forcibly kept financially dependent in my matrimonial home. There are times when I cannot help but answer back in my mind, ‘Look at me now. I am earning and I am living for myself. More than anything else I can live my life according to the way I want and not bow down to anyone’s whims or fancies.’

So for the time being I am going to use the security provided by my handbag as a springboard to launch me forward into my life where the power to decide anything in my life, big or small, lies with me and not with anyone else simply because they can use my financial dependence as leverage.

Divorced and Proud

Divorce in different societies has different connotations. In India it is often equated with social stigma where the woman (not the man) is socially ostracized and emotionally abandoned. In other societies, divorce is equated with failure in life because you failed to save your marriage.

But I ask what gives anyone the right to reduce my whole life’s worth of work to failure or social stigma just because I could not save my marriage or that I chose not to?

Why is it that the ability to walk away from something that hurts us emotionally or is potentially life threatening is not seen as a mark of strength and is instead seen as a failure?

All my peers who seem to have happy marriages with cute kids would not have been able to survive even for a day in the life threatening situations through which I have survived. I have already seen one person disintegrate into the abyss of depression because of rejection and bad life choices which were totally within control and in no way a threat to one’s safety.

So do not give me those pitiful eyes or sympathetic expressions or the empty words of consolation, because I am a survivor. Unlike you I do not blink when I say I am divorced or soon to be, neither do I recoil at the words. If I could nonchalantly or gladly say that I am single or married why do you expect me to flinch or look woebegone when I say I’m divorced?

I will not slink into some corner just because of my marital status so do not look at me with those sad eyes or nod your head in mock understanding when I am enjoying a meal in solitude or just taking in the peace of a sunset alone on my balcony. This is my life and I will not apologize for it. I did not choose for it to be so, but when it is so, I enjoy it as it comes because as you updated your Facebook profile with glossed over pictures and looked sympathetically at mine I have learnt one of the most important lessons that life can teach you – surviving, against all odds.

I will not run, I will not hide. I am divorced and proud.