How do you start to put the pieces together? For me, it was imperative to keep a space to express emotions without self-censorship or self-prejudice, to identify exactly what was hurting me. It was not the What, but the How. A split is always sad, but part of life. I could have been the “ungrateful” partner.
What aches …
Well, just to mention some, it was not the obstacles of a relationship between two people used to singleness, with different cultural backgrounds and family styles, but the neglecting, insults, and public belittling, leading to my progressive invisibility and objectification in the daily life. It was not his one night stand a few years ago with an Islamic feminist I know. Every adult has a sexual past, that is not a problem, but discovering that past was quite current (thanks Whatssap) is the problem. Someone decided I was not smart enough to understand it, so triangulation and lies were employed, with the consequent mind games, an emotional roller coaster that included gaslighting and violation of trust.
When I returned to Cape Town for my studies this year, it didn’t hurt me to know that the ex had a new girlfriend, but the fact he sent her to stalk me did. It was hard to find out that he slandered me as a gold digger. It hurt me to be so foreign, so new in the city, not enough “like them” to explain myself and be believed.
This is what devastation sometimes looks like. There is no pain bigger than another, each one has its own place in your life. But despite this, the healing process was moving forward.
What heals …
Building from rubble is something that Chilean women have been doing for centuries: “The earthquake throws everything down, but widens the view of the horizon,” they say. This heartbreaking experience knocked down some expectations of partnership and academic opportunities, but also pushed me towards a deep introspection on issues I started to see with a new eyeglass: the influence of male models in my sex-affective sphere, my own perception of what is a suitable romantic partner, the dispute between the embodiment of trauma and body agency; I even made a heartfelt and sincere reflection on whether the feminism I had dedicated myself to for the last 7 years, had enough place and respect for me, my perspectives and my contribution.
For a long time I struggled to put the pieces together to craft the same person I was before. I had to accept that it could not be. I had to re-build a new person that would include the veins and traces of this experience. My soul and I did Kintsugi in the midst of confusion and uncertainty of joining broken pieces of who was to create someone who could be. I had to do it alone because as Gloria Anzaldúa said “There is no one who will feed the yearning. Face it. You will have to do, do it yourself. “
My healing began to happen when, for example:
I stopped denying myself the opportunity to grow and I started calling things by their name: Love, Disloyalty, Emotional Abuse, Trauma Bounding. I gave up taking the whole situation as my burden and started to put myself at the center of my concerns regarding this. I do not have to convince anyone that I did not deserve it.
I was brave to return to Cape Town with my own goals and projects to develop. It has been the best decision of recent times. This city became my spiritual home, the sun-painted blanket on which I gave birth to myself again.
I learned to receive. Lots of love from women who accompanied me in different stages of my healing like Gabeba, Mooniq, Zahra, Pamela, Zubeida, Ester, Ana, Laura, Sarah, Fatima N., Araceli, Tigist, Saba, Elaine and others, who were a network of support. Also Soraya, Latifah and the women of Bonteheuwel, who welcomed me as a daughter and a sister. I’ll never forget the delicious breakfast they prepared in my honor the day after I went to return my engagement ring: “Because you are brave, Chile’s girl”.
I took accountability for my story. It belongs to me and I have the right to talk about it, to share it, to use it as a tool for my own empowerment and other women’s. I think that we do not talk enough about emotional abuse. To make a woman invisible in public space, you have to hit her first in the soul, convince her that she is not valuable. We need to make public the political impact of this. That’s why I brought my pains and the lessons they gave me to Rape Crisis CT and The Trauma Center to share with women there. We found common grounds for nurturing each other, because the personal is political and the political is spiritual.
I forgave myself. Much of my sorrow was made of a sense of failure, fed for the fact that I never received a decent explanation or an apology (not even the infamous bottle of shampoo). Once I forgave myself, I began to restore my peace and I quit chasing apologies, fairness and empathy. The past is behind and I will never deny it. I am not ashamed of the love I felt, nor of my anger, nor of my weakness, nor of my mistakes and insecurities. nor of anything that brought me to this day.
I read somewhere that:
Our past is a tremendous resource to draw from, but it is no place to stay stuck in. A seed must leave its former shape to discover the exquisite beauty of its leaves. Don’t let the ghosts of years past drift around in vain. Name them. Claim them. Call them what they are. The more you acknowledge what your past has taught you, the more you’ll be able to see the incredible wealth it is, and the more you’ll be able to see your difficulties as incredible layers of wisdom that lie within you.
Healing is a challenge for the ego, which is always worried about being in control. It demands abandoning yourself to the process of awakening and relying on a trajectory that is not linear, but has twists, periods of stagnation, waves and setbacks. Healing requires patience and an open heart. Ego melts down when the heart opens: I’m not only healing from a disfunctional relationship, but also debriefing and clearing everything that made it possible. I appreciate this new opportunity. I know that after every storm I bloom brighter, after every earthquake I grow stronger, with a wider horizon in front of me.
Rumi said that “the wound is the place where light enters”. I embrace my cracked self to never be diminished for living with these sherds in the open. I let them shine, so they’ll blind the negativity with their radiance. The greatest lesson of Kintsugi is resilience: the capacity to forgive without an available apology, to look with compassion in the eyes of cruelty, to dance blissfully in front of uncertainty. Resilience, that gift of the human spirit that pushes us to mend our pieces with gold and show our scars with pride, because we know we’ve become someone wiser and happier.
Photos. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town. By Mooniq Shaikjee
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is Muslim who is an international journalist and writer, community educator and awarded women’s rights activist. Independent scholar and lecturer in Religion, Gender and Politics.