TRIGGER WARNING: This post references sexual abuse and may be triggered to some people.
“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ~Steve Maraboli
My family immigrated to the U.S. from India when I was sixteen. Being Indian, my traditional family expected me to have an arranged marriage.
At twenty-two, as a graduate music student, I fell in love with an American man. When my family found out about our secret relationship, they took me back to India and put me under house arrest. For a year.
That year of imprisonment and isolation was severely traumatizing. I shut down from my acute distress and pain. I dissociated from myself, my truth, my power, my body, my heart, and my sexuality.
Two years after they let me out, I escaped to the US but was emotionally imprisoned by my past. I lived dissociated, afraid, and ashamed for eighteen years. Eventually, I broke free from an abusive marriage and my family.
Since then, I have been on a path of healing and empowerment.
Beginning my healing journey was like walking through a long, dark tunnel. I was and felt like a victim but was determined to heal.
To heal from dissociation, I needed to feel again. I felt the bottomless grief, loss, and heartbreak of all that I didn’t get to experience and enjoy.
I faced and began to address my childhood history of sexual abuse.
I set boundaries with my family. I started therapy and studied psychology. I learned my mother is a narcissist and my father an enabler.
Coming from a traditional patriarchal, colonial culture, I had grown up with codes of obedience, sacrifice, and duty. I questioned and challenged my deep internalized beliefs of who I am, what I can do, and what is possible for me as a person of color.
I learned about my rights. Growing up in India, I had a very different understanding of my rights than those born in Western countries.
Therapy helped me reconnect with my body, with my needs, wants, and desires. I learned to identify and feel my sensations and emotions. I learned to discern who and what was safe and what wasn’t safe.
I learned to listen to and trust myself and become more embodied through my dance practice. This allowed me to dance out my rage, shame, grief, and everything I had disconnected from and suppressed. I came alive and opened to pleasure and passion.
I’ve struggled with low self-worth, people-pleasing, caretaking, perfectionism, fear, shame, guilt, and codependency. One of my most painful realizations was that my inner critic had become as severe as those who abused me. I continue to practice being kind and gentle to myself, loving myself and my inner child and encouraging my artistic self.
In relationships, it has been hard for me to discern whom to trust and not trust. I had an emotionally abusive marriage and have given my power away in relationships. In romantic relationships, I projected my goodness and integrity and supported my partners’ dreams instead of my own.
I have finally learned that I can choose myself and honor my needs, wants, desires, dreams, and goals. I continue to shed other people’s projections that I internalized. I am realizing that I am worthy of and can have, dream, aspire for, and achieve what white women can. And finally, I believe in my goodness, of others, and of life.
Having emerged from the long, dark tunnel of healing, every day is a triumph for my freedom and a priceless gift. Every day I have the opportunity to be true to myself, face a fear, shift a perspective, and love, encourage, and enjoy myself.
There are so many steps and milestones on the journey of healing. Of the five stages of grief, acceptance is the final one.
Acceptance is a choice and a practice. Acceptance is letting go, forgiving yourself and others, and honoring, claiming, and loving every twist and turn of your journey. Acceptance is treasuring all you have learned from your experience no matter how painful it was and how meaningless it seemed.
Here are some things I have learned to accept.
Accept the deep impact of trauma
Coming from a family and culture that valued perfectionism and purity, I wasn’t aware of and wanted to gloss over and hide my trauma, shadow, and coping behaviors. Because I could live a life that seemed relatively high-functioning, I was ashamed to admit and address my childhood sexual trauma to myself for years. I was afraid and ashamed to share my trauma with others because I didn’t want to be seen as broken, damaged, or crazy.
Once I acknowledged and faced my sexual trauma, I began my healing journey. Healing and acceptance mean seeing, claiming, and loving each and every part of ourselves, however broken or ashamed we feel. As we do that, we liberate ourselves from believing we needed to fit into other people’s ideas to be loved and accepted.
When we don’t admit and accept our traumas, we can cycle through life alive but not living, succeeding but not fulfilled, and live according to programs we’ve inherited but not from our truths. As a result, joy, pleasure, passion, and true power escape us.
Accepting that I didn’t get to have the life and dreams I expected
As a victim, I was stuck in grief, loss, anger, denial, disillusionment, blame, and resentment. Life seemed unfair.
These feelings are natural after trauma, especially extended severe trauma. But despite years of therapy and healing, I continued to cycle and swim in them and didn’t know how to not have those feelings.
I was fighting to accept what I had lost. I kept ruminating on who I might have been and what my life would have been like had it not been interrupted or derailed. It was how my subconscious mind tried to control and “correct” the past to have the outcome I desired and stay connected to my past dreams.
I was tightly holding on to what I had lost—to who I was then and my dreams. I was terrified that if I let go of what was most precious, I would be left with nothing.
But the reverse happened. When I decided to let go of my past dreams, regrets, and lost opportunities, I stepped into the river of life anew, afresh, and in the now. I opened to who I am now and what is possible now.
We don’t let go of trauma because, on a deep level, we believe we will condone what happened, and forget or lose what was so precious.
Not letting go keeps us stuck like a monkey clutching peanuts in a narrow-mouthed jar. We don’t want to let go of what we had then for fear that we will be left with nothing at all. It keeps us stuck in blame and resentment. It keeps us from joy, pleasure, and possibility.
But to live and breathe and come alive again, we need to unclench our past. By no means is this forgetting, or condoning, but allowing, receiving, and welcoming new, fresh beginnings, possibilities, and life.
Accepting the character, mental illness, and wounds of my abusers
Though my family had been brutal, my inner child wanted to believe in their goodness. I couldn’t accept that people I loved, who were supposed to love, care for, and protect me, could treat me that way.
I was in a trauma bond and in denial. I had to come to terms with and accept that my mother is a narcissist and my father an enabler. And that the rest of my family only looked the other way.
I had to let go of my illusion of my family, see through the fog of gaslighting, and accept the truth of who they are.
Acceptance is learning to see our abusers with clear eyes beyond our expectations, illusions, and stories of what we needed and desired from them, and who we want them to be.
No matter what was done to or happened to me, I am responsible for my life.
Staying stuck in a cycle of blame, resentment, and anger told me I wasn’t taking responsibility for myself.
After severe trauma, it’s painful and challenging to look at ourselves and realize that we played a part in it. Trauma is something that happens to us, but we are the ones who make conclusions about ourselves, others, and life because of it. My beliefs and perspectives about myself, especially about my self-worth, self-esteem, body, and sexuality, drastically changed after the trauma.
I had to take responsibility for creating my beliefs. I needed to accept every time I didn’t choose, value, and honor myself and my gifts. I realized that just as I had adopted others’ projections of myself, creating a negative self-perception, I could shift to regard myself in a positive light.
Accepting my part in my trauma set me free from blame and resentment. And it set me free from the power my abusers had over me and my connection to them.
Acknowledge what I don’t have control over
My inner child and I wanted to believe in the goodness, love, and protectiveness of my family and partners. But I have no control over who my parents, family, and culture are, or their mental health, values, and behaviors. I had no control over my culture’s beliefs and attitudes toward women and sexuality.
Because of deep shame from childhood abuse, I felt bad at my core and had a low sense of self-worth. Subconsciously, I tried to control how I was seen. I lived a life acceptable to my family and culture and followed what the world defined as successful, believing it would make me feel good about myself and be accepted and loved.
But my happiness, freedom, and success lie in my own truth. I learned to honor and follow that. I learned to mother and father myself. I learned about mental illness and mental health and reached out for support from therapists and friends.
As I let go of trying to please others, pursuing my own needs, talents, and interests, I found myself, my joy, and my purpose.
Looking back, I see so many roads I could have taken but didn’t. I see many ways I could have taken help but didn’t. I was filled with regret for past choices and decisions. I was angry with and judged myself.
We can be our own harshest critics. I needed to forgive myself.
I learned to see and be compassionate with my inner child and younger self, steeped as she was in family binds and cultural beliefs. I learned to hold her with tenderness and love for all the ways she didn’t know how to protect and choose herself. And for all she wanted but didn’t know how to reach for and have, for what she wanted to say and do but couldn’t or didn’t.
As I held my younger selves with understanding, compassion, and love, and forgave them, they began to trust me and offer their gifts, which allowed me to open to joy, innocence, freedom, and play again.