I’m fortunate to live a very privileged life. Saying that makes me want to throw up a little bit BUT I’m leaning into my discomfort and admitting that as an upper-middle class white person living in the western world, I’ve been afforded an existence of material comfort and relative luxury. I’ve never had to question where my next meal was coming from, whether I’d have a roof over my head, if I could afford to go to university, or if my parents could help me out when I got into trouble financially or otherwise.
Materially speaking, my life is fantastic and because of this, I often feel guilty talking about my problems. When looking at what’s happening with things like the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ2+ rights, the wars across the world, victims of natural disasters, the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples, and so many other massive and terrible issues, my struggles seem like nothing. I mean, what right do I have to complain when I’m sitting on top amidst the current socio-economic and political climate around the world? What right do I have to talk about my problems when there is someone else who has it worse? How dare I not finish my asparagus when there are starving children in Africa? Amiright???
In the last two years, I’ve come out as a person who survived domestic abuse. In the last two years, I’ve practiced saying those words and owning them, adopting at first the persona of a victim, and now one of a survivor.
Even as I’m writing this part of me wants to erase the whole damn thing and stop talking because I continue to be afraid that I will be called out as a liar or a phony or a drama queen.
Many people take their problems and sensationalize them. Or maybe I should say, many people in a position of privilege take their problems and sensationalize them. Real problems are not something you post on Instagram #firstworldproblems Real problems are ones that affect your life at its core; they undermine your sense of stability and your sense of self-worth. They may be violent and they may include trauma. They reveal your capacity to handle yourself in times of crisis, or they make you fall completely apart.
In my life, I experienced emotional abuse at the hands of a number of my romantic partners. Like I said, it’s hard for me to admit that, but I’m putting it here because I’ve realized that what I experienced, although it may seem subtle or questionable to outsiders, is part of a much bigger societal problem and therefore worthy of attention.
For example, the fact that my ex-husband can’t and won’t recognize that his behaviour was and remains abusive, speaks to the fact that he exists in a position of even greater privilege than my own. It’s a testament to the fact that no matter what financial threshold you exist in, our society as a whole is continuing to fail at addressing its systemic problem with misogyny. While the law where I live identifies emotional (“mental”) abuse as legitimate, my experience with the law showed me that many lawyers and judges and bureaucrats really don’t understand it or know how to handle it.
It’s not just that I need to talk about this for my own sense of catharsis; it’s not just about my story and my journey and my experience. This is about having more voices speaking up and talking about emotional abuse. It’s about engaging in meaningful conversations about all abuse. It’s about changing the landscape of our lives so that we feel more empowered to fight for change and help others. It’s about helping perpetrators of abuse, no matter what their status or rank in the world, learn how to behave differently. It’s about writing this all anyway, not just because I need to write it, but also because I can use my privilege to help others. It comes down to owning my story, knowing that it’s different from anyone else’s and recognizing that it’s still valid and still meaningful.
There’s an Aesop’s Fable called “The Bundle of Sticks” which tells the story of a father who, laying on his deathbed, hands his fours sons a bundle of sticks and asks them each to try breaking it apart. When none of the sons are able to break any sticks, the father unties the bundle and gives each son a single stick to break, which they do easily. The point of the story is to show that we are stronger united than we are apart. We can imagine that we’re each one little twig, snapped easily on our own, but bundled together, our twigs become much stronger. Lending my voice to the conversation about domestic abuse can only strengthen the bundle that so many in our society are trying to break, and I’m not going to let my stick get broken, even if I’m afraid to put it into the pile.