rabbit blog


Wednesday, October 17, 2012


EXIT STRATEGY

Dear Rabbit,

I'm a 22 year old recent college grad who mostly grew up in New York and Connecticut, and I have one younger brother. I am liberal, feminist, and identify as an atheist. After finishing college a few months ago, I was too broke to afford anything and had to move back in with my parents until I saved enough to scrape by on my own. I am the daughter of first-generation Indian Muslim parents who should never have gotten married and started a family in the first place. My dad was twenty eight when he convinced my sheltered, inexperienced 16-year-old mother to elope with him.

My father is emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive. He is cold, misogynistic, hypocritical, controlling, racist, manipulative, and resents the very existence of his two children and wife. I don't remember ever having any pleasant interaction with my father. I remember being five and trying to sit down on the couch next to him, and he swore at me and moved to the chair. I remember being eight and being afraid for my life because he had picked me up from a classmate's birthday party drunk and kept swerving across the road. I remember him throwing a shoe at my face when I wouldn't eat the steak he grilled when I was eleven.

These are some of the things he's yelled at me in the last few years:

"You're a fucking worthless little piece of dog shit."

"You think you're a fucking white girl." (this is a serious insult coming from people of my background)

"Why are these lights on? Huh? I am the master of this house. This is my fucking house. I control this family." (this is usually said while throwing kitchenware at/around his target)

"You are ruining this family's reputation."

Once in high school, I went to the family car to get my mix CD and instead popped into my computer a CD filled with photos of him fucking all sorts of women. I felt numb and not surprised. He declared bankruptcy a few years ago. I recently did a criminal background check on him, and found that he has multiple arrests that he has failed to disclose to the family in any capacity.

I think you get the point.

I have never witnessed an ounce of affection between my parents. There is only yelling, throwing things, and threats of bodily harm. My mother refuses to leave my father. Divorce is taboo. Remarriage is taboo. She doesn't think her life can ever improve, so she's determined to stay put since "he's old anyway, he doesn't have much time left" (he is under 60).

I think my mother would have been a better parent had it not been for my dad, but she's caught up in trying to force their traditions/values/way of life down my throat. She continues the cycle of abuse that my dad and brother inflict on her (my brother is turning into my father, and has physically assaulted me before when I was home on break from school). Here are a few things she's said to me in the last few years:

"How could you throw away your culture and religion? Why did I even raise you? I wish I had strangled you when you were a baby!"

"You think you're so smart and good-looking, but you're really dumb and hideous. I wish you'd just die." (Hearing this my whole life has done wonders for my self-esteem, let me tell you)

It's hell. Obviously, I never speak to my parents unless it's absolutely necessary. They know nothing about me or my life. I'm so broke and desperate and this is the only family I have. No matter where I go, I always seem to be haunted by their abuse. I have no self-esteem. I beat myself up constantly. I doubt myself and my abilities and end up paralyzed by fear and anxiety. I often fall into a depression when I think about how miserable people are, and how there seems to be no hope for anyone. I have never had a real relationship. I can't seem to trust men. I have crippling body image issues and have had little to no physical intimacy in my 22 years.

So, this is my current situation: I've been working since I was 13 and have a good resume and varied work experience. I got scholarships, grants, a tiny loan, and worked multiple jobs to pay for college myself. Right now I'm working part-time at a job, applying to other jobs daily, and saving everything I can to move out as soon as possible (I'll eat ramen for as long as I need to), but it's slow going. When I'm not at work, I stay in my room and don't talk to anyone.

How do I move past this? Should I keep in contact with my family after I move out? I'm afraid of being sucked back into their cycle of abuse again if I do. I think about how much more alone my mother would feel if I cut off all contact with them, and my heart breaks. I keep thinking that they raised me and fed me and housed me, and didn't leave me to die, so how can I cut off all contact? I imagine blowing up at my dad and telling them all I know about him and storming off without telling them my new address or phone number, and I feel a weight lifting off my chest. But then I remember that I'll forever lose whatever little emergency safety net I have (a bed to sleep in, food to eat). What if end up in a debilitating accident and need housing and care? What happens then? What do I do when my parents age and need me to take care of them? How would I navigate that?

Are people happy? Does everyone just lead sad lives full of quiet desperation before dying alone? Can people love each other? Can a family be a good place to come home to? It all seems like such a lie to me. How can I be positive and hopeful about my future when I have such a terrible past? How can I cultivate a sense of self-worth when the jerks in my head keep me down? Where would I even begin?

Please help, Rabbit.

Trapped

Dear Trapped,

Many people do lead sad lives of quiet desperation. Many people also lead happy lives of loud ebullience. Unfortunately, being anxious and depressed is like wearing shit-colored glasses: You can only see the sad, desperate people. I remember sitting on a terrace with a great view of the twin towers (that's how long ago it was), telling a friend of mine that I used to think (before that? Presumably when I was 12?) that sadness was limited, like you could only be a certain amount of sad. But, as I told my friend, I'd discovered that there were 10,000 leagues under the sadness sea, and half the people you spotted on the street were, emotionally, somewhere down there in the deep, inky-black water with the really scary bony-faced fish and the giant squids and shit.

Now that I'm much happier, though, I've discovered that there are many, many levels of happiness above mine, and half the people I see on the street seem, emotionally, somewhere far above the rainbow with the bluebirds. I'm not sure how else you put a giant sign that says "You're in Steelers Country!" in your front yard, even though you live in Los Angeles and are 2,440 miles from Steelers Country. And how else do you instruct a passerby to "Have an amazing day!" (Some guys said this to me just this morning, and I thought "What the fuck are you talking about? Is that even possible?")

So look, you've got to rip those shit-colored glasses off your face immediately. You need to get out of that house.

Now, I understand how you got there. You're extremely anxious about money. You don't want to sink into debt. (A legitimate concern.) You're worried about what will happen if you can't pay the rent or you get hit by a bus and you're debilitated and you need someone to drizzle chicken broth into your mouth every few seconds. You can't tell your parents to fuck themselves, because, if you're ever severely injured or financially compromised, you'll need them to let you live in your old bedroom while they call you a worthless slut, or you'll need them to spoon-feed you while they tell you're disgusting and pathetic and you make them sick.

Personally, I'd rather go into debt and stand in line at a soup kitchen than be emotionally abused or even endure the toxic presence of those people. The problem is, the same part of you that feels bad about yourself and worries, worries, worries about whether or not you'll be financially solvent or safe or ok (or just a loser like your parents think) is the part that clings to your home, perversely believing that living there is more "safe" or "stable" than, say, pitching a tent on the sidewalk. It's not. It's much, much, much, much less safe. Because every second you spend in their presence, your self-esteem crumbles a little more.

That's by design, by the way. They want you to feel weak because they can't stand the idea that you could grow strong and leave them and never look back.

But look, let's not worry about never looking back for now. You don't have to decide about the long-term future of your relationship with them right now, anymore than you have to decide right now what brand of adult diapers to use once you're debilitated. All you have to do is get the fuck out of that house. Would it be impossible for you to do roommate referral and move in with strangers? No. Could you borrow $500 from a wide array of friends, thereby covering your first month of rent? Yes. (How about a kickstarter campaign?) Could you put a few things on credit cards until you have a full-time job? Yes. This is what adult people do. They scrape it together. If you had no parents (people without parents do exist), you wouldn't have a choice. Just pretend you have no parents, for the purposes of getting away from these vampires who are eating away at your soul.

This is about survival, ok? You are not surviving right now. You're hurting yourself, by telling yourself that you're safer in an inherently unsafe situation. You need to say soothing things, avoid pissing the vampires off, all the while quietly getting the fuck out of there.

Sure, you will still be anxious and depressed. At first, it'll be worse than ever. I still remember the first night I spent in an apartment full of strange roommates, in a strange city, after getting dumped by my live-in boyfriend from college. Thank god I asked him to keep the one-bedroom apartment, because one month later, I had a bunch of new friends and a new life, and I felt about a million times happier than I had in my "safe" little apartment with a boyfriend who didn't like me all that much. The shit-colored glasses make you think that clinging to people who are supposed to love you, but who don't love you nearly enough, is somehow less sad and scary than swimming around in the great big sea with friendly strangers.

What you forget, though, is that some of those strangers are actually very happy, happy enough to say "Have an amazing day!" and mean it. They actually WANT YOU TO HAVE AN AMAZING DAY. Do you know what your parents want? For you to be miserable, like them.

I never thought I'd tell a youngster that going into debt is no big deal. Sure, it's a big deal. But this is an emergency. First you get out, then you look for a job, make more friends, get into therapy, all the other stuff that you clearly know you need already, because you're smart and you've got your shit together. The only concrete problem you have right now is that you associate safety, and a safety net, and being cared for, with your parents. Break that association, because it's bullshit. Most of us don't know what we'll do if we're debilitated. Get a job and get disability insurance. Save your money. But don't think for a second that letting people who dislike you take care of you is an option, because it's not. Talk to them, don't talk to them – that's something to decide over the long term. But stop relying on them right now, and don't look back. They aren't reliable, and leaning on them is bad for you.

One day, maybe a few months from now, you'll wake up and realize that you don't need them for anything anymore. You just don't. And that will feel really good. You'll still need years of therapy (who doesn't?), you'll feel crazy and lonely (see above). But you'll be free. And you will have an amazing day.

Best,

Rabbit


11:14 AM



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me
new york times magazine contributor, new york magazine and bookforum columnist, author of the memoir disaster preparedness (riverhead 2011), former salon.com tv critic, co-creator of filler for the late, great suck.com


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