For some reason, it’s called “closure.” But for some wounds there is no such thing. And for some of us – those with emotional and mental disorders – there is no way to achieve closure.
Take, for example, the invisible injuries I experienced while living with Rex (a pseudonym), for a year in college. He was a master of intermittent reinforcement, the trap that keeps abused women (and men sometimes) from getting themselves out of the situation to someplace safe. He was never physically abusive, which I have vowed never to put up with (and to this day haven’t), but verbally and emotionally, he was, well, a veritable artist of psychological bullying.
Here are just a few examples.
When he was unhappy with me for some reason, he would sigh and glare. I swear he could sigh and glare even over the telephone. And when I would freeze up and not be able to think of any word that would make things better, he said my silence made him want to kick me.
I slept in the car on the streets of Buffalo if there was a late-night party he wanted to go to. It was out of the way to take me back to where we were staying.
When I was responsible for feeding guests, and botched it, he said I had tarnished his honor.
He took the decision to tell my parents about our relationship out of my hands, ripping apart the face-saving fiction that I was renting a room in his large house. After I left, I even sent him money to pay the supposed rent.
When I asked him to go to couples counseling with me, he said, “Are you sure? The therapist and I could have you declared a danger to yourself and have you put away.” At the session, he tenderly held my hand and asserted that he just wanted to get help for me.
So what does this all have to do with mental health? I certainly wasn’t mentally healthy when I met him, and was a basket case by the time I left. When I was immobilized, I was not embracing his projects with “alacrity.” When I was insomniac, only his cat comforted me. When I was in the Pit of Despair, everything was All My Fault.
So what do people tell you in cases like this?
Look how much you learned from the experience. And I always reply that the lesson wasn’t worth the price I paid. All that I want to keep from that time are a few dear friends.
Forgive and forget. I can’t do either. The memories have faded over time and seldom give me flashbacks anymore. (The dreams still come.) As for forgiving? He’s never asked for it and never would. I’m sure he doesn’t think he did anything that needed forgiving. If that makes me a hard-hearted bitch or a bad Christian, so be it.
That emotional abuse happened, and I can’t forget it. It was my first serious relationship and I left chunks of my soul and most of my barely existent self-esteem in that house on the hilltop. I had failed – at the relationship, at meeting my parents’ expectations, at so many things. I felt I was the one who needed forgiveness and spent much of the following years repeating incessantly, “I’m sorry.”
Let go of anger; it will only hurt you. When I first left, I didn’t feel anger toward Rex. I felt a lot of other things, mostly directed at myself. But I didn’t recognize or own my anger until much later, after lots of therapy and the good kind of love. Now that I realize I was (and am) angry, it feels wrong to think of him without feeling that. The things he did were wrong, and it is not irrational of me to still believe that. I earned that anger. It is part of me now. I can lay it aside to the extent that I don’t have revenge fantasies, but that’s about all.
So, closure? Not a chance. Saying as Oscar Wilde did, “Living well is the best revenge”? That’s more like it. Even learning to live well has been an uphill battle. I’m still struggling with the definition.
The wound may scab over, or it may continue to trickle blood at times. Some of it may even form scars. But take my word for it, the wounds are still there. They never really close.
Comments on: "The Myth of Closure" (2)
Trigger warning…I’m sorry you went through this. I always add “not physical” when I share my story of abuse. But nonetheless we were abused. My abuser actually ended up doing time for domestic violence and arson. (he set my bed on fire). I was surprised at the domestic violence charge since he didn’t touch me. But they said since I was afraid for my physical safety it constituted domestic violence.
Yeah, I can see that about not realizing what was abusive. I didn’t realize the emotional abuse until later, when I started healing from it. (Though it left scars.) Therapy helped me recognize it for what it was.