Trigger warning. This piece discusses sensitive topics including domestic violence, self-harm, substance abuse, and mental health. Information on finding support can be found at the bottom of this page.
I see you.
You’ve tried to hide from me – and I understand, I would too – but now, finally: I see you. I see all of you, in all your tortured glory, like my reflection in sewer water.
I see your claymation beer gut, the dark lines below your eyes, the forced smile that hides your bleeding gums. You’re all here, before me.
And now that I see you, you are going to listen. You are going to listen like you never have before. I know you sit there, and you think of what you’ll say next, half-processing whatever you hear. But not now. Not this time. This time you will listen.
You owe me that much.
You owe other people a hell of a lot more than you owe me. Even if the debt is meagre in comparison, even if what makes you square with me is a medical eyedropper extracted from the vast lake of your debt, I’m calling it in now. You are going to listen. For god’s sake, you are going to listen.
It will be new and difficult for you, you who is so wrapped up in yourself. I can see your feelings around you. They restrain your limbs. They dig into the flesh like barbed wire. You are so tied down by these things – some the fault of the world, some your own – that the pain may make it difficult to focus. But you need to. And you will.
When you stumbled home that night, breath thick with whiskey, I looked at myself in the elevator mirror and wondered what went wrong. You walked down to the lake. You told yourself it was so beautiful. You told yourself you were a part of it, of a world so majestic and beyond understanding. And when you said these things, not an inch of you had internalised or understood them.
I walk by that lake. I see dozens of twinkling lights reflected off the surface, a galaxy of stars in the water. I don’t say that I’m part of the world – I am. I know that. I understand it in my bones. At the core of my heart, I realise how lucky I am to be in a world with beauty so abundant it becomes normalised and everyday.
And that’s the foundation of my soapbox. It’s that I understand what you never could. Keep that in mind. Maybe it’ll help you listen. Listen, as I stand here and read the charges against you.
The Americans love to make movies about how slaughtering civilians in Vietnam made their soldiers feel sad. I find that distasteful. For the same reason, I’m not going to stand here and list everything you have ever done against someone.
On a practical level, we’d be here all night. On a more ethical level, we’d be dragging private and past hurts into the light, and for what? So you get the satisfaction of feeling like the tortured soul? Feeling like you’re the victim of it all? As though your mistakes are things you get to paper over with self-pity and whining about how damn sorry you feel?
Here I am. I consent to bringing what you did to me into the light. I choose to tell you, in the hope that maybe this time you will listen and you will change.
Probably a false hope. You never listened to me when I told you to eat. You skipped breakfast, you skipped lunch, and even as your body cried out for something you ignored it. Almost collapsing on long walks across campus. And despite that, you ignored it.
You told me you didn’t have much money for alcohol. Granted, that was true. But it wasn’t an excuse to skip food, just so you could easily get drunk on an empty stomach, then gorge yourself for dinner.
As long as you kept up that lie, as long as you told yourself it was a financial strategy, not an eating disorder, you could ignore it. You could ignore me.
We had so many exciting books to read. Countless. And still you got home, got drunk, too drunk to read anything. You collapsed into bed when you couldn’t keep your eyes open. You woke up. Ready to do it again.
You’d get so drunk you marked out a carpark with red lines on your thighs. You knew you didn’t want to. You never did it sober. But still, off you went, getting drunk enough that the thought could be entertained.
I look down now, and there they are. Faded, certainly. Some are gone. Forever. Still, there are some that seem to stay. Some you have to squint, some are more visible, but there they are.
I don’t know how long they’ll be on my thighs – but I know they are there because of you.
Worst of anything – something that is so insurmountably unforgiveable you may as well try ascending Everest with nothing more than a red helium balloon – you buried me.
When I finally dragged myself out of the grave and wrestled you into your cage, putting down the bottle and not touching it since, I stood in shock.
The world was beautiful. The sound of birds chirping wasn’t a high-pitched assault on my hungover brain; it was a reminder that life is all around us, crammed into the crevices where we don’t always see. Colour leeched back into my life, like a dye pack bursting in the corners of my vision and slowly seeping in. I filled the emptiness you were pouring whiskey into with friends and hobbies and craft. You thought the hole inside you would never go away, but stuffing gauze into that wound was so easy.
It was so easy that it makes me infuriated you spent years refusing to try. I could’ve lived like this for years, if only you hadn’t buried me. You buried me, the core of you that understood it was wrong to kill yourself in slow motion. The core with good instincts, and empathy, that could be there for other people.
Now I’m out. But there are things that won’t go away. Alcoholic becomes Recovering Alcoholic and, eventually, Former Alcoholic, but there is no return to the state before. There isn’t even a word for it, for someone who isn’t, and has never been, an alcoholic. That label doesn’t fade, unlike the thighs.
What you have done is a millstone around my neck. Sometimes, I wish I could gather everyone you’ve ever hurt, big mistake or small, and I wish I could put my hands on their shoulders and say, “please, I understand. You are not alone. The only person who hates her more than you do – is me.”
But I think if I keep on doing that you’ll just stay around my neck. You’ll drag me down and poison me from the inside, just like you did to yourself.
So, now that I see you, and I got that out of the way, I think I have something to say to you. I understand you were hurting. You dealt with it in terrible, awful ways, but you were hurting. You didn’t just decide to bury me to be cruel.
I forgive you.
I forgive you for what you did to my thighs, and my stomach, and my liver most of all.
And if you listened, and you heard all that, then know this is your opportunity to do better.
I forgive you.
For crisis support, call 1300 271 790, or text on 0488 884 227 to reach the dedicated 24/7 University Crisis Line, operated by Lifeline. The University of Canberra Medical and Counselling Centre is open 9 am – 5 pm, Monday – Friday. They provide counselling support services to all staff and students on-campus. You can reach them on 6201 2351.