by AL

Here’s a fair warning before I begin telling my story. It is not one you would find joy in. But maybe hope remains.

There are days when I feel as though things are finally normal, and the next, things start to crumble. Growing up, I always knew my family was different. Not in a way that brought me joy or bliss. But one where you start to question yourself and wonder if you were the source of all the pain and unhappiness that surfaced almost every other day. 

As I grew older and gained a better understanding of the world, I knew that there were many things that went wrong during my childhood. From the outside, my family would look like any other ordinary family who went on vacations together, we were well-fed and well-dressed. But in reality, we were emotionally beaten, distraught and solemnly filled with a deep seated sadness that clung to our hearts. 

My parents did and do love us though, this is something both my sister and I knew and agreed on. But their way of loving us suffocated us on most days, and the unresolved mental health and/or anger issues I suspect ran in my family got the better of us. It swallowed us whole. And throughout time, it started to envelop us like a flood of grief, loss and never-ending unhappiness. 

So, if you are reading this and you feel like you’ve ever been in this situation, I hope this empowers you and makes you see things from a different perspective. Although I must remind you, there’s no linear process to healing. Nevertheless, progress is still progress.

What I had to unlearn: Your voice doesn’t matter 

All along growing up, I was incredibly quiet. Even at home. I felt so suffocated with rules, needing to be this perfect person and being unable to voice out what I was truly feeling. Especially at times when I really needed to. I had a hard time getting what I needed. 

I didn’t have a voice of my own. My needs and wants came second. It was always about following strict behavioral rules, and not exhibiting any flaws. I was ‘constructed’ to be that way. And it carried forward to a point in my life where I broke.

I was tired of trying to please my dad. I became so miserable and angry from all the pent up anger. Watching him treat my mum unfairly and my unfulfilled emotional well-being had gotten the best of me. I stood my ground; knowing the consequences that came with it. I was tired of my life decisions being dictated by someone else. I had to fight for my future. My tertiary education wasn’t something I could trade for his approval. 

What I had to learn: Your voice matters

As liberating as that sounds, I must say, the consequences from that day left me in shambles. His pride was hurt, and he was eternally angry at me for raising my voice at him. I left my mum in a shaky spot. Things were not peaceful for about 2 years. The pandemic didn’t help with the situation. But nonetheless, all these years of trying to live up to his standards, I’ve learnt that it’s nigh impossible to patch a broken family

I must say, even though I’m no longer the quiet, timid person I was before, I still do find it hard to voice my opinions unless asked, but I do know how important it is to communicate my needs to the people who love me back, to those who I can call my loved ones. And that itself is a change. Looking back, I’m so proud of how courageous I was to stand up for myself after the many years of staying silent and nodding to every call. 

What I had to unlearn: You aren’t worthy

I used to place my worth on my accomplishments or lack thereof. The myriad of times I was compared to my sister, friends and relatives? I’m sure you can resonate if you grew up in a strict Asian home. I was torn. I felt so unworthy, unsmart, unpretty, and all the things a patriarchal culture would expect you to be.

I recall getting 4As 1C for my primary examination (UPSR), and I couldn’t stop my tears from falling once I saw my dad waiting outside my house, hoping to hear good results. To me, I failed. Since then, I placed studying so high up the pedestal, that nothing else mattered. Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention to my interests and hobbies. Now it feels like I just lost a part of my youth I can never regain.

What I had to learn: You are worthy

How I broke out of this shell of constant self-hatred and the need to be perfect? My sister played a huge part in it. She made me see how much self-worth I’ve placed on getting my dad’s approval and how I allowed him to dictate my life. 

I realised then, how I’ve been chasing for his approval all my life. It was time to stop. There was no way I could ever please him, if he couldn’t see me as a unique individual with different abilities, talents and interests. It wasn’t that I wasn’t worthy, I was trying so hard to be someone I’m not, chasing a shadow and missing out on who I really am. 

As I walked out of that distorted place, I realised how full of energy I am as a person, I am wise and smart in a different way. I embraced my natural affinity towards the arts and human emotions, which I’ve neglected and rejected for so long. Now I no longer seek perfection, but I’m working towards a carefree, and relaxed life.

Leaving home and finding myself  

I made the decision to leave home a few years ago, and it took me some time to let go of the idea of ever having a ‘family’ again. Since I was pretty attached to my mum, leaving home was extremely tough.

A mixture of emotions overtook me. I couldn’t face reality. I felt so alone, so unloved, and a dark side of me kicked in. I couldn’t bring myself to fight it, I had to rely on closed ones, people I could trust. I took medication and went for counseling while I struggled with my dark thoughts.  

But through it all, the love and support that I had (there were some setbacks of course), led me to greener pastures, and I found my light at the end of the tunnel. The process of letting go and accepting my broken family was the toughest.

But I’ve come to realise how resilient and capable I am of taking care of myself despite all that I’ve been through. I trusted myself to push through, and believed that I would eventually find myself again. 

Just about a year ago, I finally felt more like myself. The happy little kid that would get excited about the littlest things. I no longer spoke under my breath, and I remember how talkative I used to be. I’m truly blessed and happy to be where I am now. I must say the toughest roads do lead to beautiful destinations. I’ve lived through it, and now I’m painting this image for you. 

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