As a generally privileged person, this seems like and odd–or wrong, selfish–moment in our history to be self-reflective in a blog post. But then, surely, it is never wrong to speak your own truth (be it tangential from the most important topics that need space right now), if might be of use and comfort to someone else.
A year ago today, I could not stop vomiting. I was in a state of shock, and the trauma of the shock manifest itself in a physical inability to keep my insides intact. With almost no explanation beyond a few texts, my husband had walked out of my life that morning at 6am. I have not seen him since.
A year later, one year, and it is almost unimaginable what has passed–not just in my own life, of course, but in the world. Most of the time, my personal battle has felt uphill and impossible. I felt like every time I got a foothold (through tremendous effort, stamina, and perseverance) the rocks crumbled beneath me. Global pandemic? Why not. Subsequent loss of newly gained employment? Sure. Friends you’ve just moved close to for support move away? But of course! Massive complications and difficulties financially and clerically due to living in a foreign country for the past 6 years? Naturally.
After months of isolation in the epicentre and unable to obtain unemployment benefits due to the brevity of my time employed back in the US, a front desk administrative opportunity came my way. I felt I had to take it and be ‘grateful’ about it. I was vulnerable, and my newly established strength and resolve in never giving up my artistic ideals again had been necessarily dashed.
This employer was abusive and manipulative–a bully. He hired me under a false impression and deliberately lied and misled me regarding the circumstances of the job. Once I was secured, he took advantage of my work ethic and vulnerable state, continually putting me in impossible situations. I observed how he treated his other employees (all women), greedily and without boundaries. He made my coworker physically tremble at her desk (shortly before firing her), and I found myself crying on the subway (already a dystopian nightmare within itself).
One year post-trauma, there I was again, under the thumb. Doing something absolutely abhorrent to me with some subconscious hope that it will please my family.
But, while I still felt the need to take this job, something within me had fundamentally changed. Old Ali would have believed that she needed to be ‘grateful’ for this man giving her this wonderful employment opportunity to… do what? For what? To what end? I wouldn’t have questioned being lied to and bullied; I would have avoided confrontation and quietly taken it until I could take it no more.
This time I stood up for myself from the moment I detected mistreatment. I confronted him multiple times along the way, expressed what I deemed unacceptable, explained what needed to change in the environment if I was to be properly valued. He didn’t listen to me and only attempted to throw more money at me (which was trifling to begin with) in exchange for the freedom to continue to abuse.
So I left.
It is clear that avoiding cycles of abuse and oppression will be lifelong work for me. It’s difficult to unlearn, difficult to thwart expectations that have been ingrained and ideas of self worth that have been perpetuated in so many areas of your life. But I am going to try my hardest to no longer fear the oppressor. To no longer give them that power.
And isn’t that what the black lives in this country are doing right now? Finally saying ‘I matter’ and coping with the repercussions of many still not comprehending what that actually means? Not listening? Even villainising? I am awestruck, knowing the strength it must take to rise above that fear, centuries of systematic abuse and oppression.
I don’t know. I just feel that the most important thing is fighting for the happiness and freedom to which we are all entitled.
I am trying.
And for the first time in one year, I am feeling optimistic.