With my education and permanent residency held to ransom, I understood everything I had taken for granted.
I took many things in my life for granted, I see that now. My parents’ marriage broke down when I was in my mid-twenties. It rocked me to my core, though I didn't know it at the time. I put a smile on my face and carried on. "They weren't really suited to each other anyway" and “Divorces happen all the time these days", I kept telling myself. But I started to question everything in my childhood. My memories of various childhood experiences now seemed shadowed with a veneer of falsehood. A sense of shame comes over me. How couldn’t I see what was really going on, what the truth of the situation was for my parents? I was oblivious in that moment, stupid in my naiveté. The shame gave way to anger and bitterness.
There was no time to acknowledge these emotions I was feeling, nor did I wish to tell anyone how I felt. I had to be strong for my mother. I was all she had. Despite never asking for their help, there was always a support network in my friends and partner to fall back on in Melbourne. I took that for granted. My mother lived in Malaysia; in a society that expects women to tolerate unhappiness and betrayal in marriages. She had no-one else to tell her seeking divorce was the right thing to do. There was no one to tell her that her actions were justified. Conservative values within the wider community meant a complete lack of understanding for her situation. So, I had to be there for her, no time to wallow in my feelings. They were nothing compared to her struggle.
My mother was given no sustainable financial support despite what the courts had finally ruled. The ruling of the court was simply not followed and my mother lacked the means to keep fighting. It was an incredibly difficult position to be in as a now-single female with no qualifications, who had never worked and lacked any family assistance. My mother quickly got a casual job to support herself, but this was a really desperate situation for her. When I accosted my Father over this, he told me “money for your mother, or money for you”, meaning my university fees.
With my education and permanent residency held to ransom, I understood everything I had taken for granted. The choice was easy. But I felt powerless. My love for academia, a key feature of my identity, had been ripped away. I felt embarrassed. If it could be taken away that easily, how could I justify thinking it was an important part of who I was? That aspect of myself felt hollow now. I suspended my masters’ degree studies & took a full-time job in fashion; an industry I fundamentally disagree with and saddens me due to its blatant support for consumerism and exploitation of insecurities.
The anger and shock over my father’s behavior made me question his love for me and the person who raised me.
My anger simmered, my bitterness hardened. The future looked bleak & I was scared this would be it, forever. It created a constant layer of anxiety over every day. Phone conversations with my mother were difficult because it felt like a hopeless situation. The anger and shock over my father’s behavior made me question his love for me and the person who raised me. However, I had to be strong and I kept smiling. My focus was to maintain a happy and positive exterior. It was critical that the world continued to perceive me that way, the way I defined myself.
I was always a big drinker, something to be proud of I thought. I don’t really understand why; perhaps I found it to be a source of empowerment. Maybe I emulate the behaviors of the dominant male personalities of my childhood. But I started to become an angry drunk. Everything I was suppressing would boil to the surface & burst viciously at people around me who never deserved it. Often small disagreements would turn into huge, unnecessary arguments. It became a repetitive, exhausting, embarrassing & boring cycle. My partner tried to get me to see what was happening. It was obvious to him; I needed to face the cause of the anger inside me. He would repeatedly suggest, “Talk to your friends, tell them what's been happening”. I would continually refuse, “No. I am the happy, always-positive person. No one wants to hear about this!”. He was patient, but I didn’t understand that my stress over how others perceived me was becoming destructive.
The drunken outbursts continued for several months. One day I Google "why am I so angry all the time". What I read makes me face the pain that I’m suppressing so much. I start to cry from the overwhelming sadness and sense of loss that comes over me. The message is clear. I had to acknowledge the pain my parents’ divorce caused me. It was very difficult to do. I had to admit that I was vulnerable, that I had lost control over key aspects of my life and identity, and I needed help to get through it.
...my friends and my partner and his family were rocks for me. I just needed to be ready to put aside my ego and talk to them.
Like I was the rock for my mother, my friends and my partner and his family were rocks for me. I just needed to be ready to put aside my ego and talk to them. Opening up was scary. There was an underlying embarrassment that kept holding me back. I don’t know why I felt that way; there was really no reason to. It was an effort to overcome, but once I did, the weight lifted and I felt lighter. When I talked about my feelings and expressed my worries and anxieties, it sounds corny but all these opportunities appeared. My friends had clever ideas for finding ways to get back to university, using contacts to help me get access to funding, and coming up with a different job pathway. Nothing compares to a listening ear and the gift of optimism and genuine love make you feel that you’re going to be ok. My mother is more settled now. She has grown so much and is demonstrating her strength and independence every day. She’s focusing on developing herself and her career, with great results. She seems excited about the future. My father and I are on speaking terms. In the beginning, it was awkward and there was a lot of bitterness. But I realise there is no point holding onto that anger; I need to focus on my healing and this requires letting go of it.
It isn’t all smooth sailing. My argumentative drunken behavior is still an ugly side that resurfaces. But I’m human. I’m not perfect. My ego is unbelievably fragile; this is most so when I’m trying to appear strong. But vulnerability and strength do not have to be mutually exclusive. I’ve learnt true strength lies in being able to show one’s vulnerability and ask for help.