Moving on when justice isn't possible
November 16, 2020 5:13 AM   Subscribe

Someone hurt me very badly and there is no way for justice to be done. I'm looking for advice, books, movies, songs, whatever you can recommend that will help me handle the feelings.

I got hurt a whole lot by somebody. The details are very private and really don't matter. The important part is that it was bad, and it's impossible for them to come to justice. Please just trust me on this. I still have to see them and they have far more power than I do. I cannot even talk about what they did (to other than close friends) without hurting myself worse.

I feel like I am being eaten alive by anger and bitterness and hatred and pain. I don't know what to do with these feelings. I journal a lot. I'm in therapy. Etc. I know it takes time.

But I also know that this situation must be quite common. I am sure that many people have been wronged in such a way (by a person, or fate, or whatever) that the scales cannot be balanced. Those people had to learn how to simply go on with a big wound at their centre.

I want to hear what those people had to say. Please share all of your recommendations. Anything from non-fiction (self help? philosophy? poems?) to fiction (books, movies, short stories) to other kinds of art (music, paintings, etc). I want to feel less alone and I also want to hear about how other people processed this kind of wound and survived without letting it eat away at them and hollow them out.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I was in a similar situation several years ago and came across this quote that really hit me hard and helped me pivot to a different way of thinking. The quote was this, "Bitterness is a poison you drink yourself hoping it will kill someone else." It was the realization that bitterness only hurts me in the long run. That helped me let it go and move in a different direction.

Something else that helped me more than I expected was reading the book, "Codependent No More." It's an oldy but goody. It helped me realize that I had let my happiness be dependent on their happiness and had some practical tips on how to get out of that destructive way of thinking. It might not be appropriate for you, but it was recommended to me by someone and, at the time, I thought it was not appropriate for my situation, and it turned out to be exactly the right thing at the right time.

And now? I have a rich full life. They may have the same, but I don't care if they do or not and I don't dwell on it. I am too busy with my own life. This is probably the place you want to strive for. Be well. Take care of yourself. And remember, a life well lived really is the best revenge.
posted by eleslie at 5:48 AM on November 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

I have a lot to say to this, but not the full time I'd need at the moment. I'll just say-- do not try to control the feelings. Do not look for an outcome, any kind of happiness, any kind of silver lining. Do not let the platitudes of capitalism, which wants you to 'heal' for the sake of benefiting from your increased productivity, force you to deny your feelings. It's simply this: don't deny your feelings. Your feelings are useful data points, useful protective forces. Eventually all things come to pass, yes, sure, of course. But right now, just feel them. Attempting to control them will likely only prolong your pain. The only way out is through.
You are not alone.
posted by erattacorrige at 5:58 AM on November 16, 2020 [16 favorites]

I am going to recommend a book, and I ask you to please read this full comment because there's a good chance you're going to recoil when I say what it's about. But this book may indeed have something for you.

The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal is billed as being a book about "The Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness". It may feel like forgiving the dude is the last thing you want to do - but this book isn't saying forgiveness is a cheerful, "aw, that's okay buddy!" kind of thing, actually. This book is a series of essays in response to a story Wiesenthal tells, about how a dying German soldier cornered him when he was an inmate in a concentration camp, and asked Wiesenthal to "forgive him" on behalf of all Jews. Wiesenthal didn't, but he didn't say "fuck you, you asshole" either. He tells his story, then asks the reader "what would you have done if you were me". The rest of the book is a series of essays responding to that question.

One theme that comes up in several of the essays is a sort of re-framing of forgiveness as more of a "welp, I'm going to close the book on this chapter of my life and move on, because chewing over what happened isn't helping me or hurting them." You're not going to keep pursuing justice, you're not going to deal with them. You're just....done, because the anger isn't doing you any good any more. That's also a kind of forgiveness. You don't forget what happened, but more out of a sense of self-preservation; if you start to run into a similar situation, you'll recognize it and back off. But otherwise you're just gonna keep on keepin' on.

Another handful of essays also make the good point that "you know what, sometimes you're just not ready to forgive someone until you're done being angry at them and that is okay." There are even a couple of essays that answered the question about "should this Nazi have been forgiven" with a very clear "fuck no". It's a refreshing reminder that this kind of forgiveness is a process, and your own emotions and you processing them are an important part of that process.

I have a feeling that at least one of the several essays in the book may speak to you, if not more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:01 AM on November 16, 2020 [21 favorites]

I've talked about this on MeFi before, but my ex-husband sexually assaulted me repeatedly. However, he is not a risk to anyone else (trust me on this), and he's also a good dad (trust me on this), so we share custody of our two kids. As co-parents, we need to maintain a good relationship with each other. This, and the fact that I can't exactly let the kids know their dad raped me, has meant I can't tell the truth about this guy to the whole world, at least for now.

I went through many stages in the process of coming to terms with keeping this a secret. In the beginning, I had a hard time even recognizing it as sexual assault. Then I was able to call it by its right name, but I was convinced it was all my own fault, that he couldn't help it and I should have ______ or ________ or ________ to stop him. Took me almost a year to work through that hell... and then I was MAD. SO FUCKING ANGRY. I wanted to shout from the rooftops and take out full page ads in newspapers and "break the internet" by outing him to everyone in the universe. I wanted justice but there wasn't a way to get any. I felt forsaken by not only everyone but also every construct of morality: "justice" was a hollow sham, "forgiveness" was cosmic joke perpetrated on victims, nihilism seemed to be the only true description of reality.

From the anger I moved on to a compromise of sorts. I would tell the truth, but tell it anonymously. I wrote essays and personal stories for publication all over the internet under assumed names. Last year my whole memoir was accepted by a reasonably prestigious literary online journal, and after my initial panic, I was able to come around to accepting ways to do that as well, without jeopardizing either the co-parenting relationship or my kids' relationship with their dad. And I talk about this on MeFi often, which might be the thing that's helped me most.

All of this truth telling helped me immensely. It's helped me move into feeling a sense of peace within myself again. I no longer feel angry and bitter as I deal cordially with my ex-husband. I no longer feel roiled by the poisonous facade I must put on in order to pretend the things that happened never happened. My cordiality isn't even a facade anymore. It's just there. I don't forgive him - I will tell my story in my own name one day when my kids are fully grown and well into adulthood - my sincere cordiality towards him is not going to fool me into thinking he didn't do anything *that* bad. It's just, I'm in a new phase of my process of understanding and coping with this whole thing. Now it seems to me that yeah, he's a piece of shit, and also, he's part of a much larger fabric... an entire blanket of shit covering all of us... and I am as moved by the desire to throw off that whole blanket as I am by the desire to throw off just the piece of the shit blanket which once covered me.

No doubt in years to come I will move through other phases and other feelings and other manners of dealing with this event in my life. There is not a single phase I regret, not even the hellish year during which I believed it was all my fault. I had to move through that in order to get here. The journey is the point.

In one of her Dear Sugar columns, Cheryl Strayed says to a letter writer struggling to cope with a trauma:
You’re so outraged and surprised that this shitty thing happened to you that there’s a piece of you that isn’t yet convinced it did. You’re looking for the explanation, the loop hole, the bright twist in the dark tale that reverses its course. Any one would be. It’s the reason I’ve had to narrate my own stories of injustice about seven thousand times, as if by raging about it once more the story will change and by the end of it I won’t still be the woman hanging on the end of the line.
To me that is the perfect encapsulation of this journey: you tell your story. Over and over and over again. You tell it to yourself in your head. You tell it to your therapist, your sibling, your best friend, your random acquaintance who happens to run into you crying at the coffee shop on a bad day. You write about it in your journal, or on your blog, or on MeFi, or idk in the fucking New Yorker should you happen to be that brilliant at telling your tale. You narrate your stories of injustice seven thousand times in hope that you can change it, but really, what the telling does is it changes you. It brings you a different kind of peace and healing than you imagine right now.

And that's how you get through it, without being hollowed out by the anger and pain.
posted by MiraK at 6:21 AM on November 16, 2020 [46 favorites]

The other thing is: being a shitty person is its own punishment. Like, the person who harmed you (intentionally or not, does it matter? Either way--with a lack of cognition- unintentional harm- which is pathetic, or a consciousness that made a willful choice, aka some kind of evil) has to live with themselves, either knowingly and okayingly cool with how much they hurt you, or unaware of how much they hurt you, and either way, it betrays their lack of humanity. They can't feel something greater, something beyond themselves, something that isn't centered around their own experience. A lack of empathy. Pain is a sign of your humanness, your humanity. Elephants weep for their dead. Dogs mourn for their humans. And here is someone who is not capable- what a life to live, for them, it is it's own kind of tragedy to only know cruelty.
posted by erattacorrige at 6:43 AM on November 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

don't deny your feelings

This. This this this. Please do not deny your feelings because our current way of thinking insists on relentless positivity in the face of wounds. If you are part of a population that has traditionally been encouraged to choke back its emotions in the interest of making things smoother for other people, the pursuit of forgiveness will just compound your rage until you feel your emotions. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.

Ritual might help you. You could or bury burn an object related to your tormentor. Or choose a heavy item to represent this burden and carry it for a distance before symbolically setting it down to give yourself a break. Ripping fabric with their name written on it can be a fabulous way to loudly destroy something related to them. (Use light cotton for best ripping.) Lots of these rituals depend on the physical ability to carry out the action but it can be something as simple as writing their name on a piece of toilet paper, throwing it in the toilet, and voiding on it. Or blowing out a candle. Whatever makes sense to you, personally. Ritual gives your unconscious mind a way to work on things and get you closer to peace.

Which is what you deserve and what I wish for you. You are not alone.
posted by corey flood at 7:53 AM on November 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Anger is an important part of the healing process; it's a sign that you value yourself enough to be outraged when someone hurts you. It can be helpful to remember that it's healing and a normal part of the process, not something you'll be stuck in forever, not something you need to act on, and not something you should avoid when it surfaces.
posted by lapis at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Exactly what Lapis says. Anger is protective. You didn't deserve what happened to you. It's Good to feel anger. Good. You may not get an official sense of judicial closure but your anger is doing work for you, for your well-being.
posted by erattacorrige at 11:04 AM on November 16, 2020 [3 favorites] deals with this a lot. You may find helpful posts under "tell me how you're mighty" and "trust that they suck"
Her whole site is a revelation. The sheer number of people who have been betrayed by someone they loved, who supposedly loved them back, is shocking. But also it's very comforting to know you are not alone, and to learn from their experiences.
posted by Enid Lareg at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2020

It's a harsh world, justice is often not done, bullies often win. Some of it's just plain luck, and the universe is random and more than we like to think. There's an episode of House where the main character explains to the character Cameron that things aren't fair, aren't going to be fair, and she should do a better job of looking out for herself. I think that's accurate; wish I could find the episode.

It wasn't fair. It was wrong. You were treated appallingly. You have no recourse. Try to build a narrative around accepting and understanding this, and try to focus on your way forward. Sadly, I have learned to be a little tougher, less open, etc. The only way out is through, so learn what you can, be kind to yourself and rebuild.
posted by theora55 at 9:25 AM on November 22, 2020

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