Discover more from WRITE, TO HEAL by Mimi Zhu
My Imperfect Healing
On Going Home and Holding My Younger Selves
I have returned to the States after four months back home in Australia, and I want to tell you a tale of imperfect healing. I was not on vacation. I was seeing my family and friends, and with that, I was doing deep emotional, shadow, and trauma work. My therapist told me that I was in the eye of the trigger zone, re-experiencing painful memory after the next, while simultaneously feeling the joys of being a toddler, child, and teenager again.
Home is complicated for all of us. It is a place where most of us leave, and at some point, return. Maybe we no longer regard it as home as much as a place of origin. Maybe it is a space that we cannot even think about because we have endured deep trauma there. Maybe it is still the most comforting place on Earth. Regardless, home has its homes in us, and it fuses into every version of ourselves and arises when the shadows fall.
What an immense trip that was. In my childhood home, there were mirrors everywhere. I saw myself playing in the playroom, having violent fights with my parents, sobbing desperately in my bed, and cautiously bringing lovers home. I was watching a montage appear before my eyes, and I was subconsciously recreating some of those memories. I watched the butterflies I used to talk to in my garden when I was 3, walked along the beach where my family and I frequented when I was 6, went back to the park I would write in when I was 16 and slept in the same bed that I secretly had sex in when I was 21. Each time I re-enacted my memories, I felt that version of myself ignite. They were still in me, and not only was I reuniting with them, but I also found myself healing with them too.
When I was 22, I left for America. I was determined to get out of this small predominantly White suburb. I wanted many things, but I mostly wanted to escape. After experiencing an abusive relationship, I was navigating intense and immediate trauma and I was often dissociating. When I think back to that age, I can’t remember much at all. I was not in my body because it did not feel safe to be. Every version of me, at every age, was cowering in fetal position in a small dark cave somewhere deep in my chest. I felt like a shell, and all I knew how to do was run. When I left Australia for the first time, I barely felt anything at all.
When I returned, I felt myself becoming many versions of myself again, including the parts of me that I have not always been proud of. I became insecure again about certain aspects of my life, and I saw how much I hinged my self-worth on my (especially romantic) relationships with other people. As I was growing up as the oldest child, I was assigned the role of a family caretaker. I diffused fights between my parents, and I tried to take my brothers under my wing whenever my father left for extended periods of time. It began to feel like the only thing I was useful for, and I usually felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I had a huge breakthrough when I was home this time with my therapist when she told me that I should not have been the caretaker at that age. I was only a child.
I have put myself on some sort of strange pedestal, or at least, assigned myself a role that requires me to always be perfect and set a good example for others. Mind you, I was no angel, and I was very rebellious and sometimes very selfish in my desire for distraction. I worried my parents when I went out and I did not know how to communicate with them. Leaving felt like my only time of reprieve from all the pressure that was placed on me at home. I think I left for America for those very same reasons, except I found myself recreating the caretaker dynamics with people that I was romantically involved with. I attracted people who required caretaking from me, I felt resentful when they wouldn’t exercise care in return, and I would end up feeling deeply insecure, anxious, and unworthy when they did not know how to love me.
This happened again on this trip. As you may have read in my previous newsletter, I rekindled a relationship with a past lover. While the relationship was sticky-sweet at first, and we both knew that it could not last beyond the time I was here, unfortunately, it turned sour. This ex-lover was emotionally unavailable and scared of his developing feelings for me. He was enamored with what I had to offer him, which was mostly emotional support, physical nurturance, and the time and effort it takes to keep in constant contact, without considering the reciprocation that was necessary for our relationship, regardless of its nature. When I brought this up, he told me that we were “not in a serious relationship”, which felt extremely dismissive, and it hurt me. I have experienced these “situationships” enough times to be able to discern the signs, though my greater challenge now is peeling myself away from the familiarity of this dynamic.
So, I ended things. I didn’t want to be the caretaker anymore, so I decided to take care of myself. I started to remember all the lessons I’d learned in my lifetime, all the vigorous healing practices I engaged in, all the journaling and meditating and intensive self-care I have practiced. I wanted to spend my time refocusing and devoting attention to the people who deeply love me, who showed up (both in Australia and the States) for me while I was in the eye of the trigger zone. Breaking the pattern to the best of my abilities. I was proud of myself for saying goodbye.
But I also slipped. I texted him one day, overcompensating with kindness. I checked in, wanting to speak with him, wanting to see how he was doing. I was looking for his attention, more unattainable affections, and I was trying to slip back into my caretaker role. When I realized this, I punished myself for it. I called myself stupid and foolish and I asked myself, “Have you learned nothing??!?!?!” I accessed a nasty voice in my head that shamed and blamed me that was familiar in my childhood. I called myself self-destructive, useless, and incapable of true healing. I imagined every ex-lover who had gaslit me; and every vulnerable Mimi who had cried in bed about it, and I looked at them all with disgust.
I had gone from wanting to be the perfect caretaker to wanting to be the perfect healed version of myself. I wanted to follow every rigorous “step”, perfectly without flaws, and without ever slipping up. I wanted to prove that I could overcome heartache, that it could no longer affect me as it did when I was younger, and that I could quickly become unphased by somebody who had hurt me again. I was rushing.
In my pursuit of “true and pure healing”, I had forgotten something crucial. Healing is imperfect, and so am I. I will have moments where I slip up and return to the familiar. I know that can sometimes be self-destructive, though at this stage in my life I really am trying my best. I want to be happy, and I want to be loved. Sometimes these moments are just moments, and we learn from them if we allow ourselves to.
I feared that I was “regressing” in my healing, turning my anger toward my younger selves instead of the people who had hurt me. Regressing feels like an unfair word to use because it assumes the linearity of our healing. Healing does not go backward or forward, and there are no instruction manuals that we can strictly follow to reverse our hurt. Healing is unpredictable and usually shapeless, though there are wonderful points along the way. You uncover love on this journey, reshape and remold stubborn and toxic behaviors, laugh a lot and cry tears of relief. As I was punishing myself for my imperfect healing, I realized that I was punishing every younger version of me. I still had not learned to love them. How nourishing was this healing when I could not even forgive myself for my mistakes?
In the work that I do, I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to be perfect in my healing. I always want to encourage the most prolific and “productive” ways of being with our feelings, though it feels counterintuitive to punish myself when I am not. The layer of healing that I neglected was the one that lay beneath all the actions I could take. It was the layer that required me to be kind to myself when I fucked up, and to really hold the younger versions of myself that fucked up too.
I hold myself in my imperfect healing.
My mother and my relationship has undergone an imperfect process of healing. It still is, and it is beautiful. We have experienced much hardship in our relationships, and we have gotten into extremely violent fights. While our opinions still sometimes differ, and my identities confuse her, I truly see her and understand when she makes mistakes. She has her moments, but fuck, she is trying. Four years apart have forced us to foster closeness in a relationship that we both simply cannot lose. She listens to me, even when she does not understand. She truly sees me instead of jumping to anxious conclusions about my life choices. She has held herself accountable and even apologized to me. Her need to protect me has converted itself from being controlling to trusting my instincts. Her love for me encourages me to do the same for her, each and every day.
While I was stressing about this boy who could not show me love, just like the times when I was 16, 19 and 22, I stopped and looked toward my mother. I told her everything. This time, she was there, and she was not blaming me for anything. She was loving me at every age, in ways that she may not have known how to when I was a child. I had to do that too.
I am bawling my eyes out. I miss her so much already. It’s so fucking hard to live so far away from her, and I can say that now because I have healed so imperfectly, and so has she. We have both experienced so many road bumps, and mishaps, and made so many mistakes along this long and winding road, but we found each other at the end of it. It feels like we fought the same war that was fought in Everything Everywhere All at Once (if you’ve watched it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then go watch it now!!!!). She is there for me as I am there for her. Forever.
As I return to New York, I am experiencing a long-delayed reaction. I am so present with this hurt, grief, and gratitude. I grieve a life that I know I could not live, though I step into a life in which I bring all my imperfect love and healing with me. I am finally present enough to count my blessings and hold my younger selves. I am not the perfect healer/healed person, and I am learning how it feels to take care of those who also show care to me. I could not have felt this way four years ago because I simply did not know how to, and I forgive myself for that too. I am no ideal healer, no prophetic poet, but deeply, imperfect, vulnerably human. Going home has a way of making you feel like that.
A collection of songs I have cried, shed, danced, and held myself to: