I was always looking for answers, seeking purpose and meaning for life, and of course, in the process, also craving love, respect and validation from the world.
Being from India, I got into spirituality and gurus.
They made sense. It made me feel peaceful. I loved everything that I was finding along my journey. Life felt sparkly. I even became an ocher-clad monk for almost 10 years!
But while doing all of this, I forgot that people, even gurus, can be toxic, sexist, patriarchal, narcissistic, and abusive. I thought I had chosen a better, safer, saner life. My mind was so infatuated by the wisdom that was shared from the pulpits that I conveniently ignored every single red-flag behaviour. My mind justified it all as only “human,” and I pushed myself to “let go and accept.”
I never allowed myself to even tell myself that I was being emotionally and sexually abused, let alone tell anybody else. Repeated molestations and consistent gaslighting were all processed by my mind as a part of the beautiful life I was attempting to build.
Slowly, I was locked inside myself, battling to breathe free, while grappling with the idea that my faith was exploited. I realised that it wasn’t just my perpetrators whose truth was hurting me, but it was an entire culture of abuse and exploitation draped in sacred robes of nobility that was breaking my heart.
It took me 15 long years of toxicity, plummeting health, several suicide attempts, and a lot of courage, to finally step out of that world and start my life all over again. This is not easy in the Indian society, because here, gurus are worshipped. And the fact that I had openly romanticised my association with the traditional spiritual setup of India made my story even less believable.
Restarting life with a past like that is not easy. I am still coping.
So naturally, for the longest time, I was angry with myself for letting myself go through that hell for so long. I was upset I did not choose to leave earlier. I was pained by my own vulnerability, and it was difficult for me to even justify my younger self to me. I mean, I was supposedly an educated, smart, modern, young woman. What was wrong with me? Why had I been such an idiot?
It took me months of wallowing and thinking and introspecting and healing to find my answers. I had to reconcile the decisions my younger self had made in order to find peace in my present. And slowly, I did.
Now, I know what was wrong with me, and I feel immense love for my younger self. I know she deserved better, but I also know she did not know better. I understand her fears, her predicaments, and, most importantly, her lack of self-love.
And quite often, I wish I could meet her and tell her the facts that I now know to be crucial to living a life in a world filled with broken children in adult bodies. I hope also that another 18 or 20 or 30-year-old will read this and, maybe, save themselves much pain.
So here are 10 things my younger self needs to be told:
- If something feels wrong, it is wrong. No matter what anyone tells you. Listen to yourself.
- You don’t need to be fixed. Nobody needs to be fixed. We all grow in our own way and at our own pace. So stop believing in the idea of correction.
- Anyone—a parent, a friend, a guru, a partner, a sibling—yes, I mean anyone, can be a toxic person in our lives. Unhealed people become toxic. Don’t assume it is impossible for anyone.
- They may have many reasons for being toxic. While you respect that, know that you have no reason to put yourself through their toxicity.
- Distance is not scary. Boundaries are not bad. Breakups are not disastrous. Do not demonise your freedom to walk away.
- Every person has to do their own self-work. Just like you can’t eat to satiate someone else’s hunger, you can’t strive to handle someone else’s self-work. Stop taking responsibility of their emotions.
- Loving others and accommodating their flaws does not mean allowing your own happiness and well-being to take a back seat in your life.
- Spend time talking to yourself. Very often, you call out to yourself for help. But that voice never reaches you because you haven’t taught yourself to listen to you.
- Anyone who makes it difficult for you to love you is toxic. No matter how sweet and pious it may all look, step away.
- Loving yourself is not a fancy internet fad. It is an essential psychological need. Do that first.