Breaking the Cycle

As I step into 2022, I want to talk about my wedding. I’ve felt ashamed about the events leading up to it and been reluctant to discuss about how difficult the process was for me in the past, but I think today, I’m ready to let go of that and be honest about a few things.

My parents and I have had a historically difficult relationship. Within a mix of the less wonderful side of Indian parenting culture and their own issues, my childhood and adulthood have been marked by a lot of physical and verbal abuse and gaslighting from them, alongside a lack of any real agency and a general dearth of affirmation and appreciation from them. I had no honest and understanding audience for struggles I went through in my parents, and faced a lot of backlash most times I was naïve enough to be vulnerable with them.

Communicating about money had long been one of the most difficult things to navigate with my parents. While they are comfortable, my parents did not grow up with money, and spending it has not always been easy for them, particularly on me as I grew older and more vocally opposed to the abuse in my household. They often questioned me about whether I deserved it more than the millions of poverty-stricken children in India they could instead donate it to, discussed how I could easily be left destitute if I didn’t toe the line of their expectations, and right before I left for college, they even contacted friends of theirs in the legal industry to certify to me that at eighteen, they had no legal obligation to support me or pay for the education I wanted in USA, far away from them and not at an institution of their choosing. Following that, even though they did support me financially for living expenses my scholarships didn’t cover, it was always a very wrought process with them giving me periodic reminders that they could stop providing the support at any point throughout college.

On a student visa in the USA, I didn’t really have the ability to legally work to support myself throughout their hot-and-cold attitude towards funding, but the stress of having my entire life and the grades I was working so hard to achieve taken away from me was too much and I ended up seeking out a means to support myself despite how dangerous it was in my situation. That struggle was ultimately financially not very fruitful as non-legal work is dangerous, inconsistent and underpaid; but it took up a lot of space and prevented me from investing much time in friendships at college and put me in sometimes very scary situations that I grew incredibly resentful towards my parents for.

In my eyes, the people who were supposed to give me love, support, help, empathy and above all believe in me unconditionally had instead put me in danger, created preventable stressors from me, limited me from finding a support system while refusing to consistently be one for me and I was incredibly angry with them. Simultaneously, I was studying child development and neuroscience in college, learning all about how childhood physical and verbal abuse leave long lasting damage and understanding more about the obligations of adults towards children, which just grew my resentment towards my parents further, seeing how unhealthy a lot of what they put me through was.

When I finally came to the point where my visa allowed me to work legally for a year and I got my first legal job that could actually support my basic living expenses, amidst fights about seemingly benign issues like me being mad at them for chastising me for my weight instead of congratulating me for my academic and professional achievements that were really a fight about how desperately I wanted accountability from them for the much deeper issues described above, I decided to significantly reduce my relationship with them for the sake of my own mental health. So, three years later, when Warren proposed to me, I was barely speaking to them and there were a lot of unresolved issues between me and my parents.

Meanwhile, Warren was also going through his own ordeal of having friends and acquaintances constantly ask him if he wanted to marry me only because of immigration issues and feeling like outside forces were stealing away the joy and love of this period of our lives and relationship. None of this lead to either of us being in a particularly calm place emotionally as we planned our wedding. With a lot of anger and resentment towards the world at large politically, as well as for those who were not supportive of us amongst our friends and family coloring our feelings at the time, in retrospect it was not the greatest place to be as we started our lives together.

Simultaneously, though we wished we had more time to sort through all this before we got married, because of the way things were, we actually didn’t have the time. Between our work schedules and the really shitty but unavoidable issues of US immigration, we were looking at a very real possibility that we would have been separated and forced to live apart unless we got married when we did. Later, we also realized that had we not done it then, we would not have had Warren’s mother with us, who was, I think for both of us, the biggest joy of our wedding process. Ultimately, the timing of the wedding was what it had to be, even if the circumstances surrounding it were not ideal.

So going into this situation of charged emotions and a lot of feelings of helplessness and lack of choices surrounding our wedding, when we first told my parents a day after Warren popped the question, there was an immediate clash. They had immediate problems with how they were informed — they thought Warren could have been nicer to them, they felt his parents should have made gestures towards them that they hadn’t, and a lot of other things rubbed them the wrong way that were a direct result of my incredibly strained relationship with them at the time.

Confusingly, my parents were also very excited about the idea of their daughter getting married. So without much consultation with us, they started informing all their friends about our upcoming nuptials while we were asleep that night and suggested the rough dates and locations we were thinking of as so definite, that a couple of their friends bought plane tickets when we hadn’t even started the wedding planning yet and none of us had discussed finances or budgeting for the wedding at all yet.

The lack of communication between us and the lack of clarity about whether they were excited about the wedding or not was clear even at that early stage, and compounded with the anger I had towards my parents for issues preceding the wedding still unresolved, their simultaneous private emails to me about how upset they were with Warren and his family with a public show of enthusiasm towards their friends immediately turned me off. It felt like they didn’t really care much about celebrating me or my relationship, or in investing in creating a loving relationship with Warren or growing the family to include him and his family, but just in the show to their friends.

This initial impression just got reiterated with each next step of the process. As we tried to navigate sorting out further details of the wedding over the next few weeks, such as the guest list and venue, my parents told me they were going to prioritize inviting their friends over my cousins and family. I really wanted my grandparents on my mother’s side to come and they told me that wasn’t in the budget for them and we would eventually plan a smaller thing in India so I could celebrate with them. They explained that now that they had announced to many of their friends there was going to be a wedding, they had no choice but to invite them, leaving very little room on the guest list for family members I wanted there, or any of my own friends, or much of a budget for the venue I was most excited about. They let me know that because a lot of their friends had paid for their accommodations and travel during their children’s weddings, they had to pay for those things for the friends, and they wouldn’t really be able to contribute the amount I was hoping for to expenses like my dress, make up, etc. for the wedding and encouraged me to go for budget choices.

This is definitely incredibly silly and shallow, but everyone who knows me at all knows that fashion is one of the greater loves of my life, and as awful as that may be, for me the fact that they didn’t even think of how important that aspect of the wedding would be to me just felt like a slap in the face of how little my parents even knew me. They had never paused to ask me about my budget before they told all their friends about it, but now that they had done it, they were willing to ask me to sacrifice everything that I actually wanted at my wedding so that they could have their friends, some who I had never even met, and others that I was still upset at for never intervening and sometimes even justifying that me and other children and women in my household were subjected to domestic violence. I didn’t like that I was having to sacrifice elements of the wedding that were important to me and to sacrifice inviting people I wanted there. My parents’ willingness to consider so carefully the needs and enjoyment of their friends but not me was very hard to digest when I have felt unloved and unconsidered by them all my life. It made me so angry, and I regret that I let that anger guide some of my actions from that point on, but that is what happened.

It didn’t help that all the while, I was seeing Warren get the opposite from his parents. From my perspective, it seemed like they were willing financially and otherwise to move heaven and earth to make this a happy day for their son and to make me feel welcome in their family. It was so much easier to communicate with them about everything and it was so much easier to feel their love for me than it was to feel that of my own parents — clouded by a lifetime of traumatic experiences with them. So somewhere along the line amidst so much pain, resentment and anger, in somewhat of a haze of hurt that makes it hard to even recollect what really happened, I set a boundary that while they were invited and their friends were invited, I was taking matters into my own hands regarding the budget and didn’t want my parents to contribute anymore financially to the wedding because the stress of navigating this with them and the pain of what I could only see at the time as their disregard for me at every turn of wedding planning was too much for me to bear.

Because the two of us couldn’t afford the size of the wedding as it was planned thus far, and in order to try to limit how unfair it was to Warren’s parents to take on most of the cost on their side, including costs that are not typical for a wedding like housing and air transport that had been promised to only my side of the wedding guests, I had to send an email to my side of wedding guests, (pretty much all of whom were my dad’s friends since we weren’t able to budget for family members or many of my friends to attend from the start), that while we wanted to celebrate with them, we couldn’t afford to transport or house them, causing all but two of them to drop out of attending the wedding, including my parents.

I completely understand that it was embarrassing for my parents, because it was incredibly embarrassing for me as well. And, it is not that the wedding went as I dreamed in the end after all this. We were already locked into another venue, I barely had anyone I wanted there from my side at the wedding because at that point I couldn’t afford to have many of the people I wanted there and I couldn’t conscionably ask Warren’s parents to bear the cost of inviting them for me. It was very unpleasant having folks ask me constantly if my wedding planner was my mother on the day, and it was sad to know that I would never see my dream of my brothers dancing with Warren at my wedding realized. I hated not being able to use maybe the only moment in our lives where our worlds would collide to introduce things like dandiya and mehendi to Warren’s world. None of this of course is to say it wasn’t a great day — it still was, and all of our vendors, the venue we had in the end, and the guests we were able to invite who were able to attend made it an unforgettable and beautiful experience and I am so glad we did it. But I am just trying to emphasize that the decisions I made during the wedding were not designed to hurt my parents, but just to protect myself from being more hurt by them — those decisions came at a great cost to me as well.

In the weeks that followed this difficult decision, my parents reached out to many people with a binder of a few hundred pages of selected correspondences between us printed out and annotated with their side of the story which disproportionally maligned me without any empathy for me or Warren. Many people were brought in to try to intervene, who in siding with my parents based on this binder just brought even more deep pain and resentment to an already incredibly hurt situation where I felt that my parents fundamentally did not care for me or care to understand my situation, and were willing to malign me and Warren and misrepresent issues in order to save face with their friends even as I tried to focus on my wedding and relationship. I was so tired of fighting with them and their ambassadors about how I’m not the monster they are making me out to be, that I could barely find the energy to be who I am. It wasn’t the headspace I wanted to be in at my wedding. It wasn’t a battle I should have been fighting. The whole time my big wish was for them to honor me and shower me and Warren with love, and we were all so ridiculously far from that. Until my wedding day, I left a candle lit in my heart for them to show up with my brothers, one of whom they had told would be disowned if he attended against their will.

When they didn’t come, amidst all the questions for all these years since the wedding about why they weren’t there, the speculation in my own mind about the speculations of others surrounding my marriage, I was left with a giant crater of anger, anguish, stress, heartbreak and grief. It was so acute in the weeks right before and after the actual wedding that I finally started therapy that year in earnest. I cried constantly. I questioned my relationship, all of my decisions, all of Warren’s decisions — what if Warren had ignored his friends and found the strength to propose earlier and we’d had more time to navigate all of this? What if I had been able to convince him to responded differently when my father flew to the US to scout venues despite us specifically asking him not to as we were going through very busy times at work and wanted to plan this together when we had time to be there and communicate? What if I’d just swallowed the pain and anger and let things proceed? We had chosen to defer a honeymoon until later because the way the wedding had panned out, we had little left to take a happy trip together, emotionally and financially. It was such an awful place to be at the start of a marriage.

Over time the therapy helped me understand the what-ifs were futile, but it took a long time. I eventually reconnected with my parents and figured out that while they were never going to be accountable for their mistakes both during the wedding and before it, what hurt me so much during the wedding was my own holding onto a delusional desire for us to be a healthy, empathetically connected, mutually supportive, non-abusive family that we can just never be. Once I made space for the truth of our situation and figured out what I wanted from a relationship with my parents amidst tight boundaries of what I won’t accept with them, having a relationship became possible. Realizing that my need for them to be held accountable was only hurting me also somehow made it possible for me to have empathy for actions of theirs that I have long resented and been hurt by. I think this part was the most confusing part of it for me, because it felt like I was excusing abuse or normalizing it by having a relationship with them and holding empathy for them. But ultimately, doing that was actually my biggest victory in the fight against abuse, the biggest admission of how abnormal what I had experienced was. Breaking the cycle is a very strange process!

It hasn’t been easy getting to where I am just now. The toll the process of the wedding has taken on my life has been heavy. It has made me nervous about what people think of me in a way I never was before — hearing the things, even years later, that others have heard from my parents about me and what the binder made them think of me left me with a lot of insecurity. I took so much of the gossip I heard to heart and I’ve felt so much anger at myself for not having been able to figure out a way to make it all work. I’ve held so much grief for relationships with the few relatives I have in the US that were completely decimated and lost during this process.

The whole thing generated so many feelings of insufficiency and regret it was hard to find joy in my life. The process of failing in a way that I felt and was told I was too old to have done; in such an embarrassing and public way; bled into a feeling of needing to overcompensate in all other aspects of my life. I started to become immensely insecure about my work, my weight and appearance and so much more… I felt like I needed to prove my worth to the world in very pronounced way that didn’t really exist for me before my wedding. There was very little space left for me to enjoy my life, my relationship and just experience and appreciate what I have amidst all the disapproving voices of the versions of my parents, their-friends-who-I-had-emailed, the friends-I-wish-I-could-have-invited-but-couldn’t and the acquaintances-I-wish-would-like-me-more that I have allowed to live rent-free in my head since the wedding.

I think today may be the first time I am really starting to recover from that process of insecurity and really start to go to a place of not caring what those who would prefer to think the worst of me think, giving myself a break for making a mistake that most people my age at the time wouldn’t have made and loving myself for being more resilient than even I knew was possible. This year is a big and important year like any other, but for me it’s also a year that marks the start of a new decade in my life and as I step into it I am glad to shed some of this unnecessary stuff I have carried with me the last four years, partly by sharing my journey here with posterity. And though I know the things I said and the way I handled the process of my wedding wasn’t ideal, I am glad I felt that anger then and I made the mistakes I made when I made them. I learned a lot about supporting myself and being brave in the face of my worst moments, and it created the zone of proximal development I needed to come to a place of breaking a cycle of abuse and stress that sorely needed to be broken. I am grateful and proud of myself for making it this far, excited for what is to come, and much more open to making mistakes than I have ever been before.

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Khushi Shah

Khushi Shah

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