Written by Ava
"The end of rebellion is liberation, while the end of revolution is the foundation of freedom.”
-Hannah Arendt, On Revolution
In my first year of college, I read a lot of Hannah Arendt. She, a 20th century woman political theorist, impressed me greatly, and is sort of the unofficial mascot of my college (she’s even buried in our campus cemetery, alongside her husband Heinrich Blucher). In Constitutional Law, we read her book On Revolution, in which she describes both the American and French revolutions, claiming the former to be successful and the latter to be unsuccessful. As described in the quote which prefaces this post, Arendt believed the French Revolution to have failed in that it was grounded in rebellion against the monarchy, and not in the authentic experience of revolution. As Arendt says, the most crucial element of revolution is experiencing the ‘exhilarating awareness of the human capacity of beginning’.
I did what my liberal arts college taught me to do, I used what I was learning and contextualized it in different facets of my interest. I contemplated Arendt’s words in International Relations, in Spanish 201 and in my intro to literature class. Then, I brought these concepts of rebellion, revolution, beginnings and freedom into the context of my own history. In looking back at my experience with dating abuse, I found that Arendt’s words remained sound.
In my immediate liberation from dating abuse, I retaliated from my abuser entirely. I dressed ways he would’ve never allowed, ate more food than he would’ve tolerated and frequently went out with friends he’d previously isolated me from. Still, I was unhappy, for escaping my abuser was not what made me free, it simply liberated me from his grasp. Everything I did felt like an act of defiance against the concepts of control, subjection and force. In this period of newfound autonomy, I hadn’t yet examined what I enjoyed, and instead acted in the opposite manner of which my abuser would’ve wanted me to. To draw in Arendt’s theory of failed revolutions: I wasn’t truly free from my abuser if my liberation was grounded in rebellion against abuse. Rebellion alone did not lead me to finding my true self in the absence of my abuser, it was recontextualizing, redefining and revolutionizing myself which allowed to me freely and boldly heal from trauma.
My experience of an ‘exhilarating awareness of the human capacity of beginning’ was unique, as it is for each survivor of abuse. Sure, I did some of the typical post-break up things that are portrayed in movies— I cut all my hair off, threw away things that reminded me of my abuser and deleted all the traces of him on my social media. But some elements of my experience of the ‘exhilarating awareness of the human capacity of beginning,’ took a lot longer to work at. I had a lot to reevaluate. The way I presented myself, the food I ate, the people I hung out with, the habits I had taken up, my understanding of normalcy— these things had largely been formed by my experience of abuse.
I began to think of this revolutionary period as a gift. I had granted myself a blank slate, a chance at rebirth. In this time, I searched for new restaurants, parks and movie theaters that weren’t plagued by memories of violence, and even returned to some of those stained spaces, creating new memories in their place. I took back my right of narrating my own experience, sharing with close friends the details of my abuse. With the support of those friends, I unlearned the effects of unhealthy dependence, manipulation and gaslighting, and relearned the concepts of love, trust and self care in their place.