It is hard to write this story down, hard to recount the details and timeline of it because my life gravitated towards plant-based living slowly but methodically. Veganism found me at a point in my life when I’d given up and had no hope. All life seemed to be was degrees of unfathomable suffering and unending silence. What killed me was that I saw no way to change it. In my mind, everything in life was degrees of either incurring pain and suffering or creating it for someone else. I didn’t want to live in that world. Yet it was the world I had been brought up in.
Nowhere was the pain inflicted on others more evident than in my continued acceptance of our current food system. There’s a certain mistaken belief in our culture that says in order for us to live, we need to consume animals and products derived from them. Everything I was brought up to ‘eat’ required the destruction of another. But the belief that we have to do this, that we have no choice, that our life depends on eating and abusing animals when closely examined, is found to be nothing but a lie.
In my life, I was soul-deep exhausted because I believed that lie. I, too, believed that living my life meant I had to cause pain to another but was that really the only option? It’s a narrative we tell ourselves, but it isn’t true. That realization was life-changing. It was my sister who first suggested I go vegan. Around this time, I was only beginning to realize how lost I had become in life, though I still had no idea how much further lost I would become. All I felt I had in life in my early twenties was undiagnosed chronic pain and illness, crippling low-blood-pressure, nightmarish flashbacks and traumatic realities. Going vegan seemed too big. It was difficult enough to keep food down as it was. I worried about everything, but continuing to eat animals was not an option. I refused to contribute to their pain and suffering. I would not allow myself to be a willing participant in it. To the best of my ability, I would not cause pain. Then I started researching.
When you first start reading about what truly happens to animals, the holes in your perception are filled. The missing pieces are found. You realize the ‘humaneness’ of butchering, which is only ever killing, is a lie. What happens to these animals because of our silence, and our willingness to accept they are less than us is unspeakably horrifying. It broke my heart. I stopped eating them. The less animal-derived products I consumed, the better I felt, and the more I realized that with my choices, I changed the world. I had agency. I did not have to be a reason nonhuman-animals died and suffered. I did not have to cause pain. It may seem simplistic, but for me, living with chronic pain since age nine and growing up in a house with a father who thrived on abuse, it was a deeply transformative truth. I did not have to cause pain; in fact, I could lessen it with the simplest choices.
It wasn’t an easy process, nor should it have been. I’d sunken down so deep into depression. I was so entrenched in pain and silence that the idea of naming a victim, the idea of having a voice, felt impossible, alien, and almost pointless. I was taught silence was safe. It never is, of course; it’s only another lie. But veganism bridged the gap between the false story of meat, that being that it’s healthy, wholesome and right, and shows the truth behind it. Veganism names the victims; it does not mask the truth. It is honest and forthright. Going vegan, for me, would prove to be like breaking any toxic relationship or cycle. When we fight to break away from cycles of abuse, we are effectively fighting for our lives and our freedom. This fight, though, is not something that is in its nature easy and is often not something that appears as it does, idealized, on television. There is no climactic face-off with the villain—there is only you forcing yourself to take another step forward and remain aware, pushing yourself to see what you were afraid to look at. It requires dedication, compassion, and quiet strength. You just have to look at what happens. You have to bear witness, but that can be the hardest thing in the world to do.
Before I went vegan, it was downright terrifying. I knew once I saw those documentaries, once I read those books, once I knew what was happening to others, everything would change. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to handle it. The thing is, that is what everyone says. They say they can’t handle looking into the eyes of animals they know will be killed, yet by not seeing them, we commit an immoral act. We ignore the victims. We silence them. I was a victim of other things. I knew what it was like to have people’s eyes pass over you. I can go as far as saying that I knew what it was like to looked at as something. I knew what it was like to give up on being heard, all while fighting for your life. The thing was if I looked away, I became like every person in my life who adverted their eyes. Though it must be said, what I went through, and what a pig or cow goes through, cannot be compared because I am still here. While in the end, their lives are brutally taken from them. I was no longer able to feign ignorance. Even though ignorance felt safer, it was only a lie. Going vegan turned out to be the first step I took in what would prove to be a multiple-year-long journey to freeing myself of everything toxic I had allowed to root in my life.
I cut everything animal-derived out of my life. It was a process, and I stumbled. There were people I didn’t even tell at first because I knew how they’d react. It would turn out that those people I didn’t tell also needed to be cut from my life. During this process, I fell, but once that connection is acknowledged, you do not go back. The inner turmoil and resistance to being honest about being vegan loosened in me. Slowly, but surely, that heavy existential-depression that had lodged itself in me and had remained there like cloud-cover in a night sky shifted and broke. I was beginning to see stars again. Just as my life became grounded by the principles of love and compassion, of causing the least amount of harm to every living being, the more I strengthened myself with empathy and compassion. I rediscovered an openness to the world I had had to abandon as a child.
Going vegan, a word that scares so many people these days was a way for me to reclaim who I truly am. It was a way for me to live in alignment with my morals. It allowed me to reconnect with the parts of myself that had been taken away as a child living in a toxic and abusive household. Discovering how beautiful vegan life was allowed me to remember compassion has only, and will only, ever be, strength.
*A note on this essay: this is about one of the ways in which veganism has changed me and allowed me to reclaim my life, but veganism itself is not and never has been about me or us or humans. It’s about nonhuman-animals.