Tag Archives: relationships

Good Grief: Where I Am On the Path After Loss

I was hoping it wouldn’t hit me this hard.

I didn’t want to be affected so much. I didn’t want to end up feeling like this, not like this, not for this long. I feel sad; that’s to be expected. I feel empty and depressed. I’m restless, hurting. At times very angry, spoiling for a fight with anyone who dares cross me. At other times severely apathetic, almost to the point of recklessness; a sense of fuck-it-all-who-cares.

I’ve been ignoring things I need to do to care for myself, and that’s not good. I gave up a job opportunity where I could have made really good money, but I backed out of it suddenly because I just didn’t think I had the physical energy to keep up with it. (Granted, 55 hours a week chasing after two toddlers is a hard job.) I’m scared of how exhausted and just…off I feel. It sucks majorly.

The thing is, this is not just about the one death of my godfather this past week. This feels like it’s about more than that. I think it’s the cumulative effect of so much death that happened in my life this month…the impact of it all together is crushing.

This month, July, also happens to be the month that my cousin Tyler was killed in a freak accident, hit by a train, just three weeks shy of his twenty-fourth birthday. It’s also the month that a girl I knew from treatment died suddenly of cardiac arrest due to complications of her eating disorder. Later in the month, July 20th, is of course, Tyler’s birthday. A few days later comes the memory of the day that my best friend’s brother died of a heroin overdose. He was only twenty-two. Now to all of that I get to add the day that my godfather, my Uncle Lyle, died in a private plane crash.

It’s enough that I just want to scream.

How can the universe do that? How can it cram so much death and tragedy into four little weeks? How can it bear to break so many hearts at once, shatter so many families, cause so much grief? It seems out of order somehow, and I want to argue with the universe: How dare you! What the hell are you thinking? If you have to do this at least spread it out a little so we can manage?! And all the universe seems to say in reply is: Live with it.

Of course, part of me says that I have no right to be bitching. It was not my son who died. Not my daughter. Not my husband. I did not lose a sibling or a parent, surely a much more devastating loss than a cousin or a friend or an uncle.  Who am I to be complaining about how hard it is to live with grief, when I can’t even comprehend the kind of grief that those families must be feeling? I know there is truth in that.

However, another part of me- the rational part- understands that I have a right to grieve those losses too. Grief and loss are relative things, like trauma; in fact, they are a special form of trauma in themselves.  Different people experience loss in different ways and move through it in different times. Also like trauma, people have different levels of tolerance for such events, different capacities for coping. For someone like me, who’s experienced a lot of grief and excessive amounts of trauma as well, even losses that may seem more peripheral in nature may affect a person as if they were much closer.

On the other hand, the closeness of relationships can’t be judged by their title. Some siblings never speak, some parents are estranged, some cousins are like siblings, some friends are closer than family.  For instance, if my father had been the one killed last week, my life would be no different in any way. The last time we spoke on the phone was the day he died for me, so his physical death is all but irrelevant.  I worked through all I needed to work through, grieved what I had to, and let go. So when he physically dies it really isn’t going to matter; I’ve been through that process already.

Which is what made me think, as I was standing there at my godfather’s funeral, that I wish it had been my father who was killed. That sounds horrible doesn’t it? Only if you didn’t know those two men. On the one hand, my godfather: a brilliant, generous, adventurous man- a surgeon, a pilot, and a veteran-who was bigger than life to me. He was the Gentle Giant; at over six feet tall, when he picked me up as a little girl and carried me around on his shoulders I felt like I could see the whole world. Having three sons with my Aunt Pat, he was thrilled to have a little girl to fuss over, even building me a gigantic dollhouse from scratch for my sixth birthday. He was protective and kind and nothing but sweet to me; he didn’t understand and was possibly a little hurt by the fact that I sometimes feared him and couldn’t explain why. “Why” had to do with the other man, the one whom I assumed had loved me but couldn’t possibly because a father that loves his daughter does not abuse her. He does not rape, molest, hit, and threaten her. He does not ignore her existence the other twenty-three hours of the day. He doesn’t treat her mother like shit. And he doesn’t tell her that she is worthless. That’s the man my father was…is. So why does he get to live while this other man, the one who truly did love his family, he died? It doesn’t seem right.

I should probably feel bad about wishing my father dead in place of my godfather but I don’t. I feel like the world should be a fair place, like loving and kind people should get to live and horrible human beings who abuse their wives and children should die in plane crashes.  I try to tell myself that God will even things out someday, that there will be justice even if I never know about it, even if it occurs beyond this life. And that has to be enough.

But it doesn’t stop me from wishing that I could have my Uncle Lyle back.

I will always miss him. He gave me an example of the kind of father that I should have had, the kind of father I deserved. He gave me a some of the love that I desperately needed from a father figure, and I dearly wish that I had been more able to receive it. This month will always be hard for me, remembering all the losses, the lives of people I knew, loved, and respected that were cut short. But I think the only way to get through it is a concept a friend recently mentioned to me called radical acceptance.  Understanding that while these people have passed from this life, they still live in the hearts and minds of the people who loved them. And as long as I can remember my cousin teasing me and laugh, remember my godfather picking me up and smile, they are never truly gone.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011

Every Day is a Winding Road: Lessons in Recovery

I think we all know that recovery is not a linear process. It is a long and winding road with many stops, starts, detours, and swerves. There are constantly forks in the road, places where you must decide to keep taking the path of recovery or go back on the path of addiction. I believe that every time you make the choice to take the path of recovery, the decision gets easier, and you encounter fewer forks.

However, that doesn’t mean that they go away forever. I think that sometimes, no matter how much time in recovery you have under your belt, those little opportunities to slip back into old habits can present themselves again under the right circumstances. This happened to me recently, and I think you deserve to hear about it.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been inviting more and more positive changes into my life. I’ve been focusing on my future, getting through school, working as a nanny whenever I can, and writing, writing, writing. I created Writing for Recovery and it’s really taken off; doing this has made me incredibly happy, and given me such a sense of purpose. I’ve had my articles published in many places and begun to feel like a real author, not just some random person spewing her thoughts on a blog. I’m completing the courses I need to get into nursing school, which I am so excited about! I’ve also been thinking about and considering something I’ve never really had before: an intimate, adult relationship with another person. Thinking about dating and the potential that comes with that has been kind of confusing, new and intense for me. After all the sexual trauma I’ve endured, having a true relationship is an overwhelming prospect, but something I do want to undertake.

While all of these things are very positive and forward-looking and life-affirming changes, they are still stressful. And over the past six months, I have been without my therapist, as I have been unable to afford to pay for therapy. However, for the first time since I was fifteen years old, I actually felt stable enough to be without her. I felt ok going about my days, working in school, doing WfR, etc. But towards the beginning of April, I began to notice that I was having a hard time eating. Not every day, but just sometimes I would get to late evening and realize oh crap, I haven’t eaten anything today. This began to happen more and more. I noticed that when my mom would make dinner, which I always adore, I began to refuse.  I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening. Was this just a stress reaction? Was this normal? Would it go away? Or was my anorexia trying to come back? I talked about it with my mom, told her honestly that I wasn’t quite sure what was going on; I just had no interest in food, wasn’t at all hungry, just didn’t want to eat period. She thought it was probably stress and there was no need to panic. But one night in early May when I tried to make myself eat a bowl of soup and felt unbearably full, I purged. That’s when I panicked and thought, Oh my God. What the hell did I just do?

Fortunately, school ended the first week of May. I wrapped up my final Writing for Recovery campaign a couple of weeks later, and this guy that I had been stressing over and having issues with, we finally talked and worked everything out. Three major stressors were out of my life, and at that point my eating patterns did improve a bit. But I was still scared and didn’t know how on earth to get back on track to where I was before this little detour.

As I keep finding out though, God does work in mysterious ways. Just as I was feeling like I had no way to get out of the hole I had dug for myself, I got a phone call from my therapist. She told me that she had some scholarship funds come available and wanted to offer them to me so I could see her, since it had been several months. The fact that I was the first person she called, the first person she thought of to make this generous offer to, was so kind and so wonderful that I cried. It was simply perfect timing and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Of course, I accepted her offer and I will be able to see her once a week until at least the end of summer.

So far we have had two sessions and I am already doing much, much better. Just having that one person to be accountable to, to make goals with and to kick my ass and to process my thoughts with is such a privilege. And when I come to those forks in the road, I have her voice in my ear, guiding me to make to right decision. She helped me see that as many good changes as I was making, I just became a little inattentive to my recovery. I lost track of my healthy coping skills, so when the stress became too much I began to fall back on my old, unhealthy coping skills. Looking back I can clearly see that. It’s frightening how insidious that can be, how easy it is to get complacent about recovery and forget that it needs as much attention as any other daily practice, like brushing your teeth. It’s easy to forget those coping skills that keep you on track. But as I found out the hard way, it’s those little things that prevent you from falling back into your old ways of thinking and behaving, the ways that kept you sick and addicted.

Even though this was a painful and scary couple of months, I’m so grateful for this experience. It’s been a wake-up call, a startling reminder of the things I need to do as I move forward in my life to stay healthy and recovered. I don’t consider this a “relapse” or even a “lapse,” and I don’t believe it means I have to start from day one. I simply believe it’s a part of life, a lesson to learn and take with me as I continue on my path toward a brighter future every day.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011