This is a response to a blog post on Tim Lawrence’s “The Adversity Within.” He’s speaking of loss and grief, the pain of loss, the necessity for grieving, the insane culture we live in.
Thanks, Tim, for speaking the hard truth. It’s always a relief to me when someone speaks the truth, and I feel supported by your words.
Loss and grief have been a difficult issue for me. Most of my losses have been not of something I had, like the death of a friend, but losses of things I should have had and didn’t get. The biggest one is a stable platform for my self to rest on — I don’t mean physical security, but the kind of psychological security that enables you to survive physical uncertainty. Growing up I thought I was defective. An example: when I was sixteen a dinner party was given for me by some friends of my parents. We were all sitting around the table in the restaurant, and everyone had a plate of food in front of them. I waited for someone else to start which is what I had always done. But no one was eating. Finally a nearby adult came to me and whispered “You are the hostess, you must start eating before any one else can.” I was deeply embarrassed that I had not known that simple thing. What was the matter with me? Only many years later did it occur to me that my parents should have taught me things like that.
I desperately tried to have a relationship with a boy, because I believed that if someone loved me that would prove that I deserved to live. I didn’t know that was the reason, then, I just desperately wanted a boyfriend. My first chance came when a friend told me that Pete was interested in me, and he came to the summer resort where my family stayed. He took me out for a hamburger — I was so excited, it was really going to happen — and he told me he’d fallen in love with my best friend. I froze. I didn’t even cry until long afterward. I kept on experiencing rejection after one or two dates, one or two fucks. Or I got a bad crush on somebody who never knew I existed. I didn’t see these as losses, I saw them as failures and kept desperately trying to succeed. I went into therapy to try to fix myself, thinking that if I could get rid of the defects someone would love me.
I was 42 before the information about children of alcoholics started to emerge. I quickly saw that my “defects” were not inborn but something I had learned from my two alcoholic parents. I suffered from severe depression all my life, not knowing what it was, until at age 55 I finally tried medication. When I experienced normal brain chemistry I was astounded. I had never felt like that my whole life. Living was so much easier — until I started trying to live a bigger life than I could live while I was depressed. At age 60 I realized that I had been traumatized in infancy. Peter Levine says, in “Waking the Tiger” that an infant can be traumatized by being left alone in a cold room. When trauma happens this early it affects the development of the brain and the nervous system.
So I’m now delving into the deepest part of the psyche, and I’m finding out how utterly vulnerable I am. Psychologically I am essentially a baby. Every day is a struggle to get through. All I can manage is preparing food, washing dishes, taking garbage to the dump, paying bills. I have 3 therapy sessions a week and spend six hours driving back and forth. Some days I can actually walk the dog or fill the bird feeder. Longer tasks, finding a trainer to help me with my dog, preparing information for my tax man, getting a recall done on my car, can take weeks or months. I can’t manage them alone, I have to have someone with me for moral support. As I struggle to keep going, I understand what I’ve been up against my whole life. I see how little I had of the guidance, support, empathy and mirroring that a child needs to grow into a healthy adult. I see how big my losses are, how gaping and unhealed are my wounds. I don’t begin to know how to grieve this, although my therapy sessions are often 90% crying.
Before I can grieve my losses, I have to acknowledge them. Before I can acknowledge them I have to feel them. At 73, feeling the feelings of a traumatized baby is scary and painful work.
Before I die, I would like to feel safe, I would like to feel comfortable in my life, I would like to know that I am OK just as I am. I have had moments of feeling like that. The longest lasted two days. So at least I know what it is that I have lost.