Grief + Grace

I’ve recently learned some new things about myself, my journey to healing trauma, and my relationship with family and grief. 

Being on a journey to self-discovery for a while now has exposed many underlying remnants of traumas, and has led to finding new ways to grow and heal as a person. I reflect on my life experiences, how I perpetuate old cycles, and identify behaviors that no longer serve me.

Most of my life has been spent fiercely tied to the roles I play for others. Since childhood I’ve taken on the responsibility of keeping my family together (whether that was an actual expectation or not, it was in my mind). 

Coming to terms with the realization about roles came with other strings attached to it, including the awareness that my relationships with most family members are draining instead of fulfilling. It’s no wonder I’m exhausted and feel like I lack identity outside of the ways I meet other people’s needs. 

The reality of being someone who has spent so much time surviving and getting by on scraps of love and care has come to a point where I know now that I must grieve for the former version of myself. I fractured my sense of self so consistently that there is almost nothing left of who I actually am inside.  

It’s been impossible to deeply connect with people because I have had no deep connection with myself. It is that deep sense of connection that I’ve missed out on that feels like unconditional love, and I’ve been neglected, intentional or not. 

Learning how to grieve has been challenging for me. Not only have I gotten through life this far without having any really close loved ones die, but I wasn’t raised to spend time being sad about the things I lacked. I accepted my life as it was, as much as I could. For example, we were poor. There was no sense in crying about the life boat leaking water. Feeling sad wouldn’t fill my belly or keep me housed, so I chose to focus fiercely on getting by.

So to grieve is to accept that I have lost a lot. I have missed many of life’s experiences, mostly in relationships, health, and safety. Not only did I not have my basic needs met with consistency, but I didn’t get healthy and secure relationships with my parents. I didn’t grow up with my innocence. There was so much missing in my life that my childhood brain found a way to cope with all of the lack by ignoring it completely as much as possible for as long as possible. 

Eventually I was able to break through and begin accounting for my losses. This crack in the mental sphere of desensitization and dissociation began expanding when I participated in trauma therapy. That was the first time I looked at my 5-year-old sexually abused self and felt sad and sorry for her. Most of my life I blamed myself. I gave into the belief that there was something inherently wrong with me and that I did something either in this life or a previous one to “deserve” the abuse. Not only was I a victim, but I was somehow responsible.

Changing my mindset from guilt and brokenness to grief and grace allowed me to begin feeling good about myself and take stock in the fact that I am not flawed, but that some things happened beyond my control and those things were not my fault. Having a child of my own helped this mental transition to gentleness and care toward myself. Right now he’s the same age I was when I first experienced abuse. The very most important part of parenting him is to break the cycles of trauma and create a healthier life for him than what I got.

Alongside the knowledge that I was targeted and groomed to be abused by people who took it upon themselves to expertly seek out victims came the sadness and pain of knowing my parents didn’t protect me. My father left when I was 3 and gave away his parental rights to the man who first abused me, but this story is not about him. It is about my mother. 

I have given her so much slack in life, forgiven her endlessly for my upbringing and the life we led because I understand that she did what she could. I understand and believe that her intentions were always to love and care for me, and that she did as well as she was equipped to do. My mom has her own trauma and she hasn’t done the work to pour love back into herself and those wounds. Instead, I think she’s let them sit and become a part of her, and I mean that not to place blame. I have given her grace. It takes so much labor, intention, and awareness to heal and grow.

At the same time, I am allowed to feel grief and sadness about the way I was raised and my lack of a relationship with her. Her refusal to address the trauma of her life and childhood has affected her ability to interact with me as a parent, and how she’s able to interact with life itself. 

It is this awareness that has added to the sense of calling and urgency to heal my own wounds. 

Yet, this week I started coming to terms with some other parts of grief. 

If I have not, and accept that I may never have the relationship that I desire with my mother, I have to consider what kind of relationship I can expect or accept in terms of drawing boundaries with her. 

Up until this point people in my close family have become accustomed to the person and role I have played in their life, someone who is flexible, malleable, available at all times, and sometimes acts as part-time savior. I don’t and never have demanded that they spend time with me doing things that I enjoy, so they don’t ask about what is going on with me or what I like. Our relationships are not built around a mutual knowing and understanding of one another, but in my bending to meet the needs of the people around me. I have not had boundaries with people because I did not learn how to set boundaries until recently. I have not had healthy relationships modeled to me, so I am self-teaching and self-parenting at age 32. 

I don’t expect to be bailed out or saved by my mom because she’s struggled and continues to struggle now, though her life is much improved in various ways. 

Perhaps we don’t know each other as well anymore. Perhaps now that I am getting to know myself, I am realizing that maintaining relationships that feel draining to me and that are based somewhat on obligation is something I no longer have capacity for. 

So when the holiday dinner that was planned for Wednesday night came and drama ensued over where and how to eat said dinner hours before the agreed upon time, I listened to how I was feeling and decided not to go. 

Was there a fear of backlash? Was I worried about how I might be perceived? Did I wonder what kind of questions would come up and whether my family would speculate amongst themselves the reason for my absence? Sure, but did I care? Not really. Because I don’t want people to spend time with me out of obligation, therefore, I have decided to withhold my presence if I feel I’m obligated, and not excited to be there. 

I am in a place now where I am shifting away from what I don’t want and actively moving toward the places and people who I feel add value to my life and where I feel valued. 

I feel resentment toward people in my life who are from a fair-weather family. The people who show interest and wish to be a part of my life or know what is going on with me only in the moments that are easy or positive and the people who choose to love me with only the positive qualities in mind, ignoring my darker realities instead of embracing them as important parts of me. Now that I am in this different place it is hard to relate to the people who were not around to support me in my times of most need. 

I’m starting to understand that I am a person who needs deeper connection with people to feel excited and energized, that I get more out of sharing personal stories and holding space for one another. It’s important to me that I learn more about people each time I meet them, and that I have very little desire for surface conversation. 

I have to grieve the time that I spent so alone and emotionally unstable in my pregnancy, when my family members chose to exclude themselves from my life when I was vulnerable and in an abusive relationship. The sad thing was that those people exiled me because I was in an abusive relationship. There is an understanding that a sign of an abusive partner is that they create distance between you and your family, and yet my abuser was actually the person who made my family separate themselves from me. That reality feels more painful.

These people who pushed me away and kicked me out could have been the ones to help and protect and take care of me in times when I really needed it, but they didn’t. I now understand that was because they were (and most possibly still are) unequipped to do so. They seem to have not done the work to prepare to respond in a healthy and helpful way. 

It’s a hard thing to do, healing and creating space for someone who is struggling. But people resist and avoid difficult situations because it’s easier and perhaps more importantly it’s easier because they don’t know what to do. Would they be able to deal with the situation themselves? Have they ever confronted the parts of themselves that I am triggering with my life choices?

The beauty in this experience I am going through now is that when I first began writing this and sitting with my grief I had accepted that I avoided grief for this long because it did not lend itself to help me clothe, feed, or house myself. When I was living in survival mode there was no room for grief, no time, no use for it. Feeling sad would not get me out of unsafe situations. 

Now that I am starting to learn how to accept safety and love, now that I am in a healthy and loving relationship and situation where I don’t have to worry about my basic needs being met, I have this newfound space to explore all of the feelings I didn’t have capacity for before. I’ve come face to face with new ways to process and heal because there is stability and security in my life that allows for expansion. 

I get to learn how grief can add to my life. I am experiencing the ways that grief can serve me now that the tendrils of my trauma are retreating yet still permeating my relationships and daily life. There are new ways that I am seeking change in habits, thoughts, and patterns. 

I realize that nothing will fix me, and that I am not broken. I am human, and imperfect, and sometimes I get irritable, angry, and feel all the negative emotions that come in with the waves of life. But a couple weeks ago I started noticing that I was feeling a prolonged sense of overwhelm and irritation. It was seeping out of me and snapping at my very supportive and patient partner and sweet child. The days were feeling less happy. I was feeling less energy. The things I did started feeling pointless and I wasn’t feeling like doing anything. The PMS that usually lasted about 5 days before my period lasted more like 14, so I talked to one of my therapists and it was very clear to him right away that my unresolved and unattended grief was showing up and asking for my attention.

The things I had intentionally put off doing for years (learning how to grieve, because no one taught or showed me) were coming up in seemingly unrelated ways. The habit of pushing down and pushing away the feelings I never allowed myself to feel and the trauma that I never was able to process and address has stopped serving me. I realize this is a trauma response and that in the past in other dissimilar situations it has kept me safe, but now it is harming me.

I could have very well just waited for the bad feelings to pass, but as time has gone on I’ve noticed that the feelings last longer and it takes more to get them to pass. Days turn into weeks turn into months, and years of being a snappy, bad mood, irritated mom. 

I always thought that my mom was angry. Even up until very recently and still sometimes it’s hard for me to know what she’s feeling, but the thing I do pick up on is anger and despondency. I used to hear her crying in her room, sobbing for hours, sounding like she was in such intense physical pain that it scared me. When we had to do things like go to school or work or run errands or cook or spend any time together I thought she was mad. Her tone of voice is a steady and firm one that only seemed to waver when on a phone call. As a child it was confusing, but now I think I understand it: that was her truth coming out. Even in moments of contrasting positivity or contentment, the unresolved pain from trauma oozes from us when it’s ignored. She might not have actually been angry consciously, but her subconscious, her energy, her spirit soul was screaming with frustration, fear, and sorrow. And now this was happening to me too.

It’s the same way passive aggressive comments and “jokes” are usually truths peeking around the mental corner testing the waters to see if they can pass themselves off as something other than real, hard confrontation and honesty. It’s a way to get the thoughts and feelings out that you try so hard to deny but are dying to escape and make themselves known and heard. That is the trauma demon that is holding the real you hostage. 

Someone close to me told me the other day that she feels like the real her is buried deep within her, inside, unable to come out. I think that is true because the real us’es are hidden and covered in the depths of us, the original and fundamental person we are as babies is harmed by trauma and if we aren’t supported and guided by our parents through healing that it leaves a layer of weight covering up the trauma underneath. 

At first it seems like just fine dust, no big deal. But soon more and more things happen, more trauma, more unease, more pain. And without assistance in cleaning it, we don’t know how to clean it ourselves as kids. So we grow up learning how to live with the dust, we learn how to cover it up, we become ashamed and afraid of being clean, we don’t want to be exposed, we are used to being covered up in dirt. We start adding to it, we seek more of it, we relate to the untidiness of trauma that we attract it and choose it, and that continues on until we are mostly mud and muck on top of who we really are. 

We start to think ourselves monsters, but really we’re just hiding. We’re keeping safe, we’re being the way we know how to be. We try to keep ourselves far enough from others so that we don’t dirty them up too, but it’s hard to control this mass that just smothers you, dripping everywhere, following you around slowly. There’s a delay in movement, it’s clumsy and crude. It’s not who we actually are but it’s what people see because it’s what we see and we can’t see clearly because of all the stuff covering us up. 

This is why the healing work is so important to me. As I’ve been moving into the new life where my trauma is part of my past and not my present, as I clean away the layers of build up I realize that the only way forward is through the cleaning. I could go on without addressing it, I could choose to just keep getting by on what’s gotten me to this point, but healing is not a destination. It’s a process without a static or complete product. There is no end, just like cleaning. We have to keep doing the work and realize that the reward is in the work itself. Acting upon what is with us and around us is not always easy or enjoyable, but having a clean, healthy, deeply loving home and life is. 

Someone asked me how I’ve gotten to this point, how I’ve healed my wounds and it’s hard to put into words the internal process that is involved. In a lot of ways it is what I’ve always wanted, what I’ve always strived for without realizing it completely until I began confronting the ways my trauma has affected me. 

I could no longer hide and lie about being sexually abused by saying it had no effect on me. The worst part might be that I actually genuinely believed that, I mistook that lie as the truth. 

I realize that the consequence of not confronting, healing, grieving, and processing the traumas of my past is that they will haunt my present into the future until I do. My parents are examples of that. There are plenty of people who choose avoidance. They are inherently valuable and worthy of love and support. There is nothing wrong with deciding not to heal except that in that decision we tend to also avoid self-awareness and struggle endlessly to love ourselves. 

Choosing to heal is choosing to love unconditionally and leads to deep connection with oneself. This radical act of choosing ourselves has an unavoidable ripple effect on everyone we come across in the way that we can meet people with peace and joy, choosing to intentionally move through the world careful not to bring harm to others. 

When we avoid healing we are susceptible to hurting ourselves and other people unintentionally. Sometimes we intentionally hurt ourselves and others but are in so much pain we don’t care what the cost is. 

It is with this spirit that I have come to my mission to share the choice of healing our deepest pains in order to deeply connect with others. People don’t know that choosing to heal their trauma brings them peace and unconditional love. I acknowledge the ways society influences our collective perspective on what it means to heal. Healing is mostly an internal process that is hard to describe with words. We try to use art as a means of healing and communication, but even then we often don’t honor and celebrate people’s choice to heal. I believe that if we spent more time educating people about the importance and positive effects of healing our individual traumas we would change the world. Healing ourselves is often done in solitude, but does not only yield individual results, it offers healing to others as well. Healed people can better support those who are hurting, and that is something this world needs much more of. More people with more capacity for love and peace. 

I hope this post finds you in a peaceful and loving place. Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts in the comments if you feel so inclined, and as always, I am here to connect with, if you choose. 🖤 Cheers to finding ourselves and meeting the new person we’re becoming.

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