The 1-2 Punch
“Grief is perhaps an unknown territory for you. You might feel
both helpless and hopeless without a sense of a ‘map’ for
the journey. Confusion is the hallmark of a transition.
To rebuild both your inner and outer world is a major project.”
Another sleepless night and I’ll just call I….grief and shame. It comes with no instruction manual or statute of limitation. To me it’s one of our body and mind’s deepest and purest emotions. Grief is one of these emotions that float around in our psyche waiting for its “perfect” time to be exposed. Its perfect timing usually does not equate to our perfect timing. Some of us prefer to grieve in private to hide whatever shame we’ve been intentionally or unintentionally exposed to about the process. No matter how heavy or light the grieving is on a more intimate level we would usually prefer to have someone close by for support.
My personal grieving process is one that’s very confusing and shame based. While still living at home with my parents prior to my relationship with my ex-husband, grieving was considered a natural part of life. Emotions were acknowledged and processed usually around the dinner table. At the hands of an abusive teacher at age 13, was the first time I very distinctly remember being shamed for my tears. Tears were no longer seen as an emotion but rather as a weakness. The lesson learned from this experience was “Ignore the emotion. Hide the tears. The abuse won’t stop but it shouldn’t get worse.”
Tried and true this method worked for this moment and many more years. I had no idea where powerful emotions other than anger went. They just seemed to dissipate as quickly as when they appeared. The grief has been out of sight from the naked eye. Though it was only buried and not gone.
Grieving around my ex-husband was never acceptable as you can imagine. His grief no matter how minute seemed to always be justified. My tears led to comments about being “childish and embarrassing” for him especially when in public. At home behind the dread closed doors, I was still called “childish” and “stupid.” I was also made fun of, laughed at and “taught a lesson about being an adult” by way of some sexual encounter. I very quickly learned how to also control those emotions with a shovel and dirt. So where do the emotions go? They are buried deep in the ground where your heart rests. They are festering sometimes for years one on top of another. Eventually maybe sooner rather than later a foreign substance or maladaptive behavior comes along that seems to provide some type of pseudo-catharsis. It presents itself as the dependable one who will always be loyal and non-judgmental and a best friend We buy into the rationalizations only to have the name ADDICTION tattooed on our foreheads like a scarlet letter. The substance and/or behavior soon becomes the “best friend” that will cut out throats leaving only a trail of destruction to show the quality of the relationship. This “stuffing” of emotions is in no way exclusive to grief.
Three years after the death of Sarah and I sit here quietly in the wee hours of the morning, in my bed facing this very emotion. A heavy heart and a lump in my throat that seems to be limiting my air flow is the result of this incredibly painful memory. From the time we were notified that she was terminally ill until she passed away from approximately 1.5 weeks. I felt as though I had no time for grieving because I had promised to do the difficult job of being with her until the very end. Out of respect, I felt that I needed a safer time and place to deal with this. However, tears just seemed to continue to fall despite the fact that I could not feel any emotion. I vowed to process this the minute I got back to Albuquerque.
Once I was able to line up another therapy session the weight of Sarah’s death and the miscarriage of Copeland’s twin got the best of me and I began sobbing like a child. I was being so vulnerable and raw with my emotions for the first time since the horrible days of not being allowed to grieve around my husband. I just needed to be able to cry as an adult child and parent for these heavy losses. I hungered for something as simple as compassion. This day and time “compassion” would be the illusive fugitive. The response I received from this “trusted” professional was, “Dana give me a break. She wasn’t your real mom and that wasn’t a real baby.” All I could do was freeze and try not to vomit. It was like another 1-2 punch experienced many times previously but all in their own unique fashion. I became numb and have no further recollection of the remaining time in session.
In the years since this happened any time emotions about the loss of Sarah make it to my throat but rarely do they leave my eyes. The shame for grieving even with so-called “safe” people now felt “unsafe.” This incident alone has made for some difficult therapeutic baggage. I don’t know how to put what happened into words but betrayal is how it felt then and now. Being able to address this topic with professionals on a level deeper than just superficial has been nearly impossible because of one thing…FEAR.
Luckily after this incident our trusted couple’s therapist of 6 years, at the time, was patiently awaiting the return with open arms as we come back licking our wounds. Unfortunately though the damage had already been done. The same actions by my former perpetrators had now rolled out of the mouth of my therapist. When I finally met “coach” in nothing less than a flamboyant display of behavior my distrust and subsequent hatred for professionals of any kind was very evident.
I’ve always said that compassion is my kryptonite. “Coach” hasn’t let me down in this area. It’s been a very slow process to learn to trust the right kind of “safe” people. As the boiling lava of grief surrounding the loss of Sarah and our unborn child continues to fester, I still find myself going into the closet in my bedroom to cry so that no one else in the house can hear me. The few times I actually do shed tears around others is simply because I consider them my very closest. As I continue to deal with the shame of showing intimate emotions I also realize that I’m working with someone who would never treat me like that. With all the complexity of untangling some very painful areas of my past, I must admit that I can leave that for someone other than me. When I met “coach” someone in the same professional position had planted a seed about the possibility that it could happen again. The pain of it slowed me down but again compassion is winning out. And slowly but surely my tears are finding their way out of my eyes again.
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
–Dr. Brene Brown