I’ve had some thoughts. As one does, I suppose.
The first thought came up when I happened to come across an article about widows around the world, and how hard it is. One of the women profiled was a military widow: she said she really benefited from the support provided by other military widows, and the reason that support exists is partly that they go through things that civilian women don’t experience, just because their husbands were in the military.
Anyway, it meant another widow told her something about what happens after the first year is over, “There’s another year.”
That really resonated for me. When the death first occurs, you kind of hold your breath in a sense, hold on, try to get through it, and I think when the pain begins to subside a little, you look around and perhaps hope that this ability to look around means that things are okay again.
You look around and you realize the person you loved is still dead. This is not a rough patch you need to get through. They are going to stay dead.
I think I am in that place. At times, I get there. I look around and it crosses my mind Nata is dead. She is going to stay dead. And I need to conceive of my life without her in some way. The hard part is how inconceivable this is. It is inconceivable to some part of me that she ever lived or was real. Increasingly, it’s becoming undeniable to me that she did live. However, it’s also inconceivable to the rest of me that I could be alive without her.
I think this has to do with the importance of that relationship for me, and also that for most of my young life, there was no one else. It is not as though my sibling died and my parents lived or my mother died, but my father lived. It’s like being the only child of a single mother.
It’s going to take me some time to unravel that.
The other thought I had, related to that, was about C. For 30 years, I just couldn’t process what happened. Looking back, it’s like I was asleep or living on autopilot. There are many reasons for that, but one of them was simply my incapacity to cope with the degree of grief I felt. Something about C made me realize that I needed to wake up and that, in a sense, the world still needed me. It’s very much like the widow who does have children, and looks around and realizes she needs to carry on despite the pain because her children need her.
I realized I needed to be able to connect to my feelings, so that I could be present in the world now. It’s the opposite of what I might have expected from an awakening: there was real joy involved. Don’t get me wrong. But a lot of it was knowing I needed to be able to feel pain as it came up.
My third thought is that the events of the past have really made me what I am now. The person I am was shaped by them and they define me in very important ways. I can’t just try to erase them because they embarrass me. I can’t say either I survived them and overcame them and aren’t I wonderful either, because that isn’t true. It’s complicated, maybe because they define me in ways someone else might not expect.
For example, I walk into relationships knowing very clearly how it feels when someone becomes important to you and then you lose them. We know people die, but this is an abstract knowledge. I know what it feels like, and I have to be brave to have relationships.
Aside from general relational incompetence, I think my romantic relationships have failed partly because of that. I haven’t been able to be that brave. I am not saying I sabotage them, but I think I have lost heart at important moments.
C made me realize I cannot lose heart.
I don’t know what happens from here, but I do think this is about integration and becoming a whole person.
Integration is not about meeting the needs of the little parts or recognizing the weird things they do are really you. It’s not about making peace within the system, although those are places to start. You become whole by being able to manage emotions well enough that your ability to reason stays on while you experience feelings.
That’s the fourth thought.
And last. I was thinking that a part of how I ended up like this is that relational experiences (boundary infringements, the need for help, loneliness, betrayal, frustration embarrassment, rejection, loss and so on) came up first in the context of life or death experiences. I don’t quite know how to pinpoint the difference, but these normally come up in situations where the stakes are not that high. You fight with your sister, sort it out, and life goes on. What that means is as you experience these everyday situations, you amass a vast holdings of information about how these situations might play out and how you can handle them.
But when you are abused, and these normal relational ruptures occur in situations that, as a child, you understand to be life threatening, your brain shuts down your cerebral cortex and you lose the interconnectedness of your mind when they occur. I think, over time, you stop processing the emotions that lead to the shutdown. You become numb rather than irrational, and what it means is that you sometimes end up with impulses or behaviours you can’t identify the cause of, because the impulse is too strong to suppress, but you have managed to avoid processing the emotion so that you don’t go into a fight or flight state.
A disconnect develops between your internal experience of yourself–what I-ness feels like–and what you do or even what you think. So you have parts.
Healing involves reconnecting emotions with what your cerebral cortex does, so that all of your brain stays on during moments when you need to navigate relationships.