My days are full and wonderful. My life is good. I am good. Thank God I am alive today! If you are my friend or a loyal reader, I believe you will like this post. I believe it will give you hope.
Read it again. You read it right. My life is good.
My days are spent in group therapy from 0900-1530, learning how to manage stress and life in general, learning how to not let the inevitable stressors of life derail me, and learning to say "no." I've met some wonderful people who have become my friends and with whom I'm planning housewarming parties and celebrations as we move on with our lives beyond the hospital. Like me, these folks became overwhelmed by life because of illness, grief, or simply too much piled on them. Sometimes we find that we created that pile of shit we sat in or at least contributed to it. At times, we willingly took a shovel and heaped it onto ourselves, not realizing that we all have a breaking point. None of us are immune to that.
Despite what some of you may think of people who seek inpatient help for psychological or psychiatric issues, none of my fellow patients are incapable, incompetent, or unstable. They are computer geeks, government specialists, medical personnel, and other highly-educated folks from all walks of life. We also had a laborer and a housewife, but each person is intelligent and well-spoken. Each is special in his or her own way; it's just that life hit them like a rogue wave, rolling them under and filling their lungs with sand and salt. Most of these folks had a breakdown due to depression. Some were suicidal, and others were paralyzed by anxiety. It can truly happen to anyone. Whatever got us all there, we've bonded in a special way.
As for me, it was mainly the grief combined with intractable stress and overwhelming responsibilities. For two years I have been stuck in that fly trap of self-doubt, self-blame, and the blackest depression imaginable, all as a result of my complicated grief over Stephanie. Other parents I've encountered have a similar experience, and many seem almost envious that I made the decision to seek inpatient treatment. "I've thought of that many times," one mother wrote to me, "but I was afraid to do it." I encouraged her to think about it. It's the best thing that ever happened to me, because it pulled me off the fly paper. It lifted me out of the tar-black sea. It gave me a toolkit to use in removing my own shackles.
When Stephanie died, a hole was blown into my chest. Everything hurt. Everything was too much. Food lost its appeal, yet I ate. Sunlight lost its brightness, yet I moved through it. I went on, determined to live, to seek love, to attempt to enjoy each day as it came. But that became harder and harder to do, as I continued to heap blame on myself and to question each and every decision and action from the last twenty-five years. Unable to see the separation between Stephanie and me, unable to fully appreciate the fact that I was still breathing even though she was not, I shambled through life, ghost-like and frightened, waiting for the next shoe to drop. In reality, I felt as though a dump truck was poised above my head, ready to drop all of the shoes from all the world on my head. It was a seemingly inescapable pit of hell. Nothing that anyone could say to me or do for me would change it. All the reassurance and support in the world would not alleviate the incredible amount of guilt I felt.
In fact, I'd become so accustomed to the darkness, I couldn't even recognize that I was in it. Like a miner who's been underground too long, my eyes had adjusted, and I believed light shone where indeed there was none. The faintest glimmer was enough, I thought. I believed my instincts to be gone. I believed myself to be unimportant and insignificant. I lost faith in me.
It was this loss of self that led me down the path to two bad relationships in a row. If I'd listened to my gut, I never would have stayed in North Carolina, yielding to pressure from Denise. She'd as much as said that if I went back to Maryland, she couldn't do a long distance relationship. Her message to me was that I either did it her way or lost her. We all know how that turned out. If I'd trusted my instincts a couple of months ago, I wouldn't have been in that whole situation with Kim. I would have put the brakes on and taken care of me. I would be wrapping up my spring semester right now, still living in my own place but dating her (maybe). But the implication was that if I went home, it meant I didn't love her, so I stayed and got overly involved with someone I barely knew. She quickly went from wanting to marry me to wanting to abandon me -- when I needed her most. Because I didn't know my own worth anymore, because I was weakened from two years of self-blame, I let it all happen. I let myself get overloaded to the breaking point. I dropped my classes. I forgot how to tend to my own needs. I let myself be guilted into going against my grain.
Now I'm recovering from all of that, and I'm finding that it's not only possible to get my life back, it's actually happening!
Sure, it's costing me time off work and money that I didn't have. For example, just to move my stuff back over here set me back $300, but it was so worth it to have things back where they belonged. Boxes are scattered around me, but it's alright. Slowly, I'm unpacking and sorting out my life again, one afternoon at a time, as the last rays of the sunset splash the clouds outside my window, I polish one more part of my life.
And yes, among other things, the grief has opened me up to getting my heart broken -- twice! Two women that I loved and trusted took my heart and stomped it into the ground. These experiences, I believe, happened because I was unable to feel my own self-worth. I was unable to forgive myself for anything real or imagined that I did wrong during Stephanie's lifetime. This left me with very poor judgment. It is highly unlikely that, if I had been my old self, I would have believed any of this garbage or would have fallen for it. I would have been able to sit back and say, "Well, you know what? If you can't wait for me or get to know me better or work through this with me, then we aren't right for each other."
I'm feeling that old gumption coming back. I'm feeling release from the self-blame and self-doubt. I'm having a change of heart and mind. Hope springs eternal.
When I get home from therapy, I take the dogs out, do some laundry, and relax with a book or magazine. I make a little dinner for myself and read about my friends' lives on Facebook. I surf some blogs and catch up with friends by phone. Last night I went out on a spontaneous trip to the bookstore to meet a friend for coffee.
This is what my life was before, and this is what it is again.
I'm getting lots of encouragement to fulfill my promises to myself -- finishing grad school and finishing the memoir. Now that I've got all of my computer components and various systems unpacked and online, I have all my raw material in one place. The book will be a useful one, not just for my own psyche but for other grieving parents. As I've said to others, encouraging them to move past their brush with suicide, "You never know who you might bless with your actions now."
We, the bereaved parents, the walking wounded, are a sad club. We know pain so deep that it cannot be fully described. We know heartbreak so acute that it will never properly heal. But we also know joy, because we had those children in our lives for a short time. We know hope, because we believe we'll see those children again and that we can touch others with our stories. We know life, because we once gave it to our children, and gradually we learn to trust in life again and to trust in ourselves to navigate life.
Joy. Hope. Life. It's all here. It's all mine. It sustains me.
Peace - D