I had to stop; like screeching brakes in my head – I put everything down. It is time to rest.
It happens that way in my trauma healing sometimes; it feels like I get blindsided by a date and it brings everything to the surface demanding my attention.
I didn’t realize it was coming until last weekend and the downward slide began.
What 30-day Writing Challenge?
Remember on July 1st when I started the writing challenge? In my first post my intention was to complete it with realistic compassion for my limitations and cycles. I’m so glad I knew myself well enough when this began to not set myself up for feeling like a failure –
Because it happened.
I made it to Day 5, started Day 6 but that is where I sat down to rest.
As I look back on a couple of the prompts I have missed, including today’s I am glad I took the rest. The prompts would have been too difficult considering the things I am currently working through.
Trauma Healing is Grief Work, Period.
Last week I cried in therapy. I cried a lot. I feel such deep sadness, so much loss, and so much grief.
It was recently the 16 year anniversary of my father’s death. I was 25. At the time he and I had just reconnected after years of estrangement (on his part). During this new and very tense reconnection I was mostly angry at him; hostile, and unforgiving, because he refused to take responsibility or apologize for what he had done.
I still wasn’t good enough, so I hardened myself against him
I was at dinner with friends when the call came in about his stroke and the dismal prognosis of the next 24 hours. I remember going outside and pacing the parking lot as I repeated “Why do I care? I’m not supposed to care”.
The next couple days are still a bit of a blur. I only remember some of the most pronounced and emotionally imprinting moments.
The Three Days of His Death
I flew from Wisconsin to Washington State the next morning with my younger sister.
Our father made it through the night despite the odds and the following day I walked into his hospital room and saw his still, comatose body for the first time in so many years – and for the last time.
He died the following day in the early morning hours.
My aunt knocked on the door of the room I was sleeping to tell me he was gone. That was it; just like with my grandfather, my dad was dead.
I got no apologies, no closure, but that was nothing new. As conditioned, it was time to pack it up, put it away in the farthest recess of my mind and move on with life. Nothing to feel here.
I flew home the next day and on Monday I went to work like it was just another normal day in my life. No one was the wiser that my dad had just died in recent days expect my closest friends. That is how it was for me in those days.
The Reality of Survival Mode
I was so turned off to my emotions that when I think back to the hospital I realize I wasn’t sure how to feel and I was forcing myself to physically respond how I thought I was supposed to. I actually felt nothing.
That is what it was like for me as an abused child; I learned early in life to adjust myself accordingly to the people and situations I was in for the best odds of my own survival. Taking myself and my own emotions into consideration was not an option.
And let’s be real – I had no idea how to do that anyway.
The reality of my story, is that I didn’t truly start grieving my father until I started healing four and a half years ago. I have spent most of this time in angry grief, in raging grief at how he let me down, betrayed me, abandoned me, and abused me.
Just this year I began openly and verbally identifying him as an abuser and my anger has gotten stronger as I work through the reality of my childhood with him.
But last week in therapy, and even as I type this – I miss my dad. I miss the good memories that my younger parts still hold and cherish. Moments when my dad did show up despite his own brokenness.
It is so hard to hold good memories and my rage at him in the same space – my anger is an armor against so much deep, deep pain. Facing that with honesty hurts.
Healing Happens in Safe Relationships
I have become very reflective of this survivor community that is growing here and on Instagram, how much it means to me, and how pivotal it has been in my own healing this last year.
As I trek through the weeds of my own trauma healing, I recently had the (shocking) realization that I have a couple people I can reach out to now. Actual survivor friends who will hold space for me in ways I never realized I could have. Friendships that are priceless.
I talk a lot on my Instagram shows about the relational aspect of childhood trauma wounds and how those wounds heal in safe relationships for this very reason.
As an abused child I learned not to trust people, I learned to please people, avoid conflict, and to ignore the boundaries I needed and deserved. I learned that relationships were transactional and so I filtered my genuine self to stay safe.
Survivor friendships have allowed me to explore myself authentically, to practice boundaries and trust, and to get the help I need working through triggers, trauma responses, and intense and confusing emotions.
Survivor friendships offer a level of understanding that only others who live with Complex PTSD can understand. They provide a much needed space to be received fully, as I am, and without explanation. That has magical healing power.
If you are reading this, I want you to know that I see you, and I applaud the hard work you are doing. Sending love to you; thank you for being here with me as I heal, it is much easier with such wonderful company.
On goes the journey
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I really understand where you are coming from in your reflections on your dad. My dad was such an asshole in some ways, selfish, unprincipled, impulsive, dishonest. I think he abused me (but I sometimes still doubt myself in spite of everything). And… I love snd miss him. He died in October of a stroke. It was very similar to your father’s death, except bc of COVID, I couldn’t travel to the hospital. Ever since he died, I find myself remembering the sweet times, his playfulness and spontaneity, his musical talent, his pride in my academic achievement.
It’s been very important to my growth and healing to allow myself to hold contradictory emotions, to live someone who harmed me.
I agree. Learning to hold space for multiple emotions to coexist has been pivotal in my healing, but also very difficult to learn. I’m sorry you’re going through similar, but I’m glad for the company 🙏🏻❤️
Bravo 👏🏻 how you put this stuff into words is amazing
Thank you 🙏🏻 writing has always been a powerful healing tool for me. I’m glad my writing resonates 🥰
“Just this year I began openly and verbally identifying him as an abuser”
And this despite everything you’ve done, this blog, talking about it. This reveals so much about what you’ve been through. 💙
I don’t quite have complex PTSD, but there’s definitely a lot of trauma healing to do, and your blog is so helpful for such people :).
Thank you so much for being here through it all with me. It means so much and I am so glad that my sharing resonates and helps. It has definitely been quite a journey. Hope you are well.
You’re so welcome! Thank you.