Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Had to Heal Myself First

In July, 2008 before hanging up on me, Husband #2 managed to bark out at that he had "refiled" the divorce he had originally filed six months prior. At that moment it was like being sucker punched in the gut when I was already on the ground writhing in pain. It was feeling more unbearable pain on top of all the existing pain. It was agonizing. I physically ached all over. At other points it felt as though someone had wrenched my heart out from my body. Needless to say, I was well aware that I had to get a job but could not imagine myself working in my field as a counselor. I lost about 20-25 pounds in a month or two, wasn't eating and could cry at the drop of a hat. The emotions surging inside me included anger, shame, rage, resentment, fury (and more fury), depression, betrayal, fear, intimidation, insignificance, powerlessness and abandonment/rejection. What is interesting is that the numbness some of us feel in the early grief period that shelters and shields us from the intense pain of a loved one dying gets bypassed when someone is dumped, rejected and/or abandoned. It seems as though the added feelings of anger/devastation keep those suffering from abandonment in this place of unremitting pain. This is all related to the neurotransmitters working inside our brains. But I guess the anger outwits the numbing effect our bodies are trying to give us as a gift.

Despite all those feelings, I had reached a point in my emotional growth where I refused to run after a man whose way of dealing with conflict included completely shutting out his spouse in order to protect his own fragile ego. I concentrated on forgiveness and understanding. I focused on love. I did my best to transcend the hurting of my soul. I also made the very deliberate and conscious decision of letting what was going to be, be. I was willing to see where the road would take me and not try and interfere by begging and pleading to change the situation to my will.

In those early months it was hard to concentrate and look toward the future. At one point, I was seeing my grief therapist a couple times a week - I don't think I could have functioned without those appointments. They were what held me together. I was living in a sort of twilight zone. With no communication from my husband I did not know what was going on and it was hard to plan and figure out what to do. I still hoped for a reconciliation - if we could just talk I'd be able to make it all better. But I refused to try and contact him. His habit of hanging up on me had done its damage and my pride came out. I wanted and needed a man who would have the decency and respect to talk to me. I was hoping he would reach out to me. I was also waiting to see him and talk in mediation.

By the time I was in a more stable place emotionally, the Recession had hit full force and I experienced extreme difficulty finding work. Face it. I was for all practical purposes a stay-at-home soccer mom who had not worked in her field for five years because she was caring for a dying spouse, child diagnosed with a serious medical condition and then her aged and ill parents. I felt incompetent, old, out-of date, and lost in the new world of finding jobs online. It did not help that the divorce wrecked havoc with my already fragile ego. I felt like a miserable failure too. How could I be a good counselor to others when I could barely handle my own life successfully?

Those feelings of failure and abandonment have been the most difficult to get through the past year and a half. That is also the piece that I have found to differ in the grieving process from being a widow compared to that of a divorcee. Having lived through both, my divorce was far more of a challenge for me to overcome than the death of my husband. Of course, it would seem as though a death is more significant. But those added feelings of being rejected have just fed and led to more feelings of being unworthy, tainted, a bad person, and so on.

Every loss we experience reactivates older losses, some of which occurred in our childhood and are not even remembered. Some of us have suffered more losses than others throughout our lives and therefore our grief process is more complicated. There is no time limit for working through grief. People get impatient when they consider someone's grief prolonged. It is a profoundly different experience for everyone. There are actual physical changes that go on in one's body during bereavement. I just read a fascinating explanation of how the chemicals react in one's body causing a person to either overeat or not eat. At times, both reactions are going on and fighting as to which will win out! Isn't that almost unbelievable? To feel famished but not want to eat at the same time? I take that back - nothing seems unbelievable in bereavement, right?

I just have such profound respect for everyone navigating this bereavement road. I am thinking about in particular all of us who have had to face the critics telling us to snap out of it and get on with our lives. It takes such courage to face those who don't know, realize they are wrong and then keep going with what has to be done, what is right for us. I felt such outrage at the divorce mediator who told me because I was such an "old hand" at grief I should be able to move past my sorrow over my divorce quickly, after all I'd had so much practice at it. This unknowing comment ate at me until I ended up calling my divorce attorney to complain and explain how her colleague's comment had impacted me. She agreed to talk to him about the matter when they next met. In the area of bereavement, practice does not make perfect. I have just found that added grief is a great burden and ends up hurting more. Or maybe it is that you are dealing with a lot of grief so that is what makes it feel like the pain is more.

I took the job at the big box store pretty convinced that I could not work in my field, at least for the time being. I wanted a job totally outside my caring/helping profession. As a counselor we are skilled at listening to our clients and then offering compassion, as well as suggestions and insights for healing/growth. It has always amazed me that Husband #2 could hurt me to my inner core by refusing to talk with me. As a counselor, communication is what is most vital to us. To have it ripped out of your system is unthinkable. As long as I have been able to communicate, I have been able to have a hold on my life and its outcome. Even when my first husband was in a coma, I was still able to speak the feelings from my heart. But Husband #2 took that away from me.

As I was driving home from a very wearying shift at the big box store last night the thought came out of my head that "I deserve to be loved." Today along that same theme, I have been thinking that I do not want to suffer anymore from all that transpired with Husband #2. I think all of this focus on Husband #2 has come from the emotions swirling around due to our move with Sam (GF). My youngest is being critical of me for not looking harder for a job. He wants me to try and tough it out here. All the feelings of self-loathing and beating myself down (which began in childhood) come flaring out. I try to ease the criticism by remembering those months of weight loss, fear, physical pain and utter torment. Yeah, right I say to myself. I was in good shape for job hunting. I was a complete mess. It is one thing to drag yourself to a job you've already had, quite another to have to look for a new one when you're suffering in the depths of grief. And then to have to hold the hands of your clients when you're in such bad shape yourself.

For what it is worth here is another idea. The way grief impacts us also has to do with our constitutional and emotional makeups. Some of us are better equipped to deal with adversity. Some of us can get through hardship on our own more easily, versus those of us who need a steadying presence to lean on. It is all so mixed up and confusing! Not to mention the constant ups and downs of going forward a bit and then backward a lot!

The death of my husband and the divorce that came so soon afterward cannot be erased from my life much as I'd sometimes like for that to be. It is a hard burden to carry those losses around with me everyday. But somehow, someway I am moving to a place where I want to stop hurting so much. That will be up to me to keep working toward. It can be a struggle on some days. For the first time, I am actively contemplating to work back in my counseling field again. And that appeared an impossibility a few years ago. And let me lay to rest the myth that a new relationship or marriage can erase the demons of grief/loss from within us. It doesn't work like that. Even if I soon remarry, the losses of two husband's cannot just magically cease to exist. I just hope that from now on into the future, the pain of these losses will lessen because more attention will be devoted to the present and future. I am the person I am today because of these losses but no longer want my future to be so defined by them.


  1. Bravo! It is so good to hear your exorcizing your demons. You are so right, you will have to work back to rewarding yourself with happiness. Sam is now there for you and your sons and to have someone in your corner counts for a lot. Just keeping going towards that goal of making yourself happy and that will make your sons and Sam happy as well.

  2. I know this has been such a hard time for you, but your latest post shows that you're really processing these events and feelings in your life. It's obvious that you're working hard on the issues of grief and loss you've had to face, and that hard work is starting to pay off in terms of personal growth, powerful insights, and a renewed sense of perspective ... even though it may not feel that way right now, I think this new strength will benefit you as you move forward, and beyond, the worst of the hardship. GOOD for you! Hugs ...

  3. Debra - Those are lovely words of encouragement. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of us concentrated on bringing more happiness into our lives? You are giving me some ideas with that for future resolutions.

    CCC- It is very hard to work on issues such as these. I think many people take the easy way out and shove the work and issues aside where they just end up staying buried. But as a counselor, I know better. It is nice to see your words of "moving forward and beyond the worst of the hardship." I really hope this strength continues in that direction!