Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grief and Mourning Part I of III - Taking Another Look at Recovering from CPTSD

Hello Friends:

I've been thinking about mourning, lately.  I have this idea that I should be mourning more, even though I don't want to.  I've only really mentioned grief and mourning once in this blog.  And since it is such an important issue for healing, I figured it was time to put a little more of my oh-so-coherent thoughts down on 'paper'.

If you can help me sort through them, that'd be cool.

The book "Trauma and Recovery" by Judith Lewis Herman (that I've mentioned in previous posts i.e. here) says that the second stage of recovery is "remembrance and mourning."  I want to recover, and so I'm looking for what I have or have not mourned from my past.  It feels strange, and it is by no means obvious to me what I've mourned.  I'm also secretly hoping I don't find anything since I don't want to "waste my time" mourning.

Mourning to me has always meant feeling bad, crying, lamenting, saying "why me," "poor me," "life is so unfair," and things like that.  I don't have any time for those emotions.  It seems outrageously self indulgent and a waste of energy.

But I also know I have been programmed to think that way.  When I was a kid, I never knew if I would come home from school and find things changed or missing.  Often, I'd show up and find my room completely rearranged, all my stuff sorted through, and a bunch of it thrown out.  I didn't mind so much when too-small clothes were pitched, but it would often be toys, old school work, souvenirs from trips or cheesy carnivals.  You know, the sort of general items kids collect as they are growing up.  Except that our collections were routinely decimated.

At first, I expressed sadness and anger when I found things missing, but this was so early in my childhood I only remember it vaguely.  When I expressed these feelings, they were shot down in one way or another, "You are too old for that toy,"  "You don't need that anymore," "Why are you upset, it's just a 'fill in blank," "Don't be upset with me, if you had put that away I wouldn't have thrown it out," "If you knew how to take care of things you could keep them."  And the classic, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about."

So developing attachments to anything was a bad idea.  I ended up not attaching to much stuff at all if I could help it, and the few things that really mattered to me caused me pain, since I was never certain I would be allowed to keep them.

This has had some positive coping effects.  I don't have a strong materialistic streak.  If a cup breaks, even a nice one, I'm likely to spend just a few seconds feeling sad I lost it, and then I'll shrug and think, "Well, better to use them than stare at them in a china cabinet.  And if you use them they break.  That's okay,"  I'm rarely so bound up in things that I can't see beyond to what is really important - the people.  So this is good.

What is bad is that, as I said, I am now programmed not to really mourn losses.  You lose something, you just move on.  Doesn't matter what it is, really.  With small things, as I said, that is a functional attitude.  But with big things, even medium things, you can't simply ignore it.  In my life, what I am experiencing is that if losses are not mourned in the usual course of events, my need to mourn sort of waits around to break out at a bad time, to transmute to something that does not look like mourning, or to go into my body and cause pain.

So in spite of the fact that I feel like I haven't mourned a lot of major losses in my past, as I look back, I realize I have mourned quite a bit.  I just didn't do it in good ways, for the most part.  One example is this.  After my hubby and I left a friend's house one time, I realized I'd left my favorite jacket behind.  We were on a road trip and were already two hours away.  Going back was not an option.

I was already feeling a little depressed on that trip, anyway, so I wasn't surprised that I started crying.  What surprised me was how hard I cried.  I was utterly inconsolable for an hour.  I could hardly breathe.  My hubby had to pull off the road at a restaurant and let me sit in a booth with my tea and get it out.  He was as surprised as I was, since he knew I never got that upset about losing something.  But I was devastated.

It was half way through dinner before I realized what I was actually mourning were all those lost things from my childhood.  And more, I was mourning the fact that my childhood was built of loss.  That I could never hang on to anything.  Took a while and we were able to get back on the road.  I tried to put it behind me.

Three days later I get a package - our friends had found the jacket and mailed it.  I was ecstatic.  And again, it wasn't merely because I had my jacket.  It was because this act of kindness was in such contrast to my past.  And it was an act that gave the lie to the idea that you always lost; that nothing was retrievable.  Some things do come back.  And there are some people who care about your losses.

This was almost seven years ago, and it is only now that I'm beginning to see how profound that experience was.  I have no desire at all to feel that incredible devastation again, about anything.  I certainly won't call it up intentionally.  But my eyes are open enough to realize that if I do experience it, I'm probably not upset about the present.  

So with those thoughts in mind, I'm going to take a couple more posts and consider some of the barriers to mourning, what the process can look like, and ways to help it along and keep healing.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: photoxpress


Amy said...

Yes, the idea of mourning childhood is so frightening to me, too. It feels as if I might get lost in all that grief and sadness. There are things I know I should be angry and sad about, but as soon as I start to feel those things, I feel like something shuts off. It's just too hard to go there. I'm still not sure how to feel safe enough to mourn properly. Let me know if you figure it out. :-)

Andy said...

There's a lot of difficult stuff there to try and sort through, unfortunately. And I think the balance is a hard one to strike, even in the best of times.

I remember when my dog died-- I was at college, and I remember absolutely dissolving into tears, crying for the first time in memory. I had been talking to my girlfriend at the time and felt really weird losing control like that (though she was supportive). Looking back, though, I suppose it was better than keeping it bottled up?

Suzanne said...

There was so much I related to. The story of the tea cup. I was very close to my Grandma. She died when I was 12. That was a really bad year. Anyway, I got a few of her things and I lost or broke a few of them and I was really devastated. I try VERY hard to not have material attachments (or human ones, for that matter). It just hurts too much when they go away and they always go away.

My feelings on grieving the childhood are that it makes me really mad to have to do that. When I do, I get really pissed off because I feel like that by giving into the grief I am also giving into "him" or "them" again and I just feel they have already robbed me of so much.


The Blue Morpho said...

Hello Amy - Herman talks about safety as step one. Her ideas include symptom control, developing a support network, creating 'safe spaces' in our homes or even our minds. I know my tdoc talked about creating special times and places for thinking about tough matters. I can see I do feel safer when I do these things, but never actually and finally SAFE. Yet, doing a little mourning makes it seem a little less scary, at the same time. Maybe it is a back and forth, creating 'safety' grieving a little, creating new 'safety', iterate. Not sure, I'm just feeling my way along, too.

The Blue Morpho said...

Andy, hey - I think you are right, doing the grieving at the time is probably the most functional way to handle it. You know what it is that is making you sad, you don't get it confused with other things, and you feel you did proper honor to your dog. Then you have a chance to move forward, you might still be sad, but you don't feel dragged down. Seems like you have a healthy approach.

The Blue Morpho said...

Suzanne - Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I understand what you mean about the pain of losing something you cherish. I don't think it is materialistic to mourn the loss of a cup that reminds you of your grandmother. That's about your feelings for her, which are very important. The cup is a symbol. You aren't upset because you want a nice cup and it broke, you are upset because you feel you have lost one more connection to a person you cared deeply about. That makes a lot of sense to me.

I know what you mean about not wanting to grieve, both because so much has been lost already, and because it seems to be giving 'them' more power. But my tdoc at least has me believing that grieving and mourning are for me, something I do for myself, that actually gives me power. Still working on that idea, but it seems good in theory, for now! :)

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