Sunday, January 12, 2014

Denial Doesn't Work for Me Any More

Some people specialize in denial.

A family member read one of my early posts about Ethan's death and his response was "Why did she have to say he was an addict?" Seriously. He hasn't been encouraged him to read any others and he's not going to brave the computer on his own. To him the subject is probably closed.

Before Ethan died, I avoided using that term in conversation with anyone who didn't already know my son. I talked around the issue in a lot of ways. Ethan had problems. Ethan lacked motivation. Ethan couldn't find a job. Ethan just hadn't figured out what to do with himself. There were a lot of phrases to cover up what was really going on his life because even hinting at addiction made him angry. It hurt him, and I didn't want to cause him more pain, so I avoided it.

Ethan, however, could read through my words and would take offense. When my 30 days of thanksgiving included appreciation for him and the lessons I had learned from his less than perfect life, he was angry that I had told everyone he was an junky. I had not mentioned the exact nature of his problem but he knew what his problem really was and felt that I had shouted it out. We had not spoken for weeks after that incident other than the angry text messages that followed in the evening after reading my post. That post appeared exactly one month before I learned of his death, a fact I had not realized until I went back to hunt it.

The truth cannot hurt Ethan now, but I think it may free me and perhaps others.

I know that only by being truthful about what his life and mine was like will I be able to find any peace with the past. It is only by being honest about what I'm feeling now that I'm able to work through my emotions, try to find a way to move forward and possibly help someone else as well.

I'm honest because I don't know any other way to be right now.

I think for some people real honesty, especially about their own emotions, is as impossible as reaching the moon from their front porch. They may see it as protection, perhaps for themselves and those around them, or maybe as a kind of strength. It is neither, because it denies reality and in avoiding pain causes a different own kind of hurt. The best way to get better, to get through, to heal, even if it is a healing with scars, is to be honest.

Some days the hardest thing in the world is to be honest about what I feel. A random thought will cross my mind with all the emotions it triggers and I wonder how I can share that. Yet my choice is a simple one.

Do I pretend I don't feel that way? Do I lie or just gloss over reality?

If I did that, would my words have any meaning? Would I feel any better? Could I reach anyone who is hurting and be able to help them if I denied my own pain?

Since the phone call four weeks ago today telling me that my son was dead, I've discovered an ocean of pain and I've found that I'm far from the only one who is walking near it, being splashed by its waves, and occasionally struggling to get my head above the water and make my way back to shore. The love and support I've received from this group of fellow sufferers, lost parents who are struggling to move forward with a life that doesn't quite have the meaning it once did, has been tremendous. Struggling with my emotions, I've found I'm often grappling with something they are feeling as well and it's only by being truthful that I help any of us, especially myself.

Many days, knowing we're not alone with the anger, pain, fear and questions helps us to be the person we need to be that day. Just as it may be a random message or phone call that carries me through the day, I hope by being truthful in my grief, I can help someone else through their day as well.

Some people specialize in denial because its easier than facing hard truths about who they are, what they've done, how they feel.

Stripped of our unspoken dreams, our roles as parents unfulfilled, our children missing like the limb of a storm-damaged tree, we tend to lose that veneer of civility that makes us say the right things. Unable to deny one of the hardest truths we'll ever face, I think we find a more honest person less able to tolerate the phoniness of so much of the world. I know that's what I've found huddling in the shell that used to be me.

I no longer take today or tomorrow for granted, realizing at any moment for anyone this could be the last time. I cling harder to those around me and work to nurture the friendships that have survived this storm and those that have been born out of it. I have more compassion for the struggle in everyone's lives and respond with kindness instead of looking the other way. "I love you" is becoming a staple of conversation with not only family, but friends as well.

For some people, facing the truth is something to be avoided at all costs because the truth is painful, the truth touches a core that they don't want disturbed. There have been times when I was part of that group, avoiding the truth about a marriage gone bad, a family problem, a health issue I didn't want to discuss. There have been times when it was easier and didn't feel like a lie to say, "I'm fine."

That's no longer my truth and a lie I can't quite swallow any more. This pain goes so deep, I've found no way to avoid the reality. There may be times when I say nothing, but when I talk about this pain I can only speak the truth.

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