Something else interests me about grief though and that is the grief that child abuse survivors have because it’s complicated. We aren’t grieving a person we’ve lost, we’re grieving something we never had. A safe, happy childhood or a loving parental relationship that didn’t exist. The lack of any kind of family bonds as an adult, or the inability to trust anyone. Those are things we can, and should, grieve. Often we aren’t given the chance to do that. Other people expect us to “put it behind us” because it was a long time ago. We may even convince ourselves that the best option is to suck it up and forget it, no reason to think about any of that. But, I think there’s a reason to grieve the things we didn’t have as children. They are very real losses. They have very real impacts on our brains and our emotional well-being. We can’t change it now, but we can allow ourselves the freedom to feel grief over it. It’s part of the process.
No, the easiest way to break up those circles, as any kid who threw rocks into the water can tell you, is to throw another rock and create new concentric circles starting from a different location.
Gee, in my metaphor about the trauma I wonder what those other rocks could be? Mental health treatment? Care and support from family and friends? The elimination of stigma attached to trauma?
How about instead of ignoring the circles we started throwing some more useful rocks and disrupting the cycles of trauma that we see repeated over and over again in those circles?
So, the thing I want us to talk about this year is not just encouragement to call a hotline or to reach out to a friend for help, or even to tell our stories and erase the stigma around mental health issues. I want us to consider doing more than that. I want us, as a society, to figure out how to provide hope. As much value as there is in all of those other things if I can’t provide some hope that things will get better, that we are working and advocating for things to get better across all areas of our culture, then I can’t honestly say that there is a reason for someone to hope, and at the end of the day, the thing that truly prevented me from taking my own life when I was at my worst, was the hope that life wouldn’t always be that painful.
As it turned out, my life wasn’t always that painful, and even in times of pain, I can look back and remember that.
How do we provide that hope for others who have been beaten down and worn out with life right now? Where does their hope come from?
Of course, one of the tell-tale signs of depression, and unhealthy responses to trauma, like abuse, is overly black and white thinking. Going to extremes, if you will. So, it’s easy for many of us to fall into these toxic traps. It’s easy to think that we should feel shame about what happened to us, or that we can somehow rid ourselves of that shame, and anger, by simply refusing to do anything but be positive. But neither one of these is real healing. Real healing, like real emotions, and real people, are messier than that.
It’s still worth it though, as are a lot of those messy emotions and people too. If you let yourself get out of the black and white thinking, you just might see that too.
Just like in sports though, sometimes it’s not about how the world works, or what mistakes we made, it’s about the other team. In our case, it’s the abuser. They did this. Healing is understanding that, and coming to grips with the fact that our lens is wrong. We’re looking at someone else’s actions and choices through a lens that only sees ourselves. We were abused, maybe when we told someone, we weren’t believed, or maybe even as adults, when we share our experiences we make others uncomfortable. But it’s not us. Other people get to make their own choices, have their own reactions, and choose who, and what, to believe.
What we need to do, is start untying other people actions and reactions, from ourselves. The abuser chose to abuse. The people who refused to help, made that choice, and the people who still don’t believe us, have their own reasons for doing that. None of it has anything to do with us, those are other people making their own choices, playing their own game. We can do everything right, live our life to the best of our abilities and still “lose” in these interactions. It happens. It doesn’t lessen us, it shows us who these other people are, and tells us about their agendas.
We learn from that, and move on. We do not blame ourselves for their agendas.
It does take developing a more mature lens to view life through, and that takes time, and work. Are you up for it? Or maybe the better question, are you tired of blaming yourself?
So is it possible that simply making some sort of care easily accessible to more people, and looking out for each other, including in the workplace, helped lower the number of deaths by suicide? I’m willing to continue trying to do both of those things going forward to find out. It certainly seems like as good a place to start as any, and maybe lowering that number isn’t as complicated as we thought. It just takes the willingness to get these things done.