Saturday, March 29, 2014

Grief, God, and Trying to Heal

Please be forewarned—this blog is going to be long and egocentric. There will be not cutesy images or gifs. I make no apologies, but anyone reading this should note that I am writing only in an attempt to try to start healing, and for purely personal reasons. That being said, I do hope that if someone in a similar emotional place stumbles upon this, they might find some solace in it. It truly does help, knowing that you aren’t completely alone in your grief.

The problem with grief is that it isn’t a straightforward journey. I know that little in life is, but as compared to say, getting a college degree or applying for a job or having a baby, grief is far more permanent. There are tons of complicating factors in all of those things, but for the most part, when you go to college, you are told what to do, you do those things, and theoretically you get the degree. You apply for a job, you interview for said job, and either you get it or you don’t. Getting pregnant can be terribly complicated for some, and pregnancy itself can be complicated (lord knows, mine was), but at the end of the road, there is an end result, which is hopefully a healthy baby. Grief, for whatever it is you’re grieving for, doesn’t end. Ever. It’s always there in some form or fashion, and even though time does indeed make it easier, it never leaves.

Whatever it is you find yourself grieving over, whether it’s a death or divorce, the end of a friendship or loss of a pet, the feeling of abandonment that is left behind is not only overwhelming, but it is pervasive. In the last decade, I lost one of my oldest childhood friends to a car accident. I had three friends, one that I was particularly close to, commit suicide in an 18 month period. In the last year alone I lost my 15 year old cat (which for anyone who has had to deal with the death of an animal, you know how devastating that is to the soul). Last April, I lost two friends in one fell swoop, when my friend Heather was murdered by her husband. He’s in prison charged with first degree murder, so that loss was double as I continue to grieve not only for her, but for him as well. I know a lot of people won’t understand grieving for him, but it’s complicated and I don’t owe anyone an explanation for it. If I’ve learned anything over the years it is that anything you feel is valid and legitimate, and no one has the right to question why you feel the way you do. Over the last several years, I have had to stand by helplessly as I watched a family member that I love so, so much suffer from medical issues that no one, not even the best hospitals and doctors in the country, seems to know how treat. I’ve spent a large portion of that time feeling like an outsider in my own family, having to fight to get a little information here and there. That’s a different kind of grief altogether, but it has continued to eat away at me. The grief I have felt through this trauma has never fully left me, and it shows back up at unexpected times, when I see or hear something that triggers a memory and then suddenly I’m devastated all over again.

Almost two months ago, I lost one of my best friends to leukemia, and it was his death that apparently broke something in me. Don’t get me wrong, I did all the traditional things that you do when grieving for the loss of someone you love. I screamed, I cried, I verbally eviscerated anyone who came into my path. I leaned on people that I didn’t really know all that well because they were safe and removed from the situation, and if I lashed out at them, it didn’t matter because I wasn’t emotionally invested in them. Better than taking it out on my husband or child (which I did anyway, despite my denial that it was happening). I mentally checked out of everything I was doing, I stopped eating—it was just ugly, and this was all the week before Courtney died. By the time I got the news that he was gone, I had accepted that it was coming and was completely numb. That numbness kept me going for a number of weeks following his death. I kept telling myself that I just needed to keep moving forward. Keep going, start your new job, make breakfasts and lunches and dinners and get your kid to daycare, go to the grocery store, do the laundry, do the dishes, play video games, and hopefully with time it’ll hurt less. It worked for a few weeks, until I began having explosions of emotion at random and completely inappropriate times and places. I actually thought at first that I might be pregnant, because the fluctuation and intensity of emotion was so extreme. That wasn’t the case, so I just chalked it up to hormones and tried to keep going. It’s been a month since these episodes started, and they show no sign of abating. Sitting in my office at my new job, which I love so, so much, I suddenly get struck with the feeling that I am suffocating and that I need to either start screaming, or I need to start breaking things, or I just need to collapse onto the floor into fits of sobbing. Often I feel like I need to do all three simultaneously. The sensation is so intense that I honestly feel as if someone is squeezing my trachea and that I’m going to choke to death. I have, periodically over the last few weeks, spent a half hour or hour at a time screaming and sobbing in the solitude of my home or in other safe places, like with close friends, and it has helped for a day, maybe two. Not long enough, but it’s something.

Within the last couple of weeks, however, the panic and grief have started to morph into something else. I’ve been having completely internal, silent fits of rage, for no reason, directed at almost every single person I know that I interact with socially on a regular basis. The only people who have escaped this seem to be parents. I take out my pain and anger on my husband and son, and then I hate myself for being such a horrible person to them and I don’t know how to stop it. It’s been the people that I know through church that have been the primary target of my anger though. I’m a professional musician, so church is a job for me, and I’ve been fortunate that I work for a church that welcomes literally everyone, no matter what your story is. The people at the church I work at, both the staff and the congregants, are honestly the most amazing people I have ever been associated with. Right now though, I see people at church that I consider friends—not close friends per se, but definitely more than acquaintances--and out of nowhere, I feel something akin to hate directed at them for absolutely no reason. In the last two weeks, I have actively pulled myself away from people that I honestly want to spend time with because I’m worried about saying something unfounded and unwarranted in a moment of anger that I will not be able to take back. I’m not actually angry at any of them. I have nothing but love for these people. They don’t deserve it, especially since a few of them were absolute rocks for me in the week leading up to Courtney’s death. I’m just consumed by the fact that I feel like no one besides my husband has noticed just how badly I am STILL hurting, that I am suffocating from silent grief, despite the fact that I feel like I’m wearing a giant neon sign around my neck pointing it out. My husband is amazing and wonderfully supportive, but this is pulling him down too. He’s hurting for me, and he needs the support as badly as I do because I’m lashing out at him daily. I’m being selfish and not taking into account that many of these people are dealing with their own trauma and pain as well, and I know that. It makes my feelings no less valid. I’m drowning in grief, and I just wish someone would hold out a hand to help, and I’m angry that no one has. Call me selfish. There’s no question that I absolutely am.

I’m not secure enough in myself, despite the self confidence that I project, to be sure that any of these people actually do care about me, and I want them to care about me so much. I don’t know how to outright ask for help without feeling like an absolute failure. For some reason though, I feel like I desperately need support from this particular group of people that I don’t even know all that well, and I don’t understand why it is that I care so much about whether or not they genuinely like me. I have rarely ever cared what people think about me and yet, for the first time, I do care and I hate it. Maybe I’m just reacting to the voids left in my soul by the people I will never see again, and I’m trying to fill those voids any way I can. Regardless, I’ve veered way off the point I was trying to make.

I mentioned earlier that I feel like Courtney’s death broke something inside of me. This is where that statement comes into play, because, after all, anger and bargaining are a part of the grieving process. Courtney passed from leukemia, like I said, but the important thing to understand is that this happened suddenly and unexpectedly. He was diagnosed in early 2013. By December, when I last talked to him, he had been through nine cycles of chemo and radiation, and was in remission. He went home, he was in the clear, he had beaten it. Less than three weeks later he was back in the hospital, and the leukemia was back. A month later he was gone. To say that this was a punch in the gut is an understatement of the highest order. For weeks, I begged God not to take him. Then I begged God to please take him quickly, to stop making him suffer so terribly. Then I begged God to take him, but not on his wife’s birthday, any day but that day. Every single one of those pleas went unanswered. I finally realized a few days ago that the reason I am so angry at the people that I associate with church has to do with my anger at “God.” I’m silently judging sweet, wonderful people who are just trying to live their lives and who, I think, do genuinely care about me and my well-being, all because I associate them with church and I’m pissed off at church, religion, God, and at myself, for once again putting blind faith in the idea of a higher power. That’s it. My spirituality, and my relationship with “God,” has always been tenuous at best, but Courtney’s death, the way it came about, was the final tap that shattered any sense of faith I had left. For the first time in my life, I truly feel abandoned. I no longer feel any sense of spirituality within myself or surrounding me. I don’t talk to God anymore, because I don’t feel him. If he is there, which I doubt, he either isn’t listening, or worse, he is listening, and just doesn’t care.  

When I started singing for the church in 2007, I walked into that beautiful, old space that is so filled with history and love, and I could almost sense the divine presence in every single pore of every surface that sits in that space. It is the most holy place I have ever been in. For the last seven years, that building has given me such comfort and peace. I even got married there, and I swore I would never get married in a church. It is a spot of real grace, real love, and filled with some of the best people I have ever known in my life, and now, for the first time, I walk into that building and I don’t feel the divine. I don’t feel God. I don’t feel love. To be fair, I don’t feel anger or resentment or any other negative emotion either, so I don’t think I’m projecting my grief onto St. Mary’s. I simply do not feel anything now. It has become a large, empty room with great acoustics that occasionally fills up with worker bees and passersby, who then flitter away only to come back at another designated time. I walk into that space that has been such a precious and rejuvenating cocoon for me over the years, and I feel nothing. Nothing. Services have been getting harder and harder to get through, because of my own sense of hypocrisy at being there. I find myself being filled with feelings of complete disgust at my continued presence there, and I don’t know what to do about it. I think leaving the church, leaving my job there, would actually be a step further into the abyss, yet I can’t help feeling that I don’t belong there, that I shouldn’t be there, and that I am only perpetuating the stereotype that people who go to church only go out of some sense of obligation to a hegemonic power that they don’t really understand but feel intrinsically bound to, for good or bad. That relationship with some altruistic, omniscient, omnipotent higher power is just gone for me. I don’t have it anymore, and to be honest, I don’t know if I want it back. I have no interest in holding onto false hope only to be inevitably suckerpunched again.

So why am I writing all of this down on paper and putting it out there for everyone to see? I don’t know. Maybe because I have finally gotten to the point of understanding that I need to ask for help if I want to get through this. Maybe I’m doing it because, like the crying and screaming fits that I’ve been having in private, I need an outlet to get all of this out of my head so that I don’t completely snap and blow up the train that regularly causes me road rage during my attempts to get to the Kroger at Sanderlin and Mendenhall. I’ve always been a “writer,” so it just seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. I recognize that I need to be in grief counseling to deal with all of this, and I likely will pursue that path sooner rather than later. I have no choice but to keep moving, one step at a time, one day at a time. I have a family that I love and who for some reason loves me as well, and I cannot and will not let them down by being any less strong that I am fully capable of being. To be that person, I need to draw on the strength of others, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I have always believed that there is nothing wrong with putting your heart on your sleeve and exposing it for the world to see, particularly when you recognize that you only have so much strength left in the reserves, and you need to call in the reinforcements. Anything less than brutal honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, is a waste of valuable time and energy. Life is too damn short to waste being dishonest with others about what you need, because then you waste even more time being angry with them for not recognizing what is so obvious to you. I suppose I’m just hoping that putting all of this down and projecting it out into space is a first step to starting the healing process. People can take it or leave it as they will. I guess we’ll see where it goes from here.

Please Note: If you’re thinking about responding to this, privately or publicly, and talking to me about God or Jesus or spirituality—don’t. It will not resonate, and you won’t be saying a single thing that I haven’t heard or thought before. AT BEST, it will piss me off. At worst, I will likely unfriend you and never speak to you again, which you may not care about but I do. I don’t want to lose anyone else. Spirituality is an intensely private topic for me, thus the reason I rarely talk about it, and I honestly do not care what you or anyone else on the planet believes in regards to God. It is PRIVATE. If you want to pray for me, I welcome it. Just don’t preach or try to save my damn soul or do any of the things that the poor unfortunate COGIC woman who showed up at my front door yesterday tried to do, because it will end badly. Know that I respect your spiritual beliefs and practices, so please have mutual respect for my journey and let me take it on my own.

1 comment:

  1. After my closest friend took her life a year and a half ago, and then G left his job, I felt the same way. Church was (and sometimes still is) the hardest place to be, because those people who care so much about you look at you in a certain way because they know you're hurting and don't want to intrude, make you cry, don't know whether or not to hug you or stay away-but they want you to know that they care. And knowing this is infuriating and not fair. It takes a lot of time to walk down that road.