Self-Love and Navigating the Waters of Grief By Carrie H.By
Please join me in welcoming Carrie H. and her debut article on Emerging from Broken. Carrie writes in a brilliant style filled with emotional honesty and compassion both for herself and for others who understand the grief we feel when we find it necessary to draw a boundary with our own families of origin. I am honored to have Carrie as a guest writer on Emerging from Broken. ~ Darlene
Self-Love and Navigating the Waters of Grief by Carrie H.
When my husband found out that his father was dying I asked him how he would make it through. How would his sister make it? How would his mother make it? “Our love will hold us together”, he answered. Wow, I thought. I watched as he and mom and sister held each other that day. The day they knew one of their family members was dying. In that moment I realized that love was absent from my own family of origin. In my family, love did not tie us together, which was why getting through a dark time seemed so difficult from where I was standing.
When I pointed out the Truth to my parents and sister, that there had been verbal and emotional abuse, I was abandoned. I had visions of us healing together as a family – that’s what loving families do – but I’ve had to let those dreams go over the past few months.
Their reaction to me revealing the dysfunction merely proved the dysfunction. Instead of looking at their own behaviors and their role in our family dynamic, they chose to point their fingers at me and to blame me for their pain. You see, once I stepped out of “The Matrix” – which is what I call their faulty belief system regarding love – they became very uncomfortable. I told them that there was an elephant in the room that needed to be addressed. I held up a mirror and they ran screaming. In regards to the elephant in the room, my sister wants to pretend it’s not there. If we don’t look at it, it can’t be there, right?? My father, always the spiritual bypasser, admits it’s there but says life is “just an illusion” so we are “one” with the elephant. My mother says I’M the elephant.
I realized that the only way my family would accept me was as their scapegoat, as the one who caused them pain. There is no other definition that they CAN accept because if I am okay, then why would THEY be in pain? So one by one, I’ve had to say goodbye to my family members. (Or more accurately, THEY have said goodbye to me).
First it was my mom, who sent me an email titled “The Elephant” in which she told me she had to let me go. Then there was my father, who is still in my life to some extent, but will continue to defend my mom’s actions and talk about how “sad” it is that I’m not talking to her anymore. My father, a man who justifies his imprisonment by hiding behind spiritual quotes that were spoken by those who were, ironically, free and finally, my sister, with whom I still have a relationship albeit an inauthentic one. “I would never do what you’re doing to mom,” she said. You see, asking for kindness in a family of dysfunction is always met with an insane reaction. What I’m DOING to them is asking them for respect.
So as my husband grieves his recently deceased father, I grieve my family as well. I grieve the mother I never had, I grieve the father who I once actually thought of as a hero, knowing that he will never come to my defense and will live out his days in the lie that my mom is somehow the victim in all of this. And I grieve for my sister, who remains entangled in the web of manipulation and guilt that defines the love I grew up with. But here’s the thing – for those of us who grieve the living – we grieve alone. My family looks lovely from the outside, a perfect picture with years worth of photographs to prove that we are “okay.” Only those who have gotten very close know that those pictures are just a bunch of tangled lines. Only those who have looked closely at the eyes in each photo see the sadness hidden beneath fake smiles.
My husband knows his father loved him, in the true definition of love. He carries that love in his heart. It binds them together in life and in death. Alive or dead, his father has always been with him. For those of us grieving those who have never loved us – truly loved us – how do we make it through? It’s like love is the boat that my husband is on and it carries him through the waters of grief. Sometimes the waves are intense but he is always in a boat. I’m in those same waters but without a boat. Sometimes I get pulled under and come up gasping for air. I have my husband and my son’s love, of course, but I don’t have the love of those I’m grieving.
I grieve the childhood I didn’t get, the childhood I THOUGHT I had, the actions I thought were love, the person I thought my dad was, the relationship I thought I had with my sister, the hope I had of my mother changing, the dream I had of my family healing, the future I thought we could share together, and the love I’ve never received from my family. For those of us who grieve in hiding, we must build our own boats. We must learn to love ourselves in the way our parents never did. It will take work and strength to construct that boat but by the time it is built, by the time we are loving ourselves unconditionally in a way that was not modeled to us in our families, we will have a boat so strong, so sturdy, that the waves it will carry us over will be merely ripples lapping at our sides. And we will ride in these self-constructed boats across the seas into freedom. Freedom from the lies we were taught about ourselves, freedom from the faulty love we grew up with, freedom from the sadness and pain that came from our realizations.
And once we reach that shore, the shore of freedom, we will be the lighthouses that can give hope and direction to others who are boatless in the stormy seas.
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