It seems that everywhere I go this week I’m bumping up against grief. Clients are struggling with seeing other families happily celebrating Easter while they are alone because their family is too toxic to spend time with. Another client is mourning the years she lost to an alcohol addiction she used to cope with the pain from her abuse.
I’m not immune to grief this week either. My depression has taken a marked turn for the worse in the last month. Consulting with my psychiatrist on Monday, I asked her if she felt we’d ever get my depression to abate. Thankfully, she’s always honest with me. It is hard to hear, though, that she feels remission is possible but not recovery.
The facts are stacked against me. This is my fifth episode of Major Depression. I’ve been in this episode for 12 years now, without being able to achieve remission. Each episode has been deeper and wider than the last. The numbers say I don’t have a high probability of remission. More so, I have almost a zero chance of recovery. Even though my training as a mental health professional has given me the knowledge and experience to understand why those odds are stacked against me, they remain difficult to digest and accept. My depression, this aftereffect of my childhood of abuse, is likely going to be my constant companion for the rest of my life.
I’ve had to stop this week and allow myself the time to grieve the likely permanent loss of my mental health. As survivors, many of us have had horrific losses, lasting aftereffects and consequences we struggle to deal with every day of our lives from the abuse we suffered through as children. Yet, we are rarely told that our journey to recovery needs to include grieving those losses and consequences. For only when we pass through grief will we be able to reach a place of acceptance of those missing moments, destroyed hopes, and stolen dreams.
Grief is a necessary part of coming to terms with our abuse and learning to live with its aftereffects. When we don’t grieve those losses and consequences we exist in a painful state of recovery limbo. We can’t proceed forward because we haven’t put our losses to rest. Instead we are recycling and reprocessing them.
That does not mean that we have to shut away our anger and pain over the things we lost to our abuse and those things we must live with as consequences of the abuse. To the contrary, in order to properly grieve we need to fully process our anger and pain. Only after we do that can we come to a place of acceptance.
And it is by no means a “one and done” process. We may grieve and accept a loss only to have it resurrected by a painful encounter with our abuser at a family reunion. Tumbling into that abyss of pain doesn’t mean you’ve not properly worked on your recovery. A new experience uncovers previously untouched ground that we now need to travel. Gradually, we will work all of the area we need to cover. It’s a process, not a single occurrence.
So if someone hasn’t told you yet that grief work is a normal and healthy part of trauma recovery I’m here to deliver that message. You have much to grieve. Don’t stifle and shove your pain aside. Instead, with the help of safe and supportive people work through it toward acceptance, wholeness and healing.