When holidays like Mother’s Day hurt, and hope that they won’t always do that

I used to have to “write out” Mother’s Day in the form of a post– like– a long blog post or a poem or some kind of reflection. And I didn’t do it this year…unless you count this one, but the purpose of this is a lot different than those sorts of gutteral “I’ve gotta get this out to prove to myself I will get through this day”-posts.

It’s been roughly a decade & a half since my life imploded and I lost my mom when she chose my perpetrator and playing “Let’s Pretend Nothing Happened to my Daughter at the hands of my husband”–instead of continuing to have a life that included me, my husband, and our daughters–and for the longest time, Mother’s Day (and every other holiday and my birthday and her birthday) was absolutely devastating to me.

My mental state would decline: I’d have a hard time not crying, I had memory problems–especially being super-spacy. Stress sometimes still makes me lapse into memory problems, but not nearly as bad as it used to.

I learned over time to get REALLY QUIET and plan non-stressful situations for myself instead of trying to distract myself by trying to fill my house with a bunch of people. We had smaller get-togethers of just my husband and kids and maybe a couple extra people instead of inviting a bunch of people over. I did that at first–trying to go big–because I was so used to holidays being a big deal. I felt like I needed to try to replicate the environment my kids were used to when we were part of my extended family, and I was always ravaged with guilt for taking that from my kids by “causing” this upheaval in their lives–and eventually I learned that this thinking was ridiculous and unnecessary because WE WERE ENOUGH. I learned that in part because my husband and daughters TOLD ME THAT: we ARE more than enough.

I learned that I needed to be able to “be”–warts and all–spaciness and mental illness and all–instead of trying to pretend to be normal on rough days like Mother’s Day. I wasn’t fooling the people closest to me by pretending anything, anyway. I think they preferred me to be myself instead of the hot mess I became otherwise. I learned to cope by making to-do lists and finding solace in nature and generally working my ass off in therapy to learn a new way to be.

When somebody asked me the other day HOW I could tell when I was healing from the ravages of trauma from Childhood Sexual Abuse and–even more so, I think–from the grief, shock, and loss that hit me like a tsunami (I’m talking suicidal ideation like you wouldn’t believe) when I entered recovery and needed my mom to acknowledge what happened under her roof–but she wouldn’t and still won’t– I said I could tell I was healing when I began to notice the ABSENCE of pain where it had been before: like, when I got through an entire day without feeling like crying once, or I didn’t feel like I was wired with anxiety for a large chunk of a day, or I didn’t think about my mom even once that day or wonder how in the HELL a mom can know that stuff is happening to her daughter and REFUSE TO TALK TO HER DAUGHTER about the pain her daughter was enduring as a result. I won’t say I DON’T ever have painful thoughts any more, but they are so rare that I acknowledge them and let them go on by rather than allowing them to invade my brain. I have anxiety disorder, and I’ve learned to just say to those thoughts, “Oh, there’s an anxious thought. Hm. No reason for that other than my disorder. Carry on.”

For example, days like today: Mother’s Day is now associated with my mother-in-law and my relationship with my kids. Thoughts of my mom are no longer laced with “I wonder what she’s thinking today” or all the reasons I don’t have a mom anymore. Today, I talked to all 3 of my daughters and we’re making plans for the summer, and…let’s see: I worked out & finished up some cooking for the coming week and worked on author stuff today (research for a book)…and I went to lay down for an hour and ended up sleeping for 3 1/2. I wasn’t sleeping to avoid being awake and aware of pain, though: I was sleeping because I was sleepy and I chose to let myself rest before I start another work week.
I wasn’t disabled by grief and I didn’t feel like I had an aching hole (if that makes sense) in the center of my being and I didn’t feel the need to “write it out,” meaning, get the pain out by putting it into words instead of keeping it in my head.

So, even though I DID write this post, I’m not thinking of getting this stuff out so I don’t explode and ooze grief all over the place. Instead, I am thinking of those of you who are in the ravages of grief and rage and disbelief because you are in the same position I was in many years ago–and FOR many years. It didn’t go away within the first year of loss; it took many years to be able to get to this point. I am reminded of my former therapist & now coauthor, Matt, saying to me that relationships are part of nature, and that I needed to consider how long it took things like the Grand Canyon to form. I think healing is very much the same way. It happens in its own time, even when people work hard at it. It still may take some time for wounds to heal. I think being betrayed and abandoned by my mom took a long time for me, but I also think they were soothed by the lessons I learned in therapy that made me realize my self-worth regardless of others’ assessments of my value.

But this is one of those moments where I feel like I’m standing on a mountaintop looking back over the road I traveled to get here. I can see my footsteps, and in some places, I can see claw marks where I was crawling–sometimes they’re practically bloody (metaphorically), and the deepest signs of travel–the hardest parts–are when I was unsure I was going to make it at all, much less be able to envision a day like today when I’m just living my life and it doesn’t hurt to do it. In fact, I love my life and I’m really happy and content. Doesn’t mean I don’t have problems or worries–it just means I have the tools to cope with them and regardless, I am aware that I have worth and I am loved.

YOU can get to this point, too. You can survive whatever you are enduring right now–even if it’s the worst pain you’ve ever felt and you are convinced it will be your undoing. Keep going. One foot in front of the other, step-by-step. Hold strong to those in your support system. Talk to them and tell them, “Hey, I’m really feeling wobbly today, and I need to lean on you some.” Figure out what works to help you find calm within yourself.
Some ideas that work for me: Gardening is very soothing to me. Sitting on my porch swing and listening to the sounds of nature–really focusing in on the wind in the trees and the birds–is like music to me–and it also makes me aware of my place in the Universe and for some reason it also makes me think of what we are made of.
And speaking of music, finding songs with messages of strength and hope is balm for the soul–and some songs are just kick-ass for singing really loud and dancing.

If you’re not working with a mental health professional, take the chance and look for one. If you don’t click with the first one, try again. It took me several tries to find the right therapist who guided me through recovery. YOU are worth the work it takes to heal your life.

Check out this site: http://drmattbook.com, for more info about finding a therapist; there’s music there, too, and HOPE for recovery.

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