Grief, too

So another writing prompt about grief asks what have I gained through loss. Hm. Sardonically, I suppose I’ve gained the knowledge that I can withstand it, that it won’t kill me. That’s so bittersweet, because when the arc of pain is at its apex, you don’t care if you survive it because you’d rather not be alive to have that experience. When I have been so inconsolably lost and buried in the avalanche of emotion, I truly wanted to die. I didn’t want to actually kill myself, but I did not want to be alive. I needed the pain to stop, and it seemed that it never would. Breathing hurt. My hair growing hurt. Thinking hurt. There was no escape, and I felt very much like I was trapped inside an ever-tightening skin suit, a diver’s suit. I had gone done beneath the waves for the final time, but I was stuck in the state of constantly gasping for breath but never taking in enough to fully exhale. The burden of shallowness. Since I was a child, my breathing has always been rather shallow. I have to concentrate and be very intentional about breathing so that my diaphragm shifts. Looking back on that, I attribute that to anxiety. Hypervigilance. Always on alert. Maybe that’s why drinking was such a welcome relief…it relaxed that edge-of-the-seat state just enough to release inhibitions and tension. Self-medication, if ever there was any.

When I have been the deepest in grief, the trigger is irrelevant. I feel everything deeply, in exaggerated fashion. I feel both sadness and joy, anger and ebullience, to the tips of my toes. It’s an overpowering wave, and it threatens to drown me. When the emotion is pleasurable, there’s just a feeling of fulfillment, or content, or satisfaction. When the emotion is negative, there’s just the feeling of drowning. Just the feeling of entrapment, confinement, pressure and plea for release. Feeling overwhelmed, breathing is difficult and survival does not feel assured. There is so much noise, so much cacophony, innumerable pairs of cymbals crash in rapid succession, each one louder than the last. To the world around me, I am sitting motionless and seemingly quiet, and calm. Nobody understands the storm that is raging inside me. There is a sadistic killer draining the spirit from me, drop by drop, but unseen by anyone else. It’s a private hell that most do cannot comprehend.

When I’m dying in plain sight, yet unseen by anyone else, I rarely have the ability to describe the experience. One of the only things to help is the writing. Sometimes music, but mostly the writing. I’ve always been able to scratch out a few words to more or less vomit up the toxic drivel that burns my throat, makes the inside of my brain hot. If I can get a couple of pages down, and describe what I am feeling and what has happened to trigger that, I can usually take the edge off. Every once in a while, that doesn’t work, but I’ve learned to keep at it. I haven’t saved all that many examples of that, because it feels so torturous, like bile roiling up from deep within.

So, I suppose I’ve gained some degree of confidence that I can survive even the most horrific of grieving spells, but also developed some degree of confidence in using writing as a coping skill. When my grandmother died, I don’t think I was using that tool yet…I just shut down and held it all inside. I also didn’t feel that I had enough privacy to bare my soul on paper and feel that it could be hidden from view. My mother had the boundaries of a wolverine, and would prowl through my room and search through papers and books and diaries whenever she pleased. That went on until I moved onto campus in my second year of college, and she managed to betray my diary several times while I lived there. I did not like that AT ALL. After she did it the last time, and uncovered some really private reflections, I didn’t write in a journal for a few years. I just couldn’t trust any place to be safe. She was everywhere.

I would like to believe that losing what I have lost and grieving the way I have gives me a way to empathize with other people. That’s probably true, although I feel like I was empathic from the start. I just had no boundaries. It was difficult for me to discern where I stopped and started, and where someone else stopped and started. Sometimes it still is, but it’s gotten a lot better over the past decade or so. Regardless, I’m not entirely sure that’s a blessing, or a curse. I’ve said many times before that I feel as though I give out far more than I get in return. I’m not a score keeper or anything, but when I realize things are a bit lopsided on the give-take platform, I get a tad disenchanted. When I feel there’s intentional use and abuse, I am irate. So, maybe the empathy isn’t all that great a thing, because once I feel what someone else is going through, I feel compelled to at least try to make it better. On my good days, I realize that’s really not my job, but once again, it’s a default button that auto-activates. Trying to remove that mechanism feels as though I have to set the auto-destruct sequence. I’ve got to think about that, because I also feel as though I need to accept that as part of who I am. I can do that, but it just doesn’t work all that well for me. And so it goes.

So, loss is part of life, and I can live with that. I do live with that. It’s just not pleasant, but nobody said everything in my life would be pleasant. I suppose one must have the unpleasant to realize and appreciate the pleasant. Or something like that. I suppose the point is that my as-built schematics are clear, and this device is working as designed. I’m a little confused about whether I can re-design, modify, upgrade, retrofit, or change the design scheme at this point. In the past, I believed that re-creating myself was a sign of failure, an indication that my product was simply inadequate, and not working. That view has changed along the way, and I see re-creating oneself as a necessary part of living. It’s the journey, not the destination, blah blah blah. Seriously, though, it seems that loss has triggered re-creation on several occasions. When I have felt despair at losing someone, or a dream, or some part of my outlook, I have re-arranged the playing board and somehow managed to roll the dice again. I’m not sure if that was sans damage, though, and it seems as though perhaps the new creation may begin a few steps behind the starting block. I’m not sure about that, but will have to figure that out I think.

So, loss may trigger growth, or at least a major change at the deepest level. That’s fine. When I have core meltdowns, perhaps that is what is happening, my core is reorienting, reconstituting, reforming with additional elements, different combinations of elements, more information. Maybe. I simply find it difficult to abandon the feeling of failure, or not measuring up to expectations, to having dreams wither and die on the vine. There were so many hopes and dreams when I was younger, when I didn’t know how the world functioned, when I had not seen the worst of what people had to offer. Before I had my heart broken and shattered into so many pieces that it can’t ever be entirely whole again. Yes, the light shines in through the missing pieces, but just once – just once – I’d like to get what I set out to get, get the brass ring, succeed at something I set my sights on. Maybe that’s only in reference to matters of the heart…I’m not sure. Sometimes it’s hard to separate my wants from other folks’ needs, and until 2017 I was reasonably successful at work and maintaining a reasonable standard of living. Romance, love, relationships (with a capital R) … not so much. Maybe loss is enmeshed with that, braided, entwine with that, I believe. With every loss, I grow less and less enthusiastic about showing myself, about taking the risk to be vulnerable.

At this point, I’m going to need a nap.

I’m in there somewhere, I think.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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