4am, Friday November 28 – Cat Ba, Vietnam
There is this urge, when one is in so much pain, to run away. It is perhaps easy for others to trivialize this instinct and to say “Running away never solves anything. You should stay where you are and face what you have to face.”. However, given that running away is such a common desire when one is experiencing true trauma, it is an instinct well worth examining.
Many times, over the last 6 months, I have had the urge to run away. This is not to say that I do not love my children. In fact, my children are the greatest gift that John has given me. Without them, I would be truly lost on a way that is too painful to even contemplate. Still, at times I have this urge to run away. If I didn’t have children then I am quite sure that, after John died, I would have disappeared into the mountains for a while, growing a metaphorical beard, laying in the dirt, and crying for hours upon hours for my lost love. This is not an option for me, and again – my children, who hold me back from this brink, are a blessing.
If running away is such a common instinct, then why do we judge it? Why does one smugly sit there and assume that the person in pain is doing something “unhealthy” or something that “won’t bear fruit”? How could you really know what path someone’s journey of grief will take? As I have said before, when one experiences true loss, falling apart is part of the process. There are things one might do that could seem obviously unhealthy, but in fact these things might be 1. much healthier than various truly terrible alternatives and 2. unfortunately necessary in order to emerge on the other side.
I am reminded of the movie “Silver Linings Playbook”. The lead character, Tiffany, loses her husband in a car crash. She begins to sleep with any man or woman she finds, desperate for any sort of comfort. To be clear, this is not something I’m doing, and in fact my pain over not having been touched in any way in a very long time is another topic entirely. Even though her path is not my path, I can still relate to her methods. When you are in SO MUCH pain, you search for precious moments of escape. Stop yourself before you form the thought that escape isn’t healthy. There are truly crushing levels of pain that can render one non functional, and sometimes the only way you make it through is by giving yourself moments of escape. Even if your methods are “unhealthy”, they might in fact be saving you from something worse, such as suicide. To be clear again, I have never for a moment contemplated harming myself. I’m speaking generally here.
Like Tiffany, I yearn for escape. I long to disappear somewhere in the world, to walk the earth – half of the time wanting to walk while sobbing and wearing my pain like a cross, the other half of the time wanting to wear the mask of a “normal person” and pretend (with strangers I meet) that I have no trauma and am still the vivacious/intelligent/interesting person I once was. It doesn’t matter that, at the end of the day, all of the pain is still there and I have not truly escaped anything. Running away from the pain is part of the process.
I ask you, dear reader, to try not to over analyze the path of those you know who have experienced true loss. Unless someone is shooting up heroin or contemplating the murder of someone who has wronged them, perhaps you shouldn’t try to tell them they are “doing it wrong”. Of course, this doesn’t mean you ignore them. There is so much you can do without making the mistake of trying to dictate their path. You can hold them, visit them, praise EVERY SINGLE attempt they make to move forward, and remind them that you walk with them, whatever their path may be. You can give them thoughtful books, bring them meals, offer to drive them to therapy, while being ready to let it go if they aren’t ready. Most of all, you can decide not to judge, you can let go of your ego, and you can stop yourself from criticizing any missteps along the way. What would your path look like if you lost your life partner and the father of your children in one go? I don’t know, and neither do you.