Grief; the one and perhaps only word that could invoke more emotions than the word love is near impossible to describe. It’s like a tsunami of emotions that suddenly overwhelm you to a point you did not know you could reach, while your mind is caught in the eye of the storm, spinning out of control. It is a physical pain that encompasses your whole being, tightening every muscle in your body while sucking the air out of your lungs; even breathing becomes painful. The tears stream down your face uncontrollably and if it is possible, your heart physically hurts. Grief involves a major loss of something we are attached to, and is not limited to what it is most associated with…death. There is often grief involved with the loss of a home, job or even a friendship.
There is no timetable that comes with grief; it is completely individualistic and situational. There is no right or wrong way to deal with it, there is only what is best for you. Sure, there are common stages that the majority of people will deal with when it comes to grief; the denial and anger, the bargaining, depression and eventual acceptance, but each person will experience them differently. These stages may sound familiar if you have suffered a deep loss, like a death, as you may have passed through them on your path to healing.
We learn how to mourn for other people, great losses and even material attachments, but have we ever been taught, as survivors, that it is ok to mourn all that we lost? We lost our innocence and our ability to trust. We lost our voices out of fear and shame. We lost the developing identity that may have been, had we not been violated. We became empty shells with no functional ability to process the trauma occurring. We could not fight, nor flight and so we froze, and the survival portion of the brain took over, to save us from the trauma we could not handle. In essence we lost our childhoods, and we need to grieve such an immense loss in order to heal.
Grieving for an external loss seems to come more naturally than trying to grieve for oneself. Trying to understand the loss of your inner child not only involves having to acknowledge that you still have an inner child, but also accepting the fact that the “little you” was hurt and violated and bears no responsibility for the trauma endured, which is something many survivors struggle with for years. We became experts at denial the instant we were defiled and we continue along that path until we are emotionally strong enough to deal with the truth.
Anger is almost innate for most survivors. It starts with the abuse and sometimes lasts a lifetime. We are rarely presented with the opportunity to express the anger we are burdened with to the source that caused our pain, and despite carrying it around for so long, we are often incapable of outwardly expressing it appropriately. When anger becomes internalized, as a child we act out in a multitude of ways, and as we age these behaviors can lead to self-destructive habits such as addiction and self-harm as methods of coping. We may be able to get help dealing with and properly expressing our anger and recognizing its effects on our present day lives through therapy, or a workbook and although I believe it eases up in time, mine certainly has, but I think it is something we shall carry with us to some degree through the rest our lives.
Bargaining is the normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability in a desperate attempt to regain even just a small piece of the control we lost as children. For years, we play the “what if” game, wondering if we had only done something differently or if we had spoken up, would things have been different? As children we can’t do much bargaining because we are unequipped to do anything other than go into survival mode. As we age, beliefs depending of course, we sometimes try bargaining with a “higher power” in an effort to trade or give up anything we can think of if the abuse stops. Sadly, however most survivors do not end up dealing with their trauma until adulthood and by then, bargaining seems futile.
Depression, I would say, affects nearly every single survivor at various degrees, during their lives, sometimes sporadically sometimes never ending. It may have started when we were young but was not recognized until we were teens or adults and therefore it is often not until we are in our twenties and thirties or later that we can even begin to truly process and try to heal from the trauma we suffered as children. With the grief of any major loss comes such a heavy sadness and emotional weight not only at the time of the event but often for years after. Depression is certainly not limited to grief but is a true indication that something deeper lays beneath the surface.
Acceptance for survivors is multi-faceted, non-linear, and for some may never happen. It is difficult to accept any loss, but to accept losing a childhood that can never be reclaimed is a long and arduous process. It becomes further complicated because often our abusers are family members or friends making it even more difficult to acknowledge such a betrayal as our truth. With proper support and perhaps therapy we can to try and learn to accept the traumas that have melded us into the people we are today.
So grieve. Grieve for your inner child and all the losses that you suffered, but show yourself the same support and caring that you would give to anyone else.