Every time … but it never is


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Every time … but it never is.

Every time a car slows by the house,
I run to see if it’s you.
Anytime my phone rings,
I hope it’s you.
When Facebook says I have a message,
I pray it’s you.

But it’s never your car.
Never your call.
Never your message.

Every time … but it never is.

But it is always … sadness.
Always pain.
Always grief.
Always tears.

And every time …
it is always

alone.

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Acute Stress Disorder and Estrangement



I’m currently working my way through the book, Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, by Sheri McGregor, MA and sharing my thoughts and responses as posts on this blog.


In the first part of the latest section I read in the book, McGregor suggests that parents experiencing estrangement from adult children shouldn’t be hasty in making major life decisions.  I believe this is much like the counsel that’s often offered after someone experiences the death of a loved one:  Don’t make major changes like quitting a job, or moving, or beginning a new relationship, or getting a new pet.  Anything that would have long reaching repercussions should be delayed until the initial shock and pain dissipate.

McGregor says that in the early weeks following an estrangement, many parents — if they sought professional counseling — would be quickly diagnosed with Acute Stress Disorder (ASD).  ASD occurs in the first weeks following a traumatic event or major loss.  Being suddenly estranged from an adult child (or children) definitely constitutes a personal trauma and loss.

As I thought about my own early days following the estrangement, I experienced the following ASD symptoms:

  • numbed, dazed, detached
  • haunting memories
  • vivid dreams
  • difficulty concentrating
  • avoiding reminders of my children (people, places, photos, etc.)
  • uncontrollable crying
  • sleep difficulties

During the first few weeks, whenever I attempted telling someone what was happening with my children, I would experience an anxiety attack.  My heart would race, I would start shaking visibly, I would stutter severely (if I could get words out at all), and I would feel like I couldn’t breathe.  Writing it down doesn’t sound so bad, but what I experienced was truly debilitating.  It was almost like I’d seize up into a shaking, quivering, crying, stuttering, gasping ball of grief and shock.

It was awful.  Truly awful.

McGregor also states that in the aftermath of a trauma people tend to do one of two things.  They reach out to others for support, or they retreat off by themselves.  She compared the people who retreat to someone with a bad burn who would avoid others to avoid being jostled and causing the pain to worsen.  She said neither reaction is right or wrong.  Both reactions are normal and understandable.  Sometimes a person may switch back and forth between the two reactions.

I did both.  I reached out to people (my counselor, my pastor, a good friend), but I also retreated into my home where I could cry and shake and emote without fear or embarrassment.  I definitely felt as if my pain could be intensified by the jostling of well meaning people and their often unhelpful and unintentionally hurtful comments or reactions.

And the fact that the initial weeks of my estrangement from my children happened at the beginning of the holiday season didn’t help.  Acute Stress Disorder and the holidays don’t mix well, I discovered.  Probably had a lot to do with why I ended up in the hospital on Suicide Watch over New Year’s.

The Early Days of Estrangement


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What follows is my response to the questions and exercises in the first part of the book, Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, by Sheri McGregor, MA.  I’m going to start working my way through the book in the coming days and sharing my thoughts on this blog.


51cRtf49Q8LMy estrangement from my three adult children began after a misunderstanding on Thanksgiving night. The timing was awful.  For nearly the entire month of December I was in shock.  How could my children desert me at the holidays?!

I was so alone, so sad, so shocked.  In Done with the Crying, McGregor states that the initial feeling most parents feel when an estrangement begins is shock.  That was definitely the case for me.

Unbelief, confusion, helplessness.

I waited for them to call or email.  I wanted to talk and help clear things up.  I wanted to listen.  I tried to contact them throughout the holidays, but was met with silence.

When I asked if we could meet with a neutral third party (a counselor or a family friend who’s a pastor) to begin some sort of communication, I received a curt email response that said, “We’re not ready for that.”

That was six months ago.

Will they ever be ready?

Without any sort of communication, we can’t even begin the process of reconciliation or understanding.  They’ve also cut off all contact with my dad.  My dad said yesterday on the phone that he doesn’t even care at this point about reconciliation with them, but he’d just like to see us all have a civil relationship so we can all attend family gatherings and holiday events (and even funerals) at the same time.

Pain.  Isolation.  Silence.  Abandonment.  Betrayal.  Judgement.  A broken heart.  Loss.  Anxiety.  Fear.  Powerlessness.  Defeated. Devastated.  Depressed.  Suicidal.  Numb.

Like walking through a thick fog.

This was the new hurtful reality that suddenly presented itself.  I couldn’t get my mind around it, no matter how hard I tried. And as a single mom, I had no one who shared these feeling with me.

The first month was so overwhelming.

I felt like I’d lost my identity.  I’d never realized how much my personal identity tied into the idea of being a mother.  Now that I didn’t have that relationship with my children, I felt so lost.  I suffered a major existential crisis in addition to the grief and shock.  The pillars of my life had been knocked down and shattered under me.

The pain was so great, that each night during December I self-medicated with alcohol.  I couldn’t bear going to bed and being alone in the quiet and the darkness with nothing but my thoughts, my misery, my memories, and my tears.  So I would drink until I could just lie down and pass out on my bed.

Every morning when I woke up, my first thought was, “Wow.  That was the worst dream ever.”

And then I’d remember.  It wasn’t a dream.  They really were gone.  They really had cut me off.

I really was alone.

~ The Estranged Mom

 

I’m Lost


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Feeling lost.

Alone.

At loose ends.

Estrangement is foreign to me.

Can’t see the path.

Not sure there is a path.

Need to remember, although lost, I’m not a lost cause.

My life isn’t a lost cause.

Have difficulty seeing my purpose.

My main purpose was being Mom.

I have to believe.

I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Eventually find a new life.

New purpose.

Life always with a sense of pain and loss.

I can’t forget my children.  Impossible.

But it’ll be a life.

May even be a purposeful life.

An unknown unseen reason to go on living.

Day by day.

Trauma and Loss



“There is no more transformative experience in human life than trauma or tragic loss. Nothing can hurt us, scar us or heal us more, and nothing brings us more valuable growth lessons. The gift of trauma changes us permanently and profoundly. It may change us physically due to illness or injury, it may annihilate our sense of security and status quo, and it may rob us of relationships, habits and beliefs that made the world safe and logical to us.” — From GrievingD

Robbed of relationships.  Robbed of all that made my world safe and logical.  Yes.  To all of it.

Estrangement may not be a physical death, but it is death, none-the-less.  It’s the death of a relationship.  The death of family.  The death of dreams.  The death of security and comfort in old age.  The death of purpose and meaning.  The death of hope.

Estrangement is traumatic.

Estrangement is a tragic loss.

Estrangement is the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced.

And I’ve experienced everything from the death of a loved one, the loss of a spouse, sexual abuse, life-threatening illness (the list is much longer than this) — and I can honestly say that nothing I’ve experienced compares with the pain of this complete estrangement from all three of my adult children.

This is loss like I never knew was possible.  Pain like I never imagined.  Emptiness and hopelessness beyond compare.

I’m already not the person I was before this happened, and it’s only been six months.  I’m less trusting.  More fearful.  More tearful.  Purposeless.  Who will I be in six years?  Or twenty?  How will I go on day after day without the three people I love the most?  The three people I’d given my life and love to for their entire lives?

What do I do with all the feelings when I remember each of those tiny newborn babies I held in my arms?  So tender.  So trusting.  So perfect.  The cause of my greatest joys.  And now those same sweet babies are the cause of my greatest heartache.

I don’t even know how to get my mind around this.

~The Estranged Mom