Bodily Effects of Estrangement


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I thought I’d take some time to practice mindfulness in the midst of one of my more difficult moments today being overwhelmed with grief.  I’ve been having quite a few of these overwhelming moments this week.  I focused on what my body was doing and took inventory of my bodily reaction to the current bout of emotional turmoil.

Here’s the list I came up with from today’s grief event and things I remember from others (I’m sure there’s more):

  • stomach muscles clenched
  • stomach queasy, sometimes to the point of vomiting
  • tight chest
  • clenched teeth
  • gasping for air, feeling like I can’t breathe
  • crying
  • sobbing
  • feeling like I’m drowning in my tears
  • doubled over
  • head and neck tight
  • muscles throughout my body tight
  • toes and feet curled and clenched
  • trembling, shaking
  • dizzy
  • poor balance when walking
  • stuttering
  • closed eyes
  • I bite my lips
  • I hide face behind hands or clothing
  • I suck and chew on clothing (shirt edge usually)
  • aching all over
  • sometimes the crying triggers my asthma

And when this happens, all I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep … for a thousand years.

One benefit of mindfully taking stock of my body’s reactions, allowed me to make other choices to help myself feel better.  When I noticed my clenched teeth, I made an effort to relax my jaw.  When I noticed muscles that were being held tightly, I took some time to focus on releasing those muscles as much as I could.

It didn’t take care of everything, but it made a small difference in how I was coping.  A small difference right now can be the difference between life and another stay in the hospital on Suicide Watch.

This has been a bad, bad week.

 

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What I Can Do to Help Myself

SOS

Photo courtesy of Morguefile – http://mrg.bz/16f001


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 her book, McGregor suggests writing down things the estranged parent can do to help themselves that are specific to their situation.  So here’s my list.

Ways I Can Help Myself:

  • Don’t drink.  In my case, it can actually be life-threatening because alcohol is a dangerous combination with some of the medications I take.  Alcohol can also loosen inhibitions which can cause a loss of rational thinking.  A dangerous thing when you’re feeling suicidal.
  • Seek counseling from professionals.  Fortunately I was already seeing a counselor at my university to help deal with some issues about returning to Grad school.  After I spent a week in the hospital on Suicide Watch, I also started seeing another counselor in my community because I knew as soon as I graduate in June, I’ll lose access to the school psychologist.
  • Stay in closer contact with people who previously were on the edges of my life.  I was so close to my kids, I didn’t feel the need for many other relationships.  Now I see this was a huge mistake.  It left me almost completely alone to deal with things.  I need to make an effort to rekindle friendships.
  • Set up an emergency contact person.  Due to my tendency to slip into severe depression and suicidal thoughts when the pain gets to be too much for me, one of my counselors recommended I  have someone set up who I can call, day or night, who can come over and keep an eye on me.  Not to counsel or to help, but to be there and help me make the decision if I need to go the hospital or not.  Last time I had to drive myself to the hospital which was super scary now that I look back on it because I was very tempted to drive off a bridge or crash my car the entire drive.
  • Get exercise and fresh air.  I joined a local gym and work out several times a week now.  I try to take regular walks, and when the weather’s nice, I go to a local beach and bask in the sunshine.  I live in rainy Western Washington, so sunshine is essential to combat Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder (SAD) which I don’t need to add to my current list of overwhelming emotions and sadness.

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’ve Been Reading on Estrangement


I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading about adult children who estrange themselves from their parents and it seems that new spouses/partners seem to have a lot to do with it.  It’s also common for it to begin after an adult child begins counseling.

I can attest to the fact that two of my childrens’ significant others have played a large part in not only encouraging this estrangement, but actually doing a great deal to instigate it from the beginning.  And both of the children with the difficult SO’s also began seeing counselors at about the same time.  I’ll go into that more at a later time.

Also, when families are super close (as mine was), sometimes when the adult children have the need to do some of the normal separation from their parents that comes with growing up, they don’t know how to do it, so they just cut their parents off completely.

I just think it’s interesting that there are patterns to these sorts of family situations that don’t really have much to do with the actual state of the relationship between parent and adult child.

On another note but still related to things I’m reading, I’ve just started into a book called Done with the Crying: Hope and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children by Sheri McGregor.  So far, it looks like it’s going to be a helpful read.  At the end of each section, the author has some questions for thought and recommends writing out the answers to give you a chance to connect to parts of yourself that you can tap into by doing something physical rather than just thinking about answers to the questions.

I’ve read the first chapter, but came to the questions at the end and wasn’t sure what to do with them.  Then it dawned on me they could be good to share as posts on this blog.  You can join me as I work my way through the book.

Until later …

~The Estranged Mom

I made it out of bed this morning


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Ever since the estrangement from my three adult children began six months ago, it’s been difficult to even get out of bed.

So I thought I’d make a list of things I actually accomplished today. Definitely not an earth-shattering day of events, but at least most of it involved being upright and out from under my bed covers (and out of my pajamas).

Today, I ….

  • got dressed (although I never did get around to putting on make-up. I hope I remembered to brush my hair before I left the house!)
  • did the dishes
  • fed the cats and fish and rabbits
  • watered the plants
  • talked to a couple of my neighbors about nothing important
  • wandered the aisles at my local store looking for nothing in particular
  • picked up prescriptions at the pharmacy
  • picked up my mail (found more prescriptions there, too)
  • ate three semi-healthy meals
  • worked for several hours on homework (I’d been procrastinating)
  • watched a few back episodes of shows I’d gotten behind on
  • diddled around on Facebook
  • … and cried … in the car
  • … and cried … in my house
  • … and cried … while chatting with a friend online

Once the crying starts, it feels as if it will never stop.  But usually it does stop.

Sometimes it stops simply from sheer exhaustion.

Sometimes it stops because I’m all cried out and the tears have done their cleansing work.

Sometimes it stops because I drink myself into a stupor (yes, I unfortunately sometimes choose to self-medicate).

Sometimes it stops because I’m distracted by something else.

The one time the crying didn’t stop (at the end of this past December just after the holidays), I ended up in the hospital on Suicide Watch for six days.  Because of that horrible awful no good very bad day, I always feel a twinge of fear that the crying won’t stop.  I never want to feel like I did that day when I admitted myself to a psych ward so that others could protect me from myself.

Today’s crying ended after I spent several minutes quietly watching the baby fish who live in my aquarium on a low shelf above my kitchen sink.  I knelt down on the floor, rested my head on the counter, and just watched the tiny living beings swim around.  At first the tears were so heavy, I could barely see the fish.  But soon I was smiling at the little lives in front of me. I realized my eyes were dry and my sobbing gone.

So today was eventful and uneventful.  Happy and sad.  Full of meds and fish, people and writing.

But the most important things today?  I got out of bed, kept busy, survived a major crying jag, and will head to bed in a few minutes.

Yes, I have made it through another day.

One day at a time.

That’s the only way I’ll survive this estrangement.

Just take it one eventful/uneventful, happy/sad day at a time.

~The Estranged Mom