Use Your Pain for Fuel

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When I sought counseling after being discarded by my mom, the counselor asked what my goals were for my sessions with her. I said,

“Help me grieve the death of my parents — who are still living.”

It’s been sixteen years since I was discarded by my dad and brother, and three and a half years since being discarded by my mom. All of these discards caused tremendous damage, but being discarded at age forty-six by my mom, dredged up everything for me. Absolutely everything. Things I thought I was completely over, now sent me reeling into the abyss.

This is an article about how the death of a parent impacts the adult child psychologically and physically. The pain and torment of narcissistic discard is no joke.

Even as a nurse; someone well aware that the grieving process isn’t a linear, chronological undertaking, and is something that looks different for everyone, I think I still naively hoped for a process that would be something I could just breeze through like steps one through five, check, check, check, check, and check. Like homework.

I was in so much pain from being discarded by my mom, that some days I thought I might die from the sheer weight of the pain I carried within my chest. Other days, I wanted to die just to be done with it all. I couldn’t get my head from spiraling, “What did I ever do to deserve this?” — As all this was happening, I also had a few long-term friendships that were falling into disrepair, marital problems, and ‘other’ family issues I’ll get around to discussing with you all some other time.

I thought the counselor could give me some tool to help me get through the pain I was grappling with so I begged her for reading material and homework on anything she thought would help me. I needed answers.

I told her one day as I arrived with my homework in hand that I wanted to stop writing my memoir and focus solely on the grieving process and heal this shit once and for all. She smiled and let me tell her what I thought I needed as she sat quietly with her hands folded in her lap.

Oh, how funny that is to me now.

And I did stop writing my memoir. For a while. I had to. I was advised to stop when I started to stutter in counseling as I did in childhood as I sat and talked about what had hurt me. I was reeling with emotions I had buried for four decades. I had to get out of the tailspin I was in and regroup and refuel.

So, with some time and a few months worth of sessions under our belts, my counselor led me to the conclusion that within the rubble of my despair I wanted to put aside, lay the rubies and diamonds I needed for the long haul. I needed to put “that” together with “this” and tether it together somehow into a meaningful life. I had to integrate what I was learning there, with where I had been, and where I saw myself going. I had to stop compartmentalizing. I had to stop disassociating. Wounded child by night. Extra Super Do-Gooder by day. She reminded me that letting the dream of writing my book go in order to process yet another discard would only hurt me and stop any progress I had made in my self-discovery and recovery of my strength. So, with her encouragement, I decided to use the pain of my mother’s discard as fuel for my journey to write Steel Town Girl. 

Grieving the death of parents and a sibling while they’re still alive is a hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s confusing grief. Even this far out. Even with writing a childhood memoir about it, it’s still a muddy pit of despair I have to dig through alone, sometimes daily, in order to survive.

I find myself asking, “What is this I’ve found? Why does it feel this way? Is this mine, or does it belong to someone else?” I’ve definitely found some jewels to keep, but I’ve found a lot of rocks I had to throw back in.

It hurts to be rejected by the very people who made us. How do we trust others in a world like that? How do we learn to love others with role models like that? How do we believe in a god after being handed this lot in life to carry? 

The answer is, “I don’t know?” My question is: “What else can we do?”

With the tools I was given in counseling, I now know that healing this abuse pattern is a lifelong journey, not something we do once and we’re done. Just knowing that provides a sort of acceptance I didn’t have before. We will grieve now, and grieve again at the time of our parents ‘actual’ death and at various points in between. There’s no way around it, really.

Another tool I was given that has proven to be invaluable in feeling your way through the convoluted mess that is the narcissistic abuse cycle of idealization, devaluation, and discard is trusting yourself and your intuition regardless of what others tell you. If you feel abused, you are. If someone tells you otherwise, ask yourself if they could, in fact, be one of your abusers. 

Turns out, that once you know about this spectrum, you see it everywhere; some people in your life will be high on the spectrum and will be unreachable, while others will only have traits. But, you’ll be delighted when you’re able to go back and see old behaviors and people with new eyes. You’ll see why those old friendships crumbled and people left your life. Hint: You’re growing, they are not.

Somedays I think I’m closer to healing than ever before. I’ll feel like a snake that’s shed its old skin and I’m ready to take on the world. Other days I can barely breathe from the black pit of sorrow that still lurks in my chest. 

I am not the same person I was when I started this memoir writing journey. And, if writing my memoir has taught me anything about myself it’s this: 

I’ve done a lot of grieving in my lifetime. And I’ve done most of it alone. And I’m still sifting through. A day at a time.

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Looking for rubies and diamonds