I am trying to allow space and acceptance that the next ten days are likely to be quite hard for me, as two significant anniversaries approach. On December 10th it will be 4 years since one of my best friend’s, Jess, took her life at the age of 26 by throwing herself from the cliffs along the coast from here. On the same day my Mum will turn 70 and I will not be part of her celebrations. This is something which, of course, brings up very mixed feelings because I do love and miss her, but at the same time I am also so relieved to be far away from the heavy weight of her expectations and her pain and sadness on that day. I was never enough to fill her up and she made me feel guilty for that my entire life.
A few days after Jess died I remember my Mum saying ‘so that’s my birthday ruined forever now, is it? Because you’ll always be miserable on that day now’. This says it all really, about my Mum and her narcissism and her total lack of empathy. The torrent of grief that swept me away when Jess died was a total mystery to her. And to my Dad. And to me too I guess. For 6 weeks after Jess died I fell apart completely. I didn’t sleep. I cried all the time. I thought I was going crazy. It was all the old trauma re-opening, something I didn’t know at the time, and I was plunged into very young, dissociated spaces which left me completely unable to function. I drank and smoked and cried, and somehow managed to pull off a house move along the way. Maybe I will write about those dark days and all I learnt about myself because of Jess dying later in the week, because I see it now as a gift Jess left me, that her killing herself put me in touch with everything I needed to heal. Not today though, it is too much today.
I’ve just got back from a walk at the beach – wet and windy but unseasonably mild so there were some people swimming and lots of very excited dogs splashing in the sea. Nina is at a friends and it was nice to get some space and fresh air. I say ‘nice’ but nothing about today feels nice – I am very dissociated and fuggy and my head aches and my eyes hurt, as they often do when I am very far away. To be honest I think it is likely I will remain in this cut off and dissociated state for much of the next week or two. I am starting to accept that I can’t just will myself into ‘feeling the feelings’ that keep me in this cut off state. I think some of the anger at myself for not being able to ‘feel my emotions properly’ and for automatically dissociating is starting to dissipate over the last year or so. I am more accepting that maybe I will always dissociate to some extent, seeing as I’ve obviously done it since I was an infant, and I fight it less which I guess maybe means I am not intensifying the big feelings which cause it in the first place. So many times when I’ve been dissociated K has said ‘let’s get to know that place where you go’ and I used to wonder why because when I was ‘healed’ I obviously wouldn’t go there anymore. Now I get it and why it has been so important to make that place feel more familiar and less overwhelming.
At the beach I thought of Jess and my Mum. It’s uncomfortable that this day belongs to both of them, though K has always said it’s not a coincidence that Jess killed herself on my Mum’s birthday. This sounds egotistical though, because surely Jess’ story is not all about me. I don’t want them to be woven together in my mind because one of them gave me so much and the other took so much away from me, continues to take so much from me. My Mum’s birthday was always completely horrific when I was growing up. There was so often a huge scene, with my Mum going utterly psycho and yelling torrents of terrifying abuse at us. My disabled brother and I tried so hard after my Dad left to get it right and make her happy but it was never good enough. She would always end up crying hysterically and screaming and sobbing and sometimes she would leave and threaten not to come back. My Dad was always on ‘red alert’ for a phone call from me begging him to come and rescue me. In recent years I felt so much anger at him for this, for knowing it was so bad and yet still leaving me there to endure it, but we spoke about it over the summer and he said the only way would have been to run away with me somewhere because my Mum was clever and manipulative and would have got a court order to stop him seeing me. I was terrified of her, of her rage in part but mostly I lived in fear of her pain, her tears, her swollen eyes, her pitiful looks and her pervasive wish to die. I would have told anyone anything to make her happy.
It hurts less now, sometimes, that no one came to rescue me. My mum wouldn’t have let them. And no one could really see what was happening because no one looked hard enough. Everyone saw my Mum as a wonderful mother and citizen, and they never really seemed to question my anorexia and bulimia and self-harm and binge drinking and link it to what must have been going on at home. I was always clean and I worked hard at school so no one knew the abuse and neglect that were a constant presence in my life, and the chronic invalidation I lived with from both my parents. I dreamed of being with my Dad all the time, but in reality he was abusive too – shaming and hard and completely unwilling to see who I was.
Next Monday K and I are going to meet at the forest for our session and I will light candles for my Mum and Jess – far away from each other, with a barrier of sticks and stones between them because they represent such different griefs, such different losses, and they have each left such different imprints on my soul. I will think of my Mum and send love to her while also feeling grateful that I am no longer smothered and terrified by her at this time of year. I can hold compassion for her now, from over here where her pain is less visible and tangible and where I am almost free from all that she tried to make me be. It hurts that I do not have a Mum I can see without sacrificing myself and my daughter. It hurts that I don’t have a Mum I can love without hesitation or complication or repulsion or guilt, but I do understand how and why she is how she is now. And I cannot see her because I accept now she can never change and I don’t think I can ever change myself enough to be okay with how she is.
And Jess is a part of me forever. All I am now and all I hope to become is and will be possible in part because she walked beside me for a little while and in leaving threw me into the dark pit of turmoil inside me that I had spent my whole life avoiding. We had such a beautiful connection, a connection I didn’t fully understand until she took her life and I saw the pain – hers and my own – and realised how much more we shared than I had ever known while she was alive. I wish she had had a K to help her so she could have lived, because she was vibrant and alive and full of life and adventure, but I am so grateful that she brought my K to me.
Letting go of Jess has been one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do. The shock and disbelief lasted years. As the first anniversary approached K and I had only been working together 2 or 3 months, and had only just started to figure out I had alters, and I remember her saying how hard it was for very young parts to understand something as huge as suicide. A sudden death was bad enough, but when that person chose to die it makes it so much more complicated and shocking and incomprehensible. And that was the point everything shifted for me I think – I took my first step towards understanding my fragmentation and I realised K was capable of really understanding and helping us all. We did some grief work with young parts, making a memory jar and a special book for Jess, playing music and talking about her. I saw how all the parts had loved Jess too and what a huge and devastating loss it was for everyone in my system. I began to understand why I had lost my mind so intensely when she was so suddenly gone, why everyone else was able to dip in and out of the grief and we were completely submerged.
I still miss Jess every day but I have learnt to live my life around the hole she has left in me now. And I guess I will learn one day to live my life around the hole my Mum has left in me too. A different hole but equally one that has shaped me and one that I cannot fill with someone else, however hard I might try. I cannot ignore that hole, I can only learn to find ways to love myself despite it. No, because of it. And so I will spend the next 10 days trying to find ways of honouring these two women who have brought such pain to my life in such different ways. And I will try and find a way to accept how revolting and shut down and fuzzy everything inside me feels because it is clear there is a pain within me that at the moment is too hard for me to reach. My process is my own, complicated by dissociation, and honouring my journey and my path is the only way I can see of transforming dissociation into something clearer and more real.