A lot of friends have asked me why I don’t write anymore. For several years, I was publishing things several times a week. Then it became maybe once or twice a month, then a handful of times for the entire year. Then, it stopped completely. Nearly two and half years have passed since I’ve written anything. The question remained. Why?
I half jokingly told people I have less to write about when I’m happy. There was some truth to the statement. I was in a better place in my life, personally and professionally. It wasn’t the whole truth though. I was certainly happier than I had been in many years, but there was this unsettledness bubbling underneath it all. I stopped writing more out of fear than anything else. The fear that if I put the words and thoughts in my head into some physical form, I might break down completely, and I was not going to let that happen again. I did what I have done most of my life: I bottled it up and tried to ignore it.
There have been several times I’ve started to write something and have stopped. The emotions were too raw and I couldn’t get through it. The timing was too close to certain events in my life, and I felt like others might judge me for being too honest. Normally, I don’t care what others think, but this was an exception. I deleted the words. Walked away from the computer. Took a shower and sobbed. Whatever it took to keep it from seeping from me. I’ve had decades of practice at this, so I’m an expert by now.
The problem with ignoring your psyche’s need to heal is that eventually it manifests itself physically. It keeps you from being really you because there’s that piece of your brain that is constantly monitoring that pressure cooker to make sure it doesn’t explode. Eventually, though, it does. Always. For me, I know I’m reaching that point when I feel a physical need to write. It manifests itself by pushing me to clean, purge, reorganize. My attention span gets shorter and my thoughts are constantly interrupted by things I need to say, but won’t. My dreams become more vivid and the symbolism starts to hit me over the head. “Listen, we’ve been patient with your denial, but this is extreme, even for you. Get with it, bitch.”
It really all comes down to one thing.
Grief. 10 friggin’ years of accumulated grief.
I was too busy just trying to survive life that I didn’t allow myself to grieve. Grief for the end of a marriage. Grief for the dog I had to leave with my husband. Grief for my aunt who died in the middle of my life turning upside down. Grief for a failed relationship I tried so hard to make work, even though I knew it was killing me. Grief for that same dog I left behind when I found out she died. Grief for other relationships that didn’t work out. Grief for lost friendships. Grief for my mom when she stopped fighting and let herself waste away. Grief when she died. Grief for myself because I know I am forever damaged by an abusive relationship.
One of the last things I wrote was about one of my tattoos and how it represented a rebirth for me. I said I wasn’t going to waste anymore words on my ex and I didn’t. Of course the problem with that is I didn’t realize at the time just how much that period in my life would continue to affect me. I’ve talked in general terms about how difficult it was with her, partly because she refused to get help for her bipolar. Only a handful of people know just how bad it was during those four years. The emotional and verbal use was a daily event. A few times, she tried to pick a physical fight by shoving me. I never shoved back. Engaging her only gave her what she wanted. There were dishes broken and threats of calling the police to say I was abusing her. One night, she decided to throw several vases at the door behind my head. Shortly after that, things ended. There’s a part of me that is ashamed I let her treat me the way she did and that I didn’t find a way out sooner. Shame is powerful silencer.
I realized I’m not doing myself any favors by denying this truth. That relationship changed me in ways I’m still trying to understand. I’m still discovering things that trigger anxiety or emotional breakdowns, and it’s been over 5 years. A new washing machine was delivered to the house in January. When they unhooked the old one and hauled it out of the garage, I had to rush back into the house. I started crying because I felt so much relief. You might think that’s strange, but if you knew how many arguments took place over laundry, you’d understand. It was like this giant emotional weight had been lifted off of me and I was free. The intensity of my feelings shocked me and inspired another purge of the house. I went through my closet and got rid of clothes that she bought me. Before, I hadn’t felt like the clothes should be punished for whom they were purchased by. Now, I just didn’t give a shit. I make enough money to buy new clothes. So I did.
Right after the relationship ended, I took a lot of time to heal. It took six months for me to not have anxiety attacks whenever I got a text message or a phone call. It was three months before I stopped feeling like I had to make the world’s fastest grocery store runs so I could be home in a set amount of time. A year passed before I could drive certain routes without having flashbacks of her yelling at me for one thing or another. I’ve come a long way, but there will always be something that triggers me. I tried going into a Ross last year with my fiancée, looking for some kitchen gadgets. We were in the store for five minutes when I felt like I couldn’t breathe and the walls were closing in on me. I very calmly said, “We need to leave. Now.” No questions asked, we walked out. I had told her before we walked in I didn’t know how I was going to react. I often have to catch myself when I she says something that triggers that switch in my head. She doesn’t know what’s going to do it. Hell, I don’t even know half the time. The good thing is I can explain it to her when it happens and not have a meltdown. Most of the time.
I wish I could get back the parts of me that went missing during those years. But I can’t. And even when I accepted that, I refused to grieve. I told myself I’m a stronger person for what I went through. There is truth to that. But the loss is still there and it’s time I acknowledge it.
My mom’s death is what really pushed me over that proverbial edge. Just when other stuff in my life had improved, her health started getting worse. I watched her give up. My mom was never someone to quit, and seeing her do just that angered me more than anything else. I felt like she was abandoning all of us. I was angry for what she was putting my dad through. I was angry because she was being selfish for not doing what was necessary to get better. And just how do you express that anger without sounding like an asshole? My mom was being treated for lymphoma and I was pissed because she wasn’t fighting. I kept the anger to myself, even after she died.
My mom and I had always been close. We played tennis together when I was old enough to actually give her a decent match. We talked on the phone daily, often during TV shows or football. We would play music over the phone that we thought the other person would like. She was one of my best friends and she gave up on life and abandoned me. How do you deal with that without completely falling apart? I knew I couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me. It was too much, too soon.
But every day, the grief was there, picking at me, trying to get out. I’d be watching football or Glee and would reach for the phone to call her. Then I remembered she wasn’t there to call, so instead I’d just start crying. I couldn’t listen to most music for almost a year because everything reminded me of her. Driving over the Benicia bridge one afternoon, Queen came on and before I knew it, tears were running down my face. I’ve gone to several concerts that I know she would’ve loved and I have to take extra Kleenex just to make it through. I still can’t watch Mamma Mia. Believe me, I’ve tried.
A part of me died with her. I can feel the difference in my personality since that morning. I know I have a wall around me, one I constructed for self-preservation. Most people wouldn’t know it. By all appearances, I’m a happy person. And for the most part, I am. But I’m also really good at putting on a good face so people can’t see the sadness underneath. It’s how I have to be to navigate life right now. For my own sake, though, I have to find my words again and let them gradually release all the grief before the dam blows a hole.