Dave's death catapulted me into a phase of self-discovery like nothing I've experienced before.
Alive, his presence allowed me to look away from myself. I looked closely at our marriage, because it was so important to me, and I looked at him constantly, especially when he was sick because I loved him. I looked at my job and examined every facet of it, obsessively. I looked at the future I expected to have and could imagine it quite easily.
What I didn't really look at much was me. The inside of me. The dark, deep-down and hidden bits of me that were so convenient to ignore.
Sure, I processed my grief around my mother and father's deaths. I knew I had some "issues" that many people raised by an alcoholic do and many who lost a mother very young experience also. I knew I was terrified of losing Dave. I was working on all of that in therapy. But there was so much more inside.
When Dave died and our marriage as I knew it evaporated in front of me and my identity was blown to bits, leaving me to sort through the pieces, I had no choice but to examine the dark and deep parts of me that had been exposed. I had to, for the first time, deal with my fear of being alone as a woman, my perfectionism and how it keeps me prisoner, my neediness, my somewhat warped money and work ethic beliefs, my doubt in the power of myself. It was all there waiting and after the first year or so of widowhood had passed, and some of the shock had begun to burn off, I started to see it all more clearly and I finally couldn't ignore it.
Throughout this journey, the pieces of myself I've been trying to heal and sort out and fully understand for the first time almost seem to come together under one theme, but I've struggled to figure out what that theme actually is. It's like I can see the common thread out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn to look at it head on, it slips back into the periphery and I can't get a really good look at it.
I could sense that it's all related and that it's all about my attachment to the stories in my head, but I could never quite grasp it all.
While it's more complicated than one simple answer or common thread and no one book can ever fully encapsulate the complicated labyrinth of human emotion, a book I started last night felt damn close.
The Five Things We Cannot Change seemed to fit snugly into a gap I had in my understanding of how all these issues of mine come together. It helped make very clear and simple what had been swimming around, unorganized, in my head all this time.
Richo states that there are 5 core facts that we all face but usually live in denial of and this denial is what causes us the undo pain we experience.
These facts that will find us over and over again in life are:
1. Everything changes and ends.
2. Things do not always go according to plan.
3. Life is not always fair.
4. Pain is part of life.
5. People are not loving and loyal all the time.
What I really like about this is that Richo proposes that these truths are not actually the bad news they seem to be. It's actually the struggle against them that is the source of our troubles.
I know that the pain I feel and will always feel at the loss of my husband won't be remedied the minute I really grasp this concept. I understand that grieving is a separate sort of struggle entirely. However, I do think that at some point, I can cause myself much more pain than necessary by pushing against these facts and trying to deny them.
When I feel my worst, I notice my thought patterns actively push against these facts. We were supposed to grow old together. Why did this happen? It's not fair. I don't want to feel pain. Why do people leave me? He died too young, we didn't get enough time together. All valid points and feelings, of course and completely understandable and human, but they feel like arguing with a big, stubborn, omniscient creature (I picture it as an ogre) who keeps all the answers locked within itself just to piss me off.
However, when I turn my thoughts to Yes, he died. It is and was horrible. It was unfair. NOW what? is when things begin to turn the corner for me. That's when I begin to imagine that there might be a life after this for me. There might be a way to do something good in this world because of my pain, not just in spite of it.
And, just as important, nothing is permanent, so why cling to it?
Don't cling to this particular pain, because it will pass. Don't cling to this particular moment, because it will be over, too. Let go and let be.
That's when I start to find a still, calm center within the chaos of my mind. That's when I might be able to zoom up and out of the shell my soul is inhabiting and look down from far above at this life I live from a different perspective. Amongst all the other pain in the world, I'm not alone in loss and grief. We are all able to withstand terrible pain and have been doing so since the beginning of our species' time on earth.
Also, there are facts just as important, but not included in that list. Like there will be incredible joy and beauty and miracles. There will be amazing lessons to be learned only by the trial of pain and loss. There will be wisdom and sunshine and babies' laughs and shouts for joy.
Each of us go through it all if we live long enough. We all experience every one of those five facts and along the way we get to experience all the wonderful facts too, that glow extra bright when held up next to the dark.
I've only read the first chapter of this book so far, but I have a feeling it's one I'll reread again and again. There is something comforting about confronting and even trying to embrace these truths. I believe that it's tricky in our society to talk about the truths without coming off as a Debbie Downer.
But that's where the misunderstanding begins and where the struggle against the truths starts.
Facing the truth of life isn't negative, it's brave and if we all can look squarely at the facts (no matter how scary or sad they might be) and talk about them, maybe we won't feel so alone in our pain.
It will expose them as utterly common and unavoidable parts of a life so they can't fester in the dark and become scary unknowns or shameful secrets.
Maybe it really says something about me that a list of facts that some might categorize as depressing actually made me feel better (That's why I'm most likely paying for my therapist's new car!), but it did and maybe it might you.