It was the space in between the confrontation and rage that I remember the most. We would count the days of quiet silence knowing that it was inevitable that the jagged words and flying fists would return. It was in his periods of isolation that I found my own solace and time to lick fresh wounds. He would retreat into himself, staying away, avoiding eye contact, and being non respondent. It was in those times that he was the victim and we all became the healers trying anything to draw him out of his funk, to sweep the egg shells from our floor.
One of my greatest fears is becoming the person he was. The angry, paranoid man who raged at all of life’s injustices clearing anything that happened to be in his path. He created a wake of destruction, self doubt, insecurity, and denial. It’s not that I am a violent person or even physical in nature. It’s more that I retreat, withdraw from life when I am uncertain and feeling less than worthy. It’s in these moments of self induced isolation that I question all that I am and who I ever may be. I question my abilities to parent, to be a wife, a business owner, or a contributing community member.
I believe it was the isolation, not the physical and emotional rages that did my dad in. He retreated later in life from all of us, his wife of thirty nine years and moved up north to a place in Maine where he once found bits of peace and joy. It was in Houlton where he pulled the final trigger and ended his isolation and created an eternal silence which now lays heavy on us all but has brought an end to his suffering.
When I isolate, retreat to my bedroom, pull away from my loving husband I am reconnecting with my father, the man who taught me most about life and how not to live it. My cells pull in, my mind takes over, and my heart closes up. I replay all of the times I went right and should have gone left. Images of choices made out of fear not love envelope me and leave little room for light or hope. I lay still and heavy and allow myself to be battered one more time, aware of days passed and experiences endured. I count the reasons why I’m better locked away, separated from those I love, and simply exist in that moment of heavy darkness.
In that quiet isolation, something inevitably takes seed and my mind shifts with new thoughts formed. I catch my breath and take control, breathing deeper and aware as the air travels down my windpipe, into my lungs, out to my fingers and down into my toes. I slowly remember the choices I have made that make me feel whole, worthy, and a magnet connecting with others. I see myself in a different light, someone worthy of love and sweet moments of grace. I become aware of my body and feel connected once again. The need for isolation slowly seeps out and takes with it the thoughts that I am my dad, burdened with his fear and traumas.
The times in which I seek isolation are shortening and growing farther apart in occurrence. The fear of becoming my dad, the man he was is fading and little by little I am letting go of my own triggers. As I allow myself to open up to my husband, my family, my community I am becoming a stronger magnet to all that resonates with who I’ve always wanted to be, or thought I could be. People are popping into my life, out of nowhere, offering incredible opportunities of insight and self growth. Music on the radio brings just the right solace in the moment to heal a thorny memory and books fall off the shelf into my hands providing insight and assurances I need to take the next step on my journey.
Don’t get me wrong, I require a lot of space where I can decompress, relax and fall back into myself for peace and regeneration. That space is so very different than the isolation that pulls me down and anchors me to a place where all my old demons reside. There is a vast difference and we all know it and recognize it for what it is. When we are strong, we are balanced and content. There is a certainty that rests within our heart and supports our ability to just be. This is what I strive for everyday and choose to focus on and step towards even in the moments of greatest vulnerability and self doubt.
Kevin popped into my life just a couple of months ago. He has become a mirror of my childhood and journey through the darkest moments of my life. Last night Kyle had the opportunity to meet him, spend time talking with and getting to know him. It was strange, not because the space was awkward but because as I listened to us getting to know each other, hovering above in quiet fascination, I realized something. Kyle in his infinite ability to love unconditionally was allowing for a new direction in our lives. He has embraced Kevin and I sharing our most intimate details about our childhoods and lives as survivors of suicide. In Kyle’s most beautiful grace is again making space for the healing of my wounds.
So in honor of non isolation, Kyle and I are inviting Kevin and his friend to dinner at our home, to meet our family our animals. Instead of retreating to our private space we’ve decided to open it up a little bit more for the unknown, for what the future may hold.
Isolation, alone, seclusion, words which evoke powerful feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair from deep within me. The first “goal” of my therapy, with the aforementioned Sharon, was to connect with my emotions. To feel something beyond anger, something more painful, and more vulnerable. The anger was just the mask, the defense system I had built up. My journey had begun and my quest was to find, and connect with, those hidden away emotions. Little did I know that I would not only find them, but that they would come bursting out in an uncontrollable fashion when I did.
Throughout college I always commuted, preferring the isolation of whatever crumby apartment I was living in to the “togetherness” of the dorms. You could generally find me up in a quiet corner of the library or in a seldom used room off of the main cafeteria that would eventually become the school pub. On one particularly unremarkable day, I was eating my lunch in my “secret room” off of the cafe when I noticed that one of the “lunch ladies” had invaded my private space. I would guess her to have been in her early twenties and clearly differently abled. Again, I’ll guess, but she looked as though she may have had Down Syndrome. She was also having lunch, but not the splendid cafeteria food that I was eating, no really, we had pretty good food. Her lunch was far more modest and brought from home in a nondescript brown paper bag. She too was sitting alone at a table. I couldn’t stop watching her and I began to develop a narrative of her life. I imagined it to be so sad, one of complete isolation from her family, alone with no friends, living a secluded life away from society.
As my story for her grew, so did a sadness deep inside of me. The kind of sadness that cannot be held in by mere mortal efforts. As the sadness escaped through my tear ducts, I asked myself, “What the hell are you crying about?” The answer was clear, I wasn’t crying for her, her life was probably just fine, she was probably well loved by her family, had tremendous friendships, and she was most likely very pleased with her life. No, I wasn’t crying for her at all, I actually crying for me, for my loneliness, my isolation. I was estranged from my family, few real friends, and mad at the world.
I had never really done that before: cry I mean. Well of course I had cried before, but not therapeutic tears. As a kid, I didn’t have that “luxury.” I was constantly in fight or flight mode. “No rest for the weary” as they say; there was no telling what was going to set Mum off next. So now, I could cry. It was safe to. Those tears that started that day, would flow for years.
I remember the first time I cried in Sharon’s office. It was not too long after my “brown bag” meltdown and they came with the same force and determination as those lunchtime tears. I started to wipe them away, “Don’t,” Sharon said, “Leave them on your face, let them heal you.” A technique that I have since stolen and used with clients of my own.
More than once it has happened in a crowd of people, not like a busy mall, but a legit crowd, like at a sporting event, or a concert. It used to amaze me that we can feel so alone and isolated while crammed shoulder to shoulder in an inhuman mass of human beings. Now, I have come to understand how isolation is more than just a geographical concept. We can feel isolation anywhere at anytime.
I know that I felt it as a child, a teenager, and young adult. I am certain that my Mum felt it when she took her life. I even felt it recently with the loss of my wife. But, it’s different now, its a necessary part of my healing, I now choose isolation sometimes. But, I don’t call it that anymore, instead I use words like space, privacy, and solitude. My alone time no longer brings forth feelings of sadness and despair, but rather joy, comfort, and peace. The lens by through which we choose to view life, the power of our perspective, never ceases to amaze me. Maybe that’s a good topic for a future post?