I took a little hiatus from writing this blog to work on myself. I began seeing a therapist, and we (my husband and I) began seeing another therapist for us, and I am currently pushing hard for my husband to see his own therapist. Lots of therapy! lol. This is important, because my scary hospitalization, followed by an emergency C-Section, and then Brynn's death reopened deep-seeded wounds - as an event such as this often does - that have torn holes in our psyches and our marriage, and we struggle to put them to rest. Trained professionals are needed in our case.
The problems began long before she died, unfortunately. We both have PTSD, which we were not aware of until our therapist brought the many symptoms we display to our attention. I felt it to be a wild coincidence that two people struggling with trauma would happen to find each other, but then immediately acknowledged that this is actually the norm, particularly amongst military members. "Broken" people are drawn to other broken people, for reasons that are quite obvious when I began to consider it. Our respective baggage was heavy, and we struggle to carry it for each other, while also shouldering our own. In the first few weeks after she died, we became more affectionate, cleaving to each other and bonding over shared sorrow. They were G-rated experiences, because neither of us had the energy for anything more. It is compelling to me how acute psychological stress can induce such high levels of exhaustion.
When our bodies recovered, and we began to sleep a normal set of hours, we were left with significantly more time to wallow in the pain of her memory. This misery business chipped away at my husband, before it did me, until he needed more than platonic affection. Although it made me feel uncomfortable, I obliged him, and when it was over, I cried. I do not know why sex made me so sad, but I avoided it. My husband, on the other hand, pressured me for it still, along with a host of other forms of physical affection. I began to feel like I was being suffocated, while also stung repeatedly by a hornet I could kill. He desperately needed his oxytocin fix to keep his despair at bay, even if only temporarily, so he persisted unrelentingly in his pursuit for it. Soon, he didn't just demand sex, touching and cuddling, he began to hold me responsible for his self-esteem, requiring excessive compliments and validation. When I inevitably couldn't provide, he turned cold; it was psychological warfare.
We were essentially two people starving for happiness, with just one small piece of crusty, contentment bread to share between us, and it just so happened that the bread was made in my kitchen, and the ingredients purchased with my paycheck. We weren't supposed to be selfishly passing around only my hard earned bread, while he got to secretly eat his fresh slice on the side. At the very least, he could share his with me, but what I really wanted was for us to share a giant, soft, warm ciabatta, made so large and delicious by our teamwork and mutual respect, in our damn oven of sunshine and rainbows! I wanted shared survival, like two POWs taking turns being tortured by Koreans. When he shits himself and begs for mercy, I volunteer for the punishment and endure in his place, until I piss myself and call for my brother, at which point he is expected to come to my aid again, and so it goes back and forth until it is over. And with each crack of the shoulder blade, or blow to the kneecap, the onlooker must be fully present for the sake of the other, to observe every moment of his/her suffering, in symbolic gratitude, because this steadfast observance is a mental cairn. I am his lifeline, but he is also mine in these moments. Relationships can be maimed when one, or both, spouses stop observing. They owe it to each other to watch and participate in the horror together. The permanent damage is done when one of them stops volunteering entirely. Be it from fear, some sort of sick pleasure, or lack of consciousness, I believe it would end just the same.
Unfortunately, my husband often employed manipulative means to swindle his emotional and physical needs from me, which is a major reason why we struggled, but I was appalled that he would behave this way to a mother, whom he supposedly loved, and who had just watched her baby die in her arms, while recovering from major abdominal surgery. Have I not given enough already? I began to feel violated, stripped of my dignity and self worth. I generally consider myself a bright person; in the absence of vampires, I have lots of light and energy to give others (which is probably why I attract them). I am known by most for being positive, resilient, and loyal. Always seeking adventure with a curious heart and an inquisitive mind - behavior that many adults forget they once had. Initially, I welcomed the challenge of giving my husband high levels of my abundance, because there has always been extra to go around, and I love him. He was worth it to me. Eventually, though, I found that meeting his needs left me fully depleted. He readily basked in the benefits of my positivity, but then withheld the same when I need it from him. There was also never a space left for me to replenish myself, as some sort of behavior was always expected of me - or, was I not effectively creating this space?
I began to behave like the prey I was, rapidly deteriorating - dying inside - until I became inconsolably depressed. At my lowest point, I couldn't bring myself to do anything but lie in bed most hours of each day, and stare out the window, immobile and unfeeling. I don't blame him for his behavior, though. He was also dying inside, in his own way, and he let his weakness consume my lifeline. It was during my lowest point - when I was finally free to tend to nothing but my own thoughts - that it became clear to me that I needed a boundary lesson. I understood that my mind, and quite possibly my very life, could remain permanently fractured if I did not find a way to regrow, and protect my light. And so I retreated - from everyone, including my husband (who will be moving out soon) - so I could be alone with my thoughts, my only liberator. Perhaps isolation was a drastic measure, but it's not far from the way a man might be driven to restrict his diet after experiencing a frightening allergic reaction to something consumed. I almost died in that hospital. It was frightening, and it happened because I wasn't taking care of myself. I suddenly recognized that I let people use me, and every time they do, they leave large open wounds from which I hemorrhage. I was hemorrhaging when I was pregnant too, pumping Brynn full of stress hormones as I bled out, and Yet I continued to allow people to to take precious resources from me, knowing that they meant for only her. Did I find her so unimportant? If so, then I surely have become my own neglectful mother, something I've been determined to avoid.
In young adulthood, I did not raise boundaries, because I never learned how to draw them or enforce them. There is an important and telling cause for this that remains to be discovered, so I'm embarking on a deep journey into the depths of myself to find out who, and why, I am. I intend to explore this concept of "self-love" that has always been so abstract to me, as well as the art of being "in the moment", and achievement of heart-mind synchronicity (because somewhere along the way, I stopped trusting my intuition). Then, when I feel strong and ready, and I've replenished my stores, I will reintroduce people to my life, and I will slowly learn my boundaries. I do this for Brynn now, because I should have done it then. Perhaps she would still be here if I had (more on this in a future post, where I intend to explore the research linking chronic distress responses to preeclampsia/HELLP). If it were possible, I'd go back in time to just before she was conceived, and grab hold of my shoulders and shake them, yelling, "If you do not love yourself, you cannot love another!!". This adage has many variations, but the message remains the same, which is that, when we are lucky enough to have a true understanding of love, then - by the very act of consuming it's facets (acceptance, selflessness and forgiveness) - we will already be in love with ourselves.
If you can master it, there's a worthy strength that comes from suffering.
Give me back my damn sourdough!
This is so beautifully written! I hear you. I hope that you are having healing moments with therapy. I don't know if hubby has already moved out, but hope that you are able to breathe a bit easier.
I share some of your same thoughts. I'm a giver too. I wish that I had been more selfish, taking better care of myself, meeting my own needs ahead of others. Maybe part of his story would have played out differently. I am trying to learn to be more selfish, but it is hard. We lost our son at 30 weeks. Like you, I was bleeding out and I was there alone.
Even 11 years into grief, I still have those paralyzing thoughts, usually at night, where all the painful memories come flooding in. I just wanted you to know that you're not alone. I hope that you are rediscovering you and taking all the time you need.
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