Triggers Bring Memories and Healing
Losing someone to suicide means spending the rest of your life remembering. Though the daily reminders might fade as the years go by, you never know when someone or something will bring the memories flooding back; memories of what was, but also memories of what could have been.
At the end of this month, it will be 26 years since my mom ended her life. Unlike many who lose someone to suicide, my mom and I weren’t close. In fact, I’d say we had more of a love-hate relationship. The one thing the years have done is to soften the hard edges of our conflicted love and allow me to see past her hard shell to the woman she hid from the world. Sometimes though, my new-found compassion and gentler love for the woman who gave me life, and ultimately took her own means a trigger hits me harder for the years it’s lain dormant. It’s a harsh reminder I have feelings yet to unpack, address, and release.
This time, it happened while driving past the town where I grew up. So much has changed. Even new freeway off ramps have been added in the decades since we first moved there. Miles of previously empty land is now filled with car dealerships and office buildings. Still, memories of a childhood spent running, hiking, and biking through land where deer and rabbits ran freely, over faint paths few feet had yet to traverse erase signs of progress, After spending my first 12 years in an area surrounded by buildings and concrete sidewalks, I can still see the verdant green hills I mostly took for granted as a teenager.
Time Blurs the Edges of My Memories
My mind didn’t only see the land for what it once was, but my life as well. It stripped away all the ugliness; the fights, the angry words, the years I barely spoke to my mom, leaving a bone-deep sadness. She only stayed around for 6 years of her granddaughters’ lives, though I know she absolutely adored them, and loved being a grandmother.
Forgetting for a moment how much she drove me crazy when it came to my daughters, I wondered how different things might be. Those thoughts pause with my youngest. We’ve been estranged for years, and I don’t really know her 10-year-old daughter. Would Mom’s presence have made a difference when I struggled with 2 headstrong teenagers pushing hard for the freedom of adulthood far too soon?
I spent 16 years denying any feelings for my mom’s passing other than guilt. Guilt over not feeling sad; for fighting too much and listening too little; for what I could have or would have done differently had I known how much she was struggling. For 16 years I avoided the need inside myself to acknowledge the deeper feelings of loss, abandonment, and grief.
Letting Go to Let People Help
In the last 10 years, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into unpacking those feelings; acknowledging some, denying others. I’ve shared many of them, and learned there are many others who need a non-judgemental ear, but didn’t know where to look. Breaking the seal on my own belief system concerning suicide and mental health has benefited me more than anyone, and not just by releasing pent-up feelings. I get to hear other peoples’ stories and struggles too. They’ve been a tremendous help in teaching me how to accept my own feelings without beating myself up, or hearing my dad’s voice saying; “You shouldn’t feel like that.” Words I tried hard to live up to in my false belief it would make him love me, and actually show it with kindness instead of ridicule.
In the process, I’ve had to recognize and accept the wagon load of anger I’ve been carrying towards my dad for failing to fill the void of love I believed I lost from my mom when my sister was born. I had to learn he loved me the best he could, and showed it as he’d been taught to show love. That the criticism and ridicule he’d been taught by his own parents tore away at my fragile self-esteem escaped his notice. He didn’t know how to see it. Nor did he see how hard I tried to live up to his impossible standards which, in hindsight, I don’t think he managed either. We both learned to hide it well. The tragedy is, he never learned he could stop hiding.
I’ve gained a lot while unpacking and sharing my feelings over the least decade. The greatest gift has been loving and supportive friends. Being able to accept and embrace my Empathic abilities has been a huge part of the process. More and more, I get to see the people around me opening up to theirs as well, and it strengthens our connection in ways which often surprise me.
A Time To Isolate and Process
There are still times I need to withdraw; to go inside and process my latest revelation or trigger. I’ll find myself alone in a crowd as I did the night this trigger hit—drifting from one group to the next, isolating for a few minutes, getting lost in a line dance; one only with the music and the floor beneath my feet. For the most part, each trigger reminds me of the need to keep working through feelings as they arise no matter when, where, or how. There’s no longer an option to put it off until it’s convenient. I’ve learned feelings are never convenient, and the more I stuffed them down, the less convenient they became. I have my share of meltdowns to prove that one!
Though it took awhile, I’ve learned to see the blessings more than the traumas, and that some of those traumas were necessary. I’m not the woman I was 26 years ago when mom let her demons win. Nor am I the woman I was when dad did the same 10 years later. Growth has come in stages. First I had to learn to love myself. It was probably my biggest hurdle given the number of years I’d failed to measure up to my parents’ expectations.
I spent decades telling myself I didn’t care, but the only person I might have deceived was myself, and in hindsight, that’s unlikely. Deep down inside where I stuffed all my feelings, fooling myself into believing they’d stay put, was someone who saw through all the subterfuge and attempts at self-preservation. After all, my very sanity was at stake.
Finding the Validation I Needed From Within
The voices in my head, not unlike the ones I’m sure my parents fought, never let me forget how close I came to losing it on many occasions. But do you know what? They’ve grown softer since I started acknowledging the buried feelings; not only the ones since my parents’ suicides, but the ones I tried to ignore from childhood all the way into my 40’s. Like the child I was; desperate for a demonstrative love my parents were incapable of giving, the child inside me wanted nothing more or less than to have her feelings acknowledged and validated. Only in recent years have I discovered, thanks to a lot of soul-searching and a seemingly endless flow of triggers, that all the validation I need—that I’ve ever needed is, and always will be inside myself.
This may sound weird, but in a lot of ways, I’m grateful for my parents’ suicides. They cut me loose from a lot of unrealistic expectations and allowed me to eventually start finding my own way. It gave me a chance to love and accept myself for who I am and realize I didn’t need to perpetuate old familial patterns.
They also cut me loose from a family which knew no better than my parents. Being abandoned by the rest of my family for decades turned out to be the most valuable gift I received. It gave me time, space, and new examples of the woman I wanted to be when the dust cleared and the walls crumbled. It allowed me to become part of a healthier, happier family of friends who are helping me find the person I’m meant to be without judgement or expectations.
Building a Life of Gratitude
My gratitudes today are:
- I’m grateful for triggers that help me learn, acknowledge, release, and move on.
- I’m grateful for supportive friends who’ve been through their own hell to learn to accept their feelings as valid and valuable.
- I’m grateful for a daughter with whom I can speak openly and honestly, even when we’re polar opposites in our beliefs.
- I’m grateful I’ve learned to accept the times I need to go inside and muddle through the latest batch of feelings without letting the process overwhelm me.
- I’m grateful for abundance; love, friendship, triggers, lessons, challenges, opportunities, growth, empathy, compassion, peace, harmony, balance, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
About the Author
Sheri Conaway is a Holistic Ghostwriter, and an advocate for cats and mental health. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. Her mission is to Make Vulnerable Beautiful and help entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author or in her new group, Putting Your Whole Heart Forward