Survivor Guilt; Yes, I Was Guilty
I Get it...Now How to Get Over it.
Sitting in the grief counselor's office looking around at the pictures, listening to the quiet relaxation music and the sound of the water trickling down the small desk sized water sculpture I'd made a decision; that I was not going to cry during this session. Or any session for that matter. I never have cried in front of people, and I was not going to start now. I was being cynical looking at all of the cliches that were in the office; the couch, the pillows, the tissue, the two chairs facing each other. It was what I'd considered a sterotypical office setting for a counselor and a movie crew. I began to talk myself out of being there, and just as I was making what I thought were valid points, the door opened and the counselor entered.
She sat in one of the chairs and asked if I was comfortable where I was - which was on one end of the couch. Yes, I am just fine here. Within arms reach of the doorhandle to leave as quickly as possible. I knew I wanted to be here; I'd reached out for help weeks before. I was here now, so deep inside the reasonable non-emotional me knew this was going to be beneficial. But, I also had been through counseling before; during the end of my marriage and it was painful as I was forced to work through emotions that I'd shut out. Opening that door was like opening the door to invaders into my sanctuary of fluffy bunnies, butterflies and other Disney-like characters that kept me in a happy yet fantasy-filled place of comfort. That last set of sessions ended in a PTSD diagnosis from the abuse during my marriage. I did not need another diagnosis on top of that. And I guess in my gut I knew it would be depression since many family members suffer from that.
After a brief discussion with the counselor about what brought me to her as well as past diagnosis, she already had a theory formed in her mind. She said she did belive I was depressed, however not to the point where she felt I needed pharmaceautical intervention. Then she told me about survivor guilt, defined it and correlated it to my already existing PTSD. I remember sitting there listening and thinking THAT'S IT! I get it, now how do I get over it? Unfortunately, you do not just get over it. It takes acknowledgement, acceptance, and in my case a real investment in the grief process and a willingness to push through it while feeling each emotion and not shutting it out. Mostly my counselor told me that I needed to be willing to cry openly, honestly and when I felt the build up to let it out. This did not please me.
They Are Gone
My marriage was abusive. I was not physically harmed ever, and until the sessions with the counselor toward the end of my marriage, I would have said I was scared, intimidated, unsure, had no self worth, was isolated but not that I was abused. Even after discussion with the counselor, going to group meetings at an abuse organization, I had a difficult time spitting this word out because frankly it made me feel bad about myself and what I allowed. I bring this up because when my brother and sister were alive, they were my protectors. As a child we lived in a house with a violent father, and when I was 11 I was sent to live with an aunt while my brother went to live with another aunt and my sister went to live with my grandmother. This was done as a necessary escape for my mother and us, and as time went on we were able to reunite and live in a much better environment. My brother had always stepped in to ensure the safety of my mom and his sisters. I - being the youngest - always had extra eyes on me. I believe this position he assumed was the beginning of his own battles. It was too much for a young boy to have to take on. As we got older and his life began to spiral out of control, my sister stepped in to the protector role. She never thought of me as particularly strong; my emotions being my achilles heel. When I finally managed enough courage to move away from my husband, my sister was by my side and helping me through. She would also throw in the occasional factual statements of you picked him, you have to deal with what you created.
By this time, I had already lost my brother. I was continuing on in life wondering what if I had moved away sooner and closer to my brother before he died. A lot of should haves which I seemed to carry for years unable to resolve that. Now that I was away from my husband, I could begin a new life and create a stronger me teaching my children the importance of being true to oneself and not allowing themselves to fall into weakness or under the control of another. And now my sister was dying. She died before my divorce was final. Before the purchase of my own first car. Before I secured my own house. I wanted to celebrate my successes, my growth but how can I...how dare I? They are gone; there is nothing to celebrate, and no one to celebrate with.
Time to Deal With it Because Life Will Not Stop
Okay, it was time to deal with it because life will not stop and I can either get busy living or get busy dying; a favorite quote of mine from the movie Shawshank Redemption. I needed to get out of this depression, isolation, guilt, and every other negative feeling I was having about my life. There was nothing wrong with my succeeding and surviving. I had to not just convince myself of this but also believe it. I began my process by thinking about my kids. How do I want them to see me? How do I want them to learn to actually deal with life and the many disappointments and curve balls that are going to be thrown their way. If nothing else, I had to work on myself for their success.
I began reading and writing. I wrote many poems and dug my journals out of storage so I could read through the years and years of pages from childhood to marriage. I knew what my life was like, I had lived it. But I knew there were emotions expressed and moments that my memory may not remember that would be written in these pages. I wanted to see the hope I once held as a child and the dreams I knew I had. Reading through my journals as an adult was more difficult because I had to relive painful emotional moments of my marriage that also made me so angry with my decision to stay. Many poems I had written, I recopied and kept on my desk so I could see what I did not want to ever experience again.
I sat and talked with my kids openly discussing my journey, my feelings and letting them know that I may cry at times but that they needed to know it was okay. Holidays would come and I would have to acknowledge the pain and sadness. It was not easy. It felt like a constant regurgitation of toxic waste that I had to eliminate over and over. What got me through each moment was knowing that my brother and sister would be proud of me.
Maybe a Reason
Now I'm nearly three years past my sister's death and eleven since my brother's. Yes, I have tattoos for them both. They will always be with me in heart and spirit and now ink. Maybe there is a reason for them being gone that does not have to do with me at all. That is what I think about now. It makes it even easier because their lives were their lives. They lived their lives by their choices and made it through as best they could. Yes one struggled and one had struggles. One had family and one did not. One fought death and one went with it. It is not easy eliminating the what-ifs and they are still a part of my thinking but I do not allow myself to feel guilty about enjoying things. Yes, I feel sad and alone. But I have learned that is normal and eventually I know that those feelings will ease. With every new step in my life; new love new achievements, new family members there will undoubtedly be some hearbreak and a what-if or two. But I want my siblings to know they left me in capable hands; my own.
I still have moments when I think about my future without them. How my kids will not have and aunt or uncle, how I will not have my grandma moments to share with my sister when she would be a grandma too. Holidays are especially difficult. I also think about other things like when my mom passes; I will be the last remaining member of my original family. Maybe I will be back in that counselors office listening to the music and the desktop fountain and maybe I will be able to make use of the couch and tissues.