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Living in Denial Between the Tidal Waves of Chaos

Updated on February 2, 2017
Many an elephant camped in our living room untended.
Many an elephant camped in our living room untended. | Source

Family in denial

When I was growing up we often lived in denial. Many an elephant camped in our living room untended. There was the usual sibling conflict in our home as far as my sisters and I were concerned. We fought, and were naughty, and when we were teens all three of us did our share of rebellion, and Mom and Dad were quick to discipline. But not once did we ever see conflict between our parents. Some would say that's good. In some instances it could be a good thing. It could be an example of how to get along between husband and wife. However, in our case, things were not acknowledged that should have been. Mom and Dad acted like some actions were okay, one parent being verbally abusive to one of us children, and the other sitting there pretending nothing was wrong.

Death was minimized. We never went to funerals or talked much about those who died. Mom and Dad were very nonchalant or matter of fact about it, even when it was a relative, like a grandparent or great uncle we held so dear. To their credit, they were just trying to protect us from the pain of grief.

When I got to my teens, Dad was at the apex of his alcoholism. Let me just interject here that Dad did get sober and had thirty four years of sobriety under his belt when he died. He helped many young men along the way. But up until our teens, Dad and Mom were somehow able to hide this problem from us until in his end stages and it just couldn't be hidden anymore. Mom never let on that the reason why Dad was so late coming home was because of drinking. Looking back, I see that a lot of her sadness or uncharacteristic behavior was likely due to Dad's battle. On one hand, I am very glad they kept it from us. Growing up for me was very difficult and adding that to our family life would probably have crippled me (I had trauma issues that my parents knew nothing of). So denial suddenly went from sixty to zero. Suddenly we were all catapulted into reality. Mom and Dad split up and both remarried. I was on my own by that time, having married and had a baby at age eighteen.

Denial and co-dependency

I married a man with "issues," and I had some baggage as well. I was the poster child for co-dependency. In the lulls between tidal waves of outrageous chaos and conflict, I would convince myself it was over. It was just a hard day for us, or he had too much stress at work and I needed to be more understanding. As I played the denial and co-dependent game, and as my husband raged on, my children suffered and acted out quite a bit. After twenty five years we divorced, but the damage was already done.

I see denial still going strong in some of the family. I have not arrived, but I have grown tremendously and have learned to set boundaries for myself and others. I do have a few friends and a counselor to speak truth when I start leaning backward. I wrote the following poem about living in denial and co-dependency as I lived it in my marriage. Perhaps some of you can relate.

In Between the Tidal Waves

In between the tidal waves of chaos

we pretended life would forever

be a gently flowing stream

of tranquility, rainbows and

every hope and dream fulfilled.

Laughter at dinner,

a hug from Dad to Mom,

Ice cream at the park,

turkey on holidays --

were they not proof that

time had healed all the wounds?

It was just a season, a bump in the road.

It was never as bad as it seemed.

Surely it won't happen again.

Hours and paychecks depleted

being counseled by people

as battered and drowned as we were.

We said we gave it everything

while we pummeled one another with blame,

and took the moral high ground.

The subsequent binge was

a justified one-night stand that turned

into a second, third, and fourth.

By chance one night we were all at home,

and heard the magic words,

“Honey, pass the salt, please.”

That was all it took to call it all good.

Denial is seeing lulls as the end to our ills, when it’s really the eye of the storm.
Denial is seeing lulls as the end to our ills, when it’s really the eye of the storm. | Source

Denial is seeing the lulls as the end to our ills,

when it’s really the eye of the storm.

We see ourselves as in the tropics,

with azure skies, and lazy waves,

that hypnotize us to a false peace.

We build sandcastles together,

walk in the surf holding hands,

ignoring the tsunami of our sins

roaring its way to our devastation.

And then we are strewn on the beach

as carnage for the birds of prey,

and wonder how we came

to meet our end.

Denial is an emotional defense mechanism

that runs on a clock where we live

from tidal wave to tidal wave,

from swell to swell,

with fractured lenses

that deceive us with false hopes.

Hope for those living in denial

is nothing but desperate wishful thinking,

with no courage to move to higher ground,

where our vision is clear and undeniable.

Hope should be expectant,

based on willingness to change,

and faith in God who is all in all.

© 2016 Lori Colbo. All rights reserved.

I feel that as long as you're honest, you have the opportunity to grow. It's when you shut down, go into denial, and try to start hiding things from yourself and others, that's when you lock in certain behaviors and attitudes that keep you stuck.

— Tracy McMillan

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