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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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    • fpherj48 profile image


      4 years ago from Carson City

      Lori....This personal disclosure is so profound~~and I must add, courageous of you to share. The reality is that more families than not have a similar story to tell, yet somehow continue to struggle by holding it all within. Many, quite sadly, take their pent-up sadness, anger and resentment with them to their grave.

      The world of Mental health Professionals has adopted a saying, which goes like so.."We are only as sick as our darkest secret." If I'm not mistaken, this is a rendition of a popular quote, but I'm afraid I don't recall it's history. I think we can agree it's quite true.

      The fact that you are able to relate your memories, both positive and negative, is a clear indication that if you've not been able to fully resolve the issues, you've made a herculean attempt and can be proud of this awakening.

      At the end of the day, Lori, the very most important thing to know is that "most" parents do the very best that they can, with what they have in their arsenal of experience & each generation is able to break the cycle of harm and enhance the circle of love. Each person, from one generation to the next, creates their own progress and makes their own mistakes.

      The one thing NONE of us can change is that human beings will "always be imperfect."

      Hugs & smiles......Paula

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 

      4 years ago from Florida

      I remember a lot of issues with my parents and our way of life growing up. My dad was also a drinker, but has been sober for about 30 years. It's funny how as time goes by they act like the bad things never happened. Denial, I have learned, keeps you from growing wiser. It just keeps you in a state of delusions. I hate that when it comes to my parents. If I talk about the past, they act like what I remember didn't happen. Oh well, I have grown in leaps and bounds by not forgetting and not living in denial, and I am thankful for that.

      I relate to this. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      Like you, my parents kept certain things hidden from us -- I am glad for the most part. Unfortunately, having to live through some of it affected my older siblings. Still, my parents did what they thought was best and loved us. God's love carries us through to the end.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      4 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Very open and vulnerable, Lori. I was just thinking the other day that I didn't remember ever hearing my parents fight or even argue although I'm sure they did. Everything was perfect, or so I thought. I'm not sure what that had to do with my final outcome as to who I am today, but I do believe every family has an elephant or two camping out in the living room. Loved the poem!

    • North Wind profile image

      North Wind 

      4 years ago from The World (for now)

      "The truth will set you free" but it is often hard to hear. If more families were truthful with each other then things would be different. When we face the truth and admit what we have seen things get better. You can't fix a faucet without knowing if it needs a washer or something else. If we admit the problem or the situation then it can be solved. If we sweep it under the rug then there will be resentment waiting with it piling up for us until it is one big mess.

      I appreciate this article very much!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very insightful thesis on denial. Every line is powered with truth and your conclusion is most appropriate. Thanks, Lori, for these honest expressions.

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      4 years ago from United States

      Hi Brenda, what a thrill to hear from you. Blessings to you as well.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      "ignoring the tsunami of our sins".....That certainly is the way most live our lives and march miserably through decades. Chaos is a tool of the devil that destroy individuals and families. I am incredibly pleased that your father got sober before his death. You have made much of your life. I pray most of it has been happy. Those childhood days sure leave a toll though. While we are born again once we know the Lord Jesus, the memories still remain. Be blessed.

      (Hello always eploring)

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      4 years ago from United States

      Thanks for stopping by always. It seems like a lifetime to change doesn't it. Growth is often slow, but if your mind and heart and open, it will come. Blessings.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I certainly can relate. Your poetry is sobering and true. It takes courage and time to open up. I commend you for that. I haven't reached that yet, but it's a work in progress. Well done...

    • lambservant profile imageAUTHOR

      Lori Colbo 

      4 years ago from United States

      Yes Bill unfortunately what you say is true.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I think anyone divorced can relate to this poem...I think anyone living in dysfunction can relate...that covers a huge proportion of this country, unfortunately. Well done, my friend.


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