There are 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think there is another stage and that, is hope.
Change and loss is a part of life and some are more adaptable to it than others. Grief is not only about death, but loss. Loss can be divorce, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, children moving away; the loss of anything that had become a part of an individual’s security.
Over the last 7 years, my life has been nearly in a constant state of change. It started with the re-emergence of an old love, the end of my marriage, the loss of my home and beginning of life as a single mom. For the most part, I handled it well. The old love that re-appeared again disappeared and I was again reliving the loss from 12 years ago. I managed to maintain hope and lived my life as though there would eventually be a happy ending. That happy ending never arrived.
Eventually, I managed to move on and to thrive as a mother to my only child and in my career until my career became more of a burden than a job. I finally made the decision to leave that also. I’d been in a new, healthy relationship at that time for nearly 3 years with plans to marry in the future. Prior to leaving my job of 13 years, my mother, who had been a source of strength and support moved from a few miles away to 1700 miles away. I was still ok. I was able to be happy for my mom and her move and still a little concerned about having nobody close to me that was nearby except my boyfriend at the time. And then, he took a job in Kansas City and left. We did long distance as long as I could. The plan was for me to eventually move there and marry. I broke it off because I could not move that far from my son–not yet–not while he was still growing.
I’d left my job, my mother moved and my boyfriend left and after a year or so of trying to believe we could be together, I ended it. These were three significant losses. It was around that time that my only child told me he wanted to move to his dad’s the next school year.
Through all the changes, I’d managed to move forward (not always gracefully, but forward, nonetheless), because my son needed me. My main job and focus for 14 years had been taking care of my son. He was the source of nearly all of my motivation to carry on even when things around me seemed to be falling apart. And now, he wanted to leave me too.
I weighed all of the options. I could have said no. I could have decided the loss of my son would be too difficult for me to bear, but I had to consider him and what was best for him. His dad had a long-time girlfriend (now wife), he lived in a much smaller, safer town with more opportunities in school for my son. Knowing it may be the final blow after years of losing people, I let him go.
I’d been in the denial phase for a while–denying that anything would be difficult. I told myself how much worse I’d been through and how strong I was. I reminded myself of how long I’d been alone and promised myself everything would be ok. I also began drinking a lot more than usual–it made me happier. I could smile and laugh while I was drunk and honestly, I’m a fun drunk. I was still able to function, work, write, maintain appearances. I was fine.
I was able to find a new job that I enjoyed and was making it for about 8 months until I was laid off when the business closed. Now, with everyone gone, I no longer had anyone to wake up for. I no longer had anyone to fight and live for. There was only me. I could no longer find anything worth fighting for for myself. Everyone had left me. There must not be much to me that I can’t seem to keep loved ones near. I can’t keep a job.
I stopped caring about everything including myself. This was the anger phase, but the only person I was angry with was myself. I blamed myself and choices I had made for my current situation. I didn’t have to quit my job. I didn’t have to break up with my boyfriend; I didn’t have to let my son leave. I also didn’t have to start drinking at 7:30 in the morning while unemployed. I poured the beers into a coffee mug and sat on my patio wasting entire days hating myself. What made me so horrible that nobody stayed? There must be something. There were times I turned down invitations and socializing because I knew I’d be too drunk to attend by the time it started. I’d get drunk in the day, be hungover by 6 at night and in bed by 9:30 just to start all over again the next day.
I was happy when I was drunk–I was coherent, I could feel everything and laugh and joke. I was witty, entertaining and fun. I wasn’t at all broken. That didn’t come until I tried to stop. Alcohol is a depressant, afterall. I drank, I had fun, I wrote an abundance of so-so stuff. And then, the next day would come and I’d hate myself again….until I started drinking. And, the cycle would continue.
I’d convinced myself I could not write or be funny or loveable unless I was drunk. Even though, I’d written the bulk of everything (including short stories, poems, and chapters of books) while sober years earlier. I convinced myself I was some type of hopeless drunk and broken romantic fool. It was perfectly acceptable to be drunk after everything that had happened. I had a great excuse. Bargaining. If this is it, this is how I’m going to deal with it. I know it’s terrible for my health. I know it’s only to mask my feelings and handle the sadness, but it’s acceptable. This is my life now.
I’d managed to glamourize the lives of writers I was inspired by: Dorothy Parker, Charles Bukowski among my favorites. They both had serious drinking problems. Who cares? They were great writers and people enjoy their work today after they are long dead. Why couldn’t I do that too?
The answer is more complicated than I’d hoped. I didn’t have the confidence or the support that they did. I didn’t and don’t. I’ve mostly kept everything to myself and with good reason–people reject me. And to prove it, they moved away. Depression. And so, my days were a combination of auto-piloting it to work and home, drinking to feel something similar to happy (which was more similar to despair with a side of wit because I’ve never lost my sense of humor).
I’m not sure what happened or what lead to acceptance. It may have been attempts at dating and being rejected over and over again. It may have been the realization that I had very few memories of recent months (18 months, actually), or it may have been falling face first into a window well while drunk by noon on Easter Sunday.
Acceptance–my family has left. They did not leave because I drove them away. They left because they were strong, capable and wanted a better life. Acceptance–I am not unloveable, but if I can’t take care of myself, I am not going to allow myself to be loved. Acceptance–I am flawed. I have made mistakes. It’s called being human. Acceptance–I have a drinking problem. I’ve had a drinking problem for years, but it didn’t become a problem until I was able to realize what I was doing and why. It’s how I procrastinated acceptance. It didn’t take long for the haze to clear when I stopped drinking for a few days. I also walked, gardened, cleaned, and maintained work, home and self without drinking. It feels like a weight has been lifted. I can see the light in my life that doesn’t come from other people and it doesn’t come from alcohol. It comes from taking care of myself and loving myself–the same way I do my mom, my son, my family and friends. I deserve the very same love and care from myself that I would give to anyone else. I’m fighting feelings of being selfish when I say this, but for the first time in a long time, I have hope. It’s a different kind of hope, though. All the hope I’d before placed in and on others, I now have for myself. For the first time in a very long time, I need to learn to be by myself for myself again. I have to remember the things I used to do that made me happy–setting goals, achieving them, taking long, warm baths, listening to music. I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life living for somebody else and I forgot to live for myself. I have hope after loss now that I’m worth fighting for–not because I’m a wife, girlfriend, daughter, or even a mom. I’m worth fighting for because I am a human being. This one simple thought gives me hope.