Revelations and Reflections On a Healing Trajectory
Photo credit: Geoff Colley/Shutterbug
Once upon a time, I gleefully passed out Halloween candy as a wide eyed new homeowner.
This occurred for a couple of years before the friction between my envisioned future and actual reality started to grind. And it culminated amid my ttc efforts with hurriedly drawing the blinds down in the wake of an unexpected onslaught of trick or treaters in 2012, hardly 36 hours after hurricane Sandy left town. Seriously.
Six years later, I attempted to hop back in the saddle. It was an internal disaster. Sobbing in between trick or treaters eventually morphed into a panic attack. Answering the door felt like walking the plank – each and every time. Having a bird’s eye view to parental social bubbles tore at my insides. Before switching to a more self compassionate course, I berated myself for thinking I could even try this without my anti anxiety medication.
I of course allowed myself the option to turn down the blinds, lock the door and stop sooner than I did, but I kept going as I also knew the value of having occasional markers within one’s grieving process. You know, those hard sought answers to the nagging question “How am I doing these days REALLY??” And this was turning out to be quite the marker.
I remember feeling caught out as I had been noticing my neighborhood becoming less triggering prior to that fateful Halloween. This would naturally lead one to think participating in greeting trick or treaters with candy could be a viable option would it not?
Oh, but the jagged nature of grief and trauma recovery!! A world where one plus one never equals two, where one minute things appear copacetic and the next you’re suctioned into a raging funnel cloud. This is why its recipients deserve such respect and reverence – they need to exercise spontaneous acrobatics in formerly mundane daily life situations privileged others get to approach busily and unthinkingly.
At the time, I was coming up on the five year mark of ending fertility treatments, which I’ve deemed the official “end date” for my losses. I felt that if I was still this way now, my pain could quite possibly never end. Having always made it a point to avoid gauging myself with a measuring stick not scaled to my experiences, I told myself I never had to hand out candy again if I didn’t want to. This was three years ago. Our small collection of Halloween decorations even subsequently made it to the “sell or donate” pile in the basement.
Running across the decorations a number of weeks ago as I loaded the car with stuff to donate, I noticed something different. It was subtle – a warm, playful kind of a feeling. But what stood out the most? There seemed to be no aversion there. I knew I didn’t want to get rid of the decorations and that furthermore, I wanted to investigate this odd feeling of neutrality.
“Are you sure?” I’d say to myself as I hesitantly moved towards dispensing candy this year.
2021 has been a year of healthy endings and humble, in the pipe line beginnings. It is time for that which doesn’t serve me or belong in my life to go, as I will not have room for it going forward. I spent years in the unforgivingly transformative phases of grief and trauma recovery, being open to the possibility that I’d grow through certain discomforts and into some of the things that weren’t working in my life. Once I crossed the seven year mark though, the truth began to shimmer – anything that doesn’t feel right and doesn’t seem to be working for me – Well, it’s because it isn’t right and it isn’t working for me. Period. That’s all and that’s it.
So no – of course I wasn’t sure, but it was time to invite another marker and to see once and for all if this Halloween thing was to be or not to be going forward. My objective was not specifically to try to pass out candy – between doing it and not, neither is better after all. What I wanted for myself was to be able to move forward with a sense of knowing where I am, wherever that may be.
The day, which was a Sunday, started out with an unforeseen wave of trick or treaters at 12:30. I know, really. Why don’t we just start at the crack of freaking DAWN while we’re at it?? Oh, and don’t bother to let the rest of us know or anything. It was a bit reminiscent of a Brian Regan performance (a comedian I love) where at one point he effuses “This is YOUR world. It’s all about YOU!!!” (Watch it here).
“Seriously, people. I’ve got THINGS to do!!” I grumbled as I restructured my day. I was rather enjoying my mild irritation as it was massively preferable to the raging pain I used to feel.
The first few rounds of costume adorned kids at my door, though terrific on a level, also brought a wave of sadness up from my gut and into my throat. As did the adorable first time trick or treaters, those really take a few slices out of you. At the same time I was enjoying the general communal holiday spirit of things and even threw out a spontaneous wave to one of the first groups of parents waiting on the sidewalk. Wow.
Knowing I wouldn’t be able to keep that up for an afternoon, I made it a point to only connect and communicate with the kids from there on…..which is in many ways a pleasure for me anyway. Those sappy parental smiles that come my way and force me to see what I would have likely been experiencing can really get to me after a while (even though some of those smiles might also contain some appreciation too).
As the afternoon progressed, a certain awareness crept upon me. There I was, undulating within the aforementioned irritation, and also delight, sadness, a slight indifference to the day and being clocked in the face bearing witness to hits of parental joy my husband and I will never ever get to have. So many parts and experiences making themselves known – rising in, ebbing out. And I was really ok enough in the process. I had room for it all.
While receiving trick or treaters is a nice neighborhoodish thing to participate in, I’m also well aware that it’s not my life. And so I set a time limit as to when I would clock out, so to speak. This is work for me on a level – making myself endlessly available for it is not what serves me. I also managed to get a jump start on some online holiday shopping in between door answering waves.
After I shut down I took a seat on my living room couch and let it all sink in.
I was sitting in the same spot I sat on my forty-first birthday when it hit me there really is no just, higher order to things in life and that what happens to us and the situations we find ourselves in have such a strong degree of randomness. I was in that same spot about a year later when my husband delivered the news, having taken the phone call regarding the results of our last fertility treatment. I would sit in that spot on my staring at the wall days – days where I was so saturated with loss and impaling, not asked for transformation that showering and then staring at a blank space was all I could muster. And I’ve sat in this same spot writing most of my Infertility Honesty blog posts over the years.
This time in this spot, I became enveloped in an entirely different wave. In addition to believing grief, childlessness and assimilating the experiences of infertility are generally life long processes, I also found myself feeling as though I had arrived somewhere really important.
“I think this is it” I found myself musing for the very first time.
“What is ‘it’, exactly?” I then asked myself.
The concept of acceptance doesn’t quite work for me personally. I have no broader issue with it, as it seems healthy, sensical and generally helpful in relation to our experiences. In short, I get it.
Trying to figure out my sticking point with it, I checked out its definitions to see if they shed any light. This caught my attention –
“the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered”
Yes, it’s the consenting element, the inference on some level of willingness in the word acceptance that turns me back. I’m one of those in our demographic who has always had the distinct knowing that my childlessness and its causes are something that happened TO me, NOT because of me. Whether this is a specific infertility survivor thing or a more general childless thing I’m not sure. As I would often say to myself in the more emotionally rugged phases of grief, “You don’t have to like it. But you do have to deal with it. Or at least try.”
And on another side of things, this definition of acceptance:
“willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation”
Now this makes more sense. It’s true to my experiences, but yet, I do so much more than tolerate my situation. I engage with it.
The concept I keep returning to again and again is integration.
“the act or process of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole”
I also like this one:
“organized or structured so that constituent units function cooperatively”
In addition, some of the definitions of integration I read implied it as a connection of parts that often initially don’t go well together, that possess a degree of dissonance at the outset.
Either way, this resonates with me as it seems to be non preferential; the concept of integration seems to be regardless of how or with what attitude things are united. For me, it’s more spacious.
The concept of integration also lands with me as more active than the concept of acceptance which strikes me as more passive, and this appeals to me – even though it may not be necessarily – the process of “acceptance” feels quite active for many I’m sure!
At this point I’d need to turn things over to an expert – any linguists in the group?? I just realized “Make friends with a linguist” is going on my to do list for 2022. Anyway…..
We do have a beautiful song though – one of my readers kindly shared her song titled “Integration” of all things! In her words the song “touches on my struggle to integrate this new person that pregnancy loss has thrust into my consciousness”. Listen here.
So, what is “it”, exactly, this place I am now finding myself in?
While I’d like to continue to explore this with more questions than answers, a few things did come to mind. It’s a place that contains a measure of equilibrium, contentment, sadness and a pretty decent level of functionality (you know, MOST of the time:-). But mostly, it seems to be a place of – you guessed it – some pretty serious integration. It’s of course not a fixed place, it’ll pulsate just like everything else. But it is now a possible place.
I had noticed these things filtering in at different points this year and now it felt like it was all coming to a peak. And so I sat in my spot, shaking my head in wonder as I experienced the strong sensation of finally, finally having landed somewhere. “So THIS is how long ‘it’ took” I realized, as I calculated I was exactly 7 years and 9 months out of fertility treatments. Seven years and nine months of diligently facing and dealing with trauma and loss and its endless ramifications the best I could.
Like so many in my shoes, coming out of fertility treatments I never got the direct and structured support I so badly needed in the presence of peers with appropriately matched experiences. A relevant hole in my recovery indeed. This, coupled with being part of an incredibly varied demographic that inevitably contains some visibly shorter healing time frames*, has not been in any way helpful.
For me my overall challenges have resided in my losses themselves (both primary and secondary) and in the processing of them – needing to believe and then prove I could eventually live a good and full life along with my losses has never really been my issue anyway. Highlighting how long this actually takes for many of us and what that means for our lives is every bit as important as bannering what might come after.
*To clarify my “healing time frames” reference above: First I believe the healing process has the potential to be on going throughout our lives, and is not linear or black and white by nature. What I’m referring to here is the hard core part one’s process so to speak, where one is in a place that, though both courageous and necessary, is still impeding them in some way and/or on some level from knowing who and where they now are in the world, what they want and how they might move forward.
One last thing before I go dear readers – on the note of landing in new and different places….…..
Be on the lookout for my new platform in the coming months!
There I’ll be sharing one of the key things that has made a difference between where I am now and where I was three years ago….and much more.