Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday's Therapy - Are You My Mother? - The Trauma of Abandonment

Thursday's Therapy

Are You My Mother?

The Trauma of Abandonment

All of us very involved parents are probably quite familiar with the children's story book, Are You My Mother? ~ A little bird is born when his mother is away from the nest, and so the little bird goes throughout his world looking at all kinds of different beings (cat, dog, cow, etc.) as well as objects (plane, bulldozer, boat, etc.) wondering, "Are you my mother? Are you my mother?" only to be disheartened to hear many of them denying that they are his mother. Finally, in the end, the little bird is happily united with his mother in a heart-warming wonderful celebration!

This story book came to mind as Tommy and I have looked at some abandonment issues in our hearts and in our relationship over the past few weeks.

Amidst the worst grief in the world that anyone could have to endure, that of child-loss grief, our hearts seem especially vulnerable to any other potential dangers and risks out there as we now know all-too-well that death CAN happen, and death DOES happen.

Tommy and I, in our child-loss grief, knew we would be searching every crowd to find our child, and even when not searching intentionally, we would spot "her" anyway, walking down the beach with her curly hair blowing in the breeze, walking down aisles in stores at the mall, even walking into nightclubs in the inner city when Tommy would play drums in a nightclub downtown....

What we d.i.d. n.o.t. realize we would be doing ~ again, not consciously, but at an unconscious level ~ is that we would be "searching" for other loving, nurturing people who could possibly be a substitute, a back-up, an escape-clause so-to-speak should something happen to one another: A "What would I do if anything ever happened to my precious spouse?!" kind of fear...

For example, we go to the mountains Monday to enjoy the changing colors of the leaves in these beautiful Tennessee mountains. What a breathtaking outing, such a refreshing change for our "right-brain-experiences," so needed to cope with grief ~being reminded as our Father God's hand in this world, His fingerprints left on each aspect of His creation ~ which I call "Love's Immensity..." that our Father God is over all and therefore is over us in our very bad heart-breaking grief as well!

So then, in the midst of such comforting, colorful fall sights, imagine my shock when in-the-act-of-celebrating-life-together-as-a-couple-in-God's-world, I catch a glimpse of what appears to me, to be Tommy's staring at an attractive woman out alone walking her beautiful dog... Now I think in any wife's mind in this hyper-sexualized culture, we would think immediately that such behavior would fall dangerously close to the "gaping" status at least if the gaze were prolonged or occurred multiple times. So, of course, I, in my vulnerable grieving-mother-state-of-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Syndrome complete with its hypervigilance for danger in any form to any part of my life that I hold dear -- such as a sweet relationship with my husband surmised that my husband was... yes, gaping.

So, I go into my own internal angst and consternation, and fight-or-flight mode while he is oblivious to my concerns. When we pull away from the mountain's overlook site where we had been parked when this happened, Tommy begins to wonder why I am quiet.... so he asks me. I didn't want the rest of my mountain sight-seeing tour to be ruined, so I said I don't want to talk about it right now. I think then, Tommy began to put two and two together and started beating up on himself internally that his actions might have hurt me.

Well, as you might well imagine the rest of the story (no, there is no arrow in his head!) in how this fiasco played out once we were able to talk about it, I won't go into those gory details. Actually, we didn't get into a brawl, it was more a hurt, then my distancing myself from him, and then completely retreating from his presence...

But then, like the "mature" counselors that we are (no, I did not stick his head in an alligator's mouth!), we did finally talk about the occurrence without too many fiery flaming darts being thrown. As our Lord says, "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another..." or as counselors might say, "Speak the truth in love." {Much easier said than done of course!} So we were attempting to handle this potentially-volatile subject with one another as peaceably as we could. (It probably did help that I had packed my car, left the house to go away for a few days, but returned the same night because I missed him too badly! And all this after talking to my good friend to get some reality checks so I wouldn't do anything too crazy!)

Anyway, within this conversation that we finally attempted to have, Tommy said some key words that triggered a comparable experience on my part, giving me a recognition of what he was describing. He was self-disclosing, trying to accurately characterize his behavior at the overlook site in the mountains and said,

"I was not looking at this woman with lust in my heart for her. It more had something like 'seeds of abandonment' (issues) to it."

(And, to be fair to Tommy, in better days when our emotions are fairly steady, he is not really the "gaping type.")

I immediately knew what he was describing! A few times when I was feeling completely vulnerable in my grief, and also completely helpless (like when 3 bones of my pelvis were broken and I could do NOTHING unassisted, not even walk), I found myself "checking out" other men who came as close to who Tommy is as possible. It was a feeling sort of like ~If anything ever happens to Tommy and NOW I KNOW IT CAN HAPPEN I need to know there is at least one kind, loving, STRONG man out there who might possibly be able to help me ~ and unwittingly, I would be searching for that "person"...

Tommy continued to self-disclose, doing his best to "make the unconscious conscious" in order to clarify, so he said,

"This (checking out someone) only happens when I am with you."

And that too resonated with my experience. It was when I would be with Tommy that I would be very sensitized to how much I needed him and would miss him terribly if he weren't here that I would find an unconscious "clicking" going on inside my heart as I would spot someone who my heart must have thought could be his "double":

"Okay, that might work if anything ever happens to Tommy."

I remember feeling very strange that such triggers were even being set off inside my heart, but I never mentioned them to Tommy, thinking, "Well, that was an odd fluke."

Once we fleshed out what was likely occurring inside each of us from time-to-time during this incredibly difficult grief-process through which we are walking, we immediately flashed to other grieving couples to whom this might be happening as well. And we realized they might not be consciously aware of what their hearts may be trying to work out in a manner of "self-protective back-up plans for disaster" that our PTSD brings on, and we immediately felt compassion for them. We knew it would be way too easy in this highly sexualized culture, for partners possibly to jump to the wrong conclusions about such behavior, and so we decided to share this phenomenon with you, our readers.

Honestly, we think it would almost have to be two counselor-types, married to one another, and grieving the loss of their child, to sit down with one another and figure this kind of phenomenon out. Or, it might come out in a counseling session with a couple's counselor. Otherwise, it would be just too easy to react (in our PTSD-loaded system) and jump to the wrong conclusions, leaving the other partner to just feel he or she were a sick person to be staring at a member of the opposite sex....

The other amazing thing about this is that while on the trip, God whispered to my spirit, "Trust Me," at least a couple of times when I was getting so worked up over this incident. Then, during the trip, I wrote the poem about God always trumps what Satan will use for evil ~ that God will use it for our good and for His glory. (See this week's Tuesday's Trust for this poem.) And I realize, once again, God prevails, bringing sweet healing to our relationship, better understanding of our convoluted grief process, and even enabling us to bring new insights hard won insights to our fellow grievers! We truly hope our experience helps anyone who might possibly stumble into this potentially volatile phenomenon!

Are You My Mother, P. D. Eastman (1960, and yet still rated #5, #6, and #10 in Amazon 's rankings among children's books!)

Other images are thanks to

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