Sunday, January 20, 2008

Being afraid of happiness

This post is about things that are natural and a part of recovery from grief, but just because something is natural doesn't mean it is necessarily pleasant, rational or easy.

There are two emotions that are overwhelmingly irrational, yet inescapable for many. The first is guilt, both over the event that creates grief and then at any time afterwards that one has happiness. Guilt, for me, is self indulgent behavior, like self pity, that I have discarded (it isn't for others, and can be a terrible burden). But while I have been able to discard guilt, especially since I have felt responsible for helping others in my family in recovery, fear has dogged me.

Fear is the second inescapable emotion. It stalks me at times.

Strangely, what triggers my fear and causes dread is happiness and success.

I have always been terribly content with many things. While I never lived up to Eugene Jacobs' hopes for me (he always felt that he and the school had let me down, I always felt that I had failed him by failing to find the kind of traction necessary to do the things he felt I could do, I mourn his passing), I have met many of the goals those I knew growing up had for me. I was just a poor kid in a trailer park with crippling levels of ADD. I have beautiful children, a wonderful wife and a polydactyl cat. I enjoy my job a great deal, I enjoy what I do with my life.

The last time I was content like this is when my life fell apart. I had finally gotten "over the hump" (so to speak) in getting my practice going. I had money in the bank, three wonderful children (sadly I've never gotten above two alive at any one time since then), a wife who was unbelievably wonderful and a community I loved (I still have fond feelings for Wichita Falls, I just can't bear to live there any more). I was publishing and thinking. I was really happy.

Now, many things are going well in my life again. I wake up happy to see my wife sleeping next to me. I'm not teaching anything other than at Church right now, but I'm reading and studying (things that would probably seem boring to most people, but I'm getting a much broader background for applied legal ethics, refreshing things I know or knew, filling in holes in my knowledge, updating myself on some economics developments and enjoying it). I've participated in some ethics seminars and expect that I will eventually write again, I can't help myself.

Physically, I'm in better shape than I've been in a very long time. I weigh less than I did before Jessica died. That was a very long time ago. I can feel my emotions, ones I've hidden from for a very long time and they are mostly joy. But I have an irrational connection between this emotional state and the five years that followed the last time I had it.

I know that what I am feeling is natural and a part of recovery. That helps. People who have been through trauma and loss often find that when life starts to become sweet again, when they have things that they enjoy and value, then they start to feel a fear that those things will be taken away. The fear isn't crippling and it isn't constant. I'm lucky that way.

But I'm ready for it to be gone, to be past the middle of February and into Spring again, with hope and life in the air and surrounding me.

I know it could be much worse, I could have a life without things I value and would fear to lose. I could be going through this not knowing it is a normal part of the journey of recovery from grief, not knowing that it will transition, that it is another step in healing.

So I face my fears, I read my little girl bed time stories, make sure she has brushed her teeth and practiced her piano, help her with her prayers, tuck her in at night and am grateful for my fears.


SilverRain said...

Stephen - thank you. Just, thank you.

Anonymous said...

None of us know what tomorrow will bring. You are so aware of this reality due to your losing three children. Although I have never had the many things I feared happen to my knowledge, I did used to at one of my worst points take solace as I sat by my cat or maybe even hugged him, "I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but this is good right now." or something like that. I have never really grieved for anyone deeply or maybe not at all. I think that it is normal. If it is prolonged, then a person needs help. It is so important to remember that you do need to help and be there for your other family members. They need you! --Barb

East of Eden said...

I think you pretty much expressed how I've been feeling lately, but unable to explain. I do have that fear of happiness, and I want to get rid of it because I know it is crushing me.

Anonymous said...

I think my feeling is a little bit different, but I want to hear your thoughts on that. In love, recently I found out that the man I am into (dont really know what love is, but I am very fond of him!) is willing to go to great lengths for me. I was so intensely happy, so flattered at how far is willing to do for me which gave me the confidence that he share my feelings which we have not disclosed to eachother!! but then, complete crash.. i feel depressed, a sinking feeling in my heart, i feel guilty that i have talked too much about him to my friends.. I don't know why that is... whats your take on this?

Anonymous said...

further to last email, how can somethign that makes you so incredibly happy lead you to being back sad again? strange..