When grief, dissociation, keeping busy, addiction and a farewell collide
Dissociation serves a logical purpose, in that it allows me to separate myself and disconnect from the world, escape, and float away.
However, I don’t really understand why this happens, apart from the need to detach from reality or situation in order to feel safe and protected. There are many reasons why this happens, but I haven’t grasped the active concept to be able to ground myself, yet. Like all things in my life that are in the works and ‘under construction’, I manage things day by day, but am in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze.
I use the word ‘fight’ often when trying to understand why I dissociate. I reason that my body needs an automatic response for a potentially dangerous situation. Dissociation is a survival necessity, because sometimes my body doesn’t recognise the reason is not an immediate and physical threat, rather it’s an emotional response, that I can’t run from, so I either panic, fight, or hide away.
When dissociation occurs, I feel I am being kicked out of my body and then pulled back in. The sensation is dizzying and confusing. Feeling myself in two separate worlds, and only one having control over me, is horrible but I can’t control it.
Imagine being kicked out of a car moving at full speed. You are in agony and out of control, rolling as your driverless vehicle moves further and further away. You know it will stop at some point, but how? A crash will occur, and when you catch up to your wreck you are stranded, standing alone with the shell of your car. So, do you run? Do you scream, do you flee? Whichever way you choose, you must deal with it, and you know that being kicked out of your body with no control is akin to a car without its driver.
I’ve experienced dissociation over the years and recently it has hit hard again. The experience is worse than any emotion I feel. It’s grief, the kind you can’t manage or cry out like you usually can. It’s numbing.
Farewelling a special uncle
I have a photograph of my uncle holding me as a baby; at the time he was only a teenager himself, perhaps 13 or 14; it’s one of my favourite photos. As I grew up, my uncle preferred me to call him by his first name. ‘Uncle’ was too old for him, given our age difference.
Today, as an adult, it was unfortunately my time to hold my uncle. He weighed half of what I did, though. He wasn’t smiling at me like I was at him, when we were kids. As fragile as a child was, so was the box labelled ‘fragile’. I walked to my room, I stool there and breathed; I wish this wasn’t the way we were meeting again.
I opened the box labelled ‘Fragile’. I wiped off the Styrofoam clinging to the ceramic and I lifted the weighted blue ceramic box out of the package. I sat, crouched down near my bed, just staring, too afraid to make a move because of the sound of sand running through the hourglass, but like an hourglass, my uncle’s time was up. There remained his ashes in front of me, my uncle, my mum’s baby brother is gone, just like that.
Dissociating from grief by keeping busy
The day the police came to the door was the day I stayed on my toes, busy, organising, taking care of everything that needed to be done. Authorising things a niece doesn’t want to have to do, because that’s my uncle, mine. I picked apart clothes, I took apart furniture, I refurbished what I could, and I made arrangements to put him to rest; I didn’t have to think of the reality, just the process, that was the easier part for me, to turn off and dissociate from grief and be what people needed me to be, organised, grown up and strong.
Nothing hit as hard as putting in the numbers to the funeral home to pay for my uncle’s cremation, which were his wishes, but nothing prepared me for the after effect, the finalisation of agreeing to do that to someone, even if it is their wish.
Once those numbers were in and I clicked ‘Send’, I was alone. I couldn’t sleep, I began waking up screaming things again, crying when I don’t realise that I am crying, and disconnecting from the world.
My dresser was completed, my sewing machine stopped working, and I had nothing more to clean. I couldn’t take anything more apart to fix it and make it whole, or better again. I felt useless.
People keep telling me to cry
I couldn’t comfort my mother the way I felt she may have needed me. I felt if I went into her room while she was howling that I would add fuel to the fire, and cause her to feel more pain; so, I pulled my dog’s large bed up the hallway, got a blanket and lay there for hours, just listening to her cry behind her door. That way, at least I knew when she fell asleep, she was safe and settled, for tonight. That’s the most helpful thing I could do for her, just listen in and wait for her to fall asleep and get some rest.
People keep telling me to cry, to talk about it, but I don’t know what to say. My uncle is gone, and I cannot undo that. I cry but I don’t cry in front of my mum, and I don’t mean to cry, tears just come. I wipe them away like a car drying in the rain with the wind screen wipers on, automatically, doing my job.
The scream of loss sticks with you
I woke up to the scream of my mother when the police came to our house and told us about my uncle’s death. The scream of loss sticks with you. It replays. When I became exhausted that afternoon and fell asleep, I woke to that scream, but no one had screamed. The scream was in my head, like the other screams I have, only now it’s me making the sounds. My mum comes into my room and asks if I’m okay. I am woken in a daze with the usual response, “I’m fine”. To her saying I have been screaming in my sleep again, I always say, “Oh, I don’t know why.”
I believe that whatever our beliefs are, is what will be. In life we’re told that we can achieve anything we put our mind to, so in death I feel if our belief is to be with our lost loved ones, then this is what will happen. I believe my uncle is now with his mum, dad and nan; and that he has no more pain, no more demons haunting him, no more struggle. I believe he is finally safe, and no more harm can come to him. I will forever have him close to my heart. His death happened the way it was meant to be. I don’t understand why, but I’ve learnt not to ask.
Don’t judge or stigmatise someone with an addiction
I have some of my uncle’s traits and with those he’ll always be a part of me.
Be at peace now, it’s time for you to rest, you were a hard worker. I will never have anyone think otherwise. Despite the demons you fought daily, you got up and went to work every day.
I ask others to not judge or stigmatise a disease like addiction, because we all can go down the wrong path and be unable to find our way out. Be supportive, reach out to those who are lost.
Never give up – reach out for help
If you are suffering today, know that your life is worthwhile. Everyone at some point thinks, who would even care? Well, I do, I care, even if I don’t know you, and many others do, too. Never give up, reach out if you feel you cannot go on, and someone will be there to keep you going.
I say this with deepest sympathy and sadness; I love you, Uncle Grant, and you will truly be missed. You’ve left a hole in our hearts that no one can fill. You were loving, crazy, funny as hell, at times angry and absorbed by addiction, but you were my uncle and you are loved, then and now, forever.
For support in progressing through grief and loss, contact Lifeline in your home country.
- Australia: Lifeline provides all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention service. Call 13 11 14.
- United States: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline: 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
- United Kingdom: Lifeline is a free, confidential telephone helpline. This service is available anytime every day on 0808 808 8000.