The words come out fumbling, as if I’m telling the story of someone else’s life or repeating gruesome details from the scene of a suspense film. It was already three years ago, but my mind involuntarily recalls seconds and minutes of that time so acutely that the emotion twists into nausea and becomes the creeping ache in my bones. Only three years ago, yet my mind can’t locate key landmarks in the unfolding events, as if the initial shock caused a psycho-spiritual amnesia.
Trauma, grief, loss – whatever you’d like to term it – it’s a bit weird that way, how it turns everything as we understand it completely on its side. It somehow forces us against our own will to question… ourselves, the world, God (are they out there reading this?), and maybe even our own basic ability to differentiate the real from the imagined. Did that really happen as I remember it? Did I accidentally fabricate some details, add a few twists to the plot to justify myself in the story, try to prove to a listening ear that it really is as bad as it feels? And does it even matter if the grief has finally pushed me over the edge? Is this what it feels like to have officially LOST it?
I retell the story, my marriage beginnings story, and I wonder if the events that set me spinning are half as bad as the spinning itself has turned out to be. I am three years older, dizzy as hell, and curious: will I one day hear the story coming out of my mouth and recognize myself in it? Or will the story remain the unanswered question, the unfinished sentence, the unwritten piece I can’t ever quite get out because it’s a story I’ve never fully grasped to begin with?
A new addition to the collection of wonderings I’ve tossed into the black hole of life’s undiscoverable mysteries: can we be fully freed from this nagging ache of betrayal from a person we love deeply? Or does healing mean we find, against wild odds, a way to experience joy and play and life again despite a steady, familiar pain in our gut? I’ve been longing to be free from the ache since she first knocked on the front door a few years ago, but recently, I’ve been fighting like mad to be rid of her. I have forced myself onto the couch of an EMDR therapist to start contending with the moments I wish the amnesia had permanently erased. Dear friends have been generously kind in their willingness to catch years of pent up tears that came spilling over in ugly, unnatural and liberating torrents. And I’ve created new rhythms of play through roller skates and paints and dance parties on the beach – reminders to my soul of who she was before the trauma convinced her she was made of trash and scraps. There are many days now where I turn around and glimpse the many miles my husband and I have walked since that first phone call that sent my world’s axis into a perpetual summersault. For that, there is untainted, heartfelt gratitude. And yet, still, that familiar ache remains… you know, like the friend who asked if they could crash on the couch for awhile and then never moved out. I’ve forgotten what life was like before she moved in and made herself at home.
It’s been over three years now, and my lowest moments continue to clang with a familiar, resounding melody: a scene where I’m driving down Sixth Street after work, ugly crying in the car and thumping closed fists on the steering wheel, frustrated and sad and angry again over the same events and the same outcomes (again), wishing for God to be a genie-in-a-bottle so they could materialize to rewrite this story. Then, once my face is thoroughly streaked with every undesirable emotion, Shame usually crawls into the passenger seat with a pleasant, how have you STILL not accepted that this happened to you? And people wonder why I hate driving places alone.
But when I’m not driving around with Shame as my passenger and my genie-in-a-bottle God in the backseat, it really isn’t the events I grieve so much now. It isn’t sorrow over the initial shock or the ensuing months of disorientation, exhaustion, and bewilderment that I continue to bang my head against. It’s the present. The still, in this very moment, present lack of trust in marriage that I cannot accept. Which, if you’re acquainted with the 5 Stages of Grief, means I am getting pretty cozy in the grief zone, where I have basically become housemates with lament over a lack of trust in marriage. But, the marriage – I haven’t forgotten – that I chose and continue to choose because I believe in the person I am married to.
It is possible, probable even, that something in my gut knows – be it Holy Spirit, intuition, indigestion – that I resist that shiny, tempting final stage of grief because I will not accept that this marriage is unworthy and incapable of restored trust and Shalom. Because of this, the simple yet very real presence of my live-in friend, the ache, has been consuming me for what feels like unhealthy amounts of time. But, as I’ve been reclaiming play, showing up for counseling, and releasing healing tears, I’m discovering that maybe, somehow, being stuck in my pinball machine of grief isn’t my only option either. There might be a healthier choice, a more freeing road to walk, a potentially more life-giving roommate to receive than my long-time pal, the ache. She is also scarier to believe in, because she is more terrifying to lose. But even the possibility of her goodness is worth rolling the dice to see if I can shake my long-time roomie, the ache, so I think I’ll invite her in and see if she can stay awhile. My old friend, the ache, meet our new roomie: Hope.