“If you spend your life denying you have a problem, you’ll end up denying yourself a life.” Unknown
Before my mom’s brother moved in with us, she had him institutionalized several times for depression, suicide threats, and bizarre behavior like running around naked in his neighborhood. He stood for hours in our kitchen while we ate, complaining about grains of sand dripping down his spine. When I finally sidestepped her denial and asked directly what was going on with him, she said he was hospitalized (in a mental institution) for pneumonia.
After my uncle died, a concerned friend encouraged me to tell Mom about being sexually abused by him. My friend thought speaking up would help. Mom said, “Exactly when did this abuse happen since I never left you alone with him?”
I knew by her tone she didn’t want an answer; she wanted an out. Mom worked full-time, which meant I went home alone to my uncle most afternoons. Mom and I never spoke again about what she couldn’t accept. She denied it probably because she allowed the same thing to happen to me that happened to her and to my uncle at the hands of their father.
Denial was one more thing I tried hard at, but only because someone else wanted me to. Not only did it not work, it made the situation worse. The truth is, our secrets keep us sick.
A friend admitted her divorce hurt 10 times worse than she expected because of frequent nightmares about her mom’s untimely death – a trauma she denied until her husband left her.
Denial isn’t all bad, though. Sometimes it’s necessary and life preserving.
In the high profile story about Amanda Blackburn, a pastor’s pregnant wife shot to death shortly after he left for the gym, Davey talked about how he convinced himself his wife had miscarried when he found her because he couldn’t accept the bigger heartbreak.
Amanda died in 2015. Davey wrote a book two years later. By writing their story, he honored her, as well as his emotions. I imagine he helped others, too. I know his story gave me permission to write about what happened to me while keeping it in perspective.
It’s understandable to deny what we can’t deal with right off, but years of ignoring, blocking, and shutting down emotions catches up with us.
I denied my pain the same as my mom and my friend until it manifested as depression, and no one knew. I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me even though I needed support. Instead, I joked and laughed a lot. All the while, I kept people distant and my feelings buried. Longtime friends said, “You should have been an actress. I had no idea you were depressed.”
The cover-up took a lot of effort, a lot of trying hard.
Letting go of denial doesn’t mean we wallow in our past and our pain. It doesn’t mean we feel sorry for ourselves because of it. It doesn’t mean we justify unforgiveness toward whoever we think caused it.
Letting go of denial means we stop trying hard to deny the truth. We share what happened to us so we can heal and have close relationships and help others.
In This Together,
FYI: I’m blogging my book titled On The Other Side of Trying Hard: Healing, Happiness, and Holiness. Because these blog posts are a manuscript instead of stand-alone stories, some posts may leave you hanging. I hope you’ll hang in here with us anyway ‘cause a happy ending is coming. My blog post title includes the chapter title first. The phrase in parentheses is the subheading. I’m over-the-top grateful to have you here. I’d love to hear your reflections, questions, and comments.