Imagine you are in a hospital bed. You have an illness, its bad but the doctors have said it will get better. They have told you there is not a lot you can do but rest up. So that is what you are doing. Yet all your friends that visit you keep tugging at your arm, trying to pull you out of the bed.
‘Come on! You have so much to live for. Don’t you want to get better for your kids?! Get better now!’
It’s not going to help you is it? Actually it is going to make it worse! So why do we do this to people struggling with mental health all the time? I recently made a video about this and it got quite a big reaction on my social media and I think this is because when we look at things from a slightly different angle we sometimes see things clearer.
There are, I’m sure, many reasons why we try to pull people out of their struggles. One of them is from a loving place. We want people to be well and when we can’t physically see their struggle its harder to understand why that person cannot drag themselves out of it.
However there is another reason and I am starting to realise just how predominate a reason it is. It is the fact that we struggle with other people’s darkness. When we see it, it’s too uncomfortable to step into and so we defend it with positivity. As we become uncomfortable we need to lift the mood to get ourselves out of the darkness, to stop sharing in someones pain. I can see much clearer now how guilty I have been of this.
As someone affected by a parents drinking, I have faced this a lot. When I get honest with some of the things that happened, when I get honest about some of the real emotions I feel, there can be a kick back. People will say ‘but it wasn’t all bad’ or even ‘but your dad was a good man.’
For so long, I struggled with this because what it does is it devalues my experience. I know my dad was a good man and I like to hear about that but when I am talking about the pain that the bad things have caused me, these statements say ‘you shouldn’t feel this way’. It leaves me feeling unjustified and ultimately bad.
I want COA’s and in fact all people to know that it is not their fault. That they are justified in their feelings. True, we can play a part in what we do with those feelings, but the feelings, whatever they are, are justified.
I struggled with a relationship with suicide for most of my life. I know now this has a lot to do with the traumas I faced as a COA but the problem is, it was very difficult to explore this in my head. We normally put this down to stigma but actually it is much more than that. It had a lot to do with the reaction I got from people who had gone beyond the stigma and had offered their help.
‘You have so many reasons to be alive. Think of your family. There’s so many who are worse off’
Again, these comments are more of that ‘tugging at the arm’. Its more ‘stop being like this’ vocabulary….. and then we simply label those who become too frightened to open up as people who don’t want to talk.
I wanted to talk. I wanted to talk so bad it was killing me but every time I opened my mouth…. I was shown that people weren’t ready to listen.
We need to check ourselves. We need to get mindful of our own feelings if we are going to make a real attempt at being there for each other. Notice when a conversation is getting difficult for you and describe that. Don’t try to pull it back to a comfortable level. Sit in that darkness with them. Stop trying to fix and just be there.
Some stuff changes us forever and that’s ok. Some things we are going to struggle with for the rest of our lives because they run so deep and the ones who have found a place where they are able to admit that?! They should be applauded. They should be allowed to rest up without constantly being ‘pulled at by the arm’
Don’t try to fix someone because you can’t handle their pain.
Don’t try to fix someone because you can’t handle their pain and disguise it as being positive.
Don’t try to fix someone, step into their darkness and sit a while. Help them rest up and create that space where they might find what they need to walk out of the darkness themselves.
Being affected by a parents drinking is something that lasts a lifetime. It has shaped and moulded the very person that I have become. There is no finish line. . It doesn’t stop because of the loss of a parent. It doesn’t stop if it we cut ties. It doesn’t stop just because a parent finds recovery. It doesn’t stop.
Trauma recovery is a lifetimes work.