Loosened from my family, severed from the life I had known for over thirty years, I feel liberated and lost at the same time. The freedom is exhilarating, but I am completely rudderless. Denial set in. I ask myself, how does one start over to relearn a life?

How to begin?

Having no developmental chart, I skip the crawling and toddler stages and wobble upright, perhaps a wee bit off-center, but standing.

As the clinician I am today, I know there is a purpose served for the crutch I use, the defense mechanism called Denial (with a Big D). Defense mechanisms such as denial are needed to help traumatized people cope as they move toward healing. But, as a neophyte on an uncharted journey, I blindly grab hold of any lifeline that might help me survive the tsunami of The Leaving Event. Oblivious to much of what is happening to me, I blunder through the early stages of my “new” life.

With the aid of my assistant, Denial, I detach, yank the plug from the socket of my family life. Perhaps I should have gone through the crawling stage, but without a chart …

Many therapists and countless teachers can talk knowledgably about denial. I’ve become an expert in both theory and practice. Since I have made it an avocation for years, I’ll describe how it worked for me. I often liken it to pretending—the kind of pretend when my cousin Hope and I played dress-up. Childhood pretending is normal and healthy. Denial, if adopted long-term, is not.

As an adult, now in my mid-thirties, I took it one step further and on many occasions pretended that my life was moving on just fine when it wasn’t. The clinical diagnosis in adulthood is pathological denial: a persistent refusal to see things as they are—a blocking out of reality. This is done out of desperation, as a way to cling to what remains of a fragile life. I think of burn patients whose doctors put them into an induced coma until they heal, the pain being so great they could not otherwise survive. Denial served as my coma.

What I now know is:

  • The Universe did its best to watch over the girls and me as I put one unsteady foot in front of the other.

Stay tuned. Next episode: A New Recipe

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