July 2, 2007

Strange Thoughts Stirring

Posted in recovery at 1:00 am by nevavegan

Today I spent about five hours on the phone with an old friend. Time is generally short in my world. I talk fast, I walk fast, I type fast. But today was a day to slow down and go back over ground we left behind long ago.

I talked to a very old friend about the attack and she was shocked because I never told her this before. She said “You told me something really bad happened but you were ok, then whatever I asked you didn’t really say much. You dropped off the planet for a while. But I never knew any of this.” That was strange to me, because I could have sworn I told her, but then thinking it over I knew I hadn’t.

I never told my family because I knew they couldn’t be there for me and would likely just make me feel worse about something I could barely cope with as it was. It was a given that I couldn’t turn to my family because I knew I couldn’t carry myself and them. I told a couple of close friends after it happened, and though I didn’t give details, nothing gorey at all, I watched their faces go blank on me. They stopped calling. They replied with things like “Ok, I gotta go, but you’re really strong anyway, so I know you’ll be able to deal with this and be back to your old self in no time.” So I stopped telling people.

Sometimes I take certain things for granted and sometimes I’m totally wrong. I act based on faulty assumptions. I said that this blog was a form of coming out of the closet. Just putting everything out there and being really honest. The thought was that I’m vegan and I’m trying to do good things and find more ways to do better things and maybe other people are dealing with the same issues and it might be helpful to read that they’re not the only ones. So that’s why I put all this potentially hurtful stuff out here.

It’s strange to feel like something is central to my life almost to the point that I’m embarassed by how much I talk about it and how much I focus on it. And even more strange to realize later that I don’t talk about things sometimes.

I tell too much to people who don’t know me well, which might be something like a test. I guess I’d rather know early in a friendship if someone just can’t handle it. Not that it makes them a bad person or takes away at all from the good they do. It’s just that I’m not sure I want to move beyond an occassional lunch or museum trip if someone just can’t live with something that for better or worse has become a part of who I am. A tiny part, this little fracture of broken glass. But it isn’t going away.

If people don’t want to know, the reason of course is likely fear. People want to live in a world where bad things won’t happen to them, so it’s frightening to hear about. Or people might falsely think that knowing something puts some requirement on them to fix it and naturally they can’t fix it. Which is silly. It’s not their problem to fix, but I do sympathize with the impulse. Some of us were raised to be “repairpeople” and there’s something terrifying in that with sitting face to face with something that just can’t be fixed. Also maybe there is also an element of empathy fatigue–people who feel they have so much on their plates already they just don’t want to have to think about anyone else’s baggage.

I still don’t know how I feel about all of this. My friend did say “I can’t believe this. If anything like that had ever happened to me I’d never get over it. I’d be a sobbing wreck for the rest of my life.”

I know it’s kindly meant. But offerings of sympathy seem odd to me sometimes. What can you say? Is this a compliment or is it something else? Should it make me feel weak in some way? We all heal or we don’t. I know it’s never that simple. Healing isn’t one straight line from here to there. But we either start to get better and keep striving in that direction or we don’t.

It’s weird sharing information, and knowing that it hits everyone differently. After starting this blog I got a couple of threatening messages–apparently someone didn’t like that I was writing about violence and recovery, or they didn’t like that I slammed hunting. I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t care any longer what people think. I do care, more than I should. I’m just starting to understand that I don’t control their reactions, only they do. We take the information and what we do with it is our own.



  1. Deb said,

    I think that one of the things we grow up least prepared to do (or maybe I just speak for myself) is to offer the kind of support people need in situations that are “difficult” for whatever reason. I have found myself completely frozen and unable to say anything at all in the face of someone else’s troubles, and it was actually a fear of saying the wrong thing. Knowing that “I understand” or similar platitudes might be more hurtful, just honestly not knowing what to say, how to express support.

    Maybe it is just me, but I know that kind of feeling has prompted what must have been similar outward reactions as at least some of your friends had. I’ve slowly taught myself that when I don’t know what to say, that simply saying “I don’t know what to say, I wish I knew what to do” type things are probably most appropriate and sincere as well.

    This might not be what was behind their reactions, but I know I’ve often regretted being frozen when I wanted to be able to help.

  2. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Deb, of course you are right. Sometimes people simply have no idea what to say at all. Of course that goes back to the idea of “fixing” things in some respect, because there is really no right thing to say and nobody should feel under any obligation to find and say the perfect thing.

    I didn’t mean this a condemnation of anyone and I hope it didn’t come across that way. I meant it more as an explanation of why I have this weird combination of saying too much and then also holding back in ways that don’t make sense. And that has to do with a fear on my part of a negative reaction.

    I still do think that there are also people who are acquaintances or even friends who just, for whatever reason, aren’t in it for the tough times. If the fun stops they move on to where there is more fun and less crying going on. Though that might be disappointing, it’s also just sort of the way it is, and people like that still have a role. Not everyone always needs to know or handle everything.

    This is hard for me because I’ve also come to a point where I realized I had to let certain friends go, mainly because I was standing by watching people self-destruct. I had tried to help and failed. I’d tried to intervene and fallen flat on my face. Finally I came to realize it was beyond my control and that it was more than I could bear to watch someone I loved kill themselves through drugs or alcohol or whatever addiction. So I guess I understand getting to a point where I realized that someone else’s problems were just more than I could handle.

    I hope that I didn’t appear that way to my friends, but I do know there is a certain prejudice, because I’ve heard people repeat it many times that if something bad enough happens then “your life is over,” or “you’ll never be the same.” I don’t think that’s true, but I feel like to some people might believe that they’re breaking ties with someone who has started a downward spiral they’ll never get out of.

    It actually offends me greatly when I hear someone refer to some case in the news and say “nobody can ever get over something that awful, her life is over now.” Because to me it seems so judging and negative. But there seems to be more of that out there than many people imagine, and I have to admit that I sometimes hear about really terrible violent crimes and I do wonder, especially considering that therapy usually costs tons of money, and given that many people have no support system, I do wonder where those victims can go from there.

    That said, speaking only as myself here, I don’t think that any heartfelt offer of sympathy or help is ever a bad thing. The things that have rubbed me the wrong way were when people brought up something tough they’d gone through as a way of telling me that I needed to get over it or that throwing myself into my work was the way to cope. I don’t get angry, but it does sort of grate because even if someone has been through something really terrible, like having cancer, and even if their comments are meant to be helpful, what has worked to help them might not work for everyone else. Also, even if their experience might be worse in many respects (though it isn’t a contest of who had the worst time really) there are also differences. Someone who has been really ill might feel fears that I’m not going to understand from my perspective, or I might not totally get what it’s like to be hospitalized for a long period of time. On the other hand they might not understand just how unsafe someone who has been the victim of violence might feel. So I think it’s fine to say that you understand what it’s like to go through something devastating. And I think it’s fine to say that you found certain things helpful when you were having a rough time. But I don’t think it’s ok to be really pushy about one coping mechanism over another, especially if the message of that coping mechanism is kind of “stop talking about this.”

    I dunno. Everyone probably feels differently, depending on their situation though.

  3. Deb said,

    No, I don’t think it came across as a condemnation at all. I suppose I was trying to atone for my own less-than-stellar responses to situations in the past.

    And I think (and forgot to say) that this drive to “fix things” is part of what makes me, personally, freeze, and is probably what leaves the majority of us unprepared to offer simple support in situations that can’t be fixed. And if we can’t fix things, I think we often turn away from the situation because we just can’t figure out how to handle it.

    Accepting that not everything can be fixed is part of what I had to learn, to be able to just say “I don’t know what to say”, as an attempt to offer an “i’m here” type of support that doesn’t have more direction than that.

    And I think you’ve talked about it in the past, but it reminded me, when you were talking about the frustration of others offering their own experiences as guides for you. Even if they’d experienced the same exact trauma as you, they wouldn’t necessarily be reacting the same way. How we react is dependent on our entire history, isn’t it? I think that’s something I’ve learned from reading your writings. 🙂

    But having someone who has been through an attack and the aftermath talk about these things, talk about the frustration with people not being able to be there, or whatever else, it is helpful to me (and i’d imagine to many others) to know that we don’t have to know how to fix things, or what to say, or what to do, we can still offer support.

    And excellent point about how unhelpful it must be to have people saying that someone’s life is “over” or they couldn’t ever get past certain types of things. I think that the majority of people have shocked themselves and others with just what they can get past, live through, overcome. I really think it is a knee-jerk reaction to say “i could never” type things, as if to say anything less would be to minimize what someone just went through. But most people don’t go through these things on a regular basis, so the potential for a negative self-fulfilling prophesy seems strong. If they’re told it will ruin their lives, and they have no reason to think otherwise, maybe it really will. That’s pretty dangerous, to put that in their minds.

  4. Neva Vegan said,

    Yeah, I think that as a culture we don’t really give people the support they need and we do put messages out there that just aren’t helpful.

    Sure, everyone’s reaction, everyone’s healing process is different. I think there’s sometimes this tendency to make generalizations and even I catch myself doing it all the time.

    For me I had this massive moment of realization where I had previously thought someone in my life just didn’t care and then realized he actually just couldn’t handle being face to face with something he couldn’t fix. But it actually took losing that relationship and then having someone else tell me things he said much later… I guess at that moment I thought that I had let go and turned away too easily out of my insecurity that I was overburdening someone and he had turned away because of his insecurity that he was supposed to fix something that just wasn’t fixable.

    But it’s a process. I think that it’s probably really hard on people who are close to someone going through a really rough time, whether it’s violence related or the death of a parent or anything else huge. Sometimes it’s the not knowing what to say, sometimes it’s crushing guilt, and sometimes it’s our own issues clashing with theirs. So I would just urge everyone to be a little forgiving and understanding if possible.

  5. romancingthecrone said,

    “I never told my family because I knew they couldn’t be there for me and would likely just make me feel worse about something I could barely cope with as it was. It was a given that I couldn’t turn to my family because I knew I couldn’t carry myself and them. I told a couple of close friends after it happened, and though I didn’t give details, nothing gorey at all, I watched their faces go blank on me. They stopped calling. They replied with things like “Ok, I gotta go, but you’re really strong anyway, so I know you’ll be able to deal with this and be back to your old self in no time.” So I stopped telling people.”

    We all repress and suppress in varying forms and degrees, fearing that we will not get the reaction we need from other people. Whether it’s subconscious or conscious, there is always the fear of triteness, trivialization, or rejection when we dare to unveil our deepest pain and fractures.

    Sometimes we know from ample experience that it’s emotionally and spiritually futile, unsafe and unhealthy for us to unburden to our closest kith and kin, and that’s where we learned to distrust the process.

    Conversely, for various reasons, there are times when we all fail to acknowledge someone that shares an intimate pain with us and reaches out to extend his or herself to us. At times we all fail to acknowledge the way we each want and need to be acknowledged. Sometimes we don’t listen the way we all want and need to heard.

    We cannot undo what has been done, but we all have the power to be the salve that promotes and accelerates healing in another. We all need to give and receive the salve at different points in our lives.

    Ultimately it’s up to each of us to be the salve for each other, even though our revealing our hidden wounds is sometimes met with salt, callousness, fear, and rejection.

    Abundant blessings upon you for sharing your pain, your angst, your compassion, and your passions here in this blogging venue. You have chosen veganism as a path of healing and restoration for yourself, Mother Earth and all Her co-habitants.

    I honor your healing path and I honor the process.

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