Denial as a coping mechanism ; some reflections on inter relational trauma and attachment

I am thinking a lot about denial as a coping mechanism today, especially when it come to intimate attachments.. The Full of the opposition meeting with Mars and the Sun took place just over a days ago. The New Moon meeting the Sun in Libra in a few days must be the starting of a monthly moon cycle that might give some of us insight into both our relationships, as well as our capacity to relate to others.. and the issue of avoidant attachment is on my mind strongly today.. Often, in denying the pain of our need to attach, after being hurt, we may continue to turn down the volume on our need for intimate connections, or set up other defenses that are, at least in part, kinds of denial. Some of us may turn towards religions and religious philosophy as well, in the aftermath. We may also find ourselves reacting extreme ways (Mars in its reaction to Venus) when people are distant or unattentive, if we don’t decide to withdraw altogether from relationships, after being let down, making mistakes or being hurt one too many times.

I was moved by Mark Wolynn, multi-generational trauma specialist sharing the revelation he had in an ashram that he needed to go home and heal the relationship with his Mum and stop following philosophical edits to ‘detach’ or not attach. A lot of his book It Didn’t Start With You is about what happens when we take one of a few approaches to blocking off the flow of love with a parent who may not have been able to bond well or deeply with us due to their own traumas. Often the more we can understand what happened to make our parents avoidant or excessively controlling due to anxiety (or reach for other solutions) the more we maybe able to understand and at least try to heal the blockage.. Even if the parent won;t address the issue we can change the pattern of denial and blockage of flow in our own lives and we may be able to then stop it recurring with our own loved ones, friends or offspring.

I thought with sadness today of the long lonely journey I have had but also of the love that was there. My older sister loved me deeply even though she left to get married when I was 3 and moved overseas to the land of my ancestors immigration, New Zealand. Many years late after returning home for some years when her aneurysm happened it hit me hard as her four boys were more like brothers to me than nephews, being closer in age.. When she was taken back to New Zealand after the illness and her breakdown in 1981 (my brother in law had another woman over there and had my sister committed at one point, my nephews told me after my older sister’s funeral how mean the new woman in their father’ life was to them, making them sleep in the garage, and having the two younger ones sent to boarding school where I found out this year the third boy both witnessed abuse and was abused.. not penetrative abuse but had his penis whipped as a threat to keep him quiet about what the brothers were up to.)

After all of this traumatic separation took place I didn’t see the boys for years… Her husband sent her back with a one way ticked in 1983, the year I had graduated from secretarial college and she had a breakdown and suicide attempt at that time which was so painful to endure.. She told me once it was hard to see Mum and Dad together and loving each other when she had been so abandoned by her husband, and yet she always forgave him, loving him deeply.

It was only two years later that my father died and I had in those 2 years (1983 – 84) those two terminations of pregnancy to a guy who was an addict and not in love with me. I hid it all from everyone and Mum found out shortly after Dad died by reading my journals and then confronting me.. Just two months later she urged me to go overseas even though my partner of the time ended up breaking up with me, only a few days after Dad died, calling me at 4 am from India where I was to be meeting him. As traumatised as I was I got no comfort at home, instead Mum urged me to to travel alone (a serious act of misattunement) ..Such a painfully lonely tough thing but with nowhere to go with the feelings, I could only drink over them for the next 8 years (2 years spent working and travelling overseas then 6 more in Sydney caught up in active addiction.) During these years I struggled and failed to form long lasting attachments with my next two partners. (1985- 1993)

In 1993 I met my husband Jonathan and I finally got sober 6 months later. Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary. At that point I had so much hidden history to unpack and try as we did we could not sustain the ongoing attachment. When I started therapy it threatened him and he had lost his own father at the same age and had, at that time, a strained relationship with his Mum. I also struggled to be close to his three sisters, who were very kind to me, due to the trauma I underwent with Jude.

I think I had to deny and bury all the pain of those broken attachments.. Even in my marriage I was at times anxious, at others avoidant though we did have happy years.. it was when we moved overseas that more pain emerged as I began to unthaw feelings in sobriety, but it was not really until 2000 after 15 months of therapy that I finally started to lift the lid on my grief.

In the UK during that time, I got so much support from my work colleagues at the Botanic Garden, I was able to take time off and talk about everything but then one day my Supervisor said to me “perhaps you should go on medication because sometimes we need a bit of extra help to kick start the machine.” Fuck that triggered me as a recovering sober member of AA in therapy and with the push drive problems in my family of trauma laded compulsivity. I quoted D H Lawrence to her “I am not a mechanism, but a soul and the soul had wounds that only time will help to heal.” And then I quit. You see, at that point I did not know I could be angry about something, speak up and have the relationship survive.. So I left first.

That said at the time Mum had fallen in Australia and my older sister was in deep trouble having been in an abusive relationship but at least she was bonded to someone, abusive as he was and when my mother and other sister had her forceably removed to an elderly care home the shit hit the fan.. He took her out again and then beat her up and left her again.. so so devestatingly sad. I could not just watch all this unfolding at such a great distance could I? But coming back to live in the same town was impossible for me.. No wonder I struggled.

Was it any wonder I had a hard time trusting? Was it any wonder I found it hard to move back home and took retreat some distance away at the coast? No.. it all makes sense and its why Kat my therapist never lets me shame my self for these necessary coping strategies. Then there was the AA woman who told me my marriage would end in time when I went on the healing journey, as I needed ‘to be alone with God.’ In a way there was some truth in it but acting on that advice I didnt reach out to soothe my husband and assure him he was still so important to me.. That said he did discourage my therapy and felt threatened by it.

I need to go easy on myself now if I sometimes see how I chose this voluntary aloneness for some reason. Its coming up to the anniversary of my last relationship breaking apart too when he was left all alone. That said Phil was not a soft enough person to be totally right for me.. He could not show me empathy at critical times, and maybe sometimes I was a little short on empathy for him but not to the degree that he was.

Today I thank God for the connections that survived my Complex PTSD. I just sat in the silence cuddling Jasper this morning thinking what a comfort he is to me.. How I can be close to him in any emotional state and never be rejected, though he may leave the room if I am angry, I have noticed if its genuine anger over a justified reason he always draws close. I notice too how when we are out he tries his best to connect me with others, running close to them and trying to get their attention. I also think how, when I first moved back home, having him helped me to make many meaningful connections. And it was actually my living sister who came with me to get Jasper and chose him, rather than his sister. The quieter sibling.

Its good also to be there for my sister, but painful too. I took her out yesterday for afternoon tea and to lodge an early vote. On the way back to the hospital she said to me “its so nice to be out of there, I wish I didn’t have to go back.” I said to her “Sue you are free to leave there at any time.” She just looked at me and said “I feel like I am in prison”, I could not help but think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz both driving home and during the early hours of the morning.. There is a very good book on healing narcissistic injury called The Wizard of Oz and other Narcissists its worth a read.. I thought of how my sister needs to find her inner courageous lion, and of how her true self has been so disempowered over the years.. I also thought of how not being able to be vulnerable means we try to assume a disguise that shows us in a certain light and then, fearing what others may think of us, or fearing judgement we feel too vulnerable to unmask all the ways in which we struggle.

Over all the years of struggle my sister rarely shares with anyone about what is going on inside of her.. I know that it is hard for her to find words which is why I try to be with her and just BE PRESENT. i did notice in the 9 months she was out of care this year she posted many cries for help on Facebook, in a very surreptitious manner. I also think of how her deeper suffering often remains unseen by close family. I have seen her own son, at times treat her with contempt for not being able to act in the world, not understanding the inner burden of feelings and crippling thoughts she struggles with. Is it her being or her doing that is being valued? And if it is only the later, how sad it?

I have also see my sister do so much reaching out to others who don’t often do the equivalent reaching back, perhaps not fully understanding how vulnerable she is at times and the help she may need. That said, until she can find the will to break free and live again no one can do that for her and yet it seems at time a lonely struggle that takes place in the dark in a world gone blind to truth.

This is a rambling post.. Part of me says not to post. Another part of me thinks just put it out there. The issue of attachments comes and goes, there are times for me of connection and times of being alone and feeling peaceful and connected, most especially in the silence which comes as a welcome relief on the back of so much talking.

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