When I was thirteen years old my best friend committed suicide. I was institutionalized because friends and family feared that I would also kill myself because of my previous display of suicidal tendencies. There was nothing in the world that I wanted more than death, but yet I couldn't bring myself to do it. By denying my suicidal feelings, I was released from the mental hospital.
I isolated myself from everyone and everything. I often found myself feeling totally disoriented, not knowing what date or month it was, not knowing if it were night or day. All I did was sleep and cry. I also developed a bit of a problem with anorexia and drug use (mostly marijuana, methamphetamine, and a lot of LSD). I used anorexia to communicate my need for help. The skinnier I got, the more worried friends and family became. This was exactly what I was aiming for, but their concern didn't satisfy my need for understanding of the amount of pain that I felt. I couldn't verbally communicate my pain because it was emotionally horrifying. Drug usage and excessive sleeping were my way to escape my painful reality.
It has been four years since she died. My problem with anorexia is almost gone, and I no longer use drugs. The one thing I haven't been able to heal is the emotional pain. If anyone tries to bring up the subject of her death I go completely silent and all I can do is cry. I also struggle with my current friendships. I have trusted in a few people since my loss, but when they do one small thing that makes me question their loyalty, I lose almost all trust in them. I am still mentally exhausted and continue to sleep excessively. While I have been able to begin to live life more normally because of the improvement of my state of mind, I still can't heal this pain. It's as if her death has killed me.
Why haven't I been able to move on? Why have I made such little progress given the amount of time? How can I trust my friends more? How can I begin to express the effect her death has had on me when I don't feel comfortable doing so?
Thank you for this thoughtful letter. Your anguish is very clear; I was very moved reading about how deeply this loss has affected you.
The most direct way I can answer you questions is to ask you to imagine this deep, searing wound as if it were physical - that some part of your body manifested this trauma.
Imagine, for instance, that, when your friend took her own life, your physical body was attacked. Imagine that your injury was physical and that the mortal threat the assault posed was imminent and real. There you are, bleeding from this deep wound. You are still bleeding; the wound is still fresh. Every mention of the loss of your dear friend, or of the way she abandoned you, reopens the tear in your heart.
You ask, "Why haven't I been able to move on?" If you looked down at a physical wound, which had not healed over time, would you be critical or questioning of your tissue, muscles, blood, etc, for not healing? Of course you would not. You would simply recognize that this wound is deep and needs special loving care and attention.
You question, "Why have I made such little progress given the amount of time?" If you saw this festering sore on your body, would you demand or expect it to heal more quickly when it clearly has not? You would not, but you might take extra measures to protect the fragile scab as it forms, or to clean the torn skin, or to protect it from any further injury.
You say, "How can I trust friends more loyally?" If you were bleeding profusely from an injury, would you move physically with ease? How could you trust that further injury would not occur? Would you feel safe being around others or would you want to protect yourself from injuries they might cause you?
This - "How can I begin to express the effects her death has had on me when I don't feel comfortable doing so?" - will be the key to resolving all of the conflict you feel.
If you were physically injured, the one way you could protect yourself effectively and clue others into your need for self-protection, would be to tell others about the pain you felt - to talk about your injury.
This will be your way out. The fact that you have not yet discussed completely how devastating this loss has been to you has kept the devastation current. Not talking about it has kept the injury fresh. The therapist or doctor who worked with you when you were feeling suicidal is the obvious choice for you to open up to, but any therapist or counselor can help you work through this pain. The idea will be to treat your depression caused by your unresolved grief.
Your grief has been waiting for you for four years. That gash in your heart has been bleeding all this time. It's time to begin opening up and talking about your loss, so that you can allow yourself to mend. In time, the wound will scab over and finally heal, so give yourself a safe place to talk over everything in your heart and mind (via therapy), and let the healing begin.
Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT
This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit: http://www.pegburr.com/