************************************Denial covers the pain of the past * A blanket over the world * Lift a corner * Don't be afraid * Your life awaits you*************************************

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stages of Grief: Shock

An article at this website talks about the seven stages of grief. This is a common theory, but I liked this particular explanation. The author, Tess Thompson, has this to say about stage one:

1.The initial reaction is usually a state of shock and disbelief on hearing news of a loss or death. Somehow, the gravity of the situation does not register. People in this stage tend to disbelieve the information and try and disregard the facts. They may also try and prove that the harbinger of the news is not a reliable source of information.

Email to my therapist, Wednesday, January 14th, 2008 - one day after remembering "the worst of it":

I so want to cry and yell and get it all out of my system but I just can't do anything. I sit and wait and nothing happens. I feel numb. No reaction at all. Just this undercurrent of tension but even that feels far away. On top are fragmented thoughts that scream at me like a waking nightmare, blocking out my emotions.

I want to be done with it. It's so frustrating to be unable to make it happen.
I can't feel any of it and I can't seem to do anything else either.
I'm just frozen here.

Yesterday there was a sort of counterbalance of feeling that at least I've reached the worst of it. I could see the light on the path clearly ahead, and it felt hopeful.
I wanted to put that hope down on paper and not forget it.
Writing helped some. While I was writing I could focus on that hope for a while.
When the story was done, I didn't feel better. I felt alone with this emptiness.

I can't even climb inside it like I usually do. Usually when I face something big, it threatens to consume me, and I feel it surround me until nothing else exists.
But I’m just numb.
I tried to just sit and think about all the loss and hurt and sadess, but I felt nothing.
I tried to physically destroy the monster with an effigy and my hammer, but I still didn't feel anything. I just cleaned up the mess and walked away.
Wouldn't you think that it would be easy to be angry, to cry?
I can't make it happen.
I don't know how.
I can't make myself feel and I can't seem to move on without feeling, either.
It's just too awful to comprehend. It's as stifling as grief when someone has died.
It's too real and yet feels so removed from me.
Its as if the someone who died is me.

I sent two more emails that afternoon, both saying about the same thing. The apathy, the complete lack of emotion was not what I expected. I'd always been such an emotional person – at least on the inside. It scared me to actually look inside and feel absolutely nothing.

Email to my therapist, that night:

I went to the online [CoDA] meeting tonight. That was good. It was a safe place to talk. It's hard around here because I can't talk about it. I don’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t really say what I remembered but I feel like everyone knows. I feel like it’s written on my face, in my words, on my being.

I keep thinking this can't be right, just feeling nothing. I'm so out of it, my thoughts are so disorganized and unrelated. I wanted to try to make some kind of promise to myself for tomorrow, that I would make it a little better, at least shower, dress, make some food, eat something...
I just don't know that I can keep that promise right now.

I still have this feeling that it can't be true. I don't want to believe this little girl inside who is telling me this. How reliable can she be, really? I feel like I'm going to wake up from this and it will go away. It doesn't feel real today.
But then I hardly feel real today.

I'm going to bed.
I want to be done with this day.

Response from my therapist:

I see the grief process in what you are experiencing today. Shock, denial, bargaining are the first steps through. Anger and crying will come. Honor the process. You have not yet voiced (you have only written) the painful trauma. That also will come in its time. You may voice it to me, or you could join a local group for those who have been sexually abused. Again, in its time.
Let me know if you want to talk, by phone or in person. This is an important time for you and I am here to help you through it.

Shock.  It made sense. In a very removed way, I looked at myself and realized I was in shock.
I stopped worrying about my lack of emotion...s and started worrying about what it would be like when everything turned on again.

Email to my therapist, thursday morning (two days after acknowledging "the worst of it"):

It's so hard around here because I don't feel like I can tell anyone what's wrong. I try not to let on how bad I feel, how out of it I am and just - lost. I can't explain it to [my husband] or the kids. How could I?
I can't imagine ever saying the words out loud,. If that's what it takes I may not get through it. I just don't think I can do that.
I know they see that something is up. I know I've been weird this week. Last night I went outside in my pajamas for a few minutes just to feel the cold - just to feel something. January in Chicago – not exactly the time and place to go for a stroll in my pajamas. I knew it, in a very detached way, even then. I just wanted to feel something.
[My husband] was angry. I snubbed him completely, telling him to leave me alone.
Like everything else, we didn't talk about it further. this morning it was like nothing happened.
I feel very alone with this. Very alone and I don't see any way that will change. The numbness is still there, but I'm aware of a strong undercurrent of turmoil that threatens to overwhelm me. It's terrifying. How can I do this alone, and how can I ever tell anyone.

This is a miserable way to live.

You talked about a blanket. I feel a little less silly about something that I've done that last two nights, because you said that. I sort of invited this little child that I saw so clearly in your office to sleep by me. I put a heavy feather pillow up against me and held it and it seemed like it was that child. Safe, protected...
I felt funny about it in the morning, like I was seriously losing my mind - like those women you see in movie-asylums walking around carrying a doll...
I feel a little more than yesterday. In my head I see myself just running out the door screaming over and over. I have to keep promising myself that I will stay warm, eat something, etc. to keep that away. It's as if I can make it all go away if I just do what I'm supposed to do.
But I know, somewhere inside, that it isn't going to work.
It's a long weekend for the kids.
I wish I could leave, go somewhere by myself.
The idea of taking all the ativan and ending up in some hospital for a few days didn't' sound too bad last night. I know that's bad. I know. But I feel so trapped here. I know that it's harder to reach you on the weekends, too.
I just don't know that I can do this.

Another email, that night:

we all went out for dinner and then to a movie, since the kids don't have school tomorrow. We saw "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". I liked the movie a lot and it was good to take me away from everything else for a few hours.

As soon as we were home, it all just kind of hit me again. It seems like each time it hits me, I come a little closer to really - knowing.

I still can’t imagine telling anyone my thoughts, right now.
I suppose the first step is telling myself. I'm going to write down everything I remember. I don't know what, after that. I probably should stop thinking three steps ahead when I'm having trouble with step one.

Thank you for all your time this week. It really meant a lot.


  1. Everything you describe is a completely normal reaction to dealing with trauma. Unfortunately, it's very hard and these stages don't progress from one to the next. Very often we are in "shock" stage even many many years later. Denial and acceptance is a delicate dance. I used to have therapists who told me that I couldn't deny. But I have one who says it's self-protective for me and okay. It never lasts.

  2. Hi Paul,
    I agree - the stages are not linear. It's interesting for me to look back on it now and see what I was feeling then as it relates to the idea of "Shock" and "Denial".

    I know, ten months later, I still have anger at times, but mostly I have accepted it. Actually welcoming the part of me that was most upset by this helped me become more accepting. I think the big thing is that I've moved these events to the past, where they belong. It will never be right, it will never be what should have been, but I am not a child anymore - and as an adult, this has a lot less impact than it did.


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