Denial: noun | de·ni·al | \di-ˈnī(-ə)l, dē-\ A : refusal to admit the truth or reality of something, sometimes unconsciously B : refusal to acknowledge a person or a thing, sometimes unconsciously
What you’ll need to get you through denial:
- supportive, sympathetic friends
- soft stuffed animals and/or pillows to cry into
- wine, or any other type of booze if you’re into that
- pounds of candy, cake, and comfort foods
- a notebook to write down your thoughts/remind you of what is real
Chances are if you’re in denial, you don’t know it yet. As a student of psychology I often find myself in denial about my denial, because as my inner voice likes to scream “I should know better!”
But the truth is I don’t. And chances are neither do you.
We had broken up weeks before I realized it was over.
In my defense, we were still talking every day, and occasionally still hanging out. Regardless, it was weeks before I could even say it outloud. And that was the problem. I wasn’t ready to admit we were over, and he inadvertently fed my denial by encouraging our constant communication, and I, without realizing, let it fester with my silence. My friends would ask me about him, about us, and I wouldn’t say a word. Moreover, I, who have been writing every detail of everyday in a journal since I was six, wrote very little, and eventually I stopped writing altogether. Almost like I was trying to ignore the one thing that was occupying all of my thoughts. Almost as if pretending it wasn’t real would make it all go away. It didn’t.
Living in denial is often described to be “easy”, but looking back, it was incredibly hard.
I would have these moments of clarity in which I would realize exactly what was going on, but some primal instinct would rise from my unconscious and take over to blind me. I’d stop crying. The anger would dissapate. The desperation would float away. I’d feel nothing.
In a way, part of me thought we (my unconscious mind and I) were fighting for a greater good; for him, for our relationship, for the love we had. To me, it was worth everything, and I sincerely thought I could get us back there. I’m embarresed to admit I was willing to neglect all of the things I had issues with in our relationship in order to save us. I had been doing that for a long time, in fact, as we had been on the rocks for months. But denial had me convinced that letting things that were unfair to me slip was worth it as long as I had him.
As long as I could salvage this.
But let me be clear – it didn’t.
At the end of the day it didn’t matter. A relationship takes two, and one of us had already made up his mind. He didn’t want this anymore. No amount of overlooking our issues, or enabling, or coddling would ever change that. And unfortunately, no amount of love, or chemistry, or spark, could save us. That was the hardest thing for me to realize:
Sometimes love just isn’t enough.
The harsh reality of loss began to sink in weeks after we had been over.
It began with writing, lots of it, detailing what was happening, and talking to my friends about it.
Laying out the truth on paper, hearing myself say the words outloud, and listening to my friends react to all of this told what I needed to hear: I was full of shit, I knew what was up, and I couldn’t stop it, it was out of my control; it was time to let him go.
But when the first wall of denial fell there stood another:
The unshakeable fear that I couldn’t do this without him.
This realization made me feel two ways:
A) Ashamed, because, what the fuck, I know better than that! I know how awesome I am and I don’t need anyone and I’m super independent and, how could it be that I harbor this intense, utterly cliched, and shameful feeling?
B) Terrified. I lost my best friend, my boyfriend, my family, my support system, one of the people I admire most in the world, and the closest thing to a home I’d ever felt. In admitting he was gone for good I felt absolutely alone in the world and empty, like I had lost a piece of myself I never knew I needed.
Psychology tells us denial is our mind’s attempt to shield us from something perceived to harm us or cause us pain. I had always assumed the pain implied in the term “heartache” was metaphorical, but in the wake of denial, it was not. I couldn’t eat because of the rock resting in the pit of my stomach. And my chest ached, as if my body was reacting to the physical loss of part of my heart as well as the metaphorical one.
But that pain made me feel shame. Shame for my grief, shame for the pain I was feeling, and shame for my very real need for human love and support, especially when he seemed to be doing just fine without me. In my post-break up weeks I learned to take that loneliness and need for what it was: an unavoidable part of the human experience. And I began to understand that that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
A good friend of mine pointed out to me that the emptiness I was feeling is in part due to the loss of all of the essential emotional roles he had played in my life: my support system, my best friend, etc. Human beings are social creatures, we are born to need one another. And to deny myself that basic human need, or expect myself to not need that anymore, is simply unfair.
So, here’s what I did to cope:
– Identify the roles he played in my life – for example, he was the person:
- I called with good news
- I called when I was having a bad day
- I shared all of my creative ideas with/sought feedback from
- made silly presents and drawings for
- I talked to about Game of Thrones
- went to for discusssions on philosophical topics
- showed funny pictures of dogs and cats to
- went to for reassurance
- went to when I wanted to discuss differing views on politics
- talked to about my hopes and dreams
- and of course, many other things.
– Identify friends and family to fill those emotional roles of support
- I started texting my best friend from school about good and bad news, or just calling when I was in a particularly dark place
- I reconnected with friends who I knew enjoyed controversial topics, or who enjoyed having meaningful discussions
- started to give people at work or friends little presents/gestures of kindness in order to brighten their day as well as my own
- I began to reach out to friends from school, work, and other places I had been neglecting while engulfed in my own personal turmoil, and talked to them about my creative pursuits
- when I had no one to discuss Game of Thrones with, I took up twitter
- I began tweeting all of the silly thoughts, pictures, memes, etc I normally would’ve sent him and didn’t feel comfortable sending anyone else in the middle of the night
– And, when all else failed, and the urge to call or text him returned in overwhelming amounts, I wrote him letters saying anything I felt I needed to say, or just wrote them down for myself. This really helped, because I still felt like I could get what I needed by letting out what I needed to say without the reprocussions of actually reaching out to him.
All of this helped, of course, but it didn’t wipe me clean of the pain of losing someone I loved. However, it did help me reach clarity about us, him, and ultimately myself. Clarity and understanding has it’s own set of reprocussions, which led me to my next step of grief: ANGER.