When Hope Looks Like Grief

Lately, whenever good and meaningful things happen, I burst into tears. They aren’t happy tears, they are the tears of grief. And yet, this grief is mixed with gratitude.

It’s the simultaneous recognition of two profound truths: my past was indeed horrific and that I have already survived my past.

For too many years, I held back, not allowed to feel my feelings or really admit what happened. Everything I should have expressed back then was frozen in time, along with my sense of dignity and self-worth. My way of coping with abuse was to first endure it, and then get far away from it. But even though I got away and made life choices completely opposite from my abusers, I was still bound up by all that was unvoiced. Instead of patting myself on the back for my accomplishments, I felt hypervigilant and guilty. I had not separated all the negative messages I was told by my abusers about who I was from the reality of who I was. My logical brain knew better, but my body still held on to the emotional trauma.

Grief is not linear. Sooner or later, what needs to be grieved will come out. For me, my grief is currently triggered by the good things in my life. Like my grief, I was numb to the good. In so many ways, I am realizing for the first time that I am not my parents, I will never be my parents, and that I have already set a life trajectory completely different from their choices.

My own children are growing up with a completely different reality. I have empathy for my children. I see them as unique, individual people, worthy of love and understanding. In spite of all my efforts, I am just now capable of recognizing that I really am a good mom. Admitting this does not make me grandiose like my narcissistic parents. I too deserve love and understanding. It’s a fundamental human right, and it’s meant for me as much as it’s meant for anybody else.

After so may years of empty victories, I am finally allowing myself to show up to the party that is my life. I am allowing myself to enjoy the good by letting go of the guilt and shame that never was mine in the first place. I am finally allowing myself to acknowledge that damn, I did alright after all. It’s going to be okay. It’s already okay. In fact, it’s wonderful.

And that’s when the tears come.

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