Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D.

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin Ph.D.


Dying Inside

The war of grief.

Posted May 14, 2012

 I am sorry you have found your way to this article because more than likely, you are reading it because you are suffering. In an instant, your life changed forever. You heard the news that no one ever wants to hear, words so horrible that you can’t even process them. Maybe your child was killed. Perhaps your loved one was diagnosed with a terminal disease, or it could have been you who got the bad news of illness. Your heart may have been broken when the love of your life betrayed you. And let’s not forget the silent grief of a child who has been abused and withers inside. There are many horrors in this world, and you may be one of the wounded warriors who limp through life after your life was destroyed.

I have worked with families of murder victims and police for many years. I also spend time advocating for those who have incurable, painful illnesses. In all my years, I have seen so much suffering and witnessed the secret tears of those who life has left behind. This article is for those of you who know the pains of great misery and the reality of how the world treats you when you are down.

Anyone who has been through a real trauma knows how it impacts your life. Devastation surrounds you, and at the time you need help most, many times, you don’t get it. In fact for a large group, help never comes.

Instead of softened empathy, you’ll hear all kinds of platitudes of how life’s sucker punch will make you stronger. Others will say it is part of some big mysterious universal plan that you are not allowed to know about, and that you simply must accept it (get over it). Then some will say the trauma was a good thing to bring about change in your life. For those of you out there that have heard these words, you know exactly how it made you feel. This notion that having your heart ripped out can make you stronger is nonsense. Destruction weakens you. It is the nature of the beast. Pain and suffering do not fortify you. They act like an anchor dragging you further and further into a dark pit. At best, some days all you can do is survive.

The raw nature of true trauma goes much deeper than societies will allow. What I mean by that is those suffering indeed suffer alone. In our world, people are not interested in hearing about the horror stories of others’ lives unless the stories are packaged into neat one hour television shows. To say that modern society is shallow is terrible understatement. People have become quite psychopathic in their lack of empathy.

Truth is very ugly. Anyone who has lived through or is living through hell knows what a horrific event can do to you. It ruins who you once were, and you know you will never be the same again. When your life has suffered a fatal blow, there is no coming back from that. You can’t be who you used to be. That simply is not possible, and for people who surround you, such a notion is unacceptable. People want you to be the sister, the wife, the brother, the husband or whoever they once knew. But how can you be who you were before that horrible event? After and during trauma, you are damaged. You change inside which is difficult for others. This can result in abandonment by people you thought were your friends. So many times, a husband will leave a sick wife or vice versa. ‘Friends’ slowly migrate away. Thus the hurt individual gets a double whammy.

There are many theories about grief, and people are not shy about telling you how they think you should be coping. However, there is no guide book for how you must respond to tragedy. Having worked with parents of murdered children and advocating for those suffering from incurable illnesses, I have seen what the war of grief does to human beings. They become battered as if combat veterans. They take one ‘punch’ right after another while doing their best to stay standing in a world that just doesn’t care about them. People will say that they care, but when you look at their behavior, it tells a much different story.

Sufferers are told hope is frail but difficult to destroy. They are lectured about how they must ‘get over’ the tragedy because it weighs them down. This advice is particularly cruel to those who lost a loved one or those enduring a horrible illness. There is no getting over having your life shattered into little pieces. Reality doesn’t work that way. Sure it reads well in books and sounds good in classes, but real life is very different from the world of ideas. If you have endured such things, you won’t get over it. You can integrate it into who you are, but you won’t forget.

Society in general has become quite indifferent to suffering of others. We have been so desensitized by the world’s traumas that our fellow man has become an object to be ignored. Anyone who has had the misfortune of being diagnosed with a bad illness knows how the medical system treats those who are suffering. Beyond the misdiagnoses and incorrect labels, patients suffer almost every indignity. When doctors cannot figure out what ailment patients have, patients automatically get labeled as head cases. Imagine what that does to someone suffering from a painful incurable disease that has been undiagnosed. Or take the example of the mother whose daughter had been murdered and her case botched by officers who were overly anxious to go off the clock. As she cried for justice she was told that this is the way things are, and she needed to pick up a hobby to distract her. One therapist told her to pick up a musical instrument, and she could strum her pain away!

So many parents of murdered children or those who are sick have had ‘friends’ slowly slide away as if no one will notice their absence. The fact is such people don’t want to see what could happen to them. The suffering is an ugly reminder to everyone what can happen in life, and for the shallow, walking away is easy. Then they don’t have to see the ugliness and can walk through life with their blinders on. And it isn’t just friends who jump off the sinking ship. Family members scatter as well. These fair weather relatives slink away when the going gets tough, but should there be any improvement, they come trotting back as if nothing ever happened. Yet the person who was going through the trauma knows exactly what transpired and what their fickle friends and family really are. There is no forgetting that.

Life destroying trauma is not something that the sufferer can get over. It bores into their souls and creates a new worldview where people become the enemy because frankly, they are. Few truly understand them which leads to isolation and an increasing inability to relate. If people are kicked when they are down, the injury sticks.

I know this sounds so ominous. Real life is messy and complicated and many times cruel. How many times have you gone through something so unbelievably horrifying that you can’t understand how it could have happened? You become lost in grief, almost as if in a parallel universe where everything seems backwards. Nothing is right, and without fail, when you are at your lowest point, bad things keep happening.

However, you are not alone.

There are others like you out there. There are walking wounded all around you who have learned to keep silent about their suffering. The pain you feel can be lessened. I’m going to be honest with you and say that your pain will never fully go away. Your loss will always be there, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot have a life after a trauma. It won’t be the life you planned, and I know how painful that can be. Just getting out of bed can be the best you can do in a day. If you think that is not big deal, then look at it another way. If you got out of bed, consider a victory. You did something, and that can be a first step. However, it will not be easy to find a new way of living. There are many obstacles in your way. Yet just trying can help build your self esteem.

I met a woman who was the victim of two attempted sexual homicides. Yes, you read that correctly. She was the victim twice in her life. The first time she was in her late teens, an attacker broke into her home. He raped and beat her, leaving her for dead. She was crippled physically and emotionally from the attack. Almost twenty years later, she was attacked again. Raped and strangled and left for dead, she somehow managed to survive. She does volunteer work for victims when she can and has managed to find some happiness in her life by helping others. However, she was very clear to me that the pain of the attacks is with her every day. It is not something she forgets, and she is very angry with her family and the mental health profession.

Her family left her one by one as time went on. They uttered such phrases as ‘you are too bitter for me’ or ‘you need to move on’ when she was suffering from the long term physical effects from the attempted murders. Professionals were no better. Doctors told her she shouldn’t still be having such horrible headaches years later and that she should just get used to the pain that went along with her traumatic brain injury. They told her not even to ask for any pain medication because they weren’t going to give it to her. She went to a balance disorder specialist who was rated as being compassionate. He gave her one heart medication for her dizziness which didn’t work. When she went back, the doctor said he didn’t want to try anything else, and she should just learn to live with her condition. Doctors failed her and treated her like dirt.

Counselor after counselor dropped her when she wasn’t progressing the way they wanted. She didn’t fit neatly into a box, so they didn’t know what to do with her. The first therapist wanted her to take a nerf bat and hit the wall when she got angry. When this didn’t help her, the therapist suggested blowing bubbles to reconnect with her childhood. Needless to say, this didn’t do the trick. So off she went to counselor number two. Number two wanted the victim to explore how she played a part in causing the attacks. What did she do in her life that drew these killers to her? When she reacted badly to this, the therapist dismissed her saying that she couldn’t heal until she owned up to her role in the attacks!

Number three simply refused to take her on as a client because she was seen a trouble maker who had already been to two professionals. Number four wanted her to journal her feelings. She said that just upset her more, and the psychiatrist gave her heavy doses of antidepressants. This improved her mood slightly but did nothing to help her work through her grief. When that doctor had nothing more to offer, the victim kept moving to find someone to help. It took seven professionals before she found one who was sympathetic, didn’t suggest that she was at fault, and took the time to simply listen. The victim said the best thing anyone did for her was to listen. The bad advice just made her angry and did nothing to heal her.

What those who are on the outside looking in don’t understand is that trauma becomes a part of who you are and colors how you view life. There is no magic pill to make it go away. There is no one with an enchanted wand to set this right. It is on the shoulders of those suffering to make a decision to live. I know how this sounds, but it is true. You must decide that you want a life. It won’t be the life you imagined, but you can find something better than the misery you live in. Those who have been through a deep trauma understand that the happiness will always be tempered by a hint of sadness. Yet there can be something better for you. When you are in the depths of despair, it seems impossible. But if you try to find something that gives you joy, you can find yourself actually laughing and smiling. I know your heart has been battered, and you will always be guarded. This is part of who you are now.

I can’t say what will do the trick for you. Only you can find what can make you happy. All I know is that the best thing you can do is try to find something that you love to do. Try to find someone who is sympathetic who can help point out resources which can be more tailored to you. Someone who is suffering from your illness or someone who has lost a loved one may know a good therapist or group that can help you. Just the thought of reaching out can be traumatizing, yet taking control of your life by stepping out can be helpful.

Don’t give up. You can find your spirit again. Keep looking for something you can love. Only you can do that, and the good news is that you don’t need someone else to take that first step. You have the power to do that. Give yourself the gift of easing your pain by doing something just for you. And keep trying. Reward yourself for taking the baby steps because you deserve every reward.

More Posts