The death of a Beloved life partner or any ‘broken Heart’ is trauma attached to love. While I am speaking to my experience after the death of my husband, many relationships end in trauma not associated with death. One partner ‘walking away’ can also create trauma. This trauma can contribute to post traumatic stress, or what I call Love Traumatic Stress.
About 2 years after the death of my husband, I entered a romantic relationship. After a while, I knew the relationship was not destined to be long term. It was at that point I began a difficult journey, I found myself feeling and acting in ways that surprised and confused me. It was somewhere in this difficulty that I realized my feelings, actions and behaviors most closely resembled PTSD. And it was connected to love.
When I searched for information and guidance, I found several things. Like grief in general, the conventional approach seems to be orderly stages or phases. Most commonly the concept of ‘grief PTSD’ is only attached to what is considered ‘complicated grief’ and also generally only associated with ‘sudden traumatic’ death.
My first response to the above is: I found the grief Journey to most closely resemble chaos. The concepts of stages and ‘closure’ invites the idea of a beginning and an end. You never ‘close’ grief or loss. The loved person remains dead. You integrate loss, you do not close it… You never close love. Next: I had plenty of time to ‘prepare’ for Joe’s death. He technically did not have a ‘sudden traumatic death’. Yet in one moment he had breath… And the next moment he did not. He was gone from the body I loved so passionately. Every death is traumatic to those left behind.
About the ‘D’ in PTSD. I just had a man who I loved dearly, end our relationship. This morning when I woke up, the place next to me was empty. Waking and then moving towards the warmth and breath of love is exquisite comfort. This morning when I felt that absence, I was flooded with almost a panic of loss. My relationship that just ended was only 6 months long. In that time we probably slept together less than half of the time. In the 10 years since Joe’s death the large majority of time I have slept alone, I am quite use to it. Yet this morning, in that moment, my agony was profound. Post traumatic stress. A distortion of the present experience because of the shadow of a past experience.
That this relationship was only 6 months, in no way lessens the depth of agony I feel. So to a mental health professional, my assessment would be that I have a ‘disorder’… The ‘D’. That I have ‘complicated grief’ or pathology. That this ‘disorder’ can be fixed.
This does not feel like pathology to me. I feel very well integrated with the experience of losing my Beloved at age 47. I have facilitated grief retreats and interacted with thousands of people who have lost a Beloved Partner. I have heard their experience and the voice of their Heart. I do not believe grief and ‘love post traumatic stress’ fit into the conventional western medicine model which is: disorder or absence of disorder with no place for shades of experience or response.
The profound loss of a Beloved life partner, either by death or circumstance, remains for a lifetime. The traumatic experience creates a ’shadow’, an unconscious aspect of ourselves which the conscious ego does not easily identify with. When this shadow is attached to romantic love, It lies dormant until an Open Heart invites it out. It is hidden traumatic stress.
We all have shadows, the deeper and more hidden they are, the more destructive they are. Ignoring shadows makes them bigger. Analyzing them, while helpful in recognition and understanding is also an attempt to control that which resists control. In my personal experience the most integrative way I have been with my shadows, is to invite them out to walk at my side. To know them well enough to make them my ally. Shadows are remarkable informants. My personal intent is to further integrate the post traumatic stress of love into my being. To keep this shadow out of dormancy and invite her to dance.
The first defense reaction to pain is avoidance, in other words the thought that has already entered my brain is ‘I will never open my Heart to anyone again!’ As soon as I say that to myself, I know it is not true. If anything this short relationship has reminded me of just how much I desire a life partner again. Loving another deeply and without hesitation is what I want to experience again in this lifetime. I know I have the capacity to love well. I choose not to close my Heart.
I invite you along as I begin to dance with the shadow of love post traumatic stress. I will apply what I have learned in the past and I am sure, discover new insight. What I continually ask of myself, is to not run away from the pain. I know beyond any doubt… That the only way to integrate… is to go through. To be with, give voice to and feel it all. Shadow dancing indeed!