A lesson on grief and trauma from Gabor Maté

I registered to watch a webinar tonight with David Kessler and Dr. Gabor Maté on grief and trauma. He was promoting his new book The Myth of Normal. Which was the reason I registered. It was only an hour and I planned to watch while the maiden was on a call with her worker.

The time arrived to start, the maiden went upstairs but within 10 minutes she was calling me to come to the bottom of the stairs. I was annoyed. I didn’t take my own advice to just pause and respond so I reacted. She said she had a headache and didn’t want to go on the call. I said fine. But she wasn’t going back on her computer.

My immediate thought was she wanted to get back on her new game she bought three days ago at the request of a friend. She has hardly been off it since. She’s an adult so there really isn’t much I can do. But she had not complained of a headache all day – it was only when she had to come off. And I couldn’t do much about her not wanting to go on with her worker. I’d still have to pay the worker. So that annoyed me. But not the worker’s fault.

I went back to my webinar and she came down the stairs wanting my attention. I was short with her again and she said, “Why are you so angry?” I said I wanted to watch this webinar and I’d talk to her after it. So she went to watch t.v. with her grandma.

As I returned to the webinar, the discussion centred around trauma and grief and how it shows up. There were so many things said that resonated with me. One was about when and how we react. Dr. Maté related a story when he was at the airport and his wife, who was supposed to pick him up, called at the last minute and said she couldn’t. He had to take a taxi home. He related how angry he was. How he ignored her for 24 hours. Now he realizes that the anger wasn’t really at his wife for not picking him up. The anger was the hurt that surfaced from a wound of abandonment he experienced as an 11 month old being handed off to someone by his mother.

So many other great discussions. It was probably a good thing it gave some time to “cool down” before we had to take the dog out for his walk. The walk gave me time and space to reflect and connect what had happened before the webinar to what I learned in the webinar.

It also gave me time to repair the relationship. We joked a bit in the car. And while we walked. The sky was a strange mix of colours and clouds. That provided a good distraction. It wasn’t long before the conversation switched to what happened. I said I was angry because it seemed she just wanted to go back on the computer. She didn’t complain of a headache all day or even before going off for the call. I was quick to acknowledge she may have had a headache, but the headache was likely too much computer time.

We went back and forth for a bit talking about what happened and then the dog starting chasing his tail, and play bowing and running up and away from each of us. Something he never does on a walk. He is super playful, but on walks, he sniffs. And sniffs. And sniffs. It was almost like he was providing comic relief and saying come on you two get it together and make up. So we laughed about that. And made up.

After I got home I kept thinking about what Dr. Maté said about how our wounded child shows up. And while I felt annoyed because I thought she just wanted to go back on the computer (which I still think it was what she wanted). I didn’t know if she had a headache. Was my reaction coming from a place in my past? I had a very dysfunctional upbringing. I’ve been to different therapists and groups over the years and continue to do a lot of inner work … I know there are parts of me unhealed. Parenting has shown me that.

Some therapists I’ve been to told me I don’t need to go to the past, I just need to learn how to move forward now. But I think that has been a problem for me. I think you have to go back to heal the past before you can move on. David and Gabor spoke of that too. No one can tell someone else how to grieve or heal.

I know the maiden saying she is sick is a trigger for me. I am working on that. But why? After watching the webinar I started thinking of all the times my parents didn’t believe I was sick or hurt. I broke my collarbone when I was 7. My parents didn’t believe I was hurt. Another time I hurt my foot. My Dad took me to the emergency room. Turned out it was a sprain. But he pushed me in the door when we got home and told me not to waste his time ever again. Another time I sliced my knee open and was too scared to tell my parents because I thought my Dad would be angry. And so tonight, thanks to Dr. Maté, I may understand a little more why I get triggered by the maiden saying she is sick or not feeling well. Because the little girl me was never believed or comforted as a child. Do I repeat the pattern or get scared when someone else is sick or hurt and don’t know what to do? Now I have taken my daughter to the doctor or emergency room or soothed her when sick, I have never pushed her, but I have doubted her at times. And I am triggered by it.

But one thing I know I have healed from my childhood is I can repair with my daughter. My parents rarely repaired with me. I don’t remember any apologies. In fact I remember crying and saying I was sorry to my parents because I was pushed away and was seeking to repair. As an adult they still didn’t apologize. I understand we repeat what we learn unless we change it. I promised myself I would never withhold an apology from my children and I’ve kept to that with the maiden.

I apologize when I’m wrong or when I react. It wasn’t an easy journey to erase the pattern. But I did. Now I have to work on the trigger of hurt and pain. I know she probably seeks out solace as a trigger from her own past. So we are two souls who didn’t receive any nurturing as really young children. Trying to figure it out together now. Me breaking the generational pattern so I won’t place that burden on her while also trying to help her break free from her own trauma so if she has children some day she won’t pass that on to them.

Being a parent isn’t easy. Being a parent to an individual with a disability isn’t easy. This morning I answered a parent who asked for advice on a situation. She didn’t like my answer. From her response to me she didn’t want advice that differed from her own. She may have been stuck in her own grief or unhealed trauma. I don’t know.

Being a parent and discovering unhealed parts of yourself isn’t easy. But staying stuck isn’t going to help you move forward. I knew the parent in the group wasn’t ready to move yet from her answer. Tonight, Gabor and David spoke about how we each have our own journey. Change and healing happens when we are ready to receive it.

Today was full of lessons and learning for me. I am grateful I am open to it. It’s a lot of work and I stumble, but I keep trying. I feel the universe presented me with a lesson today, provided a chance to heal a little more and nudged me to deepen my relationship with the maiden.

I also realized that many years ago, after first adopting, I went to a workshop with Gabor Maté, who was talking about ADHD. I went because at that time that was the diagnosis the maiden had. I had a deep moment of learning about some trauma then. Tonight, once again.

4 thoughts on “A lesson on grief and trauma from Gabor Maté

  1. Ab says:

    Thank you for sharing so openly and with such vulnerability, Yvonne. I am sorry that you had this tense moment with the maiden and that it stirred such triggering memories and feelings for you. But I am glad that the evening ended off on a high note and with such a beautiful sunset.

    What you experienced as a child is awful and it’s a shame your parents never apologized or acknowledged what they did. But I am glad that you recognize this and are trying to break that pattern in your own parenting. That is really powerful and amazing and sending you lots of well wishes. It’s not easy for sure but you trying your best is very commendable.

    • our sacred breath says:

      Thanks so much for your encouraging words. I’m not doing so well though. We had a great walk and yesterday was great u tip she took an old chair outside and came in saying she hurt both her arm and her leg. Then this morning woke up with something in her eye and is saying it hurts. I’ve looked in and it’s a bit red but can’t see anything. I find usually something is underneath the hurt but it takes days to find out. So the universe is definitely testing me here. 💗

      • Ab says:

        I’m very sorry that you’re not doing well. I’m also sorry the maiden is hurting. I hope the underlying issue behind hurt is found and resolved and that you get some rest and respite from this latest test from the universe!

      • our sacred breath says:

        She put a cold compress on it and took an allergy pill, she sounded a bit stuffed up. We read up on “red eye” and figured it was either too much time on the computer (which is a real possibility) or allergies. Hoping we have sorted this one 🙂