The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Healing from Family Estrangement

Sometimes it seems like the soul-crushing pain of estrangement will hold on forever, and we ask, "How long will this pain last?"

Healing from my own family exile was a long journey, in part, because it was also necessary to heal from years of abuse. Each stage of my recovery brought new forms of discomfort that seemed as if they would never end.

Today, just like watching a flower grow on fast-forward film, I can see all the growth that was not perceptible at the time.

At first, I was numb from the shock. It seemed that no bandage was large enough to cover what felt like the amputation of a limb. Mark Sichel, author of Healing from Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace After Being Cut Off from a Family Member, describes this occurrence as "Acute Stress Disorder."

My embarrassment, and fear of judgment felt crippling. Yet, I knew that talking about the pain was essential for healing. Eventually, I took a risk and found safe, and supportive people to speak with.

I began the long process of healing and reconstructing a life without my family. I went back and forth through the typical stages of loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, before my real grief work began. My periods of deep mourning usually resulted in spurts of great emotional growth.

Nonetheless, I was disheartened every time the void created by the absence of my family would rear its heartbreaking head. I re-mourned my losses, and learned to accept that I'd always feel some degree of the void. I reminded myself of those who did love me, and thought about how grateful I was for the loving connections I had in my life.

I could measure my growth in terms of years. How was my emotional health compared to one year before? Five years before? And so on. Gauging my growth was a wonderful way to keep perspective on my healing.

After fourteen years of estrangement, I did reconcile with my family. Today, I can see the value of my estrangement. Time afforded me the opportunity to heal from my abuse within the safety of a protective cocoon. I learned to individuate from my mother - to make decisions based on what was best for me - and to parent myself. During my time apart from my family - I gained a better understanding of my family members, and our family dynamics - all viewed from a more healed and objective vantage point.

Part of healing is simply being present with the pain - accepting what is - and reinvesting in a new future.

Wishing everyone peace, love, hope, and healing.

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