“These woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
— Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.
Sometimes, with my really good friends, I feel like they’re on edge. We feel a certain unspoken obligation to avoid certain topics and avoid talking about inconvenient topics. But I am not just speaking about politics or religion. I am talking about grief. I am talking about trauma.
Before the pandemic, I went back to Atlanta to visit my college friends. It was a great time that brought back a lot of great memories, but it lacked only one thing: we didn’t have the hard conversations. My experience in college was that I met people and bonded with them in a way that no one in the world knows about. My college friends know me better than anyone else.
As such, they know the pain, struggle, traumas, and heartache I’ve been through. And I know theirs, as well. We have all had our fair share of difficult and traumatic circumstances, even if those circumstances aren’t always so visible on our appearances.
The one thing I was disappointed in when I went back to Atlanta was that no one talked about these things, whether it was the losses I had or the familial situations I opened up about or the long-term relationships that fell apart.
We didn’t talk about these things for the same reasons we always don’t: they’re uncomfortable to talk about. I sometimes break the silence and mention my grief and trauma, about my childhood upbringing or person I lost. I’m not an idiot: I notice how tense the room gets. With a few exceptions, the language of my friends becomes guarded and careful. They’re careful not to offend me, careful not to say anything risky that might trigger my feelings of pain.
I can’t blame them because I do the same thing. I’ll very much know and be aware of whatever difficult circumstance a friend is going through, whether it is a struggling relationship, unemployment, family problems, or addiction.
Do I bring it up, however? I might do so on rare occasions, but whenever I do, it is in private correspondences and conversations more often than with a big group of people. I know personally that the hardest part of the things we carry can be the publicity rather than the actual trauma.
Sometimes, it’s not about the fact that our mom or dad died or that we’re struggling to get past a breakup we’re long overdue for. The anxiety comes from everyone knowing that we’re not doing well or still struggling, and how we might be perceived as weak or vulnerable as a result.
Vulnerability is a strength rather than a weakness. I know this, and yet I have so much trouble living by this. I have made a lot of progress in opening up and sharing about my family struggles and childhood traumas.
I got the sense then, when I did open up, that people didn’t want to bring up my family and what I did or what I said. It wasn’t out of malicious intent because my friends loved me like family, but it was out of the fact that my friends didn’t want to push any buttons or trigger my past traumas. I knew they had great intentions, and yet I couldn’t help but feel like not talking about it was helping.
Here was a newsflash to my friends then, to myself, and people who don’t bring up a friend’s trauma or loss because it’s too uncomfortable: you never stop thinking about it. I can’t speak for everyone, but for my friends, family, and myself, the traumas I went through as a kid and the loss I went through in college are things I never stop thinking about. I never will, and that’s not a bad thing because it means that that trauma and grief are integral to who I am.
This article is intentionally ambiguous about what’s happened in my life because I can compromise my own privacy, but I cannot compromise the privacy of my family and close friends.
I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. I know that the most gratifying moments of my life are the times I have talked about the grief and trauma that every part of society and my instincts tell me to hush up and keep silent. Breaking the power of shame means moving past the awkward and uncomfortable moments when we don’t talk about the trauma and grief on our mind.
It’s hard, but knowing that grief and trauma are never things we stop worrying about means that one part of the barrier of discomfort and awkwardness should be subsided. My life goal and mission for God is to break the power of shame, to have dialogues about secrets we’ve kept hidden in our lives.
Yes, if your friend’s parent or sibling just died, perhaps give them some space before you start bringing it up. But losing someone that close to us or going through a traumatic event like abuse or assault is not something we stop thinking about. Ever. As much as we try, we label things traumas because they always stick with us, because although we might resolve them, we never erase them.
The things I have gone through and experienced are always on my mind. That doesn’t mean they consume my mental and emotional health like they used to, but they definitely do surface for long periods of time for me to reflect on.
That means you shouldn’t be afraid to bring up something you think is too awkward or uncomfortable for a grieving friend. Be judicious. Be careful. Do not label an experience if your friend or family member has not already used their own label — but bring it up, and listen.
The pain gets easier with time, but it never goes away. I know this from speaking with my friends and personal experience — I never stop thinking about my traumas.
This post was previously published on Invisible Illness and is republished here with permission from the author.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Unsplash