Through every tough breakup, every rejection, every loss that we experience, we are told by well-meaning friends and family that “time heals all wounds”. It’s a blissfully optimistic world view, and the sentiment is usually the only thing that keeps us hanging on when we feel like we can’t continue. The unfortunate fact is that it simply is not true.
Time does not heal all wounds.
I lost my mother to lung cancer a few weeks after my 19th birthday. Before we found out that she was sick, I lived a relatively privileged life. My family wasn’t wealthy, but my parents had worked hard and made their way from having absolutely nothing to securing great jobs and a comfortable home in a nice middle class neighborhood. I grew up completely unaware of the work it took to get them there, able to provide for me: their spoiled, bratty teenage daughter. Losing my mother was my first real experience with loss and grief, and the harsh realities of “the real world.”
My mother’s death seemed to be the catalyst for a long series of unfortunate events and circumstances in my life. Some of them I did to myself, some of them were beyond my control. I was in a physically abusive relationship, ran away from my relationship with the man I was probably supposed to marry, got my heart broken countless times; I was homeless and couch-surfing twice, lived in a Walmart parking lot for two weeks, and most recently my half-sister stole and wrecked my car and I expect to receive no restitution. All these aside, the most traumatic experience for me has been losing my relationship with my father.
My parents were a fairytale love story that started in all the wrong places. He was homeless, she was a single mother on welfare. They complimented each other perfectly in a way that transformed their lives into something beautiful. When my mother died, my dad was destroyed. Suddenly nothing in his life made sense, and in his eyes, everything he had spent the last 20 years working for was gone. The life they had built together had disintegrated and he was left at 45 years old to figure out how to pick up the pieces. In the years following my mother’s passing, he chose to wallow in this destruction. He quit trying at work, ultimately got himself fired, and lost our house to foreclosure.
Through all of this I fought to keep our relationship as close as it always had been, but I was fighting a losing battle. He gave up on being my father the day that my mother was buried. No longer was he a pillar for me to lean on when I needed strength, no longer did he offer me valuable life advice when I got myself into a situation over my head—commonplace, of course, for a young adult in my late teens and early twenties. He was simply absent, caught in the bubble of his grief. My struggle to hang on to him resulted in many exhausting fights that got nowhere, with both of us refusing to concede to the other and with my father being too enveloped in his grief to realize that all I was trying to do was keep us together.
Those fights came to their boiling point late one night three years ago. A verbal argument turned physical on my father’s side, resulting in the loss of 3 of my front teeth and his arrest for domestic violence. I reluctantly made the decision to terminate our relationship, and in fear for my safety I chose to file a restraining order. The court ordered my father to continue paying for me to live in our apartment alone through the end of our lease, but two months later when the lease was up, I was homeless, sleeping on any couch I could gain access to, or my car if need be. I was struggling so much that I made my first visit to a food pantry, and I swallowed my pride and asked my best friend who worked at a café if she could save me some of the food that they were going to throw away at closing time so that I would be able to eat.
The whole event did a number on my psyche that I wasn’t aware was even possible. I began to feel that I was what I called “an unlovable”—that people could tell when I was walking down the street that the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally chose to abandon me. I spent a year in a very dark head space and making self-destructive decisions as a result. It took a lot of introspection and a lot of people who really did love me staying by my side to turn my disposition around and remember that my father’s choices did not reflect me, they reflected his own inner turmoil and his inability to push forward in a difficult time. I also needed to realize that losing my parents did not need to mean losing myself as well, and it didn’t mean there weren’t other incredible people in my life more than willing to guide me when I needed help.
For all intents and purposes, I have recovered from the trauma of that night, and letting go of my father. But the wound is far from healed. The same can be said for the loss of my mother, and the countless other trials and tribulations that I’ve gone through. I cry about them. I lament daily about everything I have been through. Important anniversaries are like walking in a field of land mines for me, because one flat tire or missed train can send me into a meltdown. I have frequent dreams involving my mother being alive again, and my father being the great dad I grew up believing him to be. Most days, however, I am well-adjusted and fine, and the reason is because I learned how to accept the traumas and experiences that I have been dealt or have done to myself.
I am piloting my own life. It is up to me to consciously decide to transform the way I think about the events that have happened in my life. I have used these experiences to shape my character, and I am extremely proud of the person that I have become in their wake. I have chosen to be as kind as I know how, to work as hard as I am capable, and to see the world with an open mind and an open heart.
When my mother died, a friend got me in touch with another girl my age who had lost her mother a few years prior, thinking that perhaps her friend would have some healing words for me. This girl did not tell me that “time heals all wounds.” In fact, what she told me was that the pain dulls after a while and you learn ways of coping. You learn how to be strong, and how to use the negative experiences to your advantage, because the pain will always be there, but the devastation doesn’t have to be.
No, time does not heal all wounds. But if you make the right decisions, it does transform them.