I think it is interesting that people become so defensive, angry, and ready to fight, when the word, denial, is used, especially in regards to adoption. I think a good majority of people have a misconception of the word and denial’s true purpose in life. They hear the word and think of it as something derogatory, an insult to their intelligence, or associate it to total emotional instability; out of touch with any reality at all. That’s just not always the case, and for most people, not the case at all. Denial is, to me, a necessary defense mechanism. It is something we need to help us protect ourselves from things we just are not quite ready to accept about life. Denial is, more or less, a natural pain killer; something to be used to help us as we heal the pain, brought about by the losses in our life, as is anger, when used in the correct manner.
Denial is a natural, normal, and necessary coping mechanism when loss occurs. The first stage, in the 5 stages of grief, is denial. After denial are anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Whenever a loss occurs in life, we will grieve that loss, whether we want to or not, whether we acknowledge the loss or not. We will first deny the loss, or something about the loss, in some way, especially if it is a deeply painful loss. It is how we survive. It is how, we, as humans, heal, learn, and grow.
I’ve gone through each one of the stages as I have dealt with the loss of my sight many, many times, some times repeating the stages, over, and over. When I look back over the years, especially since reunion, I’ve found my adoption journey to be exactly the same. I believe as I dealt with both the loss of my sight and the losses brought about by my adoption, and subsequent reunions, I have spent the majority of that time in some kind of denial and anger. Getting past those stages was the most difficult part. Each time I traveled from denial, to anger, to bargaining, back to denial, back to anger, a little depression setting in for a brief time here and there, and back and forth, and back and forth, not necessarily in any particular order, I was able to accept a little bit more of the reality of my life.
With each tiny bit of acceptance, the cycle would start over again. That is just how it is with grief and loss. It’s a never ending process in life. In the midst of the grief, with each tiny bit of acceptance, there came personal growth and peace of mind in that acceptance. With every gain, there can be a loss, and with every loss, there can be a gain.
With each loss in our life, be it big or little, we all go through the stages of grief, in different degrees of intensity, whether we recognize it, or not, whether we acknowledge it, or not. It is a constant, never ending process, in all areas of our lives. I believe too, in regards to denial, that, a lot of times, the thing people misconceive most is what is actually being denied, and that denial is not so much a concrete thing; black or white. It is a process we all experience in order to grow and heal.
When I say that I am in denial of my blindness, people may think, “What is she talking about? How can a blind person possibly be in denial about being blind?” The majority of people are very understanding, and sympathetic to how difficult it may be for me as a blind person, and they can easily acknowledge such an obvious loss. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard remarks such as, “I am so sorry. I don’t know what I would do if I were you.”, “You have such a great attitude. It would devastate me.”, or “You get by so well, and are always so positive.” It seems to me, though, that most people have trouble associating the loss of my sight as something I should grieve, or how denial plays a role in that loss, and what they perceive as a great, or positive, attitude in regards to my blindness.
People have no trouble understanding a person’s grief when they have lost a loved one to death. Grief is expected, and a time of grieving allowed. The loss is evident, tangible, and most can certainly empathize with a loss due to death. A widow, who sets a plate for her deceased husband, is in obvious denial. If she/he hangs on to their deceased spouse’s belongings, refusing to let anything go, most people understand, and will step back, saying everyone should give them time and space to grieve, and that denial is a natural, and normal thing in such a case.
People will worry about someone, who doesn’t want to talk about their deceased loved one. We expect people to talk, and understand that not talking about it, holding it inside, is, somehow, emotionally unhealthy. We understand that not talking about the feelings of sadness and loss is not denial of the death of the loved one, but denial of the grief brought about by the loss. If grieving a loss, due to death, is an accepted process, why is it so hard for people to understand how necessary it is that we should be allowed, and even expected, to grieve any type of loss in our life?
No one would dream of saying to a widow, who had just lost a spouse to death, “At least, you don’t have to wash his dirty underwear anymore.”, or, “You are so lucky. Look at all that money he left you.” Can you imagine saying such a thing? People will go out of their way to be sympathetic, insist, and encourage people to grieve by talking about their loss due to death. No one would dream of saying to a person grieving the death of a loved one, “Look at the positive”. It could be worse. “ If a person says they missed the dear departed, or are sad, most everyone is understanding and sympathetic, and would never dream of getting angry and saying, “You just need to get over it, move on, and be grateful.“ No one would point a finger at someone, who had lost a loved one, but was struggling with that acceptance, and say, “You need to get a clue. You are in denial. “Most people would try to be empathetic, considerate, and help them work through the process, and talk it out, because it would be understood that they were just grieving a loss.
When it comes to other losses in life, what is the first thing usually said, or done? People insist we don’t dwell on the loss, don’t want to talk about the loss, and sometimes, even insist, that we deny that we have lost anything at all. We must think positive, whether it’s the loss of sight, the loss of a marriage due to divorce, or a loss due to adoption. We are taught, and told, to deny there was ever a loss, and get on with life, because it could have been, could be, worse? I have heard, on more than one occasion, by more than one person, the comment of, “Well, at least, you don’t have cancer. “ People mean well, but such a positive thought like that is a little like telling an adoptee, “Aren’t you glad you weren’t aborted.”, or a widow, who just lost her husband, “Well, aren’t you glad you don’t have to cook him dinner, and wash his dirty underwear anymore? “ When you hear statements like that, well, denial seems like a pretty fabulous place to be. Shouldn’t we all be thankful, and grateful, for the blessings in our lives, when compared to such trivial losses as an adoptee’s biological family, eyesight, or the death of a loved one? Why is it that, in many cases of loss, people simply expect a person to accept the loss, without allowing them to go through the process of first grieving that loss by denying something in regards to it?
Over the years as my sight deteriorated, and the years since I’ve become totally blind, very few people, who remarked about how well I managed as a blind person, what a great attitude I had, and how positive I seemed, ever recognized what they were really witnessing was denial of my blindness. They never recognized how the anger took over, when denial no longer stopped the pain inside. What they saw as determination was me hanging on to the person I was as a sighted person, because, who I might be as a blind person scared the hell out of me.
What they didn’t recognize was the fear and terror I felt when I thought about the future, my future, as a person with no sight, and how that might change my life, a life I didn’t want to change. No one saw that not only was it my eyesight that I was losing, but my life as I knew it; the only life I had ever known, and the life I was most secure in. What most everyone saw as stubborn independence, an admirable quality to most considering my situation, was just the beginning stage of a process I would have to go through in order to accept the loss of my sight, but more importantly, the loss of who I was, or might become, as a person with sight. Before I could ever accept the person I would become as a blind person, I had to grieve the loss of all that was before the loss of my sight. I had to grieve for the loss of a life that could not be, my life as a sighted person, a life I might wonder about, be curious about, but would never know, and never have. The denial, the refusal to accept that losing my sight would have a role in who I was as a person, was the beginning of my acceptance of myself as a blind person; my acceptance of who I am now.
Most of the time, over the years, as I grieved the losses in my life brought about by my blindness, I had no idea I was grieving, or that I would finally get to the point that I could accept myself, who I am, as a blind person, and the same can be said in regards to my adoption journey. When I think about denial, I see it as a blessing. Without denial, I would not be where I am, or who I am today, and that is something I cannot deny.
Acknowledgement: Thank you to the Adopted One for asking, understanding, and help me to talk about it and get it out.