written by
lucinda koza

How do you re-enter society when you’ve been withdrawn?

Narrative 3 min read , July 18, 2022
Photographer: Jessica Radanavong | Source: Unsplash

When you first become a caregiver, you are probably in fight-or-flight mode for about 2 years. You don’t have an ounce of extra energy to give anything: not even yourself. You’re not even in survival mode: you’re in THEIR SURVIVAL MODE. Therefore, it’s a given that you will withdraw. You won’t even be able to do anything but cry if someone speaks to you in a friendly way. It’s understandable -- there’s been a seismic shift in you. A sea change. You’ve walked through a door that you can’t come back from. You’ve seen things you can’t unsee. Like soldiers returned from deployment; as much as they wanted to come home, they find that home no longer fits. They feel ill at ease in domestic peacetime. They jump in the middle of the night, prepared for the worst violence to be upon them, not just the dog scratching at the door. After months or years of trying to make it work naturally, they realize they have two options: go back to deployment, or aggressively and deliberately force themselves back into the community they were in before, through sheer will and total commitment.

I have no idea what a soldier’s experience actually is and I have no right comparing my experience to theirs. However, it’s the only metaphor I can find that seems to be comparable. When a soldier sees war, they are fundamentally changed. They are now aware, intimately, of the worst part of humanity, and that lives within them like a big, heavy, burning lump of coal. It’s now fused into the skeleton and lives in the marrow of the bones. Looking upon folks that don’t know what they know and haven’t seen what they’ve seen, fellowship is impossible. They’re on two opposite sides of the abyss.

A terrible thing I now realize is that my grandfather, after World War II, no doubt experienced this conundrum, and landed upon the option of ‘aggressively and deliberately force myself into the community I was in before, through sheer will and commitment.” He was fundamentally changed by what he’d seen: a friend shot down beside his plane; Nazis; the abject terror of what Nazis had been doing. But, he wanted his happiness. He wanted the normal life that was owed to him. He’d fought for America with his life, and now he wanted that American dream. He wanted to say hello to his neighbor and pat a friend on the back, discussing nothing deeper than a car engine. He wanted dinner with his wife and he wanted to smoke a pipe while reading the newspaper. He must have wanted those things terribly. From the outside looking in, he was successful; but I’ll never know the reality of what was inside: just how hard was it to make himself fit?

I, too, want a normal life terribly. I want a domestic happiness that perhaps would have come easily and the lightness and newness of a young marriage. I have had the realization that I’m on the other side of the abyss now, I’ve gone through a door that I cannot come back from. Assimilation will take force and sheer will. I wish there was a guidebook. I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know how hard I’m going to have to fight for this. But I do know that it is not coming unless I force it.

O, woe is me
T’have seen what I have seen, see what I see.

-Ophelia in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

family caregivers