Deep River

Preston Firestone reminds us of the importance of ‘showing up’ to our negative feelings and grief after a breakup. Using the metaphor of a river he demonstrates that denial can trap us in our negative thoughts, and we may be unable to really move on until we deal with the pain we’re experiencing.



My mother has a saying that she uses to describe not embracing the
reality of the situation that you're in. It's sung to a tune like a
slower "there's a place in france." She says, "there's a river in
Egypt, and it's called denial." Sometimes I wake up to find that I've
been floating up and down da nile in an inner tube like I'm relaxing in
a lazy river.

I've been crossing the river of denial recently because of a breakup. I
started in denial about what had happened, like we all do: I said to
myself, "self," I said, "this is surely temporary. She'll realize her
mistake and come back." Denial starts by simply negating the facts,
such as they are, of the situation. "I've been dumped" becomes "I
haven't been dumped," and so on. Of course, this is unsustainable.
Coming home to an empty bed every day and not having standing lunch
plans on Tuesdays at 1 force me to say what I don't want to say, "I've
been sent packing with a one way ticket to splitsville." 

I'm not out of trouble yet, though: I find myself in another tributary
of the same river. I say to myself, "sure it happened, but I'm a strong
man. I'm not upset about it at all." Here I'm not negating the facts of
the matter. Strictly speaking, I'm not in denial at all: I'm stating a
proposition that is in line with what other people experience of
reality. Even so, the negation has moved from one place to another. I'm
no longer negating the facts of the matter but the facts of my feelings
about the facts of the matter. But surely I have feelings about what
happened: I'm not a rock, after all. I must be feeling something, even
if I don't know what it is yet. So I still am in denial, but this time
not about the things that have happened. Instead, I'm denying my own
feelings. I have to embrace not only what happened, but how I feel
about what happened.

There's a reason that anger, bargaining, and depression come between
denial and acceptance. The journey isn't just from "it didn't happen"
to "it did happen." If it were, we'd all have finished grieving before
we had really begun at all. The journey across the river in Egypt isn't
a simple crossing, but makes us trudge through mud and fight against
the strong current of our own grieving process. Acceptance like I'm
looking for isn't just to be able to say "it happened, and I'm OK with
it," even though that's not really true. I can say "I'm OK" without
getting out of my inner tube: I can float comfortably down the lazy
river to the sea, and never have to feel anything at all. Instead, I
have to go through saying, "it happened, I'm upset about it, and I'm OK
with that." Only once I can say that can I say "I'm OK" and really mean
it.

I remember another song, the spiritual "Deep River." I can sing "Deep
river, My home is over Jordan. Deep river, Lord. I want to cross over
into campground." I can see, on the shore, campground: a time where I
don't cringe everytime I open facebook messenger and see my ex is
online, or when I don't have to wait across the street just so I don't
have to run into her when she's leaving a class. That's the real
acceptance: to be able to say, "it happened, and I'm OK with it," and
be telling the truth. But to get there, I need to pass through the
river of "it happened, and I'm not OK with it. In fact, I'm rather
upset about the whole thing." That's what it looks like to pass through
the river, and I'd really prefer not to. But I'm not going to get to
shore by floating down a river in Egypt. I'm going to have to get out,
and fighting against the current, cross the deep river to reach
campground.