Inquiry: Estrangement III­­­­­­ – Toxic

by Sue DeGregorio-Rosen, RN, CLNC, Assistant Editor

This series seeks to understand some of the differing faces of estrangement and the crossroads it approaches for good or ill.

Prelude: A lyrical counterpoise of estrangement is love  ~ a depth of feeling that dances in the heart, a scarlet thread of  hope and joy amid a world of angst and a broken circle of  dreams, where we have the ability to forgive and share our common humanity while knowing that we are but a thought away from each other, if only we can reveal our true self.

Did you know that there were times when I couldn’t wash the blood off?

The blood stains remained, even when I repeatedly cleansed my hands. The stain was the imprint on my brain. Pain is ameliorated in time, but the stain is still there. The stain of a memory in a hospital can be toxic.  The poison seeps through brain cells. It’s nauseating and it can crush the soul. And it can alienate one from the world around us. How much can one shower and wash one’s hair and scrub one’s skin to remove the pain of loss? These are the moments I can feel the chill of estrangement crawl down my spine.  Working in a profession that deals with so much human suffering and pain can be so sad, yet so enlightening.  The human spirit is strong, even as the end is near.

I can feel toxic, at times, and sad.

I have been in toxic relationships, marriages and divorces and experienced alternative lifestyles.  And, after much trial and error and watching patients and colleagues and friends perish from no fault of their own except being in the wrong place at the wrong time and given the wrong advice based on ignorance and power….that is the world as I see it.

I shiver as the air I breathe might be toxic with poisonous fumes and the water I drink is mostly from a bottle,  and I see the corporate and political environs enveloped by ambition and greed while a pandemic becomes endemic…and I haven’t been able to afford to pay off my loans as the cost of living increases and I live near the violence of poverty’s edge…and it aches.

  I sometimes find myself as a stranger in a city alienated from those around me.

If I were to speak in generalities, I would state unequivocally that I even tire of the word toxic let alone estrangement though estranged is how I feel in depressed moments. The lies and betrayals and blame and the false hopes…the damage can be literally breathtaking. So, would it help to delete the word toxic from my mind, as it has become meaningless like many words one gets tired of, such as awesome or stop the insanity. Words that leave the tongue parched and cracked from the lack of efficacy.

I understand that your past was not fair either and should not have happened to you. However, I am not able to reconcile how one could switch from kindness to coldness. I have to let it all go. I am finding peace and going with the flow. There is no space for hurt feelings and misunderstanding between you and me.

We are all surrounded by boundaries or rules in which to live and survive. In my profession of nursing for the sake of communication I seal my lips. And yet even in the healthiest of relationships, I wonder about crossing over into that land of no return.

We are not always on equal footing with each other, and because of that, fail to recognize another’s inability to see a matter through our so-called experienced eyes. Each day I discover I am capable of crossing another’s boundary, knowingly or unknowingly thinking an experience rivals or is superior to another given the hurt and pain I witness in the hospital emergency/trauma department.

A friend of mine recently asked me this “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?’ That’s a loaded question and perhaps even a nonsensical one. Of course, I want to be happy, especially in my relationships. But what about “right”? Can one be right and still smile in the darkness?

Being right depends on the situation. As a person of a somewhat good amount of integrity, I want to be both right and happy.  I find it difficult to hold back when I feel something is wrong.  I often wish that others hadn’t held back on me when I was in the midst of a wrong decision.  I question why didn’t anyone tell me?  Did they want me to fail? In medicine and health related issues it’s always wise to be honest especially with a dying patient. When I watch death through the eyes of a dying patient there’s an aloneness they experience, a form of estrangement to the world around them. At what point does one abandon the struggle to live a few minutes, hours and days longer?

Alienation can be a form of hidden pain. And as a witness to the experience of it I have had to make my own choices, my own decisions and my own mistakes, because I had boundaries.  I didn’t want to be told I was wrong.

 I’m separated from others not by the commonality of an experience but rather how my mind deals with the experience and the subsequent interpretation. And our boundaries come into play.

  And I too have dismissed people from my life because of boundaries and perceived choices, because they did not respect my boundaries.

This is my journey, and isn’t that what life is?  My journey is not a destination?  Happiness is illusive and really not the point…rather finding some moments of humor and pleasure and a full stomach. I have given up on being wealthy. That’s not where my mind and heart are. So how does that make me feel when the roles are reversed? When my wisdom is dismissed?

I don’t want you to be so angry at me that you no longer see my value. Just as a hatchling swan finds her own way and her own kind and she reaches her full potential, and meets her mate, I have to learn to respect that you will make those choices that align with your soul. And that you will be a swan…………and I may learn a valuable lesson, too. Your answers reside within you with some encouragement and an affirmation of your humanity and respect for your existence.