Closure, the Crutch

A solid resolution with no unanswered questions is the most ideal end to any situation. There is no dispute that closure is a wonderful thing to get when it comes to dealing with certain phases of life. It allows for someone to move beyond a painful event with acceptance and peace of mind. An example of this could include someone who had his home burglarized learning that the burglar was caught and convicted. Though the memories of having such a personal violation will linger, knowing that the person at the cause of it has been punished can help the victim move beyond the robbery. 

Closure is a tool, a crutch. A crutch is a great support when an ankle is injured, often making mobility possible. However, a crutch can become so relied upon that someone continues to require it long after the ankle is healed. Worse, overuse of the crutch can hamper the healing of an injury if a part of the recovery includes physical activity.

Closure has become a focal point as a tool of recovery in the self-help world. It is so supported that it seems to be able to move on from an event, at all, you MUST have closure. As though ANY issue that has an open-ending is doomed to forever dominate your destiny; consume you it will! Some psychologists have that Yoda mentality – that lacking closure is an irreversible path to some dark side of the psyche. 

Dark side of coffee print. Chalkboard vintage illustration. Creative trendy design element for coffee shop or cafe advertising.
I find a lack of caffeine disturbing.

How corrupting a lack of closure is depends on what you allow to be your closure. The biggest problem with some of our biggest life events is that they are open-ended. It is necessary to find closure in the fact that there is no closure. You might not get a straight answer as to why your ex called things off, but you can’t let how THEY chose to handle the end of the relationship keep you fixated. If a loved one passes without having answered all of your questions, you have to learn to accept that some of those questions never getting answered IS the closure. 

We have a tendency to get hung up over the things that we desire, even if there is no specific need. We might WANT to know why the ex really quit us, but the answer isn’t necessarily something pertaining to you. This means that you have to accept that they had their own decision to make for their own life. There is nothing wrong with not being someone’s perfect match, even if you think that they might have been yours. Any number of things can make a relationship end. It is important to not get stuck on the shock of the abrupt departure and allow that to continue to affect your life over the next several months or years. 

My own experience with this has to do with my parents. My father died when I was 11, having followed his father’s rock-and-roll drinking lifestyle. My mother has been battling mental health issues for decades, and her dementia leaves her doing good to remember our last phone call. Much of my teenage anger came from lacking answers to basic questions because there was no adult in my life to answer them. I also lacked someone to help me navigate the path of what to do about that.

A sign! More direction than usual.

It was in therapy, at 20, that I learned about my motivations and how my experiences from my past affected them. I got to learn about hang-ups and letting go. I got to learn about how forgiveness works, and that forgiving isn’t for them but for you. I got to learn about how we make the choices we make with the information we have at the time, and how you have to forgive yourself for not knowing at the time what you know now. And because group therapy follows so much of a standard support group structure, I got to learn about the concept of accepting what you can not change. 

I can not change that the only people with the answers to my old questions aren’t able to answer them. I can only accept that holding on to those questions could keep me from moving forward. Questions like “Why wasn’t I enough to quit drinking?” These questions are dangerous, anyway, because they put my perceived value into someone else’s hands. It is easy for the children of addicts to get lost in the feeling of not being “good enough” or your parents would quit their substance of choice for you. At least, you always hear that’s what good parents will do.

What if my dad was so calloused of a man that the response was “You only made life harder.” In my youth, I would have been leveled. Who wouldn’t have? As an adult, it would only serve to anger me because, despite however honest it may seem, he is the one who chose to have a baby. He chose the hardship, and to pass that on to the child is not just unfair, but cruel. As an adult, I know that it doesn’t matter what his motivations were for not quitting as it had nothing to do with me being, or not being, “good enough.”  

Ironically, his death closed the door to me getting closure. It took the idea of closure as an option away completely, which is probably one of the best things to have happened. Rather than allow myself to dwell on how certain questions would never get answered, or speculate what the answers may be, I had to learn to be OK with the questions dying. I had no real choice, considering the option was to wallow in my own misery. 

That path can be tempting. It is easy to look at something that can be a sympathy-fetching card (dead dad) and lean on it. “My dad drank himself to death and I’ll never know why!!! Poor me – pass me a beer!” This motivates cycles to repeat, rather than end. Many generational alcoholics are more than happy to tell you that they learned to drink to cope with everything in life from their parents, even if it led to something disastrous. “How am I supposed to know any better? I’m only doing what everyone else in my family does.” 

That is a mindset that keeps you locked into a state of victimhood. It keeps you from overcoming what your antagonist did, and only serves to ensure that your kids keep it going. Closure happens when we decide to face a moment. It happens when we decide that a story is over. We can end stories at any time, just as we can forgive at any time. We don’t have to wait for someone to do or say any certain specific thing – that only puts the power in the other person’s hand. We can decide that it is time for something to stop having power over us. We have that power. We can say “I’m done. I’ve held on to this long enough. It’s done nothing but hold me back. That is over, now.”

When you can do that, you will be able to create closure in all aspects of your life where you’re allowing it to hold you back. 

Journaling Prompts:
Is there closure that you are seeking in something? Why is it gnawing at you? What can you do to make it happen or let it go?

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