What Happens When Grief Gets the Better of You?

I messed up. I had one too many drinks and I ended up doing something stupid and said some really not nice things to a friend. I hate sharing this, but in some ways it feels like I owe it to y’all to show up to this work with honesty. I’m not here to tell you that I get everything right.

I woke up the next morning racking my brain for why I had done it. There was an anger in what I had said that I didn’t even recognize- I just kept thinking over and over, where did that come from? There must have been a lot of negative energy running rampant in my subconscious, and the moment it got an opportunity to surface well, boy, did it ever SURFACE.

As I write this, I realize there have been other clues- I almost never recall my dreams, but in these past weeks my dreams have been active, vivid, and disturbing. And again I was wondering, where did all this come from? My mental health has been failing, and it’s shown up everywhere. I’ve eaten poorly, stopped working out, spent too much money, binged unhealthy amounts of tv, and neglected my chores.

The fact that it took me doing something hugely embarrassing and hurtful to even realize this startles me. It is so easy to deliberately ignore slipping mental health- we don’t wantto know that we’re not doing well.

The things is, the anniversary is here. Mom died on December 19th. I’ve had a lot of friends who are grieving around this time, and they’ve asked for help in knowing how to cope on that big day- turns out I guess I don’t know a whole heck of a lot, myself, huh? I’m starting to see how it’s sabotaged my entire month. And here I was, thinking I was doing so well.

A dear friend asked a couple weeks ago if the date would be difficult for me, and I told her that I didn’t think it would be this time around. My dad asked me over the phone how I was doing yesterday, and I told him I actually felt good. Whaaaaat? Someone was taking the “ignorance is bliss” route!

We’ve all heard it before. You have to deal with your pain. If you just push it down, the problem gets worse. An ignored wound begins to fester.

So now that I’ve realized that things aren’t okay… how do I deal with it?

What does it actually look like to “let yourself feel”?

What’s the practical application?

I find that most people allow their grief to control them- we allow it to sneak up from behind when we aren’t expecting it. We settle for letting a song or a memory or a symbolic reminder of our loved one to hit at any moment… and when this happens we consider that the act of grieving. But what if our encounters with our pain wasn’t so incidental? What if it wasn’t so out of our control?

We don’t have to wait for our grief to hit us sporadically when it pleases- we can show up for it in a more deliberate way and reclaim ownership of our feelings.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic she talks about showing up to her creativity with purpose and respect for the work. Like a date. Specifically, she makes sure to put in earrings. I freaking love that. And the spiritual nature of creativity and grief are much the same- intangible moments of emotion and clarity tied to the very essence of our being. I even wrote an earlier post on the connection between the two.

I suppose I need to figure out what my “earrings” are- what makes me feel ready to take the dive into those feelings. What it means for me to show up with intention and preparation to the practice of grief. And that also means setting aside uninterrupted time to actually devote to it.

So once you’re all ready…. What do you do? Do you just sit on the couch and cry? What does intentional feeling look like?

The best advice I’ve ever heard is from Pema Chodron, who speaks of breathing in order to make space. When we feel emotional pain, our bodies naturally tense up. Our stomach turns to knots, our breath becomes shallow, our shoulders tense. This physical recoiling feels protective, even though we may not even be aware of it happening. Chodron encourages us to locate those areas of tension and open ourselves back up with breath and softness.

If meditative practices are just not something you feel ready to do, there are other ways to engage your mind to your grief that might be easier to start out with. Create a playlist of songs that help you tap into it and allow yourself to sit listening quietly. Find a book that you relate to- I suggest Healing After Loss. Maybe there’s a movie that hits home for you. Put it on and put away your phone- let yourself watch without distraction. Of course, I always find that journalling is one of my best practices. If you don’t know where to start, perhaps write a letter to your loved one updating them on your life and sharing your current worries and fears.

These are just a few of my tactics that have worked for me- the key is that you actually have to make the decision to DO IT. And prioritize it. I know it can be intimidating- so much so that I have been neglecting to do the work, myself. I promise it won’t be wasted effort, though. You only see how effective these practices really are when you stop doing them and things get, well, messy.

So here’s my promise to you. I will do the work this week. I will try to forgive my shortcomings and be gentle with myself. Even if you can’t always get it right, you can learn from your mistakes and move forward better than before.

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