There are many stages of grief. I want to share some with you today and give you some tools and awareness so you can be reassured that you’re not losing your mind or self. I want to share this challenging topic in the most creative way, so before I explain how I did that, hear me out about that grief you may be experiencing.
Have you ever had someone say, “get over it already” or “it wasn’t meant to be” or “you just need to accept it” or “this is all for the best” or “they are in a better place” or “it’s time to move on” or “just let it go”? And then maybe their very words made you so angry or irritated you could barely speak? Well, that means you have some grieving work to do and I want to help you do it.
I had a really tough time for a little while, during the past few years.
One of those times, I was breaking down while sitting upon my meditation pillow and I chose to just sit in the pain. I wanted to get up so bad from that pillow, to do anything but sit there. But I did not. After sitting for a long while, I began to feel a little better. My eyes were closed and I felt this warm sunshine sensation on my face from the sun peaking through the window blinds. I felt so much grief and emotions in that moment and yet there was this sunshine and warmth happening too. It was the epitome of contrast: pain and sunshine and it impacted me.
I took a selfie, just for me, so I could remember that warm sunshine. I needed a reminder the sun would shine on me again. When I looked down at that selfie I took, it looked like art. Not because of my face but, because of the way the light fell upon a face. I became inspired and I snapped some more pictures.
Days later, I began to write about my grief and the stages of grief that I believe all people experience at some point in their life, it eventually turned into this guide for you. It felt like these selfies would provide a real window into the journey of grief and it’s my hope that it will give you the opportunity to know you don’t have to be afraid to feel all of the emotions you feel. Feel free to comment in the comments below to share yourself.
Important: These stages of grief do not necessarily go in order. They will move and twist and turn as you do, however using this as a guide will help you to come back to yourself when you feel lost. I personally have felt All of these emotions in the span of one single day before. You might too. The goal is to give yourself permission to experience the uncomfortable. Okay, let’s go.
Shock and Denial
The chest pounds. The head hurts. The throat tightens. The solar plexus (spot above your belly button) begins to feel tight. You don’t want to hear. No listening right now. You don’t want to know anything more. How can this be? Where do you run? Where do you hide? Is this real? How is this happening, right now? So we seek to avoid the pain because it’s just all too much. You numb (trying to protect yourself from feeling emotions that are overwhelming to you). We can become addicted to our phones, the internet, binge watching TV, food, drinks or drugs. We need to watch that here. It’s hard because the pain is unbearable and your mind will create an alternate reality where this horrible thing that happened could not have really happened. You need to be in this and you need to feel it fully. Try your best not to numb with too much stuff. You cannot escape reality. You are not going to accept the reality for awhile, but you need to stay in the shock and sometimes that means pulling the covers over your head and crying your eyes out, hiding in the corner or sitting in denial quietly staring at the wall. Know you are not alone. Share yourself with a trusted family, friends or within community.
Pain and Guilt
When the shock wears, the numbing eases up and then pain becomes unbearable… almost excruciating – you will want to avoid and then numb or escape further with food, sugar, alcohol, drugs or your phone. Worst of all, you may become addicted to your mind, creating stories that you have on replay. Stay strong, dear one. I know it hurts. Don’t blame yourself, you did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. Don’t let guilt, shame or fear come out to eat at your soul, no matter how chaotic you may feel. Instead, let yourself be in the pain. When we stub our toe we must feel the pain and we know it will eventually pass. This pain will pass too but only when you open to feeling it. I know it’s so much bigger than a stubbed toe, but you still need to remember that your job is to feel this particular pain because it helps you grow into the person you need to be. When you are here, in this pain, it’s going to be tougher for you to share yourself. You might feel like you lost your voice or your ability to write, work or communicate with others. That’s okay. Let yourself be here. Notice that you might start to have some anger coming through. Crying is normal. Pulling away in relationships, also normal. You gotta talk about it, though. Find a place to talk about it. Even if it’s below this post. Force yourself to share the fact that you are in pain. You are hurting and it’s okay.
This is where you bargain. Your voice is coming back. You are starting to feel fire in your body and you may not know what to do with it. Anger is such an important emotion, it has a bad reputation and that’s because the average person doesn’t allow themselves to feel it fully or in a healthy way. Don’t be average. Anger wants you to move. It wants you taking action. Our anger needs to be felt fully and we need to channel it to something productive. You may want to blame others but that isn’t healthy because this is about you. Trust me, it really is about you because it’s your anger. Own your anger and choose to feel it or release it in a healthy way. Kickboxing or some kind of healthy channeled aggressive workout helps a lot here. Please try not to numb your brain with mainstream media or useless reality shows during this time. It won’t help you now. You see, if you numb and choose not to feel the anger during this tumultuous time, you will go into victim and poor me-mode. This isn’t the end of the world if you do this, it’s normal from time to time but what it does do is catapult you into a viscous cycle of pointing fingers and blame. You’ll be angry at “them” or “it”. You will get stuck in the vicious loop of finger pointing and it won’t serve you or anyone.
You are being called to stop pointing the finger to everything and everyone else and to take action instead. You are being called to move your body. You are being called to feel right now. Take action, start something new, build things, gather people, create something from your pain.
Then you feel lonely. You might feel like people don’t see you or understand you. People might tell you to “move on” or “everything happens for a reason”. You want to scream and yell at them but inside you are so deeply hurt and the true magnitude of loss, betrayal, emptiness and not being seen is hard to feel. It’s easier to say nothing now. Every bit of abandonment from childhood is triggered. You will isolate yourself here. You will avoid others, sleep longer (or want to if you cannot), eat too much or nothing at all. We often want to numb here too. Our culture tells us to take depression meds to avoid this stage and that creates horrible conditions that teach us that we shouldn’t feel. It gives the emotions we need to feel, shame instead of compassion. I’m here to tell you that you need to feel. I beg you to give yourself some love and compassion during this time. Certainly there is a place for some who require meds, but I believe that for the most part, it’s a spiritual crisis you may be going through and a loss of how to regain control over where your mind is going. Seek help if you need it here, always. Also know this: we keep repeating the ‘story of what happened’ over and over again in our mind.
You are being called to stop the story and to choose a new one. It is tough to do this so stick with it. It’s the only way. I want you to know that you are capable of changing the story playing in your mind. You are not excluded from this. During this time, try to keep your essential life together… dishes get done, make your bed, brush your teeth, take a shower. Do just the essentials and keep your environment clean. Sit with yourself and breathe. You need to breathe to calm your body down. While you do this, remember that you are not alone.
Life calms down a bit. Things begin to normalize with sprinkled in moments of pain, grief and more anger. You must be proactive here. Do some backbends, yoga, long walks or aggressive workouts. Open up your back, your chest and mostly your heart. Go outside and breathe in some fresh air, if only for a moment. Did I mention breathing???
Walk to your mailbox or a block down the street. Seek out what you are grateful for, even simple ideas. (Thank you sun for rising today or thank you toilet for flushing) Sometimes we need humor here too.
You are beginning to remember that nothing in this world is certain. Nothing is in your control, even though you wanted to believe it was. You will wrestle with this concept over and over again right now. You begin holding stronger boundaries within your relationships and with yourself. You learn to be your word and to trust yourself more. You begin to share more vulnerably with people you trust. You begin to see glimpses of gratitude and light in the world once again. You make a choice to open your heart even when it’s so damn hard.
Your goal is to take action in a determined way with your clear objective in mind. You might not know what you want to achieve now. That’s okay. Keep asking the question anyway, “what do I want?” The “how” may not be clear. That’s okay too. You realize forgiveness is necessary. You must forgive you and them. You must learn to have compassion for yourself. Little by little, you work through the stages above: Shock and Denial, Pain and Guilt, Anger, Depression and Opening Up. You learn to feel emotions and feelings more fully now without avoiding them with that 3rd or 4th drink or helping of ice cream. You begin to get that growing your “emotional intelligence” is what will make the biggest impact on your life. You start to see that you may have been taught not to feel throughout your life… and you learned certain coping strategies to numb out with food, drinks, drugs, work, sex, smoking, unhealthy relationships. It’s painful to come to this realization but it’s the only way through. You will now begin to work on the problems in front of you one by one. Finances, housework, out of control stuff, lack of organization, unhealthy relationships, your body. Step by step, you slowly pull yourself up by your boot straps and rebuild your life. You begin to live your life, love your life and break free from living with grief, depression and addiction and instead with voice, service and desires.
You find awareness and accept your situation now. This doesn’t mean you like the situation. This doesn’t mean you like the people involved or the change in scenery. You don’t need to be happy to find acceptance. You learn to “detach” and then accept. You detach by learning to give up control of the outcome and trust that the Universe is conspiring for the best and highest good for all involved. You learn to give up control. You learn to turn off that old story in your mind that limits you. You may want to fight this process tooth and nail because as humans, we love to be in control.
But then you’ll come back to remembering that you were never in control to begin with. However you can control one thing, the thoughts you allow in your beautiful mind. You start to see that the issues, frustrations, anger, pain, loss, fear and sadness you feel are walls that you’ve been fighting with your whole life and that this situation is just showing them to you so you can heal them. When you are here, you will accept the hand you’ve been dealt and choose to grow through it. Deep down, you’ll know there is no other choice but to surrender, so you’ll stop resisting. If you’re having a hard time accepting, that’s okay, it just means you need to refer back to Shock and Denial at the top and start over again with moving through your grief. I’m proud of you. Learn to be in awe at what you’re capable of and share that with others.
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