For Sunshine. :) Sunshine, recycling does seem intense especially when you have been making progress. As you have been. Be good to you.
The Recycling Post:
“ Grief is a spiral. But am I going up or coming down?” ~ C.S. Lewis
I’ve done all of my academic theses on grief. I felt it was not only a fascinating subject but a subject that is so misunderstood. I wrote my English honors thesis on using mourning as a filter for literature critique (”Mourning in Contemporary American Literature”); I wrote my master’s thesis as a handbook for counselors treating adopted clients; I wrote my legal thesis on victim’s rights and how many people try to work their grief out in the legal system. So excuse me if I get a little academic in explaining this but I think it’s important to know.
For each of these papers I researched and read everything about grief. There is a standard body of literature but it’s still evolving. One thing that researchers do agree on is that grief is a process and it can vary wildly from person to person depending on the person, the loss, the type of loss, the person’s history with grieving (or not) and environmental and social factors.
When I read Beverly Raphael’s “Anatomy of Bereavement” I liked her idea that grief did not happen in “stages” which seems to connote a straight path from one stage to the next. Raphael said it happens in phases and like phases you move in and out and back and forth. As a grief counselor, that was certainly my experience. My clients would be getting better and then WHAM! right back into excruciating pain. It used to perplex me but seemed to make sense once I wrapped my head around the phases part.
Eric Lindenmann was the first person (in the 1940s) to coin the phrase “ grief work ” and emphasized that there was “work” involved in moving through the grief after a loss. Lindemann said there were essentially 3 components to the work: detachment from the person you lost, adjusting to the environment without the person you lost, making new relationships and reordering your world after the loss.
Murray Parkes (who I’ve quoted on here liberally) said the 3 tasks are: acknowledging the loss, accepting the loss, taking on a new identity in a world without the person you lost.
As I read dozens of researchers and “grief experts” I noticed that the tasks are inherently the same: acknowledge that there was a loss, feel emotional pain about that loss, work on restructuring you and your environment to adapt to that loss.
And that is why I make the suggestions and recommendations that I do. Everything I teach is about one of those 3 things and grief work is work and MUST be work for it to be successful. I read a book recently that derided the idea of “work” and said it should not be that difficult. Thank you for invalidating decades of prominent research. Idiot.
Now, what about the middle phase, the “ feel emotional pain about that loss ” phase? What is it about that that is so difficult that is so much work?
Well for one, we never feel just one loss. Whenever we have a loss we feel all kinds of residual grief for things we’ve lost before and never fully grieved. We also feel a lot of secondary losses, this rhythm of my life, this identity as part of a couple, having someone there everyday, these friends of theirs that I liked, these hopes and dreams I had for the future with this person, this plan that was carved out…we must acknowledge and grieve those secondary losses. Most importantly, when we are grieving one loss, we feel all of our unresolved losses. And some of those can be very big.
We also feel rejection, abandonment, insecurity, fear. The whole emotional gamut. We are in a state of heightened sensitivity and can become very emotional. We can feel confused and disorganized, like the world is moving beneath our feet. Who are we? Where are we going? When will it stop?
So sometimes it feels MUCH BIGGER than it actually is. And sometimes we take the enormity of that pain as a yardstick for how much we loved the person that we lost.
But that is NOT it at all. If anything, the emotional reaction cannot be used as a measurement for how much you did or did not love a person you lost.
The enormity of the emotions is about many things but it’s usually not about how much in love you were. It’s more about you.
And if you feel your feelings and allow them to come it will feel as if you have had the wind totally knocked out of your sails….and while you are doing this, start the “restructuring” process…build a life without the person you lost. Be good to you, figure out some interests, go back to old interests, take up new hobbies, meet some people…
And there comes a time when you’ve cried your heart out and walked the floors and wrung your hands and talked about the relationship until you can’t talk anymore. And written in your journal and stared out the window and felt all the feelings you think you will ever feel.
you come to a place where you think there are no more tears and no more huge feelings.
You make a decision to turn the page and GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE. Often the moving on process does not happen without that decision, sometimes it just does. In any case, you are feeling better, looking better and sighing a whole lot less. You hardly ever cry and the ex is becoming a distant memory.
Then, one day without warning: WHAM!
Right back in the soup.
Apparently your psyche is saying “I have more to share here…” and you hate it…you feel like you are being dragged backwards or going under for the third time…you DO NOT want to go back there.
I know, I know, I know.
But if you spend the day honoring your feelings, validating what you are feeling, journaling or talking to friends, you will come out AGAIN on the other side and go back to your restructuring.
The recycling is normal whch is why grief should be thought of as happening in PHASES and not in STAGES.
You think you should be better than this. Don’t SHOULD on yourself! Accept where you are, it’s temporary and it’s never going to be as bad as it was…you’ve climbed that mountain.
And even though you’ve come to think of your ex as Mr. or Ms. BananaHead and you don’t want to spend another stupid minute on their stupid memory, it’s not about them.
It’s about you.
It’s about tidying up the remnants of grief so you can move on without another thought about Mr. or Ms. BananaHead. Seriously. This isn’t about them. It’s about YOU.
You are NOT a failure…you are not going backwards…it is normal and natural to plunge back into the feelings sometimes without warning. Sometimes there are triggers and sometimes it just happens.