Grief can be defined as ‘an acute mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret’. When describing grief we think of suffering a loss, disappointment, misfortune; experiencing a troubled time or a failure.
Grief can be dealt with in many ways: some we are aware of and can control, and others that happen sub-consciously and are completely out of our hands. Every person goes through the motions at their own pace. Recovery takes times, that is why it is referred to as a process. Our progression through the steps takes time because we have suffered a great loss; something or someone who took up a space deep in our heart, held a large weight, is now gone. Loss of a great love will most definitely be followed by a great grief. The longer our hearts have been filled with this great love, the longer it may take for us to reach a place of acceptance that this love is now gone. Grief is the price we pay for love.
There are obvious moments of grief in our lives, like the loss of a loved one, where we can certainly see our mind and body walking through the stages of grief. We may begin to feel angry at people, places, or situations for our loss; perhaps we are noticing our thoughts starting to change or become negative and dark – signs of depression. It is in these times that we may be aware that we need to seek guidance and direction as we progress through the stages of grief. That may look like talking with a good friend, turning to our journal to purge our hearts deepest thoughts and feelings, speaking to our doctor or therapist about our emotions, crying, screaming, and even self medicating.
What about the seemingly insignificant times in which we are grieving? The moments, situations and memories that we don’t give much consideration. We may not even notice that we are in that same process of letting go of our deep love and attachment.
Using my own life and situations as an example I can openly share that I have lost a loved one so dear to me that 10+ years later; I am still in the process of grieving. I have never made it to the acceptance stage, not completely and wholeheartedly anyways. I seem to straddle somewhere between stages 4 & 5; unable to quite fully accept such a loss.
As a result of this loss and others like it, topped with overwhelming emotions and an inability to deal with them, there was self medicating with drugs and alcohol. Later in my life when I made the decision to get clean and sober, I realized that I was going through the very same process of grieving my addiction. The truth is that these substances held a deep part of my heart. My brain actually believed that this was love. When letting go of this “love” I had to walk the same course; by the grace of God, achieving my goal of accepting this loss in my life.
There have been even smaller losses in my life such as:
-Failed jobs and opportunities
-Disappointment or trouble in friendships and relationships
-Loss of personal items
-Misfortune of having to relocate often (we moved a lot growing up)
-Change of behaviors and/or thinking patterns
In all of these areas there has been a process of grieving. The steps have all been very similar and the end goal always the same: acceptance. The purpose of this post is to teach you the stages of grieving, how to recognize where you’re at, and how to pursue healing towards the main goal: acceptance. So what exactly are the stages of grieving?
Stage 1: Denial
-Protects you from overwhelming emotions; our first defense
-Denying/avoiding responsibility, rationalization
-Feels like numbness or isolation, confused thoughts & ideas
-Looks like avoiding people & places, blaming
-Sounds like “It’s no big deal”, “It could be worse”, “Poor me”
-Will diminish as the loss is acknowledged
Stage 2: Anger
-Defense is lowered, followed by visual outpouring of bottled up emotions
-Feels like frustration, irritation, anxiety, abandonment or rejection
-Looks like blaming, resentment, bitterness, acting out
-Sounds like “Why me?” “This is so unfair!”
-Important to feel, not to hide or escape
-After anger is acknowledged there may be guilt, remorse over what you did/did not do
Stage 3: Bargaining
-Struggle to find a meaning/explanation for loss; can happen before or after loss
-Feels like despair, disorganization, helplessness, hopelessness
-Looks like making deals, desire to share story with others, searching for answers
-Sounds like “Should have, would have, could have”, “I can fix this”
-May result in diminished or lost faith or spirituality
-Acknowledgment of loss, reality begins to set in
Stage 4: Depression
-True magnitude of loss sets in, time of reflection
-Feels like a lack of energy, sadness and restlessness
-Looks like sleep and appetite disturbances, withdrawal, emotional episodes
-Sounds like “I don’t feel like talking”, “I’m just going to stay home”
-Can last for long periods of time, you don’t just ‘snap out of it’
-Precursor to acceptance, essential for healing
Stage 5: Acceptance
-Understand situation logically and come to terms with emotions
-Feels like renewed joy and motivation, controllable emotions, realistic thoughts
-Looks like renewed socialization, exploring new options & plans, functionality
-Sounds like “they are in a better place now”, “It’s meant to be this way”
-Can think of loss without wrenching pain or overwhelming emotions
-Healing occurs a little bit at a time, we look forward to the future
Now that we know the stages and what they feel, look, and sound like we can take a glimpse at how to progress through them, and pursue true healing at a deep heart level. The important thing to remember is that any of the following techniques can apply to absolutely any stage in this process. It’s about what works for you and your heart. When we are taking good care of ourselves, inside and out, in healthy, productive ways, we will naturally advance through the steps and gain acceptance.
I can share these ideas with you because I have personally applied each of these tips to my own situations, and have seen them carry me through (with the help of God of course). In just this last year I have grieved the loss of behaviors, manners of thinking, relationships with friends, and even family, that I had to let go of. Every month when my period comes I have to grieve the lost hope of being pregnant, and of my life’s dream to be a mom. Not to make light of grief, but even articles of clothing or materialistic things I have lost or left behind are a cause for grieving. I seriously still think of those items and have to come to a place of acceptance of them being gone. Here are some tips that I have applied to my own situations…
-Making room in my life for healing to happen
-Experiencing the pain of the loss: Feel all the feelings without self medicating, disconnecting, hiding or escaping
-Reaching out for help. Whether that be to loved ones, friends, therapists or doctors. The help is there if only I can bring myself to ask
-Prayer, meditation and deep breathing (4 sec. in, hold for 7 sec., out for 8 sec.)
-Recognizing and acknowledging the underlying matters or feelings
-Building self-esteem and confidence
-Release of emotions in healthy ways via journaling and assertive communication
-Identifying self-defeating behaviors and thoughts
-Increasing my capacity for love
-Making better choices and building healthier new relationships
-Identifying myself in the truth of Christ
-Listening to music that speaks to me, and touches the deep places of my heart
-Taking warm baths or showers to help bring my body into a relaxed state
-Identifying my hearts needs and putting them first
-Starting the day with a gratitude list, counting my blessings
-Distraction techniques: reading, writing, gardening, creating art
-Reminding myself that pain is a part of the process toward healing and acceptance
-Mindfulness: 5 things I see, 4 things I feel, 3 things I see, 2 things I smell, 1 thing I taste, 2x a day
-Being open-minded to all avenues of healing
-Not wearing masks, being honest about my moods, emotions and thoughts. It’s okay to not be okay.
If there is a certain technique that you would like me to discuss further please let me know and I can dedicate a post specifically to that avenue of healing. Also, please share with me what you have tried, with success or not, to help in your healing process. I guess in conclusion what I want you to know is that it’s okay to admit that you are not okay, that healing is not linear; as humans our soul and heart know what to do to heal itself, we just have to focus on quieting our mind enough to do so. Grief is just a place, a process, it is not where you will live forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope.
Chat soon xo