Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I Used to Be A Porcupine (And the 5 Stages of Grief)

Grief, and the process of healing, deserves attention because it's holy. Getting well is a holy thing, ya'll. Grief and Pain change us in the deepest, truest, ways.

I think we come here pretty broken and get even more broken as our lives move forward. We adopt our parent's brokenness and our friends and family's brokenness. We adopt the world's idea of who we should be and how we should do things and this breaks us even more. It's up to us to determine what needs to remain broken and what must be repaired with holy glue. 

God made us the stewards of ourselves. He chose to make us the boss of us. He expects us to handle his creation with care.

In my head, I'm writing this post to 2 particular people that wrote to me who've never been to therapy and had no support in their efforts to try to get help. I don't know them personally, but I know their Spirits and their hearts. I know their hurt and their truth.

I get a LOT of questions about therapy and how it helped me and what I learned. These 2 women had a lot of questions but admitted they had a negative view of therapy. Therapy is still a taboo subject in a lot of ways. People flinch a little when the word therapy comes up, I think. 

Wellness, like beauty, warms people and brokenness, like intellect, will cool them. 

Brokenness will cause some people to cool to you because your brokenness reflects a part of themselves they aren't ready or willing to face (because we are ALL broken in some way) or because brokenness can often manifest in ways that are just flat out unpleasant.

I've talked openly about my therapy. It was extensive, it was long and I'm not done yet. I may never be done with therapy because I am never going to be done with myself and, for me, therapy helps me see myself clearly.

First, I need to touch on this: Almost every email I've received asked me how I got better in some form or another, directly or indirectly. The truth is that I don't much like the word "better". It implies that I was less than, at some point. I wasn't. I just wasn't well equipped to deal with where I was at the time.

So, I went and bought myself some equipment. The equipment was knowledge and understanding that began with therapy. I didn't get "better". I became more aware and more equipped. I learned a new skill. Same person, new skills.

I will continue to increase that skill for the rest of my life.

We are all either getting more equipped or we're staying in the same place. I am not a fan of stagnation. Funky junk grows in stagnant places.

Through the emails I receive, I learned that too many people think grieving is a structured process with a time limit. Almost every person that wrote me have people in their lives who are judging their grief. PS...if you are one of those people who think grief and/or pain has a time limit and you get to determine what that limit should be, please stop. Today.

So, here's the thing: I'm not a therapist. I'm not an expert. I'm just a woman who's on a journey and I like to write. 

But, I hear you. 

So, here's some more of my journey up to this point.

The first thing we all have to do is recognize where you are on the spectrum and call the Pain what it is: GRIEF. MOURNING. HURT. LOSS. There is zero shame in those words. You do not have to feel shame for being in pain. 

You don't even have to pretend. I've cried sitting in a restaurant while people stared. I'd gotten to the place that their imagined truth about me simply didn't matter as much as my actual truth. And in that moment, the truth was I was sitting in a restaurant when the pain became overwhelming. But I was also hungry. So, I ate and cried and ate some more.

Pain is a much bigger and truer teacher than Joy. Pain will teach you truth that no other emotion or feeling has the power to teach. Pain teaches us compassion in ways no lighter emotion has the capacity to teach.

Maybe that's why God allows us to go through it? I don't know, I just know it's true. 

One of the first things I learned in therapy is that grief (pain, mourning, hurting) usually has stages or steps. By learning what they were, I could recognize them and then think instead of reacting. Reacting is rarely a good thing. 

The 5 stages of grief are pretty universal but not necessarily linear (this is important). They were originally applied to people grieving the loss of a loved one (Kubler-Ross model), but have since been applied to all kinds of grief: divorce, sexual abuse, terminal illness, etc...   Really any kind of loss or grief.  

Everyone will experience each stage differently. Some people may circle around to one stage or another until they learn what they need to learn and some people may only visit each stage once and soak up the lessons quickly. There are NO RULES TO GRIEF AND PAIN except these: Do no harm and don't allow others to harm you.

 Say it again: THERE ARE NO RULES TO GRIEF and PAIN. Don't allow anyone to tell you otherwise. 

You get to feel however you feel. Period. 

You can't normalize a deeply abnormal time, or times, in your life.

Grieving in this way is not "normal" but it is universal. We all must walk in the dark at some point. The only real choice we have is what equipment we choose to take with us when the darkness comes. 

I once flailed around, smiling like a loon, pretending to be fine, even though I was drowning. It worked for a long time until it didn't. Here's the basics of how I stopped flailing and pretending.

The 5 stages of grief (sadness, heartache, whatever word you like more) are : Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. 

You may or may not experience these all at once. You may or may not experience these more than once. You may or may not experience these in this order, but most likely you will to some degree. Your walk will not look like any other's path, but I'll give you a run down of how mine looked.

I denied I had a problem(s) and almost every single person does this with some aspect of their life. Healthy people and unhealthy people.

I was strong, successful and smart. I am fine. I'm fine. I may have a temper like the 7th layer of hell and be more controlling than Kim Jong-Un, but I am fine.

I AM FINE. Porcupine quills engage!

I held on to fine for as long as I could and that may have saved my life. I may have broken into a million pieces if I'd tried to move past "fine" and denial any sooner than I did. There's no proof of that except that I'm still here. I'll take it. 

Denial was my longest step, but also the one I am least likely to revisit at this point in my journey. I've become a pro at recognizing denial and kicking it's ass. If you aren't there yet, then you're not. It's not a race.

Anger has been my companion throughout my life. I've learned that those in close proximity to addicts almost always carry anger with them, whether acknowledged or not.

 I was short tempered, and impatient. I still struggle with patience.

I went through life as a porcupine. Don't get too close or I will hurt you back. I expected hurt from others. It's what I knew. I expected others to overlook me, so I made sure they didn't (You may do the opposite. You may become a little mouse and then resent it when people overlook you. No one handles this in the exact same way). I expected others to be fake, so I was extra harsh to force them into what I considered "real" emotions. Controlling and anger are cousins. Piss off a control freak and you will see the relationship.

Anger isn't always screaming and shouting, either. I am not much of a screamer when I'm angry. Anger is how we survive the pain and our core survives through the Pain and Grief. 

There are still days that I struggle with anger to an unhealthy degree. We are works in progress and I am learning how to feel the anger, determine if I have a legitimate reason to be angry and then either release it or take care of myself by expressing it in a healthy way. Mostly. (This is extra tricky for women. We're told being angry or mad and expressing it is wrong and/or makes us bitches. It's OK to be angry. That's not the kind we're talking about.We are talking about anger that can't be resolved with conversation and lingers over situations you can't change. Anger that sits on simmer, even when you're happy.)

Anger can feed denial because if we're angry enough then "We're fine!!" Anger can mask that we aren't fine, at all. This is anger and denial in one big suck cake. I've been there. I feel you. 

Bargaining (negotiating) is the "if only" part of healing. It's where we say, "If I'd only done....".  "If I'd only been more..."  "If only...."  It's the place where guilt lives and guilt will convince you that if you bargain long enough and well enough, you'll be fine. Everything will be fine. Just ask the woman/man who lives with an alcoholic.

Bargaining is the place we make up scenarios that change the outcome. We negotiate to pretend that we are in control or that if we'd had more control and been more controlling, things would have worked out differently. It's a fairy tale. It's a lie. But, it is also necessary so that we can heal. We have to feel what we're feeling!!

Bargaining was hard for me because I am a recovering control freak. Bargaining almost always returns me to anger, so I have to be careful with "if only". I'm also realist, so the "if only" part of grief pissed me off. I knew I couldn't change the past but... "if only" tries to creep in and old patterns try to take up residence. It's a trap I hate but one every grieving, hurting person must face. 

Bargaining can become heavier than lead. The fantasy of all we "could have" done differently can weigh us down with such force it gets hard to breath. This sets us up for Depression and Sadness.

See how all this works in a big, ugly circle? You have to see it first and then FEEL it. Feeling it will help you release it, but try to cut off the "what if's..." when they come. The past is unchangeable, but the future is right now and in your grasp. Cheesy and still true. 

Depression is a common word these days. No depression feels common. It feels like crap. This stage can range from a sad feeling to a black hole inside to someone being unable to function. 

You need to be self-aware here. Depression comes in many, many forms and can be a place to heal or a place so dark you must seek help immediately. It also tends to circle back around in times of deep grief and mourning and, for me, just after times of intense happiness (this truth is a completely different post and one of the things that once made me a porcupine).

Depression is a sneaky bastard. One day you're fine and then...BAM. One tiny thing happens and depression will take up residence.

Depression is also the thing that can numb you to the feelings you need to feel to get healthy. Numbness is necessary sometimes, but be wary if it lingers. 

Feelings aren't your enemy. Feelings are important flags on the journey that let us know what we need if we're brave enough to ask but some feelings like "what if..." are liars. Constant feelings of inadequency are also liars. It takes practice and deliberate focus to learn the difference.

It's important to take inventory, even on the really bad days.  If you're too numb for too long, you walk right off the path and down a slippery slope.

Here's a hint about the slope and it's a little sassy: Depression is BORING. My God, it's boring. If you think watching someone not be able to get out of bed is as awful as watching grass grow, you should try being that person! (don't actually do that) 

Depression will not only incapacitate you, it will bore you right into misery that makes the slippery slope look better. Recognize, ya'll. See the truth and then speak it. Depression is a liar. Remember that.

And finally, there's Acceptance (or Peace). I think this one is a step by step process all on it's own and I am not there in lots of ways, yet. I don't feel really capable of speaking about acceptance, so I'm going to give you what I've learned and leave it there.

I think you can accept certain pieces on the spectrum of grief, pain and loss, without being fully accepting of what caused those things. For me, acceptance has been a slow process and, some days, I'm just not there. I can live with that right now.

Here's where I am with it: 

I accept that I am a child of God. I am a beloved child of God. So is everyone else.

I accept that life is a journey. A true, real journey. Pain and Grief are as much a part of that journey as Love and Joy. They are teachers, not enemies.

I accept that everything I've ever lost has claw marks on it. Detaching and letting go is HARD for me. I feel and think very deeply and I accept that I probably always will. These are traits I accept and love about myself.

I accept that I am learning and growing.  Learning has always mattered to me. Growing is beginning to matter to me. These are good things. Light in a sometimes dark world. There is more light than darkness.

I accept that I may never understand many things I'd hoped to understand. I don't love this truth, but I do fully accept it. Some things will be mysteries forever. I think that may be a blessing.

I accept that I am the boss of me and only I can take the steps to grow and heal myself. I am not necessarily in control of what happens around and to me, but I am where I am because of my choices. Childhood is over. I can't blame that for my decisions today. I am an adult and I am capable of walking away, detaching, letting go, healing, seeking help and making better choices. Me, and only me, gets to decide what I am willing to accept into my life. 

If I am surrounded by emotional succubus, that's because I let them in. If I am surrounded by kind, healthy, fun people, that's because I let them in. That's hard truth, but it is absolute truth.

I accept that I am not the boss of anyone else, including my children and my husband. Controlling behavior is a sign that you are dealing with something deeper, as well as a maturity issue. You aren't the boss of anyone else. The end. If your kids are 18 or older, you aren't the boss of them and even if they are under 18 you are only a little bit the boss of them. You are controlled by everything you try to control outside of yourself.

I accept that I am imperfect and flawed and forgiving myself is as important as forgiving others.

That's about all I've got, so far. 

But, I'm still on the path. Even if, some days, the path is strewn with litter and curse words. Even if, some days, the path is dark and scary. 

Even if, some days, I simply breathe.

Today, that's enough. 

My quills are slowly disappearing and my heart is opening. Mostly. 


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