If last week’s post on rage wasn’t your personal issue, then this might be the week for you – today we’re talking about sadness and grief. Usually one or the other (or in my case, both) of these emotions really freaks people out and we’ll go to amazing lengths to avoid them. This week, I’m inviting you to walk into your sadness and grief…with the intention of getting through it so that you can return to a place of joyful flow. In my experience, unprocessed grief grows and morphs to the point where I sometimes feel I am carrying the entire weight of the world on my shoulders. It sucks out all of my energy. If you happen to be in a place where you are experiencing sadness or grief, I hope this post helps.
Sadness and grief, usually, are our natural reactions to a perceived loss. There are several pieces of good news in that statement. First, it’s a natural process…similar to a wound scabbing over and the scab eventually falling off. I’ve found that when I can let go of my resistance to feeling grief, it moves through me much faster than I expect and the process of grieving itself feels healing. The second piece of good news in that statement comes from the “perceived loss” bit. Since this is something we have a little more control over, let’s look at that one first.
Identifying Your Loss
This might sound a little silly, but step one in grieving for me is truly identifying what I lost. I know I, at least, will often cloud up my clean grief with additional “loss thinking” which makes it feel way larger than it is. Similar to the idea of clean pain vs. dirty pain, step one is identifying what has been truly lost and what is the perceived portion of the loss. I see no point in enduring “bonus” grief for things I haven’t actually lost.
If you read some of my recent posts, then you know I was exerting some major force to keep myself in denial about the (perceived) loss of my dream of a relationship with a particular man who was completely unavailable to me. Though this is somewhat embarrassing, I want to share with you some of the thoughts I had around this loss, and my evaluation of whether it’s clean or dirty grief in parentheses. Sounds confusing, but stick with me:
- I have lost my dream relationship with the perfect man. (Dirty Grief… A. I didn’t have a relationship and B. if he were perfect for me, he’d…like me.)
- I will never find anyone like him again. (Dirty Grief… and really, since he was uninterested in relationship with me, is that something to mourn?)
- I have lost my dream of a relationship with this particular man. (Dirty Grief…this one from the “dream of a relationship” – I had a picture of what our relationship would be like, but who knows if it would have been like that at all. For all I know he had a closet meth addiction.)
- It will take me forever to find someone else, and I want a partner now! (Dirty Grief…how can I possibly know when I will meet one of my soul mates?)
- If I were thinner/prettier/a better person, he would love me. (Just plain dirty, no grief involved. Pure self-imposed pain.)
- I am not going to have a romantic relationship with this man, and I really wanted to. (Clean Grief… it also strikes me as the basic truth about the situation.)
With this in mind, I invite you to really check out what you have lost and need to grieve, and what portion of the “loss” is just nasty thoughts that require some thought work. It might make the magnitude of grief significantly smaller.
Replace Your Loss Whenever Possible
I love this idea from Martha Beck in Finding Your Own North Star – replace what you have lost whenever you can. If you are grieving the loss of priceless family photos in your recent home fire, see if there is any way you can replace them. While it might be impossible to get all of your pictures back, there may be ways for you to start assembling some of them – calling friends and family, asking for duplicates of their pictures. It might not be perfect, but it could be a way to reduce your loss significantly. In my mind, anything that spares you from the heart wrenching work of walking through grief is well worth the time, effort, and creativity needed to do so.
Grieve Your (Clean) Losses
Some things – the most important things – are irreplaceable. The death of a loved one, the loss of your health…these things need to just be grieved. And though “I am not going to have a romantic relationship with this man, and I really wanted to” is in no way comparable to the loss of my health, it’s still a clean loss that needs to be grieved. I’m not advocating using thought work to minimize or deny genuine pain. Even small cuts need to be treated, or they may become infected.
If you’ve arrived at a clean loss, and there is nothing to do except grieve it, here are some ideas that might help to at least make it more bearable.
- Be exceptionally kind to yourself. Grieving is hard work and often leaves you feeling very fragile. I try to be as kind and patient with myself as I would to a small child facing a horrible loss.
- Rest as much as humanly possible. I always underestimate the sheer energy required to grieve…after all, I’m lying in bed sobbing, how can that possibly take energy? Somehow, it does. I’ve found that similar to having to rest way more than usual when sick, I also have to rest way more than usual when I’m grieving.
- Visit a natural, peaceful place. I find that staring at the ocean, walking through trees – even in my city park – can be incredibly soothing when I’m feeling sadness.
- If you know grief is lurking, but can’t quite seem to let down your guard enough to access it, try listening to sad music or watching a sad movie to open the gate. When I was doing some grief work about my father, I watched “In America” whenever I needed to cry and just couldn’t get there on my own.
- Another fabulous idea from Martha Beck’s North Star is to create a container for your grief. Schedule a certain amount of time each day or week to grieve, and when the time has ended, put the grief back into a container on the shelf. It will still be there when you’re ready to pick it up again.
If you have additional ideas about processing grief, or insights into clean vs. dirty grief, I would love to hear them. Please share them in the comments section so we can all benefit!