Grief is something that I think pretty much everyone has experienced at some point in life. Its the universal “fuck...this suucccckkksssss” feeling when we really hurt. It's simultaneously one of the most difficult emotions to sit with, and also one of the most powerful. Grief sucks, it really does. I spent the majority of the decades I’ve been alive so far in a quest to avoid it. I’ve learned one thing above all else...there’s no avoiding it. I’m sorry folks but there is no way out of grief without feeling what needs to be felt! Trust me, I have tried everything and nothing but allowing the feelings will release it. Even if you deny it, suppress it, tell yourself you’re over it, that bitch will find you and stay with you until you acknowledge it, then it will find places in your physical body to hang out and keep bugging you (aka physical pain) until you either face it or...you die.
Grief is ever changing though, and it's possible to still grieve something or someone, while also experiencing joy about something or someone else. Totally weird concept to grasp, but if you look at where you are in your life right now, I bet a lot of you have experienced that. The best description I’ve heard about grief was comparing it to being in the waves on a beach in a storm. At first, the waves are huge and keep coming, non-stop, until you feel you’ll drown under their weight. Then you take a huge breath of air, and you realize the waves are shrinking in size, losing their power. Then they decrease in frequency, and you start to be able to float. First with difficulty, and then effortlessly. Joy is possible again, somewhere in that process as the waves lessen. Sometimes, a big wave comes back up out of nowhere and throws us for a loop again for a moment or two, and we fear we may be back in the initial grief storm. That time...it was just a one-off though, some residual emotions you thought you had processed already. Once you have experienced all of the grief, and its associated emotions, you are free. And when you can sit with those feelings...the waters will eventually become completely calm, and you can easily stay afloat.
In my case, I finally gave into the pain, stopped avoiding, and faced grief head on vs dying under a mountain of suppressed and stifled emotions. It's the single best thing I’ve ever done for myself, hands down. Facing grief has given me freedom, released me from judgment and anger, improved my communication skills and equipped me with the capacity to nurture and cherish the close relationships I have in my life. And it’s also the hardest, most frustrating, grueling, downright “FUCK THIS SHIT! No seriously, fuck this shit to hell and back” work I’ve ever done. Worth every minute and every tear, too. I can now observe myself without judgement, which is a massive gift in and of itself.
For where I am now, I’m aware of all of my addictions, and in all honesty, I still feel an urge to participate in them, from time to time. I’ve recently been experiencing some profound grief, on top of the shock and fear that the Coronavirus pandemic is creating within many of us. Due to recent self-imposed changes for my health, I gave up something very dear to me, and the pain has been almost unbearable. What I can tell you from where I am now...grief is still sucky. It's miserable, it feels never-ending, and it drains energy levels a lot. However, I cope a lot better than I used to. I no longer grab any and every vice I can find in order to avoid the grief. When I am tempted to have comfort food, or play games that do not stimulate healthy mental activity, I am aware I’m doing it and why. This allows me to pause and apply conscious thought, versus the past where I blindly got high, drunk, and found some reasonably attractive man to take my mind off of things for a few hours. Notice I said “and” and not “or”. On top of that, I would later spend a lot of time and energy beating myself up for my coping mechanisms, which put me into an unconscious shame cycle and preventing me from changing what I was doing. It just made me do it even more. This is the default operating system for most of us when we blindly numb our pain. No judgement, just facts. When we blindly numb, we stay in that behavior as long as we possibly can, with no real measurement or concern about time...we just keep avoiding that grief as long as we can. When we release the emotion of grief, it brings the light of awareness to help guide us again.
When I went grocery shopping the other day, I kept thinking “I want comfort food”. I allowed myself to have some too, but also limited myself. As I bought it, I asked myself why I wanted it, when I knew it was more likely I would regret eating it, and would still be hungry since my favorite comfort foods tend to have lots of sugar. Or, they are cheese and noodles. The ultimate comfort combo is noodles with cheese, followed by some form of sugar. I’m digressing...back to the point. Now, I could lie to myself with the empty shelves at the store due to Coronavirus hoarding, and claim that I did it because they were out of what I wanted. Except that I don’t eat meat or paper products. Except that they are not running low on fresh produce which is what I eat the most when I am not actively grieving at these current levels. Except that I don’t lie to myself anymore and those answers are totally bullshit! The truthful answer was that I wanted it to fill the void I feel in my current state of grief. My appetite has been larger, too. But no matter how much I eat, that void isn’t going away until I face the emotions. Or if I chose Candy Crush instead of, or with my comfort food, no matter how long I try to avoid the grief by playing a mindless game that doesn’t stimulate my mind, the grief isn’t going anywhere and neither are the tasks I wanted to get done in a day. In fact...if I didn’t apply conscious thought to my actions, I would blindly wind up a very overweight, somewhat vision-impaired alcoholic with a constantly growing to-do list at some point! I mean...how much Candy Crush and cheese-covered noodle eating can a girl do before she goes up a size or five sizes? I don’t want to find out. Now, this doesn’t mean I do not still participate in the very few vices I still have. I have played a good amount of Candy Crush lately. However, the conscious thought and awareness, without judging myself, prevents me from drowning in it like I used to do on a daily basis. I’m still making really good progress with the tasks I want to complete for myself.
What does all this mean? Why bother writing about it? Well...for starters, being an addict is tough, especially if grief triggers you like it does for most of us. I hope that my words are similar to what you experience for yourself, and you are finding comfort and understanding within them, even if your choice of a numbing vice is different than mine. I hope that my words inspire you to look for that first conscious observation of your actions, so you can start to free yourself, like I freed myself. Everything I write is written to help other people. What I have noticed for myself, is that just my awareness alone is already leading me to want to engage in healthy activities, and buy healthier foods. The work that I did to get to that awareness was no small feat, and it required a lot of deep truth seeking within myself to answer why I do certain things. It took a lot of healing and understanding traumas that occured in my life, and their impact on me, well into adulthood. That and witnessing my behavior without judgement, that gives me permission to do what feels best for me right now, and by allowing myself that freedom, and trusting myself to not stay in behavior I don’t like for myself, I’m returning back to healthier choices a lot faster than I used to. I’m processing grief much better than I’ve ever been able to. Yes, I still hurt like crazy. Yes, it's raised my physical pain for now. And most importantly yes...I am feeling a little better every day. The storm has passed, and the waves are still big, but they are bearable now, I can keep my head above water again.
In order to keep myself accountable and on track, even when I don’t want to do much except sleep, I take baby steps and list 1-3 things that “need” to be done in a given day. Monday I opted to take a day off from work for extra room to grieve, so the only thing I needed to do that day was grocery shop. Once I did that, then I wanted to knock out a couple other items on my to do list and did so. Tuesday, I gave myself a list of what I wanted to do for work, with the promise that I got to veg out on Netflix after work that night. Today, I added a few chores to my work list. Tomorrow, I’ll add a few more. My appetite is already going back to normal and most of the comfort food is still in the cupboards. Grief is so hard for me, that I process it best in chunks as my way to let it flow. I’m still crying most days, and many times per day. I still feel lost.
What happens inside our brains when we give ourselves permission to feel whatever is there, and do whatever feels right to honor where we are on any given day, is extremely liberating. It's the same reason that states with legal cannabis have lower rates of teens using cannabis. When you allow something, it takes away the stigma, which makes it less appealing to us. At the start of the week, I was resistant to adding more physical exercise. Today, I’m already planning my ramp up from my current physical state, taking into account the raised nerve pain from the excess travel I’ve had until now. With this whole social isolation thing, I have a few weeks to maintain whatever cadence I choose! That’s usually enough for me to get back into a routine. I have zero shame over both my grocery purchases of comfort food, rate of
consumption of said foods because I allowed them with conscious thought and was honest with myself, instead of judging myself and telling myself I’m weak to want comfort food. Normally, I regret the purchase, have shame over the rate of consumption...then I start another shame cycle leading me to the bakery section of Sprouts yet again. This time I just really need eggs and bread...I have plenty of comfort food for days...weeks really.
While I do not expect to stop grieving anytime soon, grief is ever changing, and I do expect to continue to feel better on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean I won’t have harder days than others. Some days will feel like they are 10 steps backward, like that giant rogue wave just got me...that’s all normal and part of the grieving process. I also expect to have more energy on a daily basis, especially as my physical movement increases. Grief may not be fun, but it teaches us a lot, and also has the power to propel us forward, into places we never thought possible. For that reason...I am thankful for the grief I currently feel, and thankful for the lessons it's teaching me.