You thought you were fine. Forging ahead became your modus operandi…it’s just what you do! Amazingly, you figured out a way to wake up each morning and face your basic responsibilities. Hell, you may have even dug deep, rallied hard and accomplished some really incredible goals since your life was turned upside down.
Now, for some reason, you’re blindsided by the irrational pain of betrayal and abandonment. Focusing on the positive does nothing to allay the emptiness that seems to have engulfed your once full and vibrant life.
No matter how much you’d hoped to be over it by now you’re still dealing with grief months later.
Admit you remain in the throes of grief and you take the a valuable first step.
But then what?? You still have bills to pay, obligations to fill and a future to think about. You can’t just be falling apart every time you remember how much your heart hurts. And you certainly can’t go on like this forever. At some point you’d like to feel like you again.
No matter how long it has been since the rug was pulled out from under you there are some simple steps, yet profound, steps you can take to process the pain and find your footing once again.
1. Time has nothing to do with healing
There is no reasonable timeline for true healing to happen.
No matter how badly you want to be rid of the heartache you cannot force it away. There is no easy way around it either.
Because healing happens progressively over time (and includes a lot more setbacks than you believe it should) chances are really good you’re farther along than you realize.
Look for signs of progress:
- longer periods of peace in between periods of angst,
- the ability to reminisce occasionally without the return of the trauma,
- moments of hope regarding the future.
Yes, you may feel like you have a long way to go and that doesn’t negate how far you’ve come…regardless of how long it has been.
Healing your broken heart takes more intentionality and patience than you’ve been told. You’re wired for pain avoidance, even emotional pain. The only benefit to denial as a part of the grief process is that you can get through day to day activities. There comes a time, however, when mere survival falls of your goals and wellbeing.
It’s not enough to wait out the ache. To fully integrate your new reality and create a hopeful future again you want to get off the “head down, just get through until enough time passes” default and spend some time with the layers beneath your pain. The opportunity for sustained healing and growth lies at the root of your belief about your loss.
Give time a helping hand using the tools you need for all conscious transitions.
Be kind to yourself along the way. You’ll be better when you’re better and not a moment before.
2. Voice your feelings
There are cognitive and emotional benefits when you give your feelings shape with words. Painful emotions take immediate residence in what I call your “Stress Brain” or the amygdala/survival instinct.
Fight, flight or freeze may be great responses for emergencies but when it comes to long term growth they’re more destructive than they are helpful.
Find words for your gut reactions, however, and you access calmer, more rational parts of your brain.
Say it with me, “I’m in pain. I’m sad. My heart hurts. I am grieving.” There is absolutely no shame in feeling what you feel. You’re a soulful being made of more than flesh and blood.
Your inner life deserves at least as much catering as your physical life does.
Avoidance of your inner work creates powerful unconscious or even subconscious patterns that will inform future decisions without your consent.
Voice your thoughts, however, and the work you have in front of you is now conscious. From that point forward you will gain control over the patterns your beliefs create in your life over time.
3. Call a friend
Remember the people who showed up in the early stages of your loss? They wanted to help but you were so quagmired in the logistics and shock that you didn’t even know what help to ask for…let alone the wherewithal to ask for it. Now is when you need them most.
Even if you don’t know what to ask for make the call anyway.
You’ll not only reap more benefit of verbalizing your heart you’ll have the opportunity to process it all. Those who know how to help friends dealing with grief can validate where you are and empower new growth in the process.
All the dealing with loneliness quotes in the world can’t substitute the healing that happens with a trusted human.
4. Honor the loss
One of the worst kinds of advice you hear after any level of loss inevitably carries the, “you’ll just get over it,” sentiment. Other people don’t know how to show up for you while you process the myriad of feelings you face over the months following your shock and despair. They offer casseroles, platitudes and the well-intentioned “just get out for once” night on the town. All of those are proof of what you have but they do nothing to bring closer to what is missing.
Like a lost, confused child the deep ache within you needs your attention and direction. From time to time acknowledge your pain, sit with it awhile…hold its hand and let it know you give a shit.
- If you meditate create a special meditation where you visualize the pain sitting on a bench. Without explanation or justification you just sit with it. If it has a message for you, listen. If you have questions of it, ask.
- If you prefer more overt overture design a ritual that honors more than the loss itself but YOU and the emotions you feel as you attempt to heal from the loss. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be just you. You can even do it more than once. It’s your ritual. Do it the way that brings you the healing you need.
5. Allow for both pain and pleasure
Stop ignoring your authentic response to life.
If you’re having fun reminiscing about how beautiful life once was. Laugh until your sides hurt. Bask in the revelry of the memories that are forever a part of you.
Likewise, if your gut wrenches at the site of a personal, treasured landmark have grace with your humanity. Use a version of your meditation or ritual from above that is appropriate to the time and place that you experience it.
There is a certain madness in the cycle we create while grieving. Guilt if memories bring warmth and shame if we dare to feel the loss itself. Without careful consideration of these experiences heartache ceases to be something we experience and becomes, instead, what we are.
You’re allowed to feel your pain. It’s real.
Believe it or not, you’re allowed to feel happiness and even hope. That’s real too.
Introduce all facets of your experience to one another and let them sort out how to be roommates in the shared space they have within you.
6. Let yourself be new and different
As desperately as you may want to just get back to the way things were it is not possible. You know this logically. How do you get your emotions on board though? You practice visualizing your a new and healthy normal.
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between what is happening in front of you and what you can see in your mind’s eye. So visualize yourself moving forward with confidence. The more you visualize the clearer the picture gets. As the vision becomes more sharp your actions will begin to follow the guidelines you set forth.
When the longing for what once was arises (and it will) honor it as in Step X. Sit with it (you). Let it (you) feel. When it (you) are calm and collected, show it (you) what else is possible. Not as a replacement experience but as an additional experience.
One way or the other you are moving forward.
Move forward in denial of your grief and you create a future filled with half truths and the weakest parts of your being.
Grow toward goals that welcome all of your history and you allow for a multi-faceted, fully formed version of success that is built on a whole you…warts and all.