I’ve always done well in chaos. At one point in my life I thrived in copious amounts of chaos and drama. I’ve done well in tornadoes and shit storms because they are familiar. What I haven’t done very well, historically speaking, is grief. The heaviness of this emotion has a tendency to take me pretty far down the rabbit hole and it’s something I tried my best to avoid for years.
My Mom carries enough grief for my entire family. You can hear it in her lungs every time she coughs. Grief comes through in her sentences that trail off into the grey areas when we start to dig into the past a little bit. It’s super messy back there and very difficult to talk about.
When I think of grief I think of my Mom living in her bed after Grandma died. The curtains drawn, crumbled up McDonald’s hamburger wrappers in piles in the trash can. A cat or two sleeping at the foot of the bed and Guiding Light on the TV set. The room was always dark, there was a thickness in the air, some from the humidity of the South and the rest from all the stuff we didn’t talk about. It was just hanging there, like an entity that needed someplace to be.
Sometimes I’d crawl in bed with her and eat hamburgers and watch TV. Other times I’d sit in my bed in the room next door, listen to records and pop Xanax until I couldn’t feel anything anymore. For so many years I thought my Mom was the only one that carried grief in her body. When I drew my first sober breath at 21 years old I recognized I had plenty of my own.
Grief isn’t usually a topic I write about because I want to focus on the light, the growth, all of the ways we are resilient and seeking redemption. I don’t want to bring you into a dark part of my past but I am going to anyway. I want to shift and in order to walk a little more free in this world I need to expose some of my story and share how it ties in with my life today.
And the truth is we are resilient. All of the dark crevices in our lives are the places where the light gets in and this is where we find our deepest well of strength and our greatest capacity to love.
I want to love myself through the mess.
I want to love myself through the crushing sadness that feels like it might last forever.
I want to love myself exactly as I am. Here. Messy. Dark. Snot faced and slightly depressed.
Okay really depressed.
I spent seven days on the couch last week grieving. One short month after going through a breakup, moving into a new place, healing some deep family wounds and narrowing the focus of my practice, my body gave out. And I made a choice to give in.
I remember saying to my Naturopath in early December, I cannot believe how great I feel and how not sick I am given everything that is going on! She tilted her head to the left and gave me that all-knowing-doctor-look, yeah, you’re getting sick as soon as you land.
And I landed.
I landed with a giant thud and it hurt like hell.
Oh, wait, this is my new life?!
Shit. This is so much more painful than I thought it would be.
And then the waves of grief began.
Coming down with three shades of the flu was exactly what my body needed to start processing the grief I’ve been experiencing in tiny flashes.
I’m a doer. I’ve been busy since I was a toddler, in fact, one of my favorite statements in my early years was, I’m busy. It’s part of my DNA, it’s embedded in my astrological chart to be doing things all of the time. So yeah, when I can’t be doing things I tend to get uncomfortable fairly quickly. This is why it’s such a big deal that I’ve been meditating for as many years as I have because it goes against everything in my nature, to be constantly fluttering about doing any number of things, reading, creating, healing, cooking, walking, writing, researching, talking, singing, working, brainstorming.
When you’re busy all the time there is no room for grief. My body eventually put on the breaks and gave me a clear indication that it was safe enough to slow down now and start to lean into the heavy sadness.
Over the years I’ve read loads of books on grief, including the popular theories that there are a certain number of stages you go through during the grieving process. I’m not much for lists that tell me how to feel because I find my emotions are non-linear. What I have experienced with grief is that it comes in waves and that in any moment I can shift from feeling anger to extreme sadness to wanting to bargain with God. Acceptance hasn’t been much of a challenge for me because this past week because I was so knocked out with the flu that I had to surrender to what was happening. I had zero energy to fight or resist and that was such a blessing.
Grief has been difficult for me to share about because it always feels so heavy and loaded. I’ve taken a lot of pride in not being a person that has intense depression and all that has done is left me with even more sadness and grief. Even in my early sober days I did everything I could to not feel sad, grief or any other unpleasant emotion because they were too much. Any time I had an extreme feeling I was triggered to get high. I also felt super triggered by the grief of others. One of my greatest gifts is being incredibly empathetic and this is something I have had to learn to use rather than let it consume me.
At two and a half years in recovery I experienced my first sober breakup. I wanted to die. I couldn’t believe how intense the pain was. I was in the middle of graduating college and planning to move cross country to start graduate school in San Francisco. There was so much going on at once (seems to be a big theme in my life!) and I couldn’t handle the intense feelings.
I felt terrible and chose to go on antidepressants for a few months just to take off the edge and because my therapist was afraid I would start using again. When I got settled in San Francisco I went off the meds and found yoga. I began to incorporate mindful movement into my life as a tool for self healing and learning to hold space for my emotional body. I fell in love with my yoga practice. I found it was better than medication and it gave me many tools for living with all of the feelings instead of constantly needing to clip the sharp edges. I learned to take care of my emotions with my breath and meditation.
Over the years my ability to fully experience grief without medication or the fear of relapse has gotten stronger. One of the most helpful practices I have developed to support my grief is to learning how to hold more space for myself while I process heavy emotions. I call this creating a container for grief. The wider I am able to make my container, the easier it becomes to experience grief and other emotions (even positive ones like joy) in the same breath. This container allows me to become more real and this has been my life’s mission: to become real.
In the past when I’ve been sick and grieving I numbed myself out with loads of TV, crappy food or distracting myself by constantly talking to people on the phone. Last week I gave myself over to the grief and even though there were some moments that got really dark and a little scary, I knew I could handle them. I had been growing my container of support and fully gave myself permission to not do anything else but grieve.
There might always be a tiny piece of me that doesn’t want to have intense feelings in front of other people because of what I witnessed growing up when I didn’t have healthy tools for coping with life. I am also open to that completely shifting and my container widening even more. What I know for sure from my own journey and supporting many women on theirs is that it’s a wise idea to leave room for the miraculous.
Anytime we stretch out our arms to give ourselves a bigger hug, magic sparks and the unbelievable occurs.
Above all, all loss is loss and nobody’s pain is greater than yours. The most wholehearted thing any of us can do is be honest about what we’re going through and love ourselves through the process as it arises. Healing cannot be rushed. Believe me, I’ve tried too many times to count. Moving mountains of grief can be a slow process but I will tell you this truth, it does get easier. It really does. And, the more open you are and the more willing you are to nourish yourself through every wave the more you will make friends with the ride.
I know I still have some work to do around grief. I also know I have the tools to get through it and an incredible community of friends and family to hold my hand when I need extra help. We’re all going to develop a relationship with grief in our lifetime. It’s up to us to make that a rich and rewarding relationship that we can use in service to the people around us.
All of our deep sadness has a purpose. It’s making us into these brave souls who have been through something tough, who have seen some darker aspects of life and are here to walk each other home.
If I can move through this, trust me, you can too.
I’ve shared my container meditation practice below. If you have ways that help you move through grief I would love to connect around this topic. Wishing you all a beautiful rest of the week and more very soon.
Lots of love,
CREATING A CONTAINER FOR GRIEF (or any emotion you are working with)
Visualize yourself in a cocoon of golden light while you are meditating. The golden light is a safe place for you to experience all of your feelings.
Breathe gently in and out through the nose and imagine the golden light expanding beyond your physical body while still keeping you safe and protected.
Make room for any and all feelings that surface during this practice and breathe deeply into your heart.
Keep this visualization going for 5 minutes and then just sit quietly in meditation until you are ready to get up.
Practice daily for 10 minutes.
Photos by Lani Trock