Grief consists of a cascade of conflicting emotions we feel whenever we end or change a familiar pattern of behavior. It occurs with any change in our relationship with a person, place or thing, and is a normal and natural reaction to a loss of any kind. Yet it is one of the most neglected and misunderstood human experiences.
Some grief experiences are obvious, like the death of a loved one or a divorce. But others are subtler experiences not generally seen as causing grief, including a breach of trust, loss of safety or not having control of one’s body as in abuse or major illness.
Regardless of the cause, grief is met with societal myths that don’t work when we experience grief. Among other inaccurate beliefs, we’re taught to replace the loss in some manner, to be strong for others, and to keep busy. Yet these erroneous beliefs that we’re socialized to follow don’t address the sense of numbness, disrupted sleep patterns, changed eating habits, reduced concentration, withdrawal and other symptoms that grievers experience.
What does work is an understanding of what drives grief so that we can address it. In “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” authors John W. James and Russell Friedman attribute grief to an incomplete past that needs to be completed. They write that grief is always about undelivered emotional communications that accrue within a relationship over time.
They outline a specific process for identifying recovery communications that we have not delivered, taking action to communicate them, and moving beyond loss to say goodbye to undelivered communications and to the pain they have caused us. We say goodbye to our emotional incompleteness, but not to the fond memories of the person, place or thing we are grieving. The New Leaf Center periodically offers “Overcoming Heartache: A Healthy Guide to Handling Life’s Losses,” a four-session workshop series that walks participants through this process.
Participants also learn healthy coping skills for grieving that include:
•Move. Exercise for 30 minutes at least three times each week – walk, run, ride a bike, swim… Physical exercise is the best natural antidote for processing grief on a physical level.
•Fuel Your Body. Balanced, nutritional eating habits and healthy sleep hygiene (including 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night) help you handle what life brings your way.
•Communicate. Talk about your grief with friends or family members you trust. If you are in recovery, a 12-step meeting is a great place to connect and communicate with others.
•Write. Keep a journal to record your feelings and experiences about grief. Getting your thoughts on paper keeps them from rattling around inside and building up like a pressure-cooker.
•Give thanks. Write down two (or more) things each day for which you are grateful. It’s difficult to remain in grief when you are in the midst of gratitude.
•Connect. Take time each day to connect to your Higher Power – for example, meditate, read inspirational passages or books, spend time in nature, attend church. Spiritual practices are a great resource for grief recovery.
•Laugh! It really is the best medicine for healing. Take a break from grieving to spend time with a friend or family member who makes you laugh, watch a comedy, or play a fun game.
Click here for information on New Leaf Center’s “Overcoming Heartache” grief workshop series, or call our office at (407) 644-8588.
Jackie MacKay, M.A., LMHC, NCC, CSAT
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Certified Sex Addiction Therapist