Invisible tears are the hardest to wipe away. Just let it out, my friend. ~Adabella Radici
How do you avoid your pain?
When I start to experience an uncomfortable emotion and run full-on into avoidance, my tendency is to turn into a workaholic (or a schoolaholic when I was in college & grad school). I can keep my schedule so full of busywork and appointments and stuff that I could go for years avoiding pain (physical and emotional). I know, I’ve done it. I have also tended to eat — bread, chocolate and ice cream were personal favorites. It’s a great short-term solution to just about any feeling I don’t want to really experience — grief, depression, anger, fear, and so on. The problem when I go into that avoidance mode is that I end up even more grief, depression, anger, fear than I started out with. Then it’s a whole lot more difficult to work through and move past.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. We humans are very creative people. We can turn anything into a way to avoid what we don’t want to feel. Food, alcohol, drugs, work, video games, TV, exercise, traveling, taking care of others, sex, reading, blogging, the Internet, self-help books — you name it, we’ll use it. And because it works in the short-term, we keep doing it. Over and over and over. Fortunately, it doesn’t work forever. Eventually whatever we are avoiding grows too big to be ignored anymore. We get sick, our partner leaves, we get fired from our job, we simply just can’t hold it back anymore.
This place where life implodes? This is where healing can start.
Let’s take a closer look at grief for this (you can, however, substitute any painful emotion — the process is basically the same to find long-term overall peace and relief from intense emotional states) When I speak of grief, I don’t just mean grief over the death of someone. I believe that grief can occur with any type of loss. We can experience grief through the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, change in ability (physical or mental), loss of a pet, and on and on. This list is far from complete. Essentially, if we feel something has been lost that shouldn’t have been lost – past, present or future – we can experience grief.
The great thing about the process of healing grief is that it doesn’t matter if the loss just happened and the grief is new or if it’s been years and your life finally imploded — you can start this process at anytime. There are also just 2 essential ideas behind the process. Many other ideas are very helpful, especially for grief, and I imagine I will hit on them at various times in future posts. For now, however, let’s just start with the basics.
Step 1: Experience
Do the very last thing you actually want to do. We want to avoid, right? The best way to find long-term peace and relief from grief (or other painful emotions) is to truly experience your pain. This means STOP DOING. This means getting quiet. This may mean crying or screaming or sobbing or raging for a while. This means letting the painful grief and sorrow burn through you. When you get quiet and that something (whatever it is) starts to come up, take a breathe and stay with it. Experiencing your pain might mean sharing your pain with a supportive witness (who won’t try to fix it for you or make you feel better) or it might mean seeking out solitude and silence. There are a thousand different ways to let yourself experience your pain and when we get quiet, the knowing voice inside ourselves will tell us what is our best way. This can take practice.
Step 2: Compassion
Throughout your process, have compassion for yourself. Allowing yourself to experience painful emotions is hard and scary and not something we are taught how to do. Give yourself lots of love and kindness. Rest. Eat healthy. Go for walks. Take a bubble bath. Forgive yourself if you find yourself running back to avoidance — just notice and come back to experiencing. We are all imperfect and few of us go through this process perfectly. For a great article on allowing imperfection, click here. I’ve been learning and practicing this process for years and I still catch myself in avoidance. I move out of it much faster than I used to though. It also takes practice.
The intensity of the storm of grief might be a little scary (or a lot) at first. With time and if you stick with it, the intensity will lessen and you will come out the other side. I promise, it doesn’t last forever and it’s totally worth it.