divorce

Is Grief Good?

Is Grief Good?

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

shutterstock_174741554To allow yourself to experience grief, and to choose to engage in the on-going act of grieving, is difficult and takes courage. I believe it is something we must actually choose to learn how to incorporate into our lives. According to Brene’ Brown, who has studied emotion and vulnerability for 15 years, we fear the emotion of grief the most. I agree.

As humans, we tend to run from what we fear. So if we fear the emotion of grief, then it makes good sense to say we will likely run from feeling and experiencing it in our lives to the best of our ability.

Why do we fear grief so much? As I asked myself this question, I realized I believed lies about grief and grieving.

Here are some lies I have either believed myself or have heard from others –

~”If I let myself feel sadness or pain, it will only make it worse.”
~”If I let myself acknowledge my grief, I will never be able to function again. It will engulf me.”
~”I don’t have time to be sad.”
~”I need to think positively and not dwell on the bad (on the pain).”
~”The pain from my grief will be so painful, I will not sustain under it.”
~”If I let myself grieve, I am just having a pity party for myself.”
~”Grief only comes when someone dies, and no one has died, therefore I shouldn’t be in pain.”
~”Something is wrong with me because its been “this much time” and I am still sad about ____.”

There are some deep-rooted misbeliefs exposed in the comments above. The assumptions exposed are that grief is bad, weak, wrong, only “okay” when someone dies, and that it exists on some sort of definable timetable.

I started learning a lot about grief and grieving 5 years ago when the landscape of my life radically changed through my divorce. Wrestling with betrayal, and the loss of our intact family, is something I am still grieving. My days are no longer shadowed by grief, but it still pops up from time to time. Some days it may pop up for a moment, some days it may take up residence for a few hours. It has taken me awhile to learn that I will be “okay” in living a life now sprinkled with grief on a daily basis.

I didn’t start out okay with my grief. For the better part of a year after my life had radically changed, I was angry at the pain of my grief. I tried to numb it, run from it, and mask it into something it wasn’t. I fought it, and I suffered for it.

I had to learn how to not fear grief, but rather how to embrace its presence. I had to learn grief is not containable, it cannot be managed, and it lacks predictability. It can last a moment or remain for the better part of a day. It does not ask for my permission to overshadow a day. I also had to learn that when grief rears its head, it doesn’t mean I am weak.

My journey to no longer fear grief is much like my process of no longer fearing thunderstorms. As a kid, I feared thunderstorms (and if i’m being honest here…my fear lasted into my early adult years). It didn’t matter if a storm came in the day or night. To me, the loud bangs of thunder and sudden flashes of light freaked me out! Now as I sit with my youngest son during a storm to calm his fears, I wonder, “What was I so afraid of? It’s just a thunderstorm!” I believed unfounded lies about storms: “something bad is going to happen,” “what if it never stops,” “I am not okay and I won’t be okay until the storm goes away…” and on and on my thoughts would go. Do you see the similarity between storms and grief? With both, I feared what I didn’t understand.

Allowing ourselves to feel grief, is as important as allowing ourselves to feel joy. When we try to numb only the emotions we dislike, feeling we set in motion the beginnings of living an emotionally handicap life. Over time, we will not only numb the emotions we don’t like, but the emotions we like become numb as well.

Finding My New Normal After Divorce

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

I have seen, and personally experienced, a tendency to overlook the impact of relational trauma on our functioning. Why is it that even when our life circumstances change – we live through a relational trauma or betrayal, we are separated from our spouse, we unexpectedly become a single-parent, we go through a divorce, we discover abusive realities in our partner – Why do we keep living (or pressuring ourselves to live) as though these changes haven’t happened?  Why do we keep living as though our bandwidth for interacting with life hasn’t changed?

Sometimes when I realize I am pressuring myself to live as though my life hasn’t radically changed, I just sit and shake my head at myself.  I ask myself in these moments, “Why am I pressuring myself?  What am I fearing?”  The answers to these questions are usually the same, no matter the circumstance.  Part of the answer is that I desperately want to live like I was living, before my life changed without my permission.  I want my normal back.  I want what was known to me.  The other part of my answer is that it saddens me to feel like I am letting people down by no longer being able to perform as I had been.  I fear others won’t understand, or won’t care to take the time to learn, the basic equation I now have to live by: My life radically changing when I experienced trauma and betrayal in my marriage + an unexpected long season of separation and suffering + ultimately getting divorced + being a single mom + running a business = having less bandwidth for life.

For a long time, I angrily fought the equation I now had to live my life by.  I didn’t fight it by taking on more than I could, I fought it by being angry with life and retreating.  It wasn’t until I started to accept my new normal that I started to enjoy life.

Part of accepting my new normal was learning to like the person I am now.  To accept the me I am now.  I am different.  My traumatic experience changed me.  Learning to be a single mom, a divorced woman, changed me.  I am not quite sure how I could live through all of that unchanged.  But I guess the biggest thing I had to learn to do was accept the new me, my new normal, and learn who I had now become.

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Presents verses Presence

By:  Lianne Johnson

Thinking back on my own separation and ultimate divorce I realize I needed people to offer me both presents and presence.

As I look back to these hards years for me I remember that I was unable to “give” anything to others. If a friend was in crisis I had no energy left to offer a meal, take her kids and give her a break, run errands for her, or just sit with her, etc.  I had nothing to offer because I was trying to get through my own day – get the kids ready for school, remember to pack their lunches, remember what time school actually started so they were on time, get to work and make sure to shower since I hadn’t in days, oh and then I needed to feed them dinner at the end of the day. It took all of my energy to get done the mundane, everyday, habitual tasks that were before me as a newly single mother who was (and still am) in the midst of trying to make sense of my new life situation and heal.

Help
As I look back on this season of my life when I was in crisis – being separated for a year and a half and then divorcing, coming to grips with the reality of things that had taken place, I was broken.

I realize now that I needed two types of people during my own crisis – those who offered “presents” and those who offered their “presence.”

By “presents” I mean people who could offer me help with – food, errands, my kids, dishes, cleaning, laundry, etc.  Sadly, when I was in my crisis I was unable to function.  Perhaps you have experienced something like this yourself.  Life moved slower then it ever had before.  It was like my life had become a movie put on pause but then someone pushed play, but it was slow play.  You know, when the movie still plays but the frames move slower…and for about a year or so my engagement with life was s…l…o…w.

The other type of friends I absolutely needed were those that offered me their “presence.”  They sat with me.  Sometimes for hours they simply sat with me as I cried or stared blankly at a wall.  They watched movies with me, ate with me, they were present.  Nothing was required of them but to simply “be” with me.  Sometimes we talked but most of the time it was quiet.  I desperately needed these friends while in my crisis just as much as I needed those friends who fed me, and helped me get through the mundane necessary tasks in a day.

So perhaps you are in a hard season of life and you have no “presents” to offer, and that’s okay.  Offering your “presence” to your friend may be the very thing they need.

 Or maybe as you read this you are in a season in which you cannot offer either “presents” or “presence,” and that’s okay too.  Trust me as I speak from experience – this season will pass for you and slowly you will be able to give to others.