The ways we numb ourselves and how to begin the grieving process…
An estimated 8 to 10 million people lose a loved one every year. Have you ever experienced intense grief? Have you ever thought, “Even if I lose one person now, it is only the beginning? We all will continue to lose people who are important to us until the day we die. I don’t want to deal with death!” We all numb ourselves when we go through grief. We go on “auto pilot” and numb out of a need to protect ourselves. We can also feel lost and disoriented for months after losing a loved one, as if our emotions disappear into a black hole. We often think that we can just numb the bad stuff and keep the good. Unfortunately that is not the case. We cannot selectively numb. If we numb the bad emotions, we also end up numbing the good ones too. When we suppress all of the anger, sadness, and fear, we also deprive ourselves of feeling true happiness, love, and support. If only someone had told us that sooner!
No one can ever prepare you for the moment you find out a loved one has passed away. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read on death, how long you’ve known it was inevitably going to happen, or how many people are with you to support you when it happens, it still feels like a dream. A bad dream that you wish you would wake up from but can’t seem to escape. An outer body experience of loss and sadness rolled into just five words by the doctor over the phone, “I’m sorry for your loss”. It’s like a stomach knot that drops into your gut, growing rapidly, increasing your numbness and pain. The feeling of being numb can happen in many different ways when you experience loss. But that’s normal- you aren’t turning into a robot or a psychopath. You just need the right bit of advice to help you pull through.
Instead of reaching for vices that will only numb you further and remove you from the reality of your life (i.e. excessive amounts alcohol, drugs, and World of Warcraft) try taking a couple hours to yourself where you can write down all of the uncomfortable thoughts in your head. Literally word vomit onto the page. Try not to judge what you write, but rather use it as creative, cathartic outlet. Once you write your thoughts down, notice how they make you feel when you read them. You may feel angry, sad, or depressed but that’s okay. During this exercise the most important thing is that you let yourself feel whatever comes up. As hard as it may sound, letting yourself feel your own pain will ultimately help you feel your joy. When you can be honest with yourself about how you feel, you experience more authentic emotions and have the potential to feel gratitude and happiness once you acknowledge your grief.
Remember to talk with others who have experienced loss. They will be able to understand better than most and even though it may be uncomfortable to reach out, they will feel honored that you did. Instead of isolating yourself from others, talking to friends and family will help you feel connected to a support network.
Also, try sticking to a routine and schedule, even when you feel you are just going through the motions. Be forgiving and patient with yourself because you will need self-love during this time. You may make mistakes during this time period but that’s okay. Be gentle with yourself.
“Let me come in where you are weeping, friend, And let me take your hand. I, who have known a sorrow such as yours, can understand. Let me come in -- I would be very still beside you in your grief; I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend, Tears bring relief. Let me come in -- and hold your hand, For I have known a sorrow such as yours, And understand.”
-Grace Noll Crowell