Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grief: Strategies That Allow You To Be Fully Alive Even While Grieving

These are things you can do to help you feel better.  You may feel better already, but haven't noticed it yet. Maybe you're noticing it NOW.  The amazing Nick Kemp says, "You are just one thought away from a good feeling."  These are ways to feel genuinely better which is different from faking it. I'm not sure I can do it in one thought....but maybe you can.

1.  Find the strategies that work best for you and use them. There is this pull when I am in a difficult space to crawl away and hide and forget everything I know.  I was about to turn off the computer and instead I am writing.  I did that.  I made a better choice.  Sometimes it is tiring to use different strategies.  It seems so much easier to crumble or to give in.  Nothing wrong with that but I don't want to make it a habit.

2. Show up.  Especially at the beginning this was the hardest.  I wasn't interested in anything.  I made myself show up where life was happening.  Even if I didn't have a good time.  After a while life started happening inside me as well as outside.  The biggest mistake I can make is not to show up.  I have all kinds of excuses.  I'm too tired, I'm too stressed, I don't feel well.  If I show up I have the opportunity to get lifted out of self pity and into a good time.

3. Shift your focus.  Emotions are like small children; if you ignore them they will get more demanding. It's not about denying how I feel.  It's about time management. Thirty minutes or an hour for all the frustration, anger and sadness. The rest of the time for things that make me smile or give me satisfaction. Wow - did I forget that one. The things that are knocking me over are real things.  I am reacting to real life events that are difficult. But they weren't making me crazy - thinking about them all the time was making me crazy. About a week ago I started spending most of my time thinking about people who care about me and their kindess to me.  I've been thinking about adventures I've had in my life and about specific laughing times.  All of my pictures of Artie are packed to move except for one lovely, young smiling one.  I have that Artie with me as well as the dead one. I've been looking for funny cartoons on Facebook.  I've been looking at beautiful pictures. I like elephants and tigers - purple roses - a well written TV show or play and many other things. The world isn't good and bright and shiny all the time.  It's not dark and bleak and ugly all the time either.  It's a huge canvas and if my eyes get stuck in one spot I need to work on shifting my focus or I  miss my own happy times.

4.  Roll your memories backwards. They use this with soldiers who have PTSD.  Roll your memories backwards to a happy time before the traumatic event.   (I was taught to do it with circus music - but I prefer silence.  The soundtrack is up to you!)  You have to be totally present in that happy time.  For a long time after Artie died I only thought of him as dead Artie. Thinking of him made me sad.  Now, most of the time, I think of him as live Artie. I can curl up in bed and feel him holding me. I feel safe. I can be walking along the street holding his hand. Some people say memories are too painful.  With this technique you are truly rolling your memories backwards so that you are present in the past.  They aren't painful memories because when you are back in time you don't know what is going to come.  You don't want to stay there - you want to live in the present - but it's nice to visit.  It can bring comfort and strength.  I also use it to connect something stressful  to a good feeling.  A simple example:  I walk by a store where I bought Artie t-shirts.  I used to think:  I can never buy my husband clothes any more. I conscioulsy changed that to "Artie was very particular about his clothes.  It was so much fun to find something he liked.  He would ask me to buy six more and I would say, "Excuse me, can you say thank you first?"   I've changed my thought pattern when walking past this store so many times that now the smile comes automatically. 

5.  Look down or close your eyes to feel your grief and then open them to the present.  I love this technique because you can do it anywhere.  People won't notice.  If something happens that makes you feel pain or anxiety close your eyes or look down for 5 or 10 seconds and feel that emotion in all its intensity.  Then open your eyes and really look and listen and feel and smell and hear.  What color clothes are people wearing?  What tone of voice is there in conversations?  Count the green cars or people with blonde hair.  If the feeling you don't want continues...repeat.  Once in a theater I saw a man gently put a sweater around the shoulder of a woman sitting next to him.  I felt so sad.  Artie would never do that for me again.  I was so alone.  I closed my eyes and felt my heart breaking into bits.  I opened my eyes and looked intensely at all the details of the decorations in the theater and what people were wearing.  I had to do it several times but then I was back in the present and I was able to enjoy the play.

6.  Help someone else.  There is, unfortunately, a lot of pain and suffering in the world.  If you are helping other people it brings you out of yourself.  It gives you a sense of meaning.  It might be a simple thing like giving someone a compliment or helping them carry a package.  It might be getting involved with volunteer work.  It might be helping out a friend.  My husband was a recovering alcoholic. He said that he had failed at many things but at least he had always made himself available to other alcoholics and addicts.  When my life seemed meaningless without him I decided to honor his memory by making myself available to other grieving people.  l've always been a bit of a loner but being there for others has helped me a lot.

7.  Ask yourself  "And what else?" and "And who else am I?"  We put such limits on ourselves.  We have to stretch our self definition.  I'm sad without my husband.  And what else?  I'm grateful that we had the time we had together.  And who else am I?  Someone who eats ice cream to much.  And what else?  Someone who walks a lot.  And who else am I?  Someone who loves to make people laugh, especially with bad puns.  The time to keep going on with this is when you get stuck.  You can make a written list or do it with someone else.  I have heard of people doing it for 12 hours.  We are so much that we don't notice.

8. Be aware.  Look outside instead of inside.  I get trapped in my head.  There is a lot to pay attention to in the world.  I can pay attention to it.  I can notice specific details.  A simple task like washing my hands can be full of sensations if I am paying attention to it instead of thinking of other things.

9.  Books, hypnosis tapes, meditation, support groups, writing a journal, painting, poetry, and so much more.

10.  Sharing with others who understand.  I didn't mean to go on this journey.  Unlike others, I'm not even particularly grateful for it.  I'd rather have Artie here with me than have all the benefits his death has given me.  However, the friends I've made are most precious.  So many things I think and do seem crazy or foolish or weird.  Then I find out they aren't.  I didn't change the sheets for 3 months after Artie died.  I met someone who didn't change them for a year.  I find the 4th year harder than the second.  Someone else said the fifth.  What I've learned helps me - but it helps me help others as well and then comes back and helps me.

I showed up the other night and had dinner with someone who talked about my blog.  That was when the light went on in my somewhat dim these days brain that I wasn't shifting my focus enough and I could.   Moving on Artie's birthday was a choice; one that scares me a little.  It's not uplifting or brilliant or anything right now.  In fact I've warned people it might be a good day NOT to interact with me.  I won't know how it will be (Dec. 11th) until it is over.  I'm actually not moving.  My stuff is moving.  I will be camped out where I am until many tangles get untangled.  I'll be spending time at my daughter's house for my granddaughter's first birthday and Christmas.  Chanukah came too early this year and there wasn't much I could do about that.  New Year's Eve I rather like spending by myself.  I don't know if I'll be moved in or not yet.

11.  Be imperfect.  This may not be the best blog post I ever wrote.  It doesn't matter.  I wrote it.  I could share a lot more strategies but the most important one is

12.  Be gentle with yourself.  Your grief is real.  You are alone and not alone.  You can hold more than one thing at the same time.  You can have a happy holiday season that is sad or a sad holiday season that is happy.  All there is are moments.  The trick is to stop having so many bad ones!!   They kind of tumble over each other.  If you can work on those good thoughts which lead to good feelings which lead to being a live live person instead of a dead live person - you can have a lot of happy moments.  You will still be missing that person or those people that you miss.  You will still have days when it all goes flat...or maybe you won't.  What I keep striving for is being ALIVE with my grief.  I criticize myself when I don't make it - how lucky am I to have friends and readers who tell me I'm doing a brilliant job.

So...I'll say it to you.  Wherever you are, however you are - you, yes YOU are doing a brilliant job.  xo

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