“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” ~ Havelock Ellis
This past weekend I took time off to do some self-care around grief.
I was at a survivor’s seminar through TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). It is a program focused on helping military family members grieve and grow. It was a very interesting experience to be around so many people grieving and at so many different places in their grief. Talk about feeling other people’s emotions, there were so many of them, that I was able to practice only worrying about myself. That was one of the bonus self-care experiences.
I went to a workshop about anger and grief. I went because I thought I would get to vent a little and then we would deal with what to do with that one darn default emotion. Well, that was not what happened, she went right into ‘how’ to deal with anger. I spent the first fifteen minutes being annoyed that she was not going to have a group share with us talking about what we were angry about. So, in my notes, I took a moment to write out what I would have shared, realizing that if I didn’t get it out of the way I was going to miss the lesson I was supposed to gain from the workshop. I was laughing at myself while I was doing this and acknowledging that I was giving myself what I needed in the moment.
Early the next day I pulled out my notes and found that section I had written in the anger class and looked at it. Read it a couple of times and really started to think about why I was mad about these things. It all came down to two things (it typically does):
FEAR and CONTROL
It was a situation I had no control over, I had little training to deal with it, and I had never experienced anything like that before. I felt POWERLESS and on top of that, I didn’t like the outcome.
I don’t LIKE to feel any of those things, so therefore a part of me felt entitled to not have to feel them. My mind couldn’t make sense of them at that moment. It went to the file of life experiences and did not find this one and so it got scared.
That leads me to the next part of anger, “There must be someone or something to blame. The universe just can’t do these things.”
When I couldn’t find someone or something to blame for making me feel this way, I was holding onto the anger, because damn it that someone/something is going to come along and I want to make sure I have this anger, so I can toss it at them and let them know how I feel.
In the meantime, that anger is blocking my view of other situations, preventing me from making the best choices for myself. It is oozing off of me onto other people like little hurt bombs.
Knowing this, I took my angry sentence one step further and asked myself, “Which one of my unspoken universal rules for living was broken?” You see we all have rules that we make up for keeping control and harmony of our lives. If you don’t know what that looks like, watch a new couple navigate a kitchen or bathroom together, they have a whole bunch of rules for living that they think are universal and everyone lives by. They think that everyone else has the same rule and they quickly learn that is not true or they yell, blame and shame each other a lot.
Sitting in that hotel room with a nice view of their lovely city at 6:00am, I took a deep breath and started to journal about my own position.
So, in my situation, it turns out I had an unwritten universal rule:
#2 That death, for people important to me, should be something that happens when they are really old and have lived a full life.
My rational mind knows this isn’t true. I have stood at the funerals of people who took their own lives (far too young), people who died young from illnesses, and even an acquaintance who was murdered. I literally stand in the shadow of a woman who died far to young to cancer. I do understand in my rational mind. But you see, many of these rules don’t come from that place, instead, they come from the heart. This one was designed to protect my love for someone. So, for me, the fact that I was angry about this rule just reminds me how much I loved this person.
#5 You should never have to decide about someone’s life.
It is not that in my rational mind I didn’t know about these things and know that they could happen. The key is, I had never experienced them before. At that moment, holding a phone at my ear, just 30 minutes down the road from the hospital, having been pushed out because of the COVID shortened visitor times, I was in shock and needed to decide and that wouldn’t be the last time. A wave of new feelings and emotions washed over me and I didn’t like all of them. My heart in that moment broke a little and I am so grateful to my Uncle Mike who talked and cried with me about it later. He helped me process through all of the feelings from those moments.
It was the most surprising feeling once I broke my anger down to “JoyGenea’s personal life rules that had been broken.” I released the anger. By taking my internal thoughts and writing it out and seeing it on paper as a real and tangible thing, by using more parts of my brain to process and integrate the feelings. I could see that what I was angry about wasn’t humanly possible, wasn’t that big a deal, and wasn’t a rule anyone could make and promise it was never going to be broken.
I even made a little chart in my journal.
|I am angry
(because, at, or about)
(what is my side of the story or event)
|What Rule Was Broken
(what personal rule did they or I break)
Now that I had a chance to connect my heart to my mind the wave of relief was wonderful, sitting there in that hotel room overlooking the city at 6:00 am. I cried for a moment and then I laughed. I laughed and how irrational my rules were, I could see how my ego was trying to control things that it could never have control over. Fear is a powerful, powerful emotion and it will lie to you if it thinks it is going to prevent you from experiencing pain or save your life. We have to find tools and ways to push back at that fear bs and see the truth. When fear runs your life, you stop living your life and fear lives your life. I fight for you to push back the fear and to fight.
That is what this exercise does for people, it helps to connect the feelings in a way that merges into our future selves and into the now.
Business Owner, International Neurodiversity Coach and Speaker