It’s never “just” grief.
Grief and loss have a way of triggering so much more than grief.
Coping with a loss is bad enough— but very often, especially for trauma survivors, grief and loss trigger a cascade of symptoms and memories that just make everything else more complicated and painful.
If you have an addiction, grief has a way of turning up the heat and making your well-rehearsed coping and safety strategies seem far away.
If you struggle with an eating disorder, your ED will often find a way to twist your experience of grief into a perfectly reasonable-sounding argument for why you’d feel better if you just skipped a meal or three.
If you struggle with depression, grief has a way of making all the work you’ve done in learning to talk to yourself in more realistic, compassionate ways seem stupid and trivial.
If you struggle with complex trauma, grief has a way of throwing open the doors to memories that you may have thought you’d processed— or you may have not even been aware of— to come flooding in.
Our temptation is often to try to compartmentalize grief. To keep it over here, until we feel we have the bandwidth to return to it.
But grief is like trauma in that it has a tendency to quietly seep over and under every psychological barrier we try to put in its path.
The thing about grief is, it doesn’t hit the same way twice.
Sometimes a loss hits us and knocks the wind out of us— leaving us almost dissociated from it’s true impact. I always think of the character of Pete Campbell on “Mad Men,” who, after he was informed his father had been killed in a plane crash, blankly asked Don Draper, “Am I going to cry?”
Some losses feel like they tear right through you. Literally shred you.
Some losses feel like an atomic blast that you see and hear from miles away, unfolding in slow motion, almost unreal.
Very often a loss will trigger some of our least adaptive coping strategies to surface and do their thing.
It’s really, really hard to take care of ourselves when we’re hit by a loss.
The temptation can often be to try to take care of everyone around us. Part of us might think we can keep our grief at arm’s length if we reframe OUR responsibility here.
But we can’t. Not really.
Even if grief is kept at arm’s length— it’ll wait there, patiently, until our arm gets tired.
We need to remember, when we get hit with a loss, that the game hasn’t changed in terms of what we need to do to protect our safety and stability.
The temptation is to throw out all our recovery stuff.
I did that once, when impacted by a loss. I don’t recommend it.
It’s REAL important that we remember the things we’e established we NEED on the daily to stay stable and safer.
I’m always talking about how we don’t get days off from recovery— and that includes days when we’re trying to keep our head above water after a loss.
The basic tools of recovery— internal communication, self-compassion, time and energy management, activation of internal resources, safe space imagery— all become EXTRA important when we’re grieving.
Everybody reading this has had to cope with loss. Everybody reading this has had, and will have, to face the question of how do we stay stable and safer even as we grieve.
The answer to that is the same as the answer to a lot of other “in recovery, how do I…?” questions.
One day at a time.