Owning My Grief

Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is remaking of life.
— Anne Roiphe

Ew, feelings, gross...

Feelings and emotions have not been my strong suit historically, and I have gotten very skilled at shoving them down (if it were an Olympic sport, I’d be Michael Phelps). That default didn’t really work out for me this time around. I was experiencing immense sadness despite doing exactly what I wanted - a tightness in my chest, stomach flips, racing heart and overwhelming thoughts alongside complete exhaustion and emptiness. That feeling I couldn’t shake or put a name to at the time was grief.

Grief is difficult to define because everyone’s experience is different. This definition from the Grief Recovery Institute resonates most with my current experience, “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” You might be wondering what grief has to do with self-romance...don’t worry friends, I will bring that point home, I promise.

I chose my loss, but that doesn't make it less of a loss.

Ending my 2+ year relationship, moving out of the home we created together, and going from two dogs to one have all been significant changes to my familiar pattern of behavior. Yes, this was all 100% my own choice, and ultimately, I know it was the right move. AND it is simultaneously a huge loss - talk about conflicting feelings. I was driving myself crazy thinking that if it was the right move I shouldn’t be sad about it. Well, that’s total bullshit - it can be and is both.

Thanks to movies and TV dramas most of you are probably familiar with the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They are often presented as a linear sequence...first this, then that until you magically reach acceptance. That has definitely NOT been my experience. It’s more like when a kid hands you their drawing and you pretend you know exactly what it is, but you really only see a bunch of lines and squiggles all happening at the same time with no rhyme or reason. Gee, isn’t that beautiful? This has been my experience with grief.

So WTF was I supposed to do what that?

I am programmed to ‘fix’ things that are ‘wrong’, so I immediately went into fixer mode. I tried to talk sense into myself by repeatedly saying it was stupid to be sad about a choice I willfully made. I distracted myself with busy projects and mindless TV. I slept as much as humanly possible. I numbed myself with booze and junk food (mainly wine and Oreos, but not at the same time). Each “fix” only brought temporary relief, but in the stillness my grief was there...as big and scary as ever.

Here’s where the self-romance comes in. When you meet someone you’re into, you don’t immediately jump all over that person and try to figure out everything all at once that makes them tick. You take time to get to know them. You text them, ask questions and share answers. It’s a conversation. Why would you treat yourself any differently?

Each day I am taking time to check in, ask myself a few questions, and gently dig a little bit deeper to gain insights into this emotion through conversation. I am forming new routines and patterns of behaviors that will replace those I lost, and I am no longer trying to fix myself because there isn’t anything to fix. Grief is a very normal human reaction to any variety of loss. The experience has reminded me of something my yoga teacher, Baron Baptiste, said in my Level One training. It was along the line of emotions are like fingernails - as in we have fingernails, but you wouldn’t say that you are fingernails, right? I have grief right now, but I am not grief and it will pass. In the meantime, I am giving myself permission to feel it.

Feeling does not mean suffering.

Feeling the grief doesn’t mean I am suffering through it. Recognizing when it starts to affect me physically has been key to keeping it from taking over and running wild. Since I’ve become a yoga teacher, whenever someone has a problem my response is usually “I bet there’s a yoga pose for that.” Shit yogis say, right? And yes, of course there are yoga poses that can provide relief for the physical symptoms of grief.

This short sequence of restorative poses allows me to relax and focus on my breath. I typically hold each one for 10-20 deep, slow, controlled breaths.

  • Child’s pose

  • Spinal twist

  • Supported bridge

  • Legs up the wall

  • Savasana (10 minutes)

I have a hunch my work around allowing myself to really feel my feelings and be okay with that is just getting started, and there is likely much more to come on this topic. So for now, cheers to the first step in becoming less emotionally-phobic!