Monday, January 9, 2017

Good Grief: How Our Healing Holds Grace

"...grief is not a problem to be solved, not a condition to be medicated, but a deep encounter with an essential experience of being human." Francis Weller, from The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief

Not a problem to be solved. Not a condition to be medicated. 
Yes but how many of us understood that before now? How many of us struggle with that still? 
To start, let's be clear. It is not that our methods of managing grief are necessarily wrong. If your grief is incapacitating, then please, see a doctor and determine if medication can help you. If your grief is swallowing you whole, then please know that there are strategies for coping.
What Weller, a psychotherapist and grief counsellor goes on to say is that it's our culture that convinces us that grief is unnatural. Grief becomes problematic, he argues, when the conditions necessary to help us manage it are absent. 
How many of you come to this site for the community it offers? How many of you soak in the compassion that's here, the recognition from others that your grief is real and valid but that you have the strength to feel it and heal? Most of you, I imagine. And yet, those communities in which we can share our grief are rare. Despite what we know about the healing power of community, our culture pressures us to "get over it". We're not a society that's comfortable with others' grief or our own. We vilify emotional pain and are masters at avoiding it. We dismiss it as weakness. And so we mask it with anger. We numb it with booze or shopping. Some, like our husbands, distract themselves from emotional pain with infidelity.
And look where that got us.
Grief. 
It is a part of our human experience. No more. No less. It is a season in our lives, sometimes lingering, sometimes surprising us with how quickly it passes. And sometimes, too, surprising us with the gifts it brings, with the lessons it imparts, with the grace it ushers in.
But it needs to be respected. We can't rush it. We have to resist the pressure to "get over it" on another's timeline and instead honor our soul's work, as Weller puts it. Sure it's great to triumph over adversity. We all love a story in which the heroine rises and conquers. But that's never the whole story and we can't gloss over the part where the heroine pulls the covers over her head and sobs great gulping sobs. We can't ignore that, though we can't see the healing on those days, it's taking place beneath those covers, just as a deep cut heals incrementally, invisible to our critical hurry-up eye. 
There is no moral failure in grief. Rather there is danger in rushing a crucial part of the human experience of loss. The danger is an unhealed heart. The danger is moving forward when we're not ready, in appearing stronger than we actually are, in trying to stand alone on still wobbly legs. 
Rather we should take Weller's advice and rest on that healing ground until we are certain. We need not apologize for the time it takes to heal from our grief, to disentangle the emotions within. (And we need not apologize for the pharmacological help we seek when grief turns toxic for us.)
Rather we should accept this season of grief, no matter how long it lasts, and prepare to recognize the grace that always always appears at the threshold of healing.

33 comments:

  1. Yesterday I attended a funeral for the first time since Dday. I was amazed at how present I was able to be. In the past, I would always find a way to distract myself at funerals. Doodling, letting my mind wander, basically fidgeting, uncomfortable, waiting for it to end. This time, and perhaps it has to do with what I've been through, I felt still, present, and real empathy for the family in the moment. I felt OK sitting there with those negative emotions. I made eye contact with the close family whose suffering was greater, and didn't turn away from their gaze like I might have in the past. Interesting and so true that grief is part of life, but it's apparently a muscle that we can work on. Our emotional weight lifting can make me us better human and support to other people if we let it.

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    1. Wow Ann, that's incredible. I think when we make way for the painful emotions in our lives, we also open up space for the joy. We feel EVERYTHING more acutely which is sometimes exhausting but makes life so much richer. To be able to really show up for others in their pain is one of the gifts (ack! can't believe I said that!) of betrayal. Or of betrayal healed.

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  2. I found when I tired to rush or push through the grief that it made it worse. Or the next low was even lower. What I have learned to do is to listen and be in tune with my thoughts and feelings. And even more so I speak up and talk about them with my husband. It is most helpful when I tell him to prevent me slipping.

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    1. I had to learn that too, Hopeful 30. What we resist persists, as the poster says.

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  3. I'm having Alice in Wonderland moments all the time. Not sure who I am or where I am going. Am I rushing things? Rushing my healing, assuming I was ready? Standing on wobbly legs. I think I am. Some days I feel so killer strong and others like I can't take another second. Sometimes I think I am ready, but often times I am unsure. Things keep shaking me that I thought or hoped or wished I was over. I'm glad at least that I am not around him and constant triggers. I just need to stop triggering myself. This online dating thing, maybe too soon. Maybe I'm too picky? But I don't think right now is a time to lower my standards. But its really hard to right now for me to process when people respond and then just don't. I know they don't owe me anything, its just online dating, but then I'm wrestling with the stories I am telling myself. But then, maybe this is why I am doing this? But I decided not to train for the half marathon. Too much pressure in my week. So at least I am trying to be aware of my stress level and manage what I can. All prayers and hugs welcome. Putting myself thru hell right now and I'm not sure why.

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    1. SS,
      It's NEVER the right time to lower your standards. If you want to date, then treat it like going to a restaurant. Sometimes it will be a place you'll want to return, other times it won't. Either way, no biggie. I guess my concern with you dating is that your ego might be a bit...tender. Which might make you feel more vulnerable than you really are. Just stay focused on who you are and your own worth, no matter what ANYONE thinks.
      As for the wobbly legs, I think every single one of us, even those who've never experienced betrayal, has days of wobbly legs. That's okay. That's when we return home, kick off the high heels and practice some radical self-care.

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    2. Thank you Elle. Exactly right. I am tender and fragile, so trying to proceed cautiously. Trying to be aware of the thrill seekers vs. people whom I might just want to get to know. Not lowering my standards, good call. But maybe this is why I am hitting myself with this particular 2 x 4. I do want to be dating, but each message or response I give I get a little bit more resilient. As in, I need to recognize that folks are talking to multiple people and I should do the same. That when someone stops talking to me it is not a rejection of me or my value (this to my internal self) but that it didn't click, just like when I don't respond etc. And some people will not even start talking to someone who is separated vs. divorced for a lot of obvious reasons. So I am slowly talking my way though this. And I have given myself permission to take time off from it whenever I wish for as long as I wish. Especially if, like the running, I was making myself crazy and taking the fun out of it. Ego is very tender. And my sis and I both recognize, growing up in the house we did, that we just want people to like us.

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  4. Thank you for your post and this healing site! It took so long for me to 'unwrap my pain from the secret mantle of shame' and stop it seeping deeper into my soul. Following my journal since DDay in 2014 - I see the progression - from terrible anger, fantasising the million and one ways I could destroy the OW and my husband... to reading a lot about acceptance and forgiveness (not there yet, and then to looking deeper at what this experience of loss, so central to a whole, real life, has to offer. I love the idea of 'grace at the threshold of healing'... Thank you for the beautiful words to get me through today on a positive, healing note.
    Hugs and best wish to all in this community of support and love. X

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    1. Marti, It's really important to notice that you're further along than you might realize. It can be easy to feel stuck and yet, inevitably -- even when we've slipped backwards -- we actually are healing in ways big and small.

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    1. Unknown, I was a full five years before I really felt this was in my rear-view mirror and not lurking in my blind spot. Keep on practicing your self-compassion. Focus on how far you've come.

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    2. I want to re write this .. 4 years the grief is still there but not as gut wrenching.light does get bigger and you do gain hope.

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  6. Not quite 4yrs. and I think sometimes I forget how far I've come. We tend to be too hard on ourselves and then you have other people saying get over it and don't talk about it.

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    1. So true. But we don't heal on others' timetables. And unless others have been through this, they can't imagine the darkness we have to go through to find the sunlight.

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    2. Elle
      That part of we don't heal on someone else's timeline. That was what I was able to teach my h by asking him to read posts on this blog. I think it helped him realize just how long healing would take...still taking for I've realized as well that it's a long journey indeed!

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    3. I agree with that no timeline. There are so many factors that come into play during recovery. And honestly I feel like it will always be a part of us and me and him in some way. There are times we bring it up and not in a bad way. More of how we are both aware. And we have even joked about what if people knew. A friend told my husband he was perfect and our lives were perfect and we would never understand what him and his wife are going through. We talked about it really openly which did feel good.

      Part of my hesitation to share with others came from this idea of them growing tired and feeling like I should be over this. I know I would have been empathetic to a friend going through this but not sure I would have been that much help down the line. Of course having gone through it I would have much more to give and be there for someone.

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  7. Elle, Yes!! Thank you for this post! Lately, I have been talking to a few more people about what has happened in my marriage and that I don't think we will reconcile and they all say " you're so clear and grounded, your so strong" " why aren't you filing for a D????" And then I struggle to explain that being clear and ground is easy for me and feeling is hard.... and I want to move through this process with my mind, heart, and body and I know all 3 are not connected yet. I want to learn everything I can from this grief, I don't want to miss the moment when grace arrives....

    Yes, I'm tired, exhausted really and so so badly would I like to be "strong" and just close the book on my marriage. But, I know that's not the right thing for me I have a whole lot more feeling (grieving) to do and that is actually really really hard for me. To be present and feel is so hard, particularly now that I am not so consumed by the pain. In earlier stages, I had no choice but to feel because the pain so enormous. Now, I have a choice, continue feeling learning growing or shut down, move on, numb of the healthy sort (Do a triathlon volunteer all the time etc...). Healthy or not.... it's still numbing.

    This is still my season of grief. Love and support sisters
    Becky

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  8. THIS.
    This deserves a Pulitzer.
    Thank you Elle, again for your eloquence.

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  9. I so needed this. I head home from Phoenix tomorrow and my 37th wedding anniversary is Friday. That causes me such pain. Last night I dreamed that I died on Friday however I have a terrible cold and took a cold med last night so I chalk that dream up to the drugs. Although things between my husband and I are going well and we talk and laugh, there is still that part of me that grieves the joy, sense of security and happiness and anticipation I felt on my wedding day. I try to "get" why he did the things he did based on his life experiences and choices but that does not make my healing any easier. We can never erase the past despite our best efforts. Living for today is good and anticipating good things tomorrow is helpful. Right now, I just need to try to keep my emotions intact as we head toward Friday. I don't know if I can ever look at that day with love in my heart again but I don't need to know that right now. I just need to get through it. My husband believes we still have that strong foundation but that he let in termites and took several alternative paths to me over the years. Somehow that doesn't make my journey any easier and I know he feels remorse, guilt and sadness about his choices and how deeply they affect me. This blog, Elle's wisdom and the insight and support of all of you keep me moving forward in my grief and pain, even after 19 months of living in this awful reality. Peace to all.

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    1. Beach Girl, I hear you and have all the same feelings as always. I struggle with all the same things. I makes me so sad and I have gifts we received on our wedding day. Poems framed and written just for us, needlepoint... and some days I want to take a hammer to them and throw them away. They really mean nothing to me. Our marriage certificate I keep looking at it and just question that. It makes me so sad that he did not commit like I did and lost his way (and in the end really mostly disappointed himself). Some days I leave my rings off after working out still. And I am not sure I would ever wear them if it was not for our kids. They would notice for sure and ask. They are inquisitive. I did tell my husband at one point I wanted to sell my rings, melt them down and I would just put them money in a bank account. I don't even really care about replacements since they meant nothing before to him. (he lost his ring two times. I knew about one time but the other he went and replaced on his own) Well when I brought up about getting rid of my rings he started crying and was crushed. So we have not discussed that in a while. I don't know if I will ever stop feeling that way. I dread our anniversary most out of the entire year. I feel like dday is almost easier since for me it represents when we started fresh. I can look forward from that point.

      We were married very young especially among our age group. I never pushed for it he was the one who pushed me. And he did tell me on dday 2 the reason why he started having affairs is that he did not get to play the field. He now says he was just trying to come up with excuses and didn't mean that. But I feel like on some level maybe he did. His affairs were not mid life crisis stuff. We were younger than that and he was achieving and super successful at work already even at a young age. It is all still so hard.

      And for us too he is doing everything right. We have really built a great relationship. I too focus on today and the great future we have looking forward. My husband expresses regret and shame and promises not to waste this second chance. He is so happy living his transparent life and being completely honest with me.

      Thinking of you this Friday! This Friday is a Friday the 13th just like dday 1 was 22 months ago. Ugh that hangs over me too.

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  10. I'm so glad I found this site. Reading your stories comforts and encourages me. This is my first post on any site like this. We've been married 41 years. It’s only been four months since I found out about my husband’s six-month long affair, and just one month since the last big trickle truth. The talk about wedding rings inspired me to comment. I took mine off the day I found out and then put it back on about a month ago when I felt a momentary compassion for him as he ranted on and on about what a stupid fool he had been. He is remorseful and trying to do everything right; no contact, transparency, counseling and answering all my questions. I had to remove my ring the other day for a medical procedure and still have not put it back on. He noticed. It just means nothing to me now and serves more as a reminder of his betrayal of everything it stood for. He still wears his of course. He told me, almost proudly, that he kept his ring on when he was with her to indicate that he was committed to his wife and the affair was only about sex. He didn’t want to deceive her into thinking he was available for a real relationship. I answered, “You didn’t think twice about deceiving me. The ring is supposed to mean you are not available for sex.” He asked “Would you prefer that I had removed it?” I said, “I would have preferred that you not fuck another woman.” Now every time I look at it I can only think about where it’s been. On his finger while he stuck it up another woman’s vagina. He admits that did happen.

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    1. DD
      I'm glad you found us but sad that you had the need of this site. Rings are a tender point in our marriage as well. My h is an electrical engineer and for most of our marriage, his ring stayed in a tray on the dresser. His cow once told him when he first tried to end the affair that she wouldn't have looked at him twice if he had a ring on. I said bs! That's the first thing we did the Christmas post dday was put a new ring on his finger. She continued contact and screamed to put his wedding ring on if he wanted to be married. This was sent as a text message all caps. Wel Unknown to her, he had already been wearing it for three months when she had to spend the night in jail for her almost two years of harrassment first my h and then the both of us. We recommitted to our marriage that Christmas and even though we've had some ups downs and backlash since then, we are growing stronger together. You have just begun to travel the road to your new marriage if that's what feels right for you. Take it slow. I'm just coming to grips with how this affair affected my h. He just kept kicking the can down the road as he tried to keep her from exposing the affair. He was so relieved when it finally was however, that's when he had to begin dealing with my PTSD. God it's been hell. I so feel your pain! Maybe for you, it's time for an upgrade in rings. My h and I almost went for tattoos for our ring fingers but I'm a wuss and settled for him a new gold band. That first summer, it fell off his finger while washing the truck and he was devastated. He searched the area for over an hour and I could see his relief when he found it. This whole experience changes both partners and it's up to the both of you how you work your way through! Hang on tight, it gets better! Hugs for your pain!

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    2. Teresa, Thanks for your note of support. Today is a rough day…nothing new, just those darn triggers when he said something to me while we were having sex that I know he also said to her. I shouldn’t have to have those images when we’re together, but I have most of their emails so I know a lot. I guess there are only so many things you can say, or maybe he just has a limited repertoire. It’s so hard when you can only go to the person who hurt you so deeply for comfort, but we’re trying to stay together so we have not told anyone else. MC says we’re doing great, at least better than most. We had already upgraded our rings a few years ago. We designed them ourselves and they had so much meaning. Now it’s just jewelry. I’m more comfortable without it. Coming up on month 5 since Dday next Friday and one more month until the anniversary of the day they met and first fucked 2 hours later. She wasn’t the first…after I confronted him, in a “tell me all” he admitted there was also a prostitute while he was in a foreign country four years ago.

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  11. I got really angry on New Years Eve. Like raging, talking to myself out loud in the car angry. I'm an empathetic, kind person that really never had any major life mishaps and now has been flipped on her side. I don't put up with any shit from anyone - that's not how I used to be. I seem to do this more on days that a trigger happens. The trigger on New Year's Eve? Reflection on the good, bad and ugly and I got stuck on all the latter. And then something odd happened. I decided to go go grocery shopping and there in the snowy parking lot was an older gentleman that looked to have fallen and bags were everywhere. It was windy and about 10 degrees so I asked if he needed help? He said yes. I opened my car door and we gathered all the bags and I asked him where I could drive him. This could have been very unsafe, as it wasn't the best part of town. I clutched my purse and started to drive and the kind man just started to talk about why he was in town (having back surgery) and then spoke of his careers and family. He asked me about my life as well. My mood changed that instant. I helped him to his extended stay hotel and he asked if he could pay me. I told him that sometimes when you help others, it actually helps you too. He gave me a hug, wished me a happy new year and that was that.

    I'm 21 months out from D day and have been married 19 years. I have ups and downs, but mostly since 12 months out after D day I was doing really good! Regained the weight I shed so fast, regained the sleep after months of lying awake ( I slept an average of 3-4 hours), regained my normalsy of bowels (yes, I'm going to say it in case anyone else experienced it) I shit, I mean shit... for a full year due to being a bundle of nerves. My Dr. (who also knows my H) questioned me for about 15 min why I had gotten so thin so fast and many others. I blamed it all on work stress and told everyone it would get better. It's so nice to regain health and that in turn helped my self esteem. I saw a couple therapists but neither clicked. I've been doing good sorting it through with my H and basically teaching him how to treat me. Re-teaching really, cause it once was there. This pain brought me to my knees and as many here expressed, the loneliness of it all is pure hell. Keeping it together in front of friends, coworkers, family and my kiddos was not easy. I spent hours in my closet rearranging hangers and stacks of clothes and sitting in silence (and it's not that big). Many days I'm sure my kids wondered what work I had left to do in there. It was my safe zone, my meditation zone to decompress and sort my head. To this day when I walk in there I can see the timeline of pain on the wall. I left it in those walls.

    It heals me to read what all of you write and I'm sure my writing is helping another now. I cry through many of your posts, as the stories are so similar. We all experience setbacks in this journey and it's a journey we truly DID NOT purchase a ticket to ride. I'm thankful for the women here and for you Elle, as I have no clue what I would do without you. I can't share much with anyone in my circle as they don't get it. I've always been empathetic to others but even more so now with those going through a divorce impacted by this! Whether you choose to stay or leave, this is the ugly gift that keeps on giving. I think that is the hardest thing my H misunderstands. This life shattering event has changed me forever.

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    1. Heartfelt
      'The ugly gift that keeps giving'...My h to learn how life shattering his choice was as well and I too am changed forever but I believe the change in me is for the better! Thank you for sharing your journey. Hugs!

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    2. Wow Heartfelt, that's an incredible story. I'm so glad you've emerged from this nightmare. And yes, your words will help others. I love your story of that old man. What an angel in the snow you were for him and, it seems, he was for you. That's what we're really here for, isn't it? To help each other along.

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    3. Heartfelt, I hear you loud and clear. For me, I am doing my hardest to focus on how I want to live my life regardless of how my husband decides to live his. So far, he appears to be 100% devoted to positive changes and his behavior is consistent with his words and actions every day. We talk about everything now which is a great change and it is this blog and all of Elle's words that keep me on the right path. Even when I feel like I'm walking through thorns I can see the light and that is such a good feeling. Like you, I am changed forever.

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    4. Thanks Beach Girl - totally agree with "I am doing my hardest to focus on how I want to live my life regardless of how my husband decides to live his."

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  12. Heartfelt, this is life changing. Some days I'm resilient and other days feel like I just drank a glass of sour milk. I'm trying to make the highs not so high and lows not so low. Life changing is like an asteroid hitting the earth and essentially betrayal is like that. This wiped my slate clean and now I have the chalk to re-write me on this new slate. I try not to dwell on the past because I'm no longer walking that way. Hugs to you.

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    1. Thanks Lynn Less Pian

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  13. Thanks Theresa and Elle. Yes, he was an angel :) Life can be uplifting in dark moments. And yes, we are all here to help. You two are so wonderful to respond and be a lifeline. Thanks very much for all you do. Appreciated beyond words.

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  14. I have been ruminating a lot on the word "grace" . It has so many meanings. You are wise, Elle to use it here.

    We have given and continue to give "grace". We share "grace" with each other as BW. We show "grace" by who we are. I can't believe any man would willingly do what has been done to any of us. They had/have something they never deserved. We have extended "grace" to out CH (and often the OW) and others who knew of our betrayal. We will receive the "grace" we have given - in this life or the next.

    I am lucky to have been graced to have met you all on the most difficult journey of my life. Without all of you I may not have survived the past 11 weeks...

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