Friday, October 27, 2017

Guest Post: Getting Comfortable with Grief

by StillStanding1

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Grief is uncomfortable. It makes us uncomfortable when we have it. It makes others around us uncomfortable. It’s why friends sometimes turn away in the face of our grief or drip useless platitudes (“everything happens for a reason”) in our ears or suggest that we “should be over it” by now. All you know is that your heart is broken. It hurts. You’ve got butterflies in your stomach or scorching heartburn. You want people to go away. You fear being alone. Sometimes you feel like your head is wrapped in a blanket. Sometimes all you can do is cry.
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss of any kind. If you’ve found yourself here, you’ve experienced a deep and traumatic loss. Unfortunately, grief is a neglected and misunderstood process. “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior," The Grief Recovery Handbook tells us.  What might those conflicting feelings look like for you right now? Well, you may feel relief at the realization that you are not crazy and have not been imagining that something has been wrong all this time, and horrified that you have lost your sense of safety or trust in someone you counted on. The familiarity of your relationship is gone, your partner has been replaced by a stranger and yet, you are in your home with the same things around you. It feels unreal.
Most of what people tell us in the wake of a loss, in an effort to comfort us or help us “recover” can be accurate but leave us feeling empty, shamed and isolated. We feel unheard and our pain goes unacknowledged. Much of what we have been taught about grief doesn’t help us process it.
Some of the myths about grief include this idea of stages and that we must all go through all of them in a certain order. False. The stages of grief were developed around people dealing with a fatal diagnosis with a disease. These same stages, while helpful, do not apply in all situations. You may have denial (this can’t be happening) or you may go straight to this happened, now what?
Another myth is that some losses are impossible to recover from, that you will “never get over it.” Also false. Many of your thoughts and feelings will be painful post-betrayal. However, not forgetting is not the same as not getting over it.
Yet another unhelpful notion associated with grief is the idea of closure. A divorce brings closure but it does not help you become emotionally complete. It doesn’t resolve all the painful events that may have led to the divorce. Having all the gory details of your partner’s affair will not necessarily help you feel better. You need some answers, yes. But none of those answers bring closure. Rather they help you understand where you are and may help point the direction you need to go in order to become emotionally complete with the person who hurt you.
Another word I don’t like? Survivor. It means we are identified by the event or circumstances that harmed us and we are not free to leave those circumstances behind. Survivor is an identity built out of pain. No thanks.
Some of the ways we are taught to deal with grief are not helpful. We are told often in childhood “don’t cry,” “don’t feel bad,” “if you are going to cry, go to your room.” We are taught that we are faulty for feeling bad. We are taught that we must grieve alone. We are taught we need to leave people alone to cry. We are taught to replace the loss (don’t be sad we can get a new puppy, you can still have more kids etc.). Time heals all wounds; nope. As we discussed recently, it’s what you do with the time that matters. Something is not going to magically change unless we DO something about it. We are also told that we must “be strong for others.” What does this even mean? Does it mean not show your grief? It’s confusing because it is undoable. It’s one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that gets passed around but that has no foundation. We are told to keep busy, to distract ourselves from our pain, to make more days go by. But being busy in no way helps us complete our pain. It’s exhausting. We are taught to compare our grief and feel shame about it (well at least I don’t have it as bad as Sally. She’s been divorced 15 times and all her exes cheated on her.) Your grief is legitimate, even if you are sad about the loss of your child’s goldfish. Someone else having it worse does not in any way make or require you to feel better or not sad. And then there are the people all around us who want us to be “fine” and put on our happy face so they don’t have to be uncomfortable any more.
One of the other things we do is try to apply short-term pain relievers and think they will provide long-term relief, such as food, alcohol/drugs, anger, exercise, isolation, sex, workaholism, retail therapy, escape into fantasy (tv, movies books). These things probably sound familiar and are not necessarily dangerous until they are done for the wrong reasons. The danger is because they do provide some short-term relief but are not addressing the root of the loss and are not helping you process your grief.
So, if all these things we’ve been taught about grief keep us stuck, what are we to do? Honestly, I don’t have a clear and easy answer. I’ve been passing through more grief lately myself. As I come to terms with just how short-lived my soon to be ex’s epiphany was and that he’s already doing the alcoholic’s spiral again, I find myself grieving the end of my marriage for a second (or third?) time. It is made even more real because I’m the one choosing this time and I’m letting go of the fantasy that he will ever step up and be a person who deserves me. I’m sad about it because despite everything, I still care about him. I remember him and us and our hopes and dreams, from long ago. I’m grieving the loss of those things. And it saddens me for my children, who may yet have more to rumble with. It’s another kind of loss.
But processing our grief requires that we be honest with ourselves about what has and is happening. That we make space in our days for feeling sad or whatever comes up. That we sit with grief rather than resist it. Invite it in. “Hey grief, I see you. What do you have for me today? What business can we wrap up? What can we let go of?” We need to think about what happened in our past that is causing this to hurt so much now and how do we get complete with that hurt. Do we write a letter that we don’t send? Do we have a conversation with someone? Do we reach out for comfort and support? Do we cry even if people are looking?
We all will recover in different ways but some of my new rules are:
Don’t grieve alone.
Feel my feelings.
Don’t compare grief.
Take responsibility for my healing.
I don’t have to be strong for others (not even my kids). I just need to be real.
Avoid short-term pain relievers.
Speak my grief.

“…our silence about grief serves no one. We can’t heal if we don’t grieve; we can’t forgive if we don’t grieve. We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” ~ Brene Brown


  1. Still Standing1, what a difficult time you face and yet you turn out to us during this time and speak and stand for the truth. There are many strengths and understandings I have received through this experience, there is a real view of life that give me compassion for others, may give me insights for my writing, makes me realise what is precious. As you know I'm still finding out things that make me wonder whether my husband is capable of having the life with me that we could have. I see already how much time has been wasted (by both of us). I wonder am I holding onto a relationship that is never going to work, I see though so many things that could be great between us, including a family life with our children. I see that perhaps a clearer path where I can live my life without looking over my shoulder would be a more authentic and less anxious life. But I grieve already for the time lost, the romantic story that we never really had, even from day1, I grieve the possibility now that we could not hold on and, like you, might be giving the children something to deal with. I grieve today when I try to live as fully as possible but can't completely embrace life when it still hangs uncertain. It is a shame, it didn't have to be this way you think, not when it's something they had control over, but maybe they didn't. For me, it seems nearly arbitary to be thinking of ending my marriage over oversharing with women when (and I believe this, it just didn't occur to him that it was anything more than an extension of sharing with the group.) But whatever the reason, I now can't live with the thoughtlessness, lack of boundaries and deception. I grieve for the high price we might all have to pay for this, but I've already paid a high price. I grieve for the fact that I might have to be the one to put my foot down once and for all. I grieve for the time wasted grieving and dealing with all this.

    1. FoH, I am going through a tough time right now, but I know I'll make it. I've already lived through worse. And I'm grateful that I had the strength to stand up for myself and choose my own path, scary as it is.
      We all have things to grieve and sometimes don't feel like we can safely do so. My hope with this post was for everyone who is struggling with grief to see that they had permission to feel it, to give themselves permission to deal with the pain in the way that feels right for them.
      I don't think it seems arbitrary to be drawing a boundary around the kind of relationships you find acceptable in a spouse. Some are OK and some are not and your H clearly has issues telling the difference. I'm so glad that he is willing to try and learn better.
      I grieved for lost history, feeling like my past and some of my identity built on our shared story was stolen from me. Moslty because I couldn't look at anything that had anything to do with him without hurting. I know that won't always be so, and slowly I am reclaiming the parts of my story that are important and worth keeping. It wasn't all awful (despite his revisionist history) and it doesn't all have to be shit canned. We were both doing the best we could with the limited skills we had. Some of it was good and I am allowed to hold on to that even as I move forward.

  2. I really love everything you said here. I'm not too far into my journey but already I've had a couple people who think that I should be over this. Granted, those people have been unfaithful and been betrayed in dating relationships and do not understand the difference between that and a husband/wife relationship. Betrayal of any type is painful but having been cheated on in a previous dating relationship and now with this in my marriage, I will say the feeling is completely different, and the grief much more extreme. At least that's how it has been for me. I have a couple people in my corner, allowing for me to grieve as needed and helping with what they can along the way. And then there are those that don't understand. But now that I have read this, that I have heard from someone else, it doesn't matter to me how anyone else feels about how I grieve. I have to go through this process, I have to take the time to be devastated over the loss of my marriage, the loss of the promises we made to each other, the loss of the only person I have ever chosen to trust with the safety and security of my heart and soul. I am one of those who has been trying to keep busy, trying anything and everything to keep this out of my mind. Not that it has worked, but I've been trying to get through every day without sitting in my grief, hoping that with time it will just go away. But you have given me a wake up call here, thank you, because this won't ever get better or easier to live with unless I feel it. Unless I sit in it and let it hurt, let it be the whole of what I am in that moment, and figure out what it will take for me to start healing, for the heaviness of all of this to be just a little lighter. I've had someone tell me I need to go through the stages of grief, just as you said. I had one counselor tell me that I need to work on forgiving. And I know I need to do that. But I'm only 38 days in here. And I'm not ready to forgive yet. I'm not ready to let this go and have things go back to the way they were. It was fine how we were, maybe even good, but now it's not enough. Now I need more, from my h, from my marriage, I need more. And the first step in that for me, that's everything you said right here. Not trying to be strong for everyone else. Not letting where other people think I should be affect how I think about where I actually am at this point. Not sitting in my bathroom crying until I can hold it in long enough to return to my family, I can cry no matter who is there. Not letting someone else's story or what they did make me feel like I'm walking my walk wrong. And most certainly, I must live through this grief. Not shut it down, not try to turn it off, not ignore it until it goes away. I have to live with it, and figure out by myself what the answer to that is, what things I need to do to heal. I get to decide for myself if my h is worth the second chance, if I see in him that we are truly what he wants. And it's not on anyone else's timeline. Not my h, not my brother, not my closest friend. It's up to me. And if they don't like that, if they don't want to listen, or they can't agree to just support me in what I'm doing and what I need, well that's why I have all of you. Thank you so much for being here. I'm on here all day every day, I visit this site at least 5, if not 10 times a day. You women are playing a huge part in my ability to survive through all of this, my ability to accept myself and that I'm not crazy. I hope at some point, when I share my story or when I have something I think might be helpful to share, I hope that I can share something that will offer comfort to someone on here, just as all of you offer such comfort and hope to me.

    1. All Love, thank you for sharing a bit of your story with us. By doing that are already helpful to others. Be proud of how quickly you figured out that it's all about your own healing... appreciate those who support you in that and handling those who do not appropriately.

    2. All Love, you have got it. I found my self saying "yaaas girl!" when I was reading your post. And I think you've hit on another magical tool for healing our own pain. It's reaching out a hand to help someone who is standing where you were just a little while ago. Helping others often heals our own pain. Last Friday I was really hurting over some new disclosures from my ex. It still hurts, even though it becomes less and less my business. But I was also lined up to serve lunch and a soup kitchen for homeless veterans. Do you know, the appreciation those men and women had for the pies I brought and the tiny salads with one slice of tomato and two pieces of cucumber and the gift of being able to serve them for just that short time, completely cleared my heart. I think because in those moments when we reach out to others and help, we become part of something larger than our individual selves. We are connected through something bigger. It matters. And it is enormously healing. So is writing and sharing here.

    3. Oh All Love,
      You are so wise to understand already that grief is a process. Please continue to be gentle with yourself thru it. Healing is not linear -- so don't beat yourself up when you feel like you've have a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of day (week, month). It happens.

      And please do not take to heart the comment from a counselor that you "need to work on forgiving." 1. You do not "need" to do anything right now except love yourself. 2. "Forgiveness" means different things to different people. I'm 2.5 years past DDay. I haven't "forgiven" my H and its not on my to-do list. In fact, I'm still not sure I understand what that word really means. My H and I talked about this recently -- I told him that I suppose I have generally forgiven him for being a flawed human, but that I haven't specifically forgiven him for betraying me, and I don't think I ever will. I can only see it becoming less important as we create a new marriage together.

      Hang in there lady -- Hugs!

  3. Have a good Saturday BWs, remember you’re paging through a chapter today, the rest of your story can written starting today. Smile, look to the sun (even if it hidden) and make some progress today!

    1. Hugs back at you Anon 123! My Saturday included a nice motorcycle ride looking at the falls leaves and rolling hills. Good stuff!

  4. All these points on grief are so true and so helpful. A year and a half out, I recently had a very satisfying conversation with my H that felt as close to closure as I've felt so far. My H has a friend that seems to be cutting him out of things and it hurts his feelings. The issue is unrelated to affairs, and this friend has been a good friend. My H wanted to talk through how he feels and what to do about it. He knew he needed to find a way to talk to his male friend about this, but it's harder for guys to talk to other guys, so he was running through scenarios on how this other guy would react. He could respond with an issue my H could correct or address, he could respond with a deal breaker for their friendship.... I listened and pointed out there was one more possibility he would need to consider. His friend could avoid the whole thing and respond that my H was out of his mind or being silly. Worse, he could become angry and say, "I can't believe you would accuse me of being a bad friend!" I said that is called gaslighting. Making you think youre being crazy to avoid conflict. He didn't know the term. He said that would be the worst. Nothing is solved in limbo. He would have to leave the friendship without ever knowing why, or hang around for more of the same treatment without knowing why. He looked at me and understood. Grabbed my hand in the car. It was satisfying to see that look of understandig on his face!!

    1. We lost a friendship with a couple that we had been close with for years. This male friend of my husband had an affair with a very young girl and showed pictures to the guys of what he was f88*king. When my husband did this he didn't want to be around my husband, said he couldn't look at him. After a while we were able to hang out a little bit but it was never the same. It had been nine years for them when this happened with us and I don't think his wife, my friend ever got past this. They are still married as we are but we don't live in the same state anymore and don't really communicate with each other. I really miss them.

    2. Wow ann, it sounds like that situation with your H's friend really gave him a glimpse at what his betrayal feels like to you... and that's a friendship, not a marriage. I keep telling my H in MC what I need from him is empathy. He acknowledges that he needs to do that and is willing/trying, but I don't think my H has yet progressed from "I'm so sorry I hurt you" to "I can only imagine how you must feel". I'm very happy for you on your H's progress!

    3. We have had a few moments like that where it has hit my husband how it must have felt being me or what his actions did to me. It is eye opening to sit there and watch the light bulb go off in his brain. It is sinking in with him and that is the best part. As he says almost every time "this is not lost on me" so I know it is sinking in.

    4. That's amazing Ann. I'm so glad your husband gets it. Glad for you both.

  5. SS1, this post helped me so much. I love the common sense way you write. With all you have been through, I appreciate your thoughts and perspective. It really helps me. Thank you

    1. Lyn P, Thank you. I'm glad the post helps. Writing these things out helps me remember the hard lessons I've learned and keep them emblazoned upon my mind and heart. Because life continues to come at us, and sometimes it seems like the least little hit can send me backwards or at least back to a place where I forget who I am or that it is OK to be sad, that new and old grief can overlap. I especially forget that I don't have to "be strong for others" and occasionally need to kick my own ass and give myself permission to not be strong. And by that I mean put on the brave face when what I really need to do is wear my sad face because that is honest.
      I'm so grateful to hear this post helps. Just the boost I needed today.

  6. Great post. I am really finding it hard to stop and allow my grief and sorrow to ebb and flow. I would like someone to comfort me when I'm upset, but when a friend is with me, I hold myself together and never cry more than a minute or so. I am so used to not being a 'burden' for others.

    In the summer, I went to a bio-energy healing therapist who helped me do an emotional body scan. We found the grief, in my heart. She gently suggested that I release it. But for me, for noe, it feels like it's got tendrils reaching into me. If I pull it out, I'll turn myself inside out. I need to let it dissolve... but I am so impatient and yet fearful.

    This weekend I'll be going away with a friend to get a change of scene. Maybe the grief's hold on me will loosen a bit more.

    I do feel that it is a painfully slow process, but believe that I will eventually be able to rise to a place of calmer perspective.

    Thank you for this post and helping me reflect on this.

    1. Selkie, I remember the roller coaster feelings. I still some days where it hits me. For me I would push myself working out. But when I let down the most was when I mowed the lawn. Crazy isn't it. Maybe it was the loud noise of the mower and my headphones in. I would just sob. And I could not stop. It was so helpful for me and cathartic. I have not told anyone else so it is in those moments alone that I let it all out. My therapist was great too. My husband has had to listen of course. What I find interesting he has told me he would rather I yell and show anger than cry. I told him too bad whatever I am feeling is what he gets. It is my reaction to his actions not to be mean or get back at him. It is all 100% genuine. He gets it but this is a long and hard process!

    2. Selkie, yes that whole "burden" thing, as if our feelings are "too much" for someone. For people with healthy boundaries your feelings will not be a burden. They will be able to be there for you and make space for you without taking responsibility for it. There's the rub; so many of us humans really stink when it comes to boundaries.
      And that tendrils thing!? omigosh, me too. When I was working so hard on detaching from my h, i used to get this visualization that I was pulling this slimy white rope out of my belly, like a magicians act where they pull the endless knotted scarves out of their sleeve. But in my case it was gross, almost like an umbilical cord and I think highly subconsciously symbolic of how unhealthy our relationship had become. I actually felt better when I had managed to visualize pulling a lot of that "cord" out of my belly. Its some powerful psychology. I know, because I am still vulnerable to hurt from this person that some of the cord remains, but it is smaller and thinner and there's a lot less of it. It is painfully slow and frankly, early days for me just yet. I can't believe im not even two years from dday yet and only just a year from beginning the divorce process. It actually gives me hope because I've come so far in this short time that in a few years my universe will be a completely different place.

    3. Thank you, Still Standing 1 and Hopeful 30. I've been using the commute to and from work to cry sometimes... but only for 15mins max because at the end I need to look calm (either starting work day (I'm a teacher, so lots of eyes on me all day!) or collecting my daughter in the evening).

      Yes, I need to find strong people with good boundaries to let me share this confusion. And I also also need to allow myself to trust them. That's not easy either.

      These days, it's just survival. But soon, I hope to have more time and space for healing.



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