In this second part of this three-part series, I want to talk about something that I have used with clients to help them feel more balanced in their grief experience. When we experience grief, especially early grief, it can feel like we are drowning in a sea of emotions. Sometimes it feels like we can’t stop crying. It seems like, at every turn, that huge lump in our throat explodes into uncontrolled sobs. It can feel like we no longer have control over our own life. We can feel like we no longer recognize who we are.
On the other side of this experience, is when we know that the tears are there. We feel the emotions building, but we simply do not want to release them. We can feel like if we start crying we’ll never stop. What happens when we do this, however, is the energy builds to the point that it releases at the most inopportune time. It’s kind of like when we shake a bottle of soda enough, and something pops the top off, and it explodes
A Grief Indulgence is a way to “train” our brains to respond to these very unfamiliar emotions. It gives us an opportunity to balance “living and grieving,” or being able to experience life while also experiencing grief.
Close your eyes and imagine your grief as a creature, or animal. This creature has a lot of energy. I imagine mine as a Tasmanian Devil, kind of like the cartoons, but not cute. It has a lot of energy that it needs to get out. Next, imagine that you have a cage on your shoulder. This is where this little creature is contained. We can get really good at putting them in the cage. But letting them out can be a frightening thought. They need the time to release their energy, or they’ll build up energy and it’ll come out in other ways.
The Grief Indulgence requires a few things. Best if they are actual tangible things, and not digital. You’ll want everything to be able to fit in the box. You’ll need:A Decorative BoxA Kitchen Timer (like an old school egg timer)Something To Write WithA Journal or Pad of PaperA few small memory items, things that feel a little hard to see because of the memories associated with them. Tissues
Make a list of distractions, or things you enjoy. This can be playing The Sims (obviously), taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, gardening, knitting, or any other activity that you enjoy and that distracts you.
Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.
Set your timer for 15-20 minutes
Take five slow calm breaths
Sit with one of the memory items
Here is the scary part - let the creature out of the cage. During this time, your creature gets free reign. I promise, if you start crying, you will stop. It’s going to hurt, but should not be overwhelming. If this happens, it’s ok to stop, or only set your timer for 5-10 minutes. Let the emotions run free.
Use the paper and pen to write down what you’re feeling.
If you feel like you need to give your emotions a nudge (they’re there, but feel stuck), start an I Remember List, writing down 1-5 things (often more) you remember about what or who you have lost
Put everything back in the box and tell your “creature” to go back in the cage.
Use your relaxation breathing to calm.
Remind yourself that you just did something really hard and really important.
Pick something from your Activity List to distract yourself away from your grief.
Repeating this two to three times per week at first can help you diffuse some of your grief energy. If that feels overwhelming, start with one or two. This is your experience, your process.
Why this works is, the more we allow emotions to do their work, the more we heal. Lastly, remember to take a grief break. When you get to a point in your grief where you’re tired, it’s ok to rest. It’s ok to take a break and not take that grief box out for a time. It’s ok to keep your “creature” in it’s container. What is important is to be sure you also let it out.
If at any point your grief becomes overwhelming, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life, please be sure to get help right away. In the US, you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. In the UK call 999 or 222. Other hotline numbers can be found here: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html
Grief is the process of learning how to love someone, or something, absent when we are used to them being present. If this is you, and you are hurting, please reach out for support. If you have questions, you can send them to me confidentially here https://forms.gle/iT4Jwu4Kpu8iK64T6
I wish you peace. I wish you comfort as you remember. Be well.