Grieving for yourself...
I recently found myself facing grief head first. A grief that I had never allowed myself to feel because to me this emotion was purely for those people who had lost a loved one through their passing away.
But grief is found in so many places - places we don’t necessarily expect it to show up. I want to explore the grief we have for parts of ourselves in this article…
In my last blog I talked about cracking open and I believe that because of this willingness to feel - this expansive feeling and capacity to love - I have experienced this grief in a way that before I was not capable of.
I don’t tell you this to scare you - I want to talk about this feeling because it is often unspoken, and thought to be something that needs to be hidden away. I think, if we can be in the discomfort that grief brings, we can learn so much from it and there is no way that we will show up as the same person once it has passed.
I am not by any means detracting from the pain that grieving brings, or the situations it arises from, and I am not saying that grief is something that should be taken lightly, but what I am saying is that grief is a very human experience and is allowed to be felt in all it’s messiness.
Let’s talk about death
A word we don’t like to discuss very often, but in fact actually a very important part of life. I recently listened to this podcast on conscious death and it really did make me shift my perspective on what death truly means.
However, the death I want to talk about is not necessarily the end of life as we know it, not the time when we take our last breath. I am talking about the constant state of death and rebirth that occurs many times over in our life.
We are evolving beings and things are forever shifting. I have talked about this change over and over again because it is something we often fight against - despite deep down our soul really wishing for growth. Endings occur in our life and there is a need to process this.
How often have you heard the words, ‘live every day as though it is your last’?
Something I didn’t really understand fully until now. Because every day is our last - the last day we will be the person we are. Tomorrow is a new day, and if we are lucky enough to wake up to live in it - we are a totally different person than the day previous to that. So every day really is our last.
Would you live today differently if you embodied this statement?
With this evolution comes parts of us that are no longer there. Parts of us that have died and left us - and yet how often do we allow ourselves to actually grieve these elements? Even when a transition is an exciting one that propels us forward - there is an ending in these beginnings and we often underestimate just how much we can miss them.
As we age we are constantly moving in to different phases. Our mothers give birth to us - and while that is of course an incredibly powerful shift of new life - it is also an ending of the old life. The life that a person once had, the life of being responsible only for themselves transforming into looking after another life - a life that relies on you solely.
As a child there are constant new beginnings. If and when siblings arrive, moving from being at home to going to school, new friendships forming and old ones falling away, moving up classes, letting go of youth, moving into puberty, and for girls particularly their menarche (first menstrual cycle) is a huge transition. A death of their maidenhood and a step into womanhood.
Moving from school years - when you are looked after and supported - to university or working life. Moving house, shifting relationships, changing careers. All of these processes can bring up so many emotions - and even when we know we are heading towards something amazing - parts of us want to cling on to the safe, old version that we knew and loved.
I never grieved any of these stages of life. It was not something that I even considered - I just forced a smile upon my face and pushed down the fears and anxieties, the feelings of sadness that things will never be the same again.
Because things never will be the same again.
Each and every change throughout our life, a piece of us has to die - and that process requires a level of healing.
When memories are so happy, when experiences are so powerful and impactful - it is totally understandable that we would want to cling on to those. Because they bring joy, and love, and happiness - of course we want to re-live those wonderful moments, and when the realisation hits that it won’t be like that again - there is a sorrow, a grief, a heaviness. This can be excruciating to accept.
When we don’t allow grief to show up I think it manifests in other ways. It builds up and up, and can become very overwhelming.
It might show up as anxiety, or depression, a feeling like there is something wrong with us, a physical condition, a blockage in our energy. Everyone will process grief differently - or not process it in many cases - and this is where problems may arise.
The lump in your throat, the heaviness in your chest, the churning in your stomach, the anxiety, the panic, the depression… we are often told that our minds and our bodies are so seperate, however the body is your guiding star and the sensations you feel within it are telling.
I have never allowed myself to grieve. Because I didn’t feel that I had any right to.
I didn’t feel that the experiences in my life were ‘bad enough’ to actually go through a grieving process. It is only recently - when I have experienced a big shift in my life - that I have allowed grief to show - because finally I felt my experience was deserving of the tidal wave of emotions that surged through me.
The definition of grief - according to google - is… intense sorrow, especially caused by someone's death.
Just because someone hasn’t passed away, does not mean we cannot grieve for them. Just because you are in a new phase of your life, doesn’t mean we are not allowed to feel sorrow, or loss, or sadness at the fact that a previous chapter has closed.
What if we were allowed a period of grief for every transition in our life?
A chance to let go of that previous part of use in order to truly make space for the next version. Wouldn’t it be liberating to fully let go of a previous situation before being rushed into the next one?
When it comes to looking back - we can really attach to ‘good times’, to the pieces of us that made us who we were. I spent my entire twenties feeling like life had let me down because the person I was in my teenage years had disappeared. The high energy, hyperactive, loud and confident girl who had been so sure of herself and her path - was no longer there. Instead of actually allowing myself to let her go and grieve the change - I clung on to the fact that there must be something wrong with me - I felt angry and betrayed because I wanted to be that person but could no longer find her. It caused immense turmoil internally - a loss that I didn’t allow myself to process.
I think if we had permission to feel that overwhelming sadness when a phase comes to an end, it could potentially lead to a much smoother movement into the next stage of our growth.
If we could let that grief out of the body - in whatever way feels good to us - wouldn’t that be like a weight has lifted? My shoulders certainly feel less heavy now I have cried hours of tears and my heart feels more expansive having felt the feelings I feared for so long.
The biggest thing I am learning is that grieving my expectations is the hardest thing to accept.
When dramatic change happens and your life suddenly doesn’t look or feel like you thought it would - when it doesn’t meet your expectations - that can totally shock and rock your entire being.
If a person you thought would be there is no longer going to be there, if a place you expected yourself to be isn’t where you get to after all, if your job changes, your house is different, your friendships change - the letting go of the person you were expecting to be can be so intensely uncomfortable.
I have spent my life having a plan - controlling everything I thought I could - putting steps in place for my life to look a certain way. And the messy truth is… it doesn’t look anything like what I thought it would do at this point in my life.
And I am still grieving that. I am still getting over the expectation of the person I thought I was going to be.
We have the chance to allow death and rebirth into our lives throughout our time here, all you have to do is look at nature and the seasons to see that it is occurring all of the time. Now as we head towards autumn in the UK - you can see the green leaves dying and changing colour, the trees letting go and shedding, the last of the butterflies fluttering around, the animals preparing for hibernation.
Physically we have cycles - for women especially our monthly menstruation is a phase of death and rebirth. If you allow and trust the process, menstruation is a time to release all that doesn’t serve us anymore - and I am noticing more and more - when I allow this part of my cycle to express itself fully - then grief and sadness comes up a lot. And that is OK.
Because grief is an essential part of being human. And the truth is… we cannot hide from it.
The lunar cycle also gives us this opportunity to grieve and let go. Every 28 days we have a new moon which signifies a new beginning, a new cycle. When we use these natural cycles - the seasons, our bodies and the changes in the environment - to allow change to occur and make ritual out of saying goodbye to the past one - that is powerful.
I want to reiterate that I am not a counselor, I am not a therapist - I am simply a woman who is learning to be with her emotions and show up fully and truthfully as herself.
I am not encouraging everyone to open up a can of worms that they do not feel capable of working with. I would wholeheartedly encourage you to get curious with yourself and your feelings, and if you need additional support then seeking a professional that specialises in grief or trauma release will be pivotal for you.
There are however some things that I wanted to share that have helped me connect with, and work through these strong emotions…
Write that sh*t down! Write down the things you are afraid to write down or say out loud. This might bring up some resistance or fear - and if you are a perfectionist then you might struggle at first to just download words on to a page. BUT… be honest and open to your journal about how you feel. It is a safe space, and you will be amazed at just how cathartic it can be to express a feeling that you have held inside for so long.
Move it through. Movement is powerful in shifting emotions through the body. Our body stores grief and trauma and emotional blockages. You will notice that when you are holding on to tension and fears that you probably round your shoulders, protect your heartspace and feel resistant to moving. The best thing I have found is dancing - not formal dancing to a routine - but putting on a piece of music and dancing with your whole body, shaking the grief and the sensations through your body. Freestyle it!
Cry it out… literally! For many years I didn’t allow myself to shed a tear. I couldn’t - there was this block inside of me. Grief and openness has changed that and tears flow steadily. Sometimes it is a couple of tears rolling down my cheeks, and other times it is full on ugly crying with wails and anger and fist banging on the floor. In some cultures they have wailing ceremonies when someone passes away to let the grief come out. Try not to stifle the sounds when you cry - the voice is a powerful healer - even if you have to cry into a pillow!
Allow, allow, allow. The first reaction when we start to feel sad is often to literally swallow it down - put a ‘plaster’ over it and try not to let it show. But when you can - in a safe space - allowing those feelings to actually be felt, even when they are uncomfortable and unpleasant at the time - is like showing them that they are valid. I feel like each time we allow a feeling to come up it is a stepping stone to healing. The words I use during these difficult times are ‘this discomfort will not last forever', these feelings will pass like the wave they rode in on.
Talk it out. It sounds so cliche, but speaking out loud is often one of the most powerful things we can do. Especially if you feel embarrassed or shame around the emotions that are coming up. When we speak out loud we set those feelings free, they are no longer our secret, and they become less harmful to ourselves. It also gives others permission that wonderful gift of feeling safe to express themselves fully - and the world needs more of that for sure!
Breathe in, and out. I went to a transformational breathwork workshop a while ago and it was immensely powerful. Check out the work of Rebecca Dennis of Breathing Tree if you are curious. Or else, the simplest way I find to release emotions is to breathe out through my mouth with a big loud sigh. I visualise the emotions and sadness literally leaving my body. The breath gives us an opportunity to welcome in new and release old with each cycle - what a wonderful gift that is!
Rest through it. Don’t underestimate just how energetically draining grieving is. Give yourself plenty of time to rest your physical body. Sleep as much as you need, take nature breaks, allow yourself to do ‘nothing’, and regular bodywork such as massage, acupuncture and reiki will also help your body stay in a healthy, energised state. Yoga Nidra is my absolute top tool for rest, it allows the body to rest while your consciousness is guided, not only does it promote physical rest but it works on such a deep level that it helps your mind process on a deeper layer.
Radical self compassion. Treat yourself with absolute kindness, and when days come that make it feel harder to do so - fake it! Ask yourself what someone who loved themselves would do? And honour that, even though it may take some practice to let go of some of the negative thoughts or the self criticism. If you were with someone you loved and they were going through the same feelings - how would you treat them? Treat yourself this very same way.
Support. Letting others hold space for you is so vital, especially if you are usually the one holding space for them! That may mean paying a trained professional, leaning on a good friend or family member, or it could be joining a local group or finding a safe space online that has likeminded people in. Reach out and allow yourself to be vulnerable in the process - there is no shame in being held or supported when you need it. ‘You can’t get to courage, without walking through vulnerability’ as Brene Brown says. It is vitally important however to prioritise yourself in this process. To give yourself time to let feelings arise and honour your need to be alone, or with others, depending on how you feel.
Grief can be something we fear - and it always has been scary for me - but I am learning that there are immense and potent gifts in this process.
It has made me have even more empathy for human beings. It has made me truly see others in a way that comes from love instead of a feeling disconnected. I feel more in touch with others on a much deeper level.
By embracing grief it has helped me heal so many wounds that I didn’t even know I had because once I surrendered to that overwhelming feeling my body didn’t have to fight any more.
It has taught me about true resilience - and how actually - even when going through the darkest of times, there is still light in me. I can still show up for myself and others and I can still feel excitement and joy in moments.
It doesn’t mean I am glad for the process that brought me here, but I can see that there is light in the dark.
It has taught me the humility of being human. And for that, I am grateful.
There is no right or wrong way to walk this path, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Let me reiterate that (for myself and for anyone else who needs to hear it)… there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is only your way.
Your grief may be brutally painful right now, or it could be a constant low level of sadness that doesn’t seem to ease up. However it shows up - be kind to yourself.
Take it one step, one day, one breath at a time.
This discomfort will not last forever.