Learning to Trust Feelings
I’ve shared much of my 3-year (so far) grief recovery journey. It wasn’t an organized, well-thought out plan. Actually, it wasn’t a “plan” at all. My recovery came from my heart. I followed my heart because my mind wasn’t reliable. It was more like: take a step forward – check how I feel – okay, this is what I need – this feels good. Then another step forward - whoa, this doesn’t feel good – don’t do it again.
It was more like that.
I had to learn to trust my inner knowing. Trust the part of me that KNOWS whether something feels right or wrong. After being a caregiver and a healer for so long, I had completely forgotten how to take care of my own emotional needs. As I write about these awful times in the past, my gut is turning over. I’m not going to lie and say it was easy because it was far from that. It was very difficult, but it was survival. It was like being left in the desert with no water but knowing somewhere deep inside that I had to keep moving forward, one step at a time, to find my water source.
Slowly I reached one water source and then another and I became less and less thirsty. I haven’t reached the big lake yet, but perhaps I’m sitting on the banks of a tributary to it. Maybe, when I get to the ocean, I will know I’m recovered.
I notice that I use water often as a metaphor for my grief. Water is very healing. During my 1st and 2nd years of grieving I went to Hawaii 4 times! I would get into the ocean and pray for release from my pain. I would stay in the ocean for hours, floating and praying.
My friend on Kauai was into paddle boarding and I thought, “I want to try that.” Back at home I had another friend who was paddle boarding on a lake near her home. I asked her, “Can I join you?” I love being on or in water. I trusted my inner knowing and eventually bought my own paddle board. My friend and I spent hours on that beautiful, little lake, all spring and summer. I found great peace out there, and still do.
Baths are part of my recovery process too. I live in an old home which my husband and I refurbished. The master bath has a very large bathtub. Taking a hot, Epsom Salt bath became another piece of my grief recovery puzzle. I took one (and still do) almost every day. Sinking down into that hot water is very healing for my mind, body and soul. (If you don’t have a bathtub, a hot shower can also accomplish this.) I use lavender essential oil in my bath. Here is a link to an excellent source for large quantities of Epsom Salt. Shipping can be pricey, but it’s cheaper to order from this company than from Amazon, even with free shipping! https://seasalt.com/bath-salts/wholesale-epsom-salt
Listening to My Heart
I’ve learned over the past 3 years to always follow my instincts, my heart. This may be the opposite of doing what might be expected of me or what someone else wants me to do. Here are some SELF CARE QUESTIONS I ask myself when making decisions:
Does this feel good?
Does this feel healthy?
Will this help my traumatized nervous system?
Is this in my highest good right now?
Will this deplete me?
Does this nurture my soul right now?
These are important questions. It’s trial and error.
For example, some people and/or situations are toxic. Old friends may fall away because they are not soul nurturing. Some people may not understand the grief process and may be disappointed when the griever’s behavior is different from what they've known. Some may be too dependent and suck the griever’s energy.
These folks need to go. For now, at least.
This may seem harsh, but it’s the truth of it. There are kind ways of letting go of toxic people, but the important thing is to know who and what is good for us. Grievers rely on little snippets of feeling good here and there, and we definitely do not need to expose ourselves to anybody or anything that makes us feel worse. The last thing we need are people or situations that are going to diminish our precious energy.
I had to learn to say NO – A LOT.
Since I had no family near me during my first two years of grieving, I was dependent on my closest friends for any social interaction. As I began to reach out, I made a few new friends too. It was kind of like bellows; I would expand outward, like taking a deep breath, and then contract back into my hollow, my home, my place of safety and comfort. Then, when I would begin to feel too isolated again, I would expand outward. I was breathing in and out with baby lungs, becoming aware, with each breath, of what felt good and what didn’t.
I became acutely aware of when expanding outward was healing and when it was not. Who was good for me and who wasn’t. I was also watching my energy, conserving when necessary and not pushing myself. For example, when I was invited to some function or another I got into the habit of really listening to my body and my instincts. I would sit with the invitation – a dinner, a party, going to a movie, going for a walk – and tune in to how I was feeling. I would ask myself all of my Self Care Questions plus a few more: Would I be able to carry on a conversation one-on-one? Can I be around several people? How was my energy level?
In other words, would going out into the world benefit me at that time, or would staying home, taking a hot bath and reading a book be better for me. I would check my sadness monitor. This is true to this day. If I’m feeling sad, I sit with it.
Learning to Say No
Learning to say NO is a big part of the grieving process. And there are so many ways to say it kindly and with love. If friends or family cannot understand why I turn down an invitation, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate that particular relationship.
Ok, I must admit, I live in an especially open-minded community in Northern California. A conversation might go something like this:
Me: “Thanks so much for the invite, but I’m feeling like I need to stay home and take care of myself right now.”
My friend: “Ok, I understand. Self-care is so important. See you next time. I love you.”
I learned very quickly that I simply did not have the energy for people or situations that went any other way! Admittedly, I am very lucky. My friends give me space when I need it, but they are also THERE for me if I reach out. These are the people I want in my life.
Learning to say NO is so important. The first couple of times it might feel strange, but after a while it will feel great! It’s a step toward recovery and toward learning to take care of our fragile selves first, which is basically loving ourselves.
I cannot emphasize the importance of EARTH ANGELS; people I trust with my life, that I feel comfortable calling at any time of the day or night. These can be professionals, like my grief counselor, or they can be close friends that I trust with my soul, because it can feel like I’m literally baring it, and that can feel very vulnerable.
Grievers feel extremely vulnerable. Many isolate. There’s a fine line between knowing when we need to be alone for our own healing, and when we are so bereft or afraid we can’t imagine interacting with other human beings. If a griever is feeling isolated, it may be time to REACH OUT. There are many professionals available to offer help and consolation, but we have to take the first step and reach out.
Let’s talk about THE FIVE. In the very beginning of my grief journey, my grief counselor asked who my “five” were. I was like, “my five”? She wanted to know who are the five people I can call on any time, the five people I can REACH OUT to who will always BE THERE for me. Fortunately, I was able to rattle off five people that I can call day or night.
The Five can include a counselor, a religious officiate, a parent, siblings, or friends. I always say that I wouldn’t be here today without my friends. They are always giving and loving, and eventually, I was able to get back to being that kind of friend for them as well, at least I hope that’s the case. I feel the hallmark of a good friendship is both parties are capable of handling the ebbs and tides of life. My grief recovery journey taught me more about what healthy friendship looks like.
Some friends are easier to trust, but we may feel uncomfortable around others, even if we have known them for years, especially if they don’t understand the grieving process. Meeting new people can also be unnerving when we’re vulnerable.
First, I tune into my feelings. How do I feel after spending time with this or that person? Do I feel good? Uplifted? Peaceful? Loved? Then, by all means, I will spend more time with that person. On the other hand, do I feel drained? Depleted? Confused? Guilty? These are the people that I may want to avoid while I’m grieving. Perhaps in the future I will be able to get back into relationship with them, but for now, for my own protection, I will avoid them.
As we learn to take care of ourselves, we can give ourselves more time for the things that nurture us. We will begin to feel like we CAN do things. Our energy is so precious, we can choose activities that feed our soul. We will discover with each baby breath what those things are. The list is as varied as there are people on the planet. We may find we love to: cook, paint, read, knit, play an instrument, ski, work out at the gym, run, walk, forage for mushrooms, weave, work on cars, travel, write, paddle board, surf, play tennis, golf, quilt, do Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, and a myriad of other things.
If an activity doesn’t feed the soul, don’t do it. Grievers have limited energy resources. Tiredness is common. Any activity that isn’t feeding our soul – providing happiness, joy, peace, love – isn't an activity that’s needed right now.