The last six years have been filled with all sorts of happenings, and while I’ve moved forward in so many ways, I can’t really explain it. I realize that not having the words for what has happened has caused me not to write about it. The time has come to find the words.
Why haven’t I put this on paper? One of the reasons is that part of me thinks I might alienate the reader, not be read by someone who is in the early stages of their loss. Logically I know they can return when ready.
When I think back to where I was when I wrote “Navigation,” I marveled then at the time of the writing. I return to the piece, I’ve had clients read it, I and realize that it speaks to the wonder and process of where we’ve been and where we’re trying to get to. How have things changed since that time?
I’m running the river! I’m moving through deep, uncharted waters, places that call and beckon me to come have a closer look.
Running this stretch of the river has become about being able to reframe the past, look to the future, view my life in new ways, and ask some hard questions of myself. It has also meant that I admit my ignorance in some areas of my life. I’m able to observe what got shut down and is switching back on. More on that in a paragraph or so.
Sitting with a friend in my garden last Friday, I looked at him and said, “Brace yourself, I’m going to say something you thought you’d never hear from me.” He laughed when he heard me say that I needed help with something. It was a respectful laugh. Sometimes, growing up because of loss and maturing in new ways means that we must ask for help! It is also a sign that something has switched on in the brain: something that may have shut down due to the trauma of grief, loss, and life restructuring.
As we run the rapids of life, we’re required to become fully present to ourselves, to others, to our surroundings, and to our knowing. At first, we think we’re doing a wonderful job of it, until something or someone shows up to slap us silly, and we see, feel, or realize that no, we didn’t have this as we thought we did. And so, sitting in my garden, I had to voice the fact that I didn’t know something. That was an intelligent thing to do. I also realized that something in my mind had turned itself back on. This switch had been subtly nudging me to awaken to the present. OK Gail, get on this, move with it, and know that with this new line of thinking, you really have come to new ground.
I began to concentrate on thinking about how the switches turned back on and why the change and resolution slowly creep back into our lives. I can tell you what shut itself down instantly, and in some cases I am aware of the switch moving to the on position again. Libido, cognitive processes, diet, and physical awareness, to name just a few things that mess us up, went down instantly. This is why our friends and loved ones look at us like we’ve vacated Earth and moved to Saturn. We’re not speaking our normal tongue: we’re speaking in grief. This is why, for some, they find new friends and wind up having to pull away from old relationships. It is not that the person wasn’t a friend: they’re not able to speak grief. We don’t have the energy to teach them grief right now. It is why doctors and therapists might tell someone that six months is the proper amount of time to work through grief! The body might not be able to grieve for a year or two because we’re in survival mode. A huge part of the process is allowing the body to shut itself down and do a reset. When you’re in the midst of sorting out estate issues, cleaning up a nasty marriage, or recovering from another life event, your body isn’t going to do the reset: it needs to survey and find out where the damage is—then it can reset. Six months for grief? No, not even close. Docs and others don’t speak grief. If they did, they wouldn’t be saying that six months is enough!
The shutdown is the biggest reason why we shouldn’t change things for a year or two. We’re not in a place to process things. So, cut us some slack for coming out of a long-term relationship and needing to do the healing! It’s going to take time to gently allow the body that has been in fight-or-flight mode to catch up and switch back on. It takes time to learn about our lives again.
About three months after his death, the first switch came on for a day and promptly shut itself back off. It would take some six to eight months to have it flicker on again, and several years to have it come on completely. I didn’t realize until it came back on in full-power mode that things had shut down. It caught my attention. Some things have taken several years to stabilize.
From a distance, my brother had noticed that my sleep was all messed up, and he pointed it out to me. While I heard the words, I couldn’t fix the sleep issue. Some things are only going to work only when time passes, and inner work has been done, and it is safe for the body to return to a new way of being. Eventually sleep became normal. The sleep and everything else had to readjust to the new normal.
The stress I was under was intense. While I felt it, I couldn’t see it in my face. But others could.
If the grief process, and the losses we suffer because of it, cause our bodies and minds to desynchronize, then syncing up again sends us signals that we’ve moved, and that it is once again safe for us to go to new places. On many levels it is kind of magical, and in reality, it is quite logical. Family, friends, cut us some slack here! We’ll be back when our bodies, brains, hearts, and souls realign. Until it happens, please, take the garbage out, walk the dog, understand that you can help with the shopping, reminding us to cut our hair, get us out in the sun and get us out for walks. Yes, we’re really that checked out in the beginning stages, and sometimes it takes however long it takes to slowly speak Earthling again. Telling us to check in isn’t going to work, because our brains aren’t ready to do it yet.
So, how does the process from grief to something new really happen? The process, whatever it may be, happens slowly, and the observer may or may not notice the inner changes. We may or may not sense the inner movement that is going on. What happens? In the beginning, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode because they need to protect us from the dangers that we know must be present. This happens without our authorization. Yup, our bodies automatically take command of things. The trauma of the event sets in, and our bodies go into shock and shut down. Essential services remain queued for functioning, and the non-essential services take a holiday. Depression is a typical response to loss and pain.
Think of being depressed in this situation as essential services attempting to shut the entire process down. All of a sudden, the neurons aren’t firing correctly because we can’t make heads or tails of something that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened unexpectedly, or might have been so far out of the realm of our imagination or normal that we’re being challenged to resolve it when we can’t do it easily in the present state of existence. The body, amazing thing that it is, throws the stop switch. We wonder when it will all end, and board the grief boat, trying to locate a seat. Sometimes finding a seat is difficult because things are that disconnected in our minds. The boat pulls away from the dock without concern for us. At times, we get off the boat to explore something new. We get back on a new boat and notice that things are a wee bit nicer in the interior. One day we awake to find ourselves in a spacious yacht. We wonder how that happened. We realize that we’ve been a part of our own personal miracle: the ignition of the new self. We look in the mirror to see that we’ve switched back on. Double-checking, we discover, for the first time in years, that we’re present to our own lives in a synced manner.