I speak with people on a daily basis who have opened up to me about their journeys through processing experiences they perceived as resulting in grief.
No-one ever tells you the same story, but identify the same emotions.
For some, the process is long and drawn out and for others, they can move on quickly. Some people never truly deal with their grief and instead try to bury it.
One beautiful woman told me about how she mourned for two years over the loss of her mother and cried every day and then one day she woke up, ready to move on.
Another woman spoke of losing her husband and how she experiences great depressions, but finds ways to keep herself going through friends and travel.
But there are many forms of grief. My husband, for example, is currently dealing with grief of a different kind, the loss of identity.
He spent the last eight years building a company from scratch and recently made the decision to move on from it, to a new venture.
Many people don’t equate grief in terms re-shaping an identity, but deciding to release a business which you have built from your early twenties, is essentially accepting the loss of a part of yourself.
Grief can surround you like an island and isolate you there if you let it.
Believing you are alone and no-one will understand, is part of what creates that island.
I experienced grief after breaking up with my long term boyfriend at around twenty-one years old. We’d been together since we were teenagers and it was a horrible, drawn out process. It was dramatic and traumatizing, because apart from losing a relationship, we were both losing a part of our identity, which was the other person.
We’d been so young when we had gotten together, that we had grown up filling in the blanks for the others personalities and eventually, we both started to change and want different things, but didn’t know how to let the other go. And that dragged everything on.
The process of that grief was firstly denial.
I told everyone i was ok and i actually believed it some days.
Then I got needy and wanted to get back together, because i didn’t know how move on alone.
And then i just got plain old angry and stayed that way for the longest time. I acted out by drinking and partying way too much and behaving selfishly.
No-one mattered except me and my pain.
I cried pretty much every time i was alone and then just wiped away the tears before i had to see anyone and went on pretending. It was all i could do just to get through a day.
Some days i would feel acceptance and then other days i would be miserable. The worst days were indifference, where i just didn’t feel anything at all.
I never wanted to be alone, because that meant i had to face myself and that was a scary thought. I wasn’t scared to be alone, i was scared to be with myself. Because i didn’t know who i would be with. I had surrendered some of my identity to my previous relationship and getting to know myself again seemed almost insurmountable.
People try to help with adages like “plenty of fish in the sea” and “you’ll love being single, you can do what you want!” But i think the reason none of these insights actually spoke to me, is because i wasn’t really worried about being single or finding another person, i was just lost. Completely and utterly lost.
In the process of losing myself, i had also lost most of my friendships and pushed my family away. I had built myself onto an island.
No-one understood my pain and because i had put motes around myself, i wouldn’t even let anyone get close enough to help me rebuild my shattered structures.
I look back now and realise that when you sculpt a projection of who you want people to see (think crying like baby while i am alone and then pretending to be cheery) you attract other lost or inauthentic people toward your island.
And so, in actually needing nurturing people, i was just attracting the exact opposite of what i wanted into my life. But that ultimately kept me safe from creating any real connections, keeping me isolated on my island.
I didn’t understand that this was all grief.
I wasn’t really grieving for the loss of the person or the relationship after a while, but i was grieving the loss of my identity that i’d wrapped up in it.
And trying to soothe the pain of losing a part of myself with fake friends, drinking, partying and avoiding being alone was not the answer, but just prolonged the agony.
My healing truly began when i decided to travel overseas to Japan. I had had no interest in travelling and didn’t know the first thing about Japanese culture or the language, but i had a high school friend living there, who had offered to accommodate me for a couple of weeks, so off i went.
It was a liberating experience, because i spoke not a lick of Japanese and that forced me to listen a lot more. i couldn’t interact verbally, so i observed what went on around me. I had no expectations, so everything was new, exciting and amazing.
My friend allowed me to rediscover the person i was when we had been friends in high school, because we hadn’t really spoken in a couple of years, he hadn’t seen my complete identity loss. He reminded me that he had always admired how self confident i had been and that the reason he had been my friend was because i had always been so self assured.
He was the first person in months who had given me his undivided attention and cared for me, in a way i didn’t even realise i needed. He challenged me when i said i was “fine” and forced me to admit things to myself, that i had been avoiding.
The grief didn’t suddenly subside, but i started to find that the good days began to out-weigh the bad when i returned to Australia.
It took me years to start trusting myself again, but the pain of letting go of my old identity got easier, the more i moved toward accepting that it was longer apart of me.