How can we reframe to think that grief is a tool of power rather than destruction? This is a task easier said than done for most of us.
What do you think of when you think about grief? The loss of another person? A pet dying? What about the loss of who we once were or the person we thought we could be? We are often surrounded by grief without even knowing it, and our culture doesn’t make this an easy thing to talk about. We repress, ignore, distract.
Even if we have dealt with grief before, every experience is new and we are constantly learning. You can’t ask for advice because the shoes you’re walking in are different than the shoes you wore the last time and different than the shoes of the person next to you. It is always new to us, even if we have grieved before. Every experience is powerful and unique. I believe, this is what makes grief so difficult. The perception that we are alone, and no one could possibly understand.
The reality however is that most, if not all of us have felt the chains and knives of grief. To think that we all share, not the same, but some experience of grief, I think that’s pretty powerful. I have thought a lot about what grief really is and why it is so hard to deal with. Why do we repress and ignore? I have come to this imperfect explanation:
Grief is the cocktail of fear, uncertainty, and loneliness, that is sometimes so overwhelming, our bodies and minds are unable to process, so we repress. And when we actually may be able to process, there never really seems to be a good time, so we ignore it. The uncertainty part of this cocktail brings questions that feel answerless: Where do I go from here, whether it’s a job that I have been working toward my whole career that is no longer on the table, or mourning the loss of a mother who has just passed; what will my life look like now; how am I going to explain this to my family; who am I, given this new reality that I may or may not have any control over?
We are all on different timelines when grieving. Some may grieve hard for years, and others just days, for similar losses. However, at some point, we have a choice to make: Will I take this grief and make it power or let it defeat me? I personally have seen the grief that rides shotgun with death as a domino effect. When it happens to us, other things start to fall, even things we may not expect; relationships, money, priorities. It may feel like the small parts of our lives are crashing down one by one; or maybe everything, like everything, just stops, but the world around us keeps moving. Cue the loneliness.
If we choose to look for help outside of ourselves, maybe with therapy, support groups, or even just starting conversations, we can lower the loneliness when we find community. We always have the power to look for the gaps in our lives and either fill them ourselves or find others who can help fill them in a healthy and supportive way. I saw an opportunity for a community when I was living in Baltimore. According to the Baltimore City Health Department, in 2017 there were 761 drug and alcohol-related deaths, 692 of which were from opioids. Baltimore City now has the highest overdose fatality rate anywhere in the United States.
Because of this, I was sure there would be support groups for people who have lost someone to drugs or alcohol, but there weren’t. I decided to start a chapter of GRASP, Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, a national support network that held meetings all over the country. I found power, comfort, and community with others who have gone through a similar loss. Creating and being joined by others was a profound experience.
The community was built in the GRASP group, but the truth is, the community is all around us when it comes to grief. But we only find it when we open up, allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another, and sit in the uncomfortable spot of, “I am struggling,” “I feel alone,” and “I am really unbelievably sad.” So go. Find your power. Find your outlet. Find your community. Things are going to be okay eventually, even if they don’t feel like they ever will be again. If you choose to be resilient in whatever way that may mean for you, you will see that there is space for healing, power, and change.