What is Grief?

As I have indicated often in this book, the words that we use to label “crisis” and “trauma” can confuse us, well me for sure, as we attempt to improve the quality of our lives and engage in a personalized healing plan.

That being said….There is no greater confusion in the world of healing then the mayhem swirling around the word “grief“.

Grief is not just about the death of someone whom we love. That is “grief’s” primary role assigned by our society; however that is only half of the story, hell, that’s only five percent of the story. Grief is so much more than how we respond to a death of someone whom we held dear. Yes, the death of a loved one is a “biggie” yet if we limit the natural healing process of grief to just death we’d never get better when it comes to healing from a divorce, loss of a job, and so on.

Grief is a natural healing process.

Grief is the whole ball of wax.

Grief is how we mend the broken connections to people, places and things that are so vital to a happy and healthy life.

Grief is how we triage trauma that plagues our lives.

Grief is healing!

Grief is Behavioral

When we grieve, we act through behaviors. We use behaviors designed to help us express our emotions as well as expel the physiological sensations our soul and body experience when we recall or imagine a life event.

As an example, when I think about the death of my children, my fills with hurt and fear. My body responds. I may cry. Crying is an automatic physiological response to my mind recalling the death of my children. My deep sadness is fueled by understanding that I will never be able to raise my beloved and wanted children.

Writing this book, becoming a counselor, facilitating a seminar on grief and producing my radio shows (podcasts) are all carefully selected grieving/healing behaviors in which I act in order to help me express my deep sadness and fear. As well as burn off some of that energy created by thinking.

I also express my happiness and joy for healing through writing, performing and speaking. As it is so true for some many things in life, healing is not just all sad and fear. Healing is also happiness. Healing is not all about crying, tense muscles and stomach and headaches. Healing is also about hugs, kisses, fist pumps, and dancing.

Grief is a Natural Healing Process.

Grief is how we respond to a loss, broken connection. In additional grief is how we respond to the emotional and physiological response our soul and body experience when we think about the broken connection, loss and the significance of such as loss.

Grief starts automatically. Just as your body heals when you scrape your knee, get the flu, or even break your foot, as I did a couple of summers ago. Even though I thought I had just pulled a muscle, I had actually broken my foot. Even without me going to the doctor, getting an x-ray, then wearing a boot (all things I should have done months before I actually did visit the doctor) my foot began to heal all on its own.

Healing starts whether you want it to or not. You naturally engage in behaviors that you believe will help you heal post a life storm or crisis or loss.

Perhaps you lost your job five minutes ago,

five days ago,

five weeks ago or even five months ago.

No matter. Thinking about that moment, in which you learned of your fate, creates trauma in your world that moment in which you think about the loss or crisis.

When we lose a job, connections are broken. The life storm dumps debris: fear and hurt. When in the right mind, after losing a job, wants to experience the pain and panic as we consider and think about the significance of the broken connections connected to the loss of a job? No one.

So, we start healing immediately. We grieve automatically.

Grieving is writing a resume.

Healing is applying for jobs.

Grieving is going on interviews.

Healing is networking.

Grief is a natural healing process. As you naturally and automatically develop your job search action plan, apply for positions, schedule interviews, network with colleagues, you generate options for your future employment which fosters faith in your skills and ability to secure a position. Faith produces hope which is the rocket fuel for motivation.

What if instead of reaching out, networking, applying for jobs, writing a resume, a person, who was suddenly unemployed, sat in the basement all day drinking or was unable to get out of bed or hid their unemployment from everyone by “going through the motions” of going to a factious job, are they healing? Are they grieving?

Absolutely.

The naturally and automatically sought out behaviors they thought would bring relief to the trauma experienced as a result of the job loss. Some may say that drinking and drugging all day or staying in bed or hiding the unemployment is NOT HEALING. Truth is, those behaviors are selected activities that someone who is unemployed thought would bring the most relief.

Those behaviors may not be as effective and/or healthy as say going to the library to network electronically or seek positions on a job website or go to a church support group to those recently separated from their employment. Yet who is to say?

In a nutshell, grieving is all about:

Identifying a specific and selected group of behaviors
that effectively and in a healthy ways
express emotions and
expel physiological responses.

What is Trauma?

bear-down-webWhen it comes to the word “Trauma” there is plenty of confusion to go around. The word trauma can mean many things.

Trauma can mean that there is either a physical or emotional or even spiritual wound.

I can break my arm and be taken via ambulance to a trauma treatment center. Then describe to the medical team the dramatic moment of falling off of the roof while attempting to free my child’s Happy Birthday Mylar balloons from my dish so that I can watch the end of the Daytona 500, which is why I missed her 4th birthday party in the first place.

I can walk in on my wife with the neighbor, two dogs a chicken and a one-eyed mule named “Fred” then tell the divorce lawyer that it was “traumatic”.

I can say that my pastor’s calling my pending divorce from my wife who loves a hooved audience as not “God’s plan” and that “I need to forgive and invite her back into my world” as devastating.

In the world of counseling we have a diagnostic label of PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In my world there is nothing “post” about trauma. Trauma is real time!

In my workshops and books it is important to identify the nomenclature or theoretical structure to help the reader and the workshop attendee understand that of which that I am referring, a fairly straightforward process. However when we are out in the real world living our lives throwing words around can often be confusing and not very helpful. Therefore it is important for us to have of flexibility in our nomenclature as we lead our lives and attempt to heal. When you hear or in this case read the word “trauma” what comes to mind? Take a moment to think about that for yourself.

For the purpose of this book I’m going to define trauma in the following ways:

Trauma is an automatic emotional response.

The emotions that most of us experience when life storms enter our lives are either hurt or fear or both. These emotions cannot haunt us or pain us or fill our souls with darkness unless we start thinking about or pondering or imagining a crisis event. As I described in the earlier chapters of this book a crisis is a life event. When we attempt to make sense, understand, integrate and apply that life event into our lives we open the door for trauma.

Trauma is also an automatic physiological response that we experience when we attempt to understand a life event or crisis. In fact most of us recognize the physiological elements of trauma long before we notice the emotional ones. And even longer before we ever connect our emotive and physical response to the work of our brain recalling the facts and our mind assembling those facts into a film strip that contains the movie of our life.

Some of the things that we may experience physically when we experience trauma are tense muscles, increased heart rate and lung capacity, blood rushes to our extremities and we become flush, our stomach or head may begin to hurt and cortisol, a steroid hormone, is dumped into our brains in an effort to prepare our bodies to fight, flight or freeze. When we are threatened or wounded, we have an innate behavioral response to protect ourselves by kicking something’s ass (fight) or running our ass as fast and as far as possible away from the threat (flight). When we are so overwhelmed, we do nothing, we freeze.

Anxiety can also drive confusion.

As it is with trauma the word “anxiety” is often confused by many people as well.

For me anxiety is an emotive response that is neither good nor bad; right nor wrong.

Anxiety is triggered by thought. Anxiety is what fuels certain behaviors. Anxiety is what many of us refer to as an emotive response. And that response has a continuum that spans mildly worried to unbelievable panic. Anxiety is also, as we have identified with trauma, accompanied by physiological responses which may include sweaty palms, dry mouth or shaking hands. For some the word “anxiety” is a mental health diagnosis that covers a series of emotional and behavioral criteria an individual needs to experience during a stressful situation.

Anxiety can and often is very beneficial as we manage our lives. If we didn’t feel anxious we would drive to work at a 100 miles an hour not paying any attention to stop lights or pedestrians. Anxiety can help us be prepared. If you are anxious before a speech or a big test chances are you’ll be more focused on the functional tasks of speaking or taking the test than you would be if you didn’t feel any worry or concern. Anxiety can often spring us into action. If you’re worried that you may lose your job you may start writing a resume or filling out job applications. The very act of writing your resume and completing job applications helps to reduce the emotive experience. Meaning that the best medication for anxiety is often action.

Therefore anxiety can be beneficial in that it helps motivate us to action.

It is when the anxiety becomes overwhelming and we are unable to be motivated or act in a functional manner that anxiety becomes a problem. As with speaking or test taking, if the anxiety is do high and you lack the skills necessary to cope with elevated emotions of fear, you may freeze and thus do poorly on the test or be booed right off of the stage.

Residing across the street from anxiety is depression. Depression, just as with anxiety, is triggered by thought. When we begin to evaluate and think about and contemplate and even ponder a crisis event we can start to feel “depressed”. Depression is in emotive state that is neither good nor bad; right nor wrong. It too is a continuum of emotional experiences that range between just feeling “bla” to experiencing major “blues”. Depression also is accompanied by physiological responses that may include muscle aches, sleepiness or fatigue, a lack of interest in food and of course head and stomach aches. Depression is a diagnosis, a label we assigned as someone who is experiencing a medical condition. Depression drives behavior.

Can depression ever be beneficial?

The answer is a resounding YES!

If I did something to someone the I start feeling “depressed” I may at some point ask the individual to forgive me. As it is with any word used to communicate a thought or concept “depressed” used in the last sentence could also mean “guilty”.

The point is I feel bad.

If I’m sad that I missed a great hockey game because I forgot to set my DVR and I share that with my wife or my friends my expressing my “sadness” or “disappointment” or “frustration” is a good thing. I’m getting rid of my “sadness” or that pit in the bottom of my stomach as well as building intimate connections with my wife and friends.

I could go on for hours on how the notion of feeling sad or even afraid can be beneficial to us human beings learning how to heal and improve the quality of our lives. However, since I’m generally lazy and don’t like such things, let’s move on.

The primary reason for trauma, the primary reason we experience the emotions of hurt and fear, the primary reason we experience the physiological side effects, the primary reason we experience anxiety and/or depression is:

to tell us that we require healing!

Trauma indicates that we need healing. We need to heal and triage the anxiety or fear that prevents us from living our lives to the fullest. We need to heal and triage the depression that prevents us from connecting with important people, places and things in our lives that make our world enjoyable and rich. Often hurt and fear, if left unhealed, leads to the potentially destructive, ineffective and unhealthy behaviors of anger and addiction.

Trauma is a symptomatic episode that tell us we need to heal. Anger and addiction are symptomatic episodes that tell us we need to heal.

When we miss the signals of trauma, healing never starts. When we avoid or ignore the signals of trauma, healing is stunted or regressed. When we don’t see the symptomatic signals of trauma our current connections to import and people, places and things can become compromised, weakened and in some cases broken and destroyed beyond all recognition. Dysfunctional behaviors, such as anger, addiction and isolation, are often used to mask the pain and panic that we experience. Trauma is the signal that healing is required. Dysfunction and emotional dysregulation are the signs that we have messed the symptomatic signals of trauma or simply have chosen to willfully not to engage in the healing process.

Understanding the Need for Healing

img_20190726_103733_040Healing is:

Mending the connections that were damaged in the storm.

Mending broken and damaged connections means that we may need to offer and ask for the dreaded “F-Word”:

forgiveness.

The trick with forgiveness is that if we expect someone who has hurt us to ask for forgiveness in order for us to clean up debris we have given control of our own healing to another.

That cannot happen.

That is not how healing works.

Our healing, grieving and happiness cannot and will never be dependent on the behaviors of anyone other than ourselves.

Sometimes, we need to ask for forgiveness. As a drunk and addict who has not had a drink and/or a drug today, when getting sober and healing my life, I engaged in a series of steps that required that I take a fearless moral inventory of my life and the damage I did to my life and the lives of others as a result of choose to drink and drug. Then, I had to offer amends, seek forgiveness WITHOUT expecting that from the people in my life that I disappointed, let down, hurt, destroyed. I hurt many.

If those whom I hurt HAD to grace me with forgiveness, I would not heal. The focus of these healing actions is for me to own and accept responsibility for my choices, actions and consequences that followed my choices. The goal is not absolution as if it is a suave for my own wounded soul, oh no! That is the opposite of accepting personal responsibility for the crap I did to others.

Healing is:

Move in ANY direction away from the storm.

People often say that they need to “move on.”

I have said it.

I hate when others tell me I need to “move on.”

It’s OK for me to say it to myself and never OK for someone to say it to me. A little “rule of healing” I live by.

Thus, I never tell another to “move on.” Instead I suggest that they just move up/down, left/right, forward/back or diagonal. I don’t care. Just move in any direction away from the storm.

Healing is:

Building new connections.

Healing is a unique and personal process that is completed within a loving and supportive community. I may have a connection with my bicycle and the local bike path that winds through the state park. Although a solitary healing behavior, I have build connections to people (other riders or walkers to whom I nod or smile at), places (the park and that little tree I sit under by the pond) and things (my bike, nature and music stored on my MP3 player).

On the other hand, I may join a bowling league, make new friends, bowl at a new center I have never frequented and then share a meal with my team at a new watering hole. I have highly social and interactive connections with people (my team), places (the lanes and restaurant) and things (bowling, chicken wings and socializing).

Healing is:

The development of psychological fitness skills[i] ©.

In order to figure out how to best heal the wounds of the past and manage the anxiety that plagues our lives we must try things out, evaluate their effectiveness and improve upon those skills daily.

Like I said, healing is not for wimps and is hard work.

[i] Psychological Fitness Skills is a copy write held by Fat Guy in Spandex Media Productions, 2013