How To Bear Hug A Porcupine
A.K.A…. Working Through Grief!
This week I’ve been grieving.
Hidden grief, trapped grief, the kind that’s been loitering on the peripheries of my mind for decades and is finally allowed to bubble to the surface grief. It’s a pure grief like a saltwater spring, filtered as it travels towards the light through millennia of limestone rock.
It’s the grief I first experienced when paralysed in a Spanish hospital bed, as the true reality of my situation and what I'd lost hit home.
It’s the grief I feel when I allow myself to step outside survival mode and dive into the deep and terrifying ocean that’s my emotions; and although it’s deep, it's a simple grief.
A grief that’s encountered by every human on this planet.
The overwhelming grief we experience at the loss of a loved one*.
*In this case my self.
If I’d been grieving for someone else, it might’ve been easier for me to understand, process and express my pain.
Alongside all the complex emotions which combine to create “grief”, I also have the additional guilt that accompanies the story of…
We find it difficult to express our grief in public and in private, we hold onto our thoughts, fears and emotions, as we hold back the physical representation of this tangled mess… our tears.
It’s a hard battle to fight without the added torture of our “mind monkey” stories about the shame in grieving for ourselves.
Though, in truth when we grieve isn’t it nearly always for ourselves?
There are multiple, global belief systems that suggest our loved ones are in a much better place; experiencing some version of a heaven, being reborn into a new life or in an eternal slumber where they no longer feel pain or suffering.
So why do we mourn their passing?
Is it because they are no longer able to live their lives? If this is true, why do we grieve for someone who’s lived a long and full life?
We grieve because of the truly empty space in our own lives and hearts that can never be filled once that person has left us. It’s the pain of knowing our lives will never be the same; no more conversations, no more creation of shared memories and no more friendship, love and companionship. In other words…
We grieve for our loss, not theirs.
I know this can be an uncomfortable concept because it creates the same feelings of guilt, that I experience when also grieving for my self. We feel shame because we're being selfish but what can be selfish about feeling pain at the loss of love in our lives?
Some of us on a deeply buried, subconscious level are mourning the loss of the most profound love of all.
I have memories of what was “before” the life I’m living now.
When I’m in a deep meditative state, I can recall the faint traces of an immense, vast and eternal love, a love of such intensity that my tiny human body and mind cannot contain it. I remember being torn away from this love and I experience a deep loss and longing for something I don’t fully comprehend.
The grief I feel in that moment of recollection is the deepest grief I’ve ever experienced.
THE PROCESS OF GRIEVING IS AS COMPLEX AND UNIQUE AS THE PERSON TAKING THAT LONELY JOURNEY.
I don’t believe there is one solution to working through grief and I definitely know there aren’t “STAGES” we ALL go through.
It’s even more complex when a life is cut short before it's truly begun.
We endure great sorrow on behalf of those who’ll never get to experience the full technicolored wonder of a long and beautiful life. In those moments we aren’t only grieving for ourselves but for a life that was never lived.
Collective loss is the most painful to endure.
I didn’t realise until this year, that I’m grieving for the loss of a young life too; a carefree 20 year old that was starting to find her way in the world, a small bird that was spreading her wings to fly free.
I grieve for the life she's lost, the dreams she made that will never come true and her path in life that came to an unexpectedly abrupt and violent end.
I didn’t realise I was grieving for a very long time. It was buried so deep, I didn’t know of its existence until a counsellor stated…
I’d refused to acknowledge this fact.
I believed if I gave into my grief, I wouldn’t be able to heal. I believed not surrendering made me strong and I believed I wasn’t a victim by not appearing selfish or weak. I shut the door and refused to look back. Thankfully 20 years later, experience has taught me…
we can’t move forward until we look into our past, to uncover and release our emotional anchors.
These are the ties that bind us, the cords that keep us tethered and we can’t be released until we do the work to set ourselves free.
Trauma Counselling gave me the strength to find my anchors and I was able to take my own steps to set myself free.
I know counselling isn’t for everyone but through my spoken word performances and collective sharing, I’ve had a number of people approach me to talk about trauma and to ask about my journey. These conversations encouraged me to share my thoughts, experiences and insights that you find written here.
Whether you’re grieving or have a loved one who’s experiencing grief, I hope through these words… you’ll know you’re not alone… there’s a way through this and a light at the end of this dark tunnel.
I’m not a counsellor…
Instead I’ve walked the miles, know the terrain and have blisters on my feet from wearing the shoes.
Please seek professional help if this resonates with you.
There are people waiting & wanting to help you.
It would be great to hear from you about the resources, organisations or networks you’ve accessed, if you’ve been on this journey too. Please leave a comment below so we can share our knowledge and experiences.
we don’t know what support is available to us, until we are open to being vulnerable and sharing our collective experiences.
Here’s my 3 main points for processing grief.
If emotions were represented by the elements, joy would be the air, anger would be fire and grief would be water.
Of all the emotions, grief is the most like the waves of the ocean.
It follows a regular pattern (though it feels like there is none) and when it swells up to meet us, we fear we'll drown before it eases and breaks on the shore. In the early stages we barely get chance to recover before we’re hit by yet another wave.
It's incredibly hard to stand waist deep in the ocean, plant your feet in the sand and face down every wave as it batters your chest, your head and your heart.
Growing up by the North Sea, from an early age I was taught the danger comes when we turn our back on the waves, it’s only then that we can be caught off guard, unable to stand firm and risk being swept off our feet.
I know it seems impossible to ride out the waves but whatever your reason for experiencing grief; whether you’re mourning the loss of love in your life, a life cut short or even a metaphorical death and loss of self, we need to turn our faces towards the ocean, look to the blue horizon and let the waves do what nature does best…
Grief isn’t an experience to be avoided, it’s a physical way of releasing a mind and soul felt trauma.
Your body is a thing of beauty, so many functions happen at once as trillions of cells all intuitively interact with each other. Trust your own intuition and let your body do whatever it needs. It knows instinctively how to release the emotions you need to process.
Holding onto emotions trap them within your body, where they stagnate and eventually psychological pain transforms into physical pain. Trust me I’ve learnt this the hard way, 20 years of emotional suffering has now manifested into chronic, debilitating pain.
Grief can’t be ignored or reasoned with… it can only be felt.
Learning to sit with grief is hard (hard seems such a tiny adjective compared to the enormity of the task). Allowing myself to feel intense emotions as tears flow down my face, snot shoots out my nose and animal-like wailing takes place… being able to sit back and allow this to happen naturally without judgement or shame?
I’m not going to lie… it doesn't come naturally to me.
Facing complex emotions takes bravery but it’s liberating when we allow our bodies to choose the best method for releasing trapped energy.
Don’t ever feel ashamed of your red, tear-burnt eyes and blotchy face or for needing to curl up in a ball under a duvet to hug it out. The precious moments when I’ve completely surrendered to physical release and let the emotions and actions run their course… I’ve found the energy naturally dissipates.
like a stormy ocean, once we move past all the terrifying chaos on the surface, we find a deep, calm sense of peace resting underneath.
Leaning into grief takes PATIENCE and the only way we practice is in real time.
The more unnerving, unsettling or uncomfortable our emotions, the more patience, compassion and courage we need to fully embrace them.
I’d describe it as trying to bearhug a porcupine… equal amounts disbelief at our stupidity, fear of the pain we’re about to experience and sheer audacity (or optimism) that things will work out just fine.
The more practice we get, the more we become experts but until that time, we need to face the fact that this is a painful learning curve. Other “experts” will help you shorten this curve, which is why it’s good to seek out help. I’ve always taken onboard any advice or techniques my counsellor and other experts gave me but knowing that grief is unique, I combined their guidance with my own intuition to create my own methods. You’ll find you develop your own process for handling those lethal spikes.
Only when you fully embrace the process and your painful emotions can they be released into the wild. You just need to start and that begins with a genuine intention and desire to set your porcupines free.
One final thought.
From everything I’ve witnessed in my own life and the lives of others, learning to process grief (along with any difficult emotion) is a lifelong practice. It takes true dedication to your own health and mental wellbeing and it’s certainly not easy but often the greatest rewards are hidden behind the biggest challenges.
Every day when I was paralysed in a hospital bed, I felt grief washing over me. Fearful that it would consume me, I looked for the small moments of joy and happiness in my situation. Anything from a kind smile from a stranger passing in the corridor to a conversation with one of the nurses as they changed my bandages.
These silver linings as I called them helped me through a very traumatic situation but I didn’t realise that once I’d healed physically, it was the time to heal emotionally.
Becoming a witness to our own journey is one of the most liberating and powerful gifts we can give to ourselves. Sharing that gift with others is so important, only then can we start to make real changes in this world.
Hopefully one day human beings will be so adept at naturally processing our feelings, we get to experience the true vibrancy of what we presently call good & bad emotions.