First, I should introduce myself to you. While there are many ways to describe me, two descriptors emerge as the most consistent. I’m sanguine and I’m a problem solver.
Sanguine folk trend as bubbly, optimistic, exploratory, and fun-loving. While undergoing great loss I have maintained scholarships, completed degrees from challenging institutions, made new friends, hosted dinners, reached out to others in their need, operated a clinical counseling practice, run marathons, had children, gotten married, and given love a ton of chances. I’ve trusted when I’ve wanted to move to Wyoming (mostly because I hear it’s the least populated state).
In terms of problem solving, I call myself “The Scrappy Irish girl. “When there’s a will, there’s way” is sort of my polysyllabic middle name. I’ve been told how strong I am my whole life–that I’m bold, courageous and other stuff Americans hold so valuable. If someone says, drink more water, clean out the closets, wear lipstick, go to church, journal, search within for the missing truth, go to God…the boxes are checked. I will loom endlessly for the missing puzzle piece when working a puzzle. I think you get the picture.
Lately, however, I’m not so “American,” to put it lightly and I realized that this is just as important to communicate as the “let’s go to battle for our sanity, take a stand and choose to pursue the wunderkind you are” message.
I realized that while all of that personal reclaiming and choice is vital so is healing-grieving. I mean the kind of healing-grieving that doesn’t even have words. As I heal, the tears and reflection of my life un-optionally (yep, I just made up that word) just occur. And I’m not able to get around the truth of it with gratitude-based thinking, working out, hugging my children, listening to soothing music, et al. Thus, I thought it might be helpful, maybe even inspiring—if I may be so bold—for me to describe what I mean by letting you know 5 Reasons Healing his Weird.
1. It goes beyond reason.
For those of us who have tried to have life beat, grief is like weather. You can’t beat it or reason it away with what I call objective, positive outlook. Statements I have often told myself, “It could be worse.” Or “The worst is over, it’s time to look at what you can control.” Or “This too shall pass.” Umm, yea, no—that stuff doesn’t work. Like weather, grief decides to descend upon your functioning self and remind you, “Sister, you’ve really been wounded in this area. And no matter what you say, that part of you and your history needs to cry about it.”
2. There’s regression.
It is a hard thing to describe and it can’t be solved with a plan. Little things feel big, like when you see a toddler bawl their eyes out because they really wanted that candy and the parent takes it out of their hand. And, while that sounds humorous as I write it, the feeling of injustice is profound and layered. Also, the things that seem to help could be described as toddler-esque and basic: sleep, America’s Funniest Home videos (please don’t judge me), good food and hugs. I don’t want any pontification, perspective gathering, verses, or songs about redemption any more than a toddler screaming at the injustice of losing her candy would.
3. There is bodily weakness.
I’ve had some surgeries: 2 C-sections, 1 ACL reconstruction and 2 bunionectomies. Not including dental craziness, et al. The deep rest that has been required in the VERY physical experience of healing-greiving is a bit like being in post-op. All of the ambition in the world, won’t inform this fatigue. The fatigue will just be there, like a 500 pound insolent gorilla. It isn’t going anywhere and until you feed it with rest.
4. Friends and family are formed.
It’s no longer optional whether I have reciprocating and/or respectful relationships, which I call the “2R’s.” Those that aren’t those 2R’s just don’t get my energy. And it’s not that I am combing the crowds to determine this, it reveals itself. While interacting with people, I’m observing myself interacting and I’m checking in with my body. My obligation-based thinking melts away. What I mean is that I can’t say, “Well, this is your [insert: family relative/neighbor/old friend] so you have to get along with them.” “No one is perfect and you just have to take the losses.” I literally have not one capacity to be ok with someone who uses me or denies me my truth through some flippant remark, or chastisement. This is very un-sanguine of me, if you get my drift.
5. Your BS meter starts to operate like a seismograph.
It can detect a false person or a person who does not care about you from Colorado to California. In neuroscience, this is called developing the vagus nerve, more commonly known as your gut instinct. The primary loss when one has been defeated and violated in childhood and beyond, is that of disconnection of your vagus nerve to your brain. It stops sending ”gut-instinct” signals because the child—to protect herself—determines that the defeats and violations are her fault, made up in her head, because she’s just being too sensitive, needy, blah-blah. This is called a “vagul break.”
In the child who suffers violation, the vagus nerve can become an impediment to “functioning,” because it’s going to make the child feel things her brain just can’t handle at the time. Hence, relationship and intrapersonal relationship defenses form in the child; defenses like denial, rationalization, spiritualization, intellectualization and other “izations” form one brick onto another.
The gut instinct you were born with—the one the makes you cry out in hunger as an infant—gets reattached in this healing-grieving. And BAM! You just can’t do the dance of neglecting yourself or denying that the abandonment or disrespect occurred. Every tear sends battery juice to your BS meter, and now you look at things with your gut. Your body is speaking, like it does to the child. And you can’t ignore it. Just like a baby and toddler can’t ignore it. The vagul nerve goes back online. The BS meter you were born with revs back up again. And the flower grows from the ashes. Yep, life returns. I can’t make this stuff up.
I get that this may not be your experience, but it’s been mine for the past six weeks. And while I wish it didn’t make me do the ugly cry—which sort of scares my husband—it’s strangely reattaching parts of myself that have been broken on the floor. I’ll probably get my mojo back and start being creative and laugh more easily again. For now, it’s the healing-grieving stage, which is just as salient to my personal growth as any other victory, enjoyment, or accomplishment I have ever experienced.
Grief has found those pieces for me that I had no idea were still not attached. Thank you, good grief. Thank you.
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.