“There’s a fine edge to new grief, it severs nerves, disconnects reality—there’s mercy in a sharp blade. Only with time, as the edge wears, does the real ache begin.” ~ Christopher Moore
Grief is a powerful emotion. As I mentioned in an earlier article, this has been the most difficult year of my life and I’ve become well acquainted with grieving. Whether you are grieving someone’s death, the loss of a relationship or other major life transitions, it can be a painful and lonely time.
The following is my top 10 list of survival strategies for loss and grief:
1. Protein shakes
At the beginning of my break-up, I lost 11 pounds in two weeks. I could not eat. I had no appetite and felt nauseous most of the time. I knew I had to keep up my energy but just couldn’t get food down. At the suggestion of a friend, I started making protein shakes in the morning and I found I could drink those when I couldn’t eat breakfast.
Sound is considered sacred in some religious traditions, and I have always been comforted by music. There is nothing like identifying with lyrics or the story of someone else’s grief. I’ve made several mixes, each with a different vibe. One was uplifting and positive. One was sad and wallowing. And another was just angry.
I noticed I came back to two particular albums over and over again. Check out Zoe Keating’s “Into the Trees” and Explosions in the Sky’s “All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone.” Both are instrumental (though vastly different) and it felt like they got to the emotions I was feeling without getting stuck in the story of my experience.
I started writing in a journal every night before bed. One of the most destabilizing things about grief is the way it disrupts your routine. I found it was helpful to establish a different routine that brought my grief right into its center.
Don’t get hung up on being poetic or flawless, just write. Some days, I’d write three pages of deep, reflective insights, and other days I’d write three sentences about how empty I felt. The important part was, I wrote something everyday.
I made it into a ritual and this helped me to keep going. What I found was, over a month’s time I had made some big progress in how I was dealing with my grief. It also helped me stay in touch with my emotions when it would have been easier to go numb.
Grief can be incredibly lonely. Just knowing someone else has experienced what you are feeling now can be powerful and cathartic. I found reading a variety of sources helped me to feel less alone. When I wanted inspiration, I scanned elephant journal articles. When I needed to comfort my inner-child, I read and reread Neil Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl. See animated story here:
But the book that probably influenced my healing the most was, The Journey from Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson. This book helped me to explore my deeply rooted patterns and beliefs. It also included exercises to help work through difficult feelings.
5. Keep moving
I found at the darkest moments of my grief I felt paralyzed. I could not get out of bed. This is why moving is so incredibly important. I walked with friends and shared my story. I walked on my treadmill to get my anxious energy out. I walked leisurely to enjoy a beautiful fall day and contemplate in quiet. I often had to force myself to “walk it out,” but I was always glad I did.
6. Hot baths in candlelight
Our bodies hold a lot of tension when we are stressed. Relaxing in a hot tub at the end of the day is a nice way to relax. Dim the lights, play soft music and just be.
7. Friends and Family
I can’t tell you how important it was for me to connect with people in my life. I needed to tell my story, to process my grief and to make sense of my experiences. I also needed to feel life-affirming connections again. During a time I felt abandoned, I was reminded my friends and family love me deeply, and support me when I need them most.
While there were times I needed to just wallow in my suffering, there were other times I needed to stay busy and distracted. I got lost in projects which helped to distract my mind from my misery. Remember all those things at the back of the closet you’ve been wanting to go through someday? Now is as good a time as any. I spent a lot of time reorganizing and redecorating my physical space. I purged things I no longer needed and it felt good to shed physical clutter in my life. It also made my space feel more safe and homey.
9. Breathing deeply
In the beginning, it was all I could do to breathe deeply. I would literally lie in bed, tears streaming down my face, and gasp for air. Just focusing on inhaling and exhaling took major concentration. Eventually, I graduated to adding specific pranayama techniques (my favorite is the 4:8 breath) and paired them with simple visualizations. Several months later, I’m back to a light yoga practice where I move and breathe together.
No matter which strategies I used to comfort and soothe myself, there were always unexpected tears triggered at unexpected moments. Grieving is a slow process and it doesn’t end overnight, much to my disappointment. I kept tissues in my car since it seemed the place I cried most often. I came to accept crying was just part of what my body needed to process my pain.
These are the things that worked for me. Make your own list. Find your own survival strategies. Figure out what gives you a sense of purpose and comfort. Its important to create the space in your life to embody those things. The path to healing begins with the first step of self-acceptance and self-care.
Rachael Goss teaches Sociology at various universities in Pittsburgh. She has practiced yoga for 6 years and is thankful she found it. She has a degree in World Religions and tries to find the sacred in everyday living.
Editor: Jennifer Spesia