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March 2, 2021

How to Apply the 5 Stages of Grief when our Love comes to an End.

There will always be times in our life when things begin and things end.

Nothing is guaranteed to last forever, so it’s about how we move through the process of these beginnings and endings that either bring our greatest joy or our greatest pain.

We can rush through the beginnings and miss all the beautiful moments that are present when something new enters. We can fight or deny when something is over and cause ourselves the pain of carrying around something that has long since died.

The chance of change is always there. The only thing we have control over is the flexibility and grace with which we allow ourselves to move forward. It’s all up to us.

I had an experience recently where I had to let go of an idea that I had been particularly enamored with and excited about. And, if you know me, you know how carried away I can get with things I am excited about.

When this idea had come into my life, I hadn’t expected it, and the intensity with which it entered my life matched the intensity of which it made its exit. I was on one end of the pendulum, extremely happy, maybe ignorantly blissful, and out of balance, so when it ended, I felt like I had been pushed to the other side without my agreement.

Even though I felt heartbroken, I knew trying to make it stay wasn’t the right path. My only real choice was to make my way from the extremes, back to balance, where I could see myself and the situation clearly, and hopefully, eventually, let it go.

I went through that process and experienced what Elizabeth Kübler-Ross calls the five stages of grief (and took a few steps in-between):

Healing

At first, I was trying to push myself through these stages quickly in an attempt to somehow be in a different place than I was—I desperately wanted to be in a different place than where I was.

I thought if I rushed through it fast enough, I could somehow still stay connected to the thing I felt I was losing, but I soon realized, and remembered, that you can’t rush it.

As much as you may want the pain to be over, you have to trust that this is not forever (something greater is always on the other side), and honoring where you are at is both beautiful and part of the process. The more I allowed myself to breathe through it, the less crazy I felt in my head and the less judgmental of myself I became. And while I am still wading through the acceptance part, I am much more in a place of gratitude and peace.

Denial

When I first found out this thing was ending, I was crushed. There were lots of tears and emotions.

I started writing all kinds of thoughts out, both rational and irrational. I didn’t care; I was feeling so much. The next morning, I had a brief moment of clarity, which I confused with thinking I had come to peace with the situation.

Now looking back, I see how although the clarity had been real, I was not yet in a place to fully receive it. I didn’t realize how fragile I was until a well-intentioned gesture sent me spiraling back into sadness. My mind was all over the place, grasping for meaning, grasping for anything to hold on to because I wasn’t yet ready to let go.

Anger

Originally, I had tried to carry the weight of the failure of this idea all on my own. I wanted to take all the blame and punish myself. I was bad, wrong, not good enough, and so on.

Then I realized—wait a minute—I didn’t do all this on my own. I should remove this blame and instead place it on everything outside of myself. I had been wronged. I was a victim.

Although I was starting to expand my view of what had happened to see the roles and parts that all had played, none of it made me feel better.

I felt angry, and I felt betrayed. I remember feeling like I wanting to punch someone or something. It was as if all the energy was building up inside of me, and I needed to push it out somehow.

And maybe that’s just what anger is, the movement of pushing a great deal of energy out. And maybe it’s when you push that energy out onto other people or yourself that is what causes harm.

Maybe if we use our creative energy to move it out through art, music, writing, making, and breathing…that we can release the energy without exploding.

I did a lot of writing and some painting during this phase. I also did my best to let the people around me at that time know that I was feeling prickly and that if I was short, it had nothing to do with them. Sometimes the act of just letting someone know how you feel, even if it’s just an, “I am irritated today,” helps you release some of that tension in a more healthy way.

Bargaining

This was the beginning of me looking at myself honestly, giving myself the feedback and hard truths I needed to hear.

As I started to see the choices I had made, more clearly, I started dwelling on how I would have done things differently. What if I would have said something different, been someone different, that I would have had a different outcome?

I felt foolish for many of the decisions I had made. Of course, it ended this way; how could it not have? Why couldn’t I have seen what I see so clearly now? Why couldn’t I go back in time and fix it all? Unfortunately, we cannot bargain with the past.

I had to remind myself that if something else was meant to happen, it would have happened. My only choice in all of this was to let it go.

Depression

Ah, this is the part where I sat around in my soft pants all day, eating frozen pizza, and binge-watching Netflix.

Depression makes everything seem dull—there is no sunshine and nothing to be excited about. Doing all the things you normally do seems like a chore, and you have to drag yourself through each activity. I drew into myself and my thoughts, and I felt tired. Everything sucked, and I felt like a total grumpus.

Here’s what I want to say about depression, “It’s okay to feel depressed. We should feel no shame about this step because we all go through it. But we have to remember; it’s just that, a temporary step, not a place to stay.”

Feeling depressed is natural and not shameful. We are still worthy of being loved and supported. If we are brave, we can let ourselves reach out for help, not for the other person to fix our problem but to ask our friends to be with us as we walk through ours.

This is the time when you let your best friend or your boss (if your boss is a kick-ass lady like mine) know, “I’m struggling right now” or “I’m not okay.”

This is also probably a time when you’re going to be the hardest on yourself, which is exactly why you need to show yourself the most grace. This is the time for self-care. These are the times when my best friend reminds me to be nice to her friend (me). This is also the time when you have to remind yourself—you’ve already made it through three big stages. You can make it through this—winter may seem long, but spring is so close.

We are stronger than we think we are.

I am stronger than I think, and if I think I am alone, I am seriously lying to myself. In fact, although I felt depressed, I remember writing in my gratitude journal every night about how loved I felt by my friends. And maybe that was part of the learning for me, that I could go through things because I wasn’t going through it by myself.

For someone, who most of her life, has tried to shoulder her own struggles, this part of my experience really stood out to me and eventually would lead me to the gratitude I feel now.

Acceptance

The first steps into acceptance for me felt numb and raw.

Like that in-between feeling you have after you’ve had a good hard cry. I guess it’s understandable, I had just put myself through a lot. Feelings of peace and acceptance didn’t come all at once—they came and continue to come in waves.

I see myself with less judgment, and I see new reasons to love myself. I see reasons to forgive, to move on, to create space for something new. I am feeling grateful for what I have learned and the intensity of which I had learned it. I know next time will be different because who we are on the other side of change is someone different.

It’s like we are all blocks of marble, and everything we learn, every time we grow and change—one more piece is chiseled away. One day, it will be revealed who we really are, and it will be amazing.

Our hearts are stronger than we think

I do think everything happens for a reason and sometimes what at first might seem like something that was sent to break your heart is actually only there to break your heart open—even bigger and wider than it was before.

Our hearts are way more resilient and stronger than we give them credit for. So please be kind to yourselves when you find yourself going through these stages of letting something go. The person you might be on the other side of it all that change might surprise you.

And yes, you will love again, you will create again, there will be other ideas, other mountains to climb and you, my friend, will be ready for it.

If you’re stuck in one of the phases or you don’t even know what phase you’re in, but you just know you’re stuck—ask for help, go to a therapist, start journaling, whatever it is that you need, do it—be brave and take that next step.

If you are stuck in depression, please ask for help. This might mean medication, this might mean meditation, this might mean lots of different steps to lift the cloud.

Mental health is important—your mental health is important.

You are valuable, and you are worth figuring it out. I can’t say what’s right for you; I can only say that I hope that you find what is right for you and that you learn to love yourself along the way.

~

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