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March 6, 2022

Uncorking Grief: Why Numbing Trauma Doesn’t Work.

 

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Sploosh, pfttt, pop. Sploosh, pffftt pop. Sploosh, pffftt, pop.

The sound of corks pulled is unmistakable. For wine drinkers, it signals joy.

Relief.

And in the Netflix dramady, “The Woman In The House Across the Street From The Girl In The Window,” the sounds serve as a Greek chorus signaling Anna’s bouts with grief, which are frequent. The heroine, played by Kristen Bell, is reeling from the death of her young daughter—even after four years.

Familiar with grief myself, the premise drew me in. But it wasn’t until the last episode that I realized it was a parody of the mystery psychological thriller genre. As the credits rolled, I checked Google—and learned it was all a dark joke.

I should have noticed it sooner. Everything was exaggerated. Even the drinking. In one episode she opened one, two, and then three bottles of red wine. I kept thinking, “This can’t be real.” No one could drink that much and still function. Right?

But part of it rang true. When I was grieving, I drank a lot. My wine of choice was red—until an allergy forced me to stop. I didn’t take the hint. I switched to Chardonnay.

Many of us turn to addictive habits when grieving. To numb the pain. Mute the constant hum of grief.

But imbibing a depressant like alcohol may actually extend the grieving process. Because alcohol decelerates the nervous system and mind, making it harder to process emotions and find peace.

Last week was the four-year anniversary of someone I lost suddenly. And the first time I met that loss anniversary without wine as a companion. I’ve been sober for over 350 days now.

Yes, I started the day crying—and felt the reverberation of grief throughout the day. But instead of stuffing it down with wine or cheese curls, I noticed it. I took a long walk with my dog—and later—an even longer bath. I ventured out for mocktails and watched the sun’s orange, red, and yellow hues fade.

It was just another day.

Tomorrow would come and the grief would subside. Things I wouldn’t have understood if I’d imbibed. Numbed.

Eventually even, “The Woman In The House Across the Street From The Girl In The Window” puts aside the bottles and faces her loss. She admits to a grief group that she’s been lying about her drinking. And confesses it might be because she doesn’t want to get better. She’s guilty about moving forward. Worried that finding happiness will make her forget her daughter.

As if it’s possible to forget those we’ve lost.

Guilt is a common aura around grief. And sometimes we’re stuck in the death trauma memory rather than remembrances of happier times.

When these feelings strike, drinking does not help. What does? Talking with a professional. Writing about the pain. Expressing it in some productive way.

A wise woman once told me, “You don’t have to follow your loved one to the grave. They wouldn’t want that. They loved you. Don’t you think they want you to be happy?”

I do.

So, when these feelings come, I breathe them in and let them wash over me. Or as I say in my book, “The only way out is through the pain—through the whole reality of what we’ve lost. We have to feel it, so we take nothing else in life for granted.”

Only facing it silences the Greek chorus—leaving us to find our peace.

~

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