“Grief always comes bearing gifts. Unfortunately, they are sometimes wrapped in barbed wire.”
Welp… To be fair, I really did believe that 2020 was going to be a year of focus and clarity. I wasn’t wrong.
I really wish it had been delivered differently. I bet you do too. If you’re reading this, you survived it. Far too many people did not, adding to our individual, familial, community and national grief.
Since we are here, let’s do it well.
Before it gets better
The pandemic is apparently a lot like therapy: It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Remember what I wrote last Spring about chronic v. acute stress? You feel me now, don’t you? Just as we have more than had enough and long for a life that’s not blanketed in pain, struggle and grief, just when we think we don’t have it in us, we find out that things are going to get worse before they get better. Stellar.
And, I encourage you to think back. How many times did you hit stress points in 2020 where you just didn’t think you had anything more to give? You worked it out, didn’t you? Sometimes you gave less than you hoped to. Sometimes you rearranged your priorities and learned that, while not your first choice, it really was ok to let this or that thing go. You might have even learned to offer more self-grace in the process. Sometimes you let things go because you were completely out of spoons and there were deeply regrettable consequences. You have had to learn to be alright, even though circumstances truly are not ok. At other times you found a way to pour on the juice and power through something you didn’t think you could.
Take an inventory. How did you get through 2020? How do you feel about those choices? Consider what you want to keep of the coping skills you used, and what you might trade for something that works better with less collateral damage. We have this phenomenal opportunity to learn more about ourselves, about resiliency, about purposefulness, about connectedness, about the human family… all wrapped in barbed wire. Watch your fingers as you unwrap it.
DO NOT BRACE YOURSELF
Have you ever noticed that when people get in alcohol-related accidents, the people that survive and/or survive with less bodily damage are typically the ones who were drunk? Have you ever thought about why?
When we are substance-impaired, our frontal lobe discernment centers are offline. Our reaction times are slowed. By the time we figure out that we are about to crash into someone or something, it has already happened. We weren’t thinking clearly enough to panic.
Those who are not impaired in that same crash are well aware that they are in actual threat. In situations like that our minds often race at lightning speed, spinning on every horrible possibility. We tense up and brace ourselves which makes us incredibly fragile on impact. It does not go well.
Bend, don’t break
Contemplating the numbers of COVID illnesses and deaths that will likely happen between now and summer, our first instincts will often be to “brace ourselves.” I don’t recommend copious amounts of alcohol to avoid that kind of fragility. We have other, less universally costly and more effective ways to manage what’s coming at us.
As we face more struggle, more grief, more ripples and ripples of economic, interpersonal, personal, societal and national stress, we have the ability to take what we’ve learned and continue to “learn forward.” We can marry the “looseness” of the drunk driver with the wisdom of the keenly aware. The risks are real. If we become masters of self-regulation, we can stay loose and not suffer and continue to make the best choices we can, even as we experience pain.
There is a common saying: “Pain is inevitable; Suffering is voluntary.” Pain exists to let us know that something needs adjustment. Trust me, you do not want to stop experiencing pain. Think about how that will play out the next time you find that you are near an open flame. That little twinge of pain, combined with your body-memory you might have for burning your skin will be an accurate early warning system that reminds you to move away, quickly. Pain is important.
Suffering, however, is not really that helpful. Suffering occurs when we waste precious energy anticipating the possibility of pain. It happens when we consume ourselves with the pain that we have experienced, sucked into the vortex of an un-answerable “why?” While it can be very helpful to work through what we are learning from pain, and certainly helpful to share our stories with others who can offer empathy and companionship in the hard parts of our lives, there is a useless form of suffering that does nothing but hurt us more and make us weak.
Anticipating what the losses and struggle coming at us in the first part of 2021 might feel like is that kind of suffering. Frankly, we don’t have room for it.
Oh, you thought I was randomly suggesting taking an inventory of what you’ve learned through last year’s struggle! No. Seriously. Write it down, type it out or tap it into being. Get it out in front of you. Your greatest wisdom will come from inside of you. And please please please use your skills to stay in that centered, strong place as you review your struggle; Remember to tell your body that you are in this place at this time by keeping your body in the relaxed state throughout. You already made it through those threats you are learning from. Staying off of your vagus nerve will disconnect your painful memory from your body’s reaction to those memories.
You have choices. You can do this well if you choose to. You can hone and develop your resilience and your ability to grasp your own wisdom. You can cultivate relationships with supportive sojourners. You can use all that you’ve learned to help others along the way.
Don’t be surprised if you cut your fingers on the barbed wire that wraps these gifts. Remember that fingers bleed like drama queens. Tend to your cuts well and don’t be alarmed by the messiness of it all.
Let’s do “it” well, whatever “it” turns out to be.
If you are having trouble finding your resilience, please contact me here. I’ll do my best to connect you with resources that can help.