There is a Buddhist practice referred to as non-attachment that teaches how to let pain go and allow ourselves healing. A popular quote by a Zen Master says, “Everything breaks. Attachment is our unwillingness to face that reality.”
If I may be candid, I am far removed from this ideology. I have the hardest time letting go of things simply because I am afraid that if I stop carrying the weight of my hurt, then it won’t matter anymore. But I need these things to matter because they shaped who I am. It’s a silly thought, but it’s one I get lost in frequently.
Grief isn’t linear. We have been taught about the five stages of grief as if it’s a checklist; as if once we make it to acceptance, the hurt is gone. That isn’t even close to what actually happens. There are days of acceptance, sure, but that does not signify the end–so to speak. One day might feel calm while the next is met with unspeakable rage.
As much as I hate it, there is no checklist, no mile markers, no anything. There is just you and this mountain of emotions, and while the fact that grief isn’t on a timeline can feel overwhelming, I would argue that it may be its best quality. There are no rules for how long it takes to grieve or in what order the steps should be followed or anything of the sort. It just hurts, and we don’t get to decide when or where, or for how long. The only thing about grief that we get to control is how we respond to it.
So, how do we respond when grief takes us by the hand and refuses to leave? How do we find healing? I’m not a licensed therapist, but I am familiar with what works for me and what advice I’ve been given over the years. I’d love to share it with you.
One of the most useful tools I’ve been given is a phrase that I repeat over and over to myself until I become grounded again. Whenever I find myself lost in my emotions–whenever, all I can see are things I can’t know, no matter how hard I try–I remind myself to “be where my feet are.” It is so easy to get caught up in all the what-ifs and unknowns of life, and these things easily consume us, so it is important for me to remind myself that while there are things out of my control that could happen, they are not happening at this moment, and this moment is where I need to be.
I accompany this phrase by becoming more aware of my surroundings, and I will start to name different details and objects around me. For example, I will tell myself that my feet are in my car, and I am driving home to eat lunch. I will go over all the different color cars I see around me, what landmarks I am passing on my way, and I will look at the clock and think about what day it is.
There are many different mental health problems instigated by trauma, and one of the most common is anxiety. So, not only are we sifting through deep pain, but we are also hypervigilant of the possibility that something horrible could happen again. Preparing for every possible outcome of any given situation is something I have done since I was a kid, and let me tell you–it is draining. By becoming grounded in the moment, reminding myself to be where my feet are, I’ve been saved a lot of worry and nail-biting. So, be where your feet are. Right now, your feet are under you while you read these words, and that’s all you need to know right now. Keep reading and take deep breaths.
Creating a Safe Space
It took me a while to understand this principle, but creating a space where you feel comfortable and free enough to let down your walls is as healing as anything else. My space is my apartment, specifically the couch next to my window. I reserve this spot for when I am calm. I do not do my therapy sessions there, I do not journal there, and I do not cry there. I need a space where I can go where I am not reminded of the pain I am still working through, and my window seat gives me that. I can look out into the world or I can look at my art, I can read or write or do whatever I want there and not have intrusive thoughts tiptoe their way into my space.
I am sure you thought I was going in the opposite direction–that I was going to advise you to have a safe space to process those emotions–and while that is also a useful tool, having an untainted place for the version of you that just wants to be okay again is not something most people think about. I would encourage you to have both. Create a space for the “healing” you and a space for the “okay” you and have them honor one another. The whole healing journey is pivotal in honoring the different sides of ourselves that are going through this.
This leads me to my next piece of advice: have compassion for yourself. Healing is a slow process, and it can seem like you take one step forward and two steps back. So, in the middle of it all, remember that you deserve the love you weren’t given and the patience it takes to heal. You are going to encounter many different versions of yourself along your journey, and none of them are wrong or bad.
One of the more taboo methods to find healing is therapy. I would encourage you to go anyway. I have been in therapy most of my life, and it has helped me tremendously. One of my earlier therapists explained my pain like this: all of my emotions are squiggly lines all tangled up with one another inside me. Talking to a therapist helps to not only detangle the squiggly lines, but it can remove them as well. Therapy is one of the best ways to heal from trauma, and although finding the right therapist can be hard and messy, it is absolutely worth it.
If someone you know is suffering from pain like this, you are just as important in their healing journey as anything I mentioned before. Standing with someone as they sort through their mess requires a lot of patience and understanding; it is not easy in the slightest. Remind them often that you still love them and that you aren’t going anywhere. Make sure they know that their grief isn’t a burden for you. Remember that grief has no rules, even if you become overwhelmed or frustrated at times. There isn’t a set amount of time to feel each stage of grief, nor are there rules against revisiting a stage. It will take time– a lot of time. Allow them to feel however they feel and meet those feelings with kindness.
Bria Beasley is an executive assistant for a State Senator in Alabama. She loves the arts and taking cat naps with her fur baby, Birdy. Bria’s passion for advocacy comes from her years spent in the foster system where she witnessed first-hand the detriment of a parentless life. She whole-heartedly believes that change happens in our homes before anywhere else.