I’m going to start where I left off in the last blog “Revisiting Grief.”
“As I stepped off the plane in Sacramento, California, I felt the veil of heaviness and sadness lift. I was home – this is my home and my heart is also full of those who used to reside in Tacoma, WA, the place I used to call home.”
One of the key indicators of unresolved grief is moving into behaviors that override feelings that we don’t want to feel. From my work with Grief Recovery Method we call these STERBS – short term energy relieving behaviors. One of my life long go-to behaviors was to just exercise it out. I’ve been an athlete for 30 years but have been working through some injury issues the last couple years. I would have been the last one to say that I was using exercise to avoid or run away (literally in my case!) from emotions except that I have one blaring example in my loss history that showed me that I couldn’t just run away from things. To be clear – I am a wellness professional who speaks about the benefits of exercise all the time, but I also know it can be used to cover up and avoid troubling thoughts and emotions. Of late – I have taken on new ways to avoid hidden vaults of stuff I don’t want to feel.
So, when I got off the plane into the bright, hot, sunny skies of Sacramento and went to the grocery store to stock groceries for the week, I was curious but didn’t judge myself about putting 3 bottles of wine in the grocery cart. It just sounded nice, like I could relax a little more after the trip with some wine. I consumed all 3 of those bottles before the week was done. I kept “checking in” and nothing on a conscious level was coming forward. I felt like I was doing fine and just happy to be back in my routine and home.
But here’s the thing – when something opens a window or door to the impact of emotions experienced in the past, you can’t just shut the window or door and think that you are done with that memory. Not if there is unfinished business emotionally. It reminded me of all the times in my life that I said “I’m fine” using it like a shield, knowing that was far from the truth but not wanting to delve into whatever it was. So that’s where these STERBS (excessive eating, drinking, gambling, shopping, sex, drugs, work, exercise) come in – they serve very well as a stop gap but the reality is they may be covering a cauldron of unrest that has the potential to erupt at some point. Or, if unchecked, they escalate into addictions.
Finally at the end of the week and knowing that I had my accountability call with my grief recovery partner – I was able to get to work on acknowledging and processing what was really locked away in those experiences from 40 years ago. And I am relieved to say, WOW did I cry and process and get some things out that I had shame and guilt over and really didn’t want to say out loud to anyone. But that is what I was covering up – and as I’ve moved into this week I have no drive or desire for wine.
To recap – just because time has gone by, it doesn’t mean that undelivered communications and unfinished grief is not lurking in your body and psyche. Be gentle with yourself if you come upon a window or door that opens to some unfinished grief and undelivered communications. Allow these thoughts and feelings to emerge and find a safe outlet to express them.
The Grief Recovery Method is an evidence based curriculum that offers an action based way to accomplish this. Learn about it here.