#divorce, #hope, Addiction, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, compassion, Divorce, Grief, Grief Support, hope, loss, Uncategorized, wellness

The Sacred Act of Holding Space

Last summer, deep in grief,  I was exchanging texts with my dear and wise friend, Robin. We were supporting one another through difficult life transitions, and connected often. During one particular exchange, she signed off with a sentiment unfamiliar to me.

It was a simple salutation, but I didn’t understand it.

I’m holding space for you…”, she wrote.

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Not entirely sure what that meant, and not yet inquisitive enough to ask, I shelved the comment.

Until a few days later, when she wrote it again.

 

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As I understood it, she was telling me in her own way, that she was thinking of me.  

Awww.  So nice, right?

Wrong. Way wrong.

I finally did ask her what she meant by it, and as it often happens, I started to hear and read about other people using the same term as well.  

Now, months later, having space held for me, and holding space in return, I get it.

I truly get it.

I understand that holding space is one of the most important gifts we can give those we love and care about.

It’s far more than just “thinking about you”.  It’s seeing a friend in distress and making a commitment to stand grounded in empathy and compassion.  

Holding space is quiet and strong, and it doesn’t rush in to try to “fix” anything.  

Holding space doesn’t offer advice or make suggestions.  It certainly doesn’t compare their pain to yours.

Rather, it acknowledges that a person is experiencing deep, even complicated, feelings.  It recognizes that such emotion must be felt and endured, not numbed and buried.

Holding space invites conversation, it listens and affirms.  It honors the human experience through the most difficult and trying times.   In doing so, it acknowledges our shared humanity.  Which feels so “right”, yet is so counterintuitive in today’s fast-paced, multitasking, solution-oriented society.  

Here, we want to ease the suffering of our brethren, so we are often quick to offer advice, make suggestions, and even relay stories of others in similar situations, hoping the connection will provide comfort.  

It’s hard to see those we care about in pain, so for some, it’s natural to want to help.  

For others, seeing loved ones ache is a scary mirror to our own struggle, so we offer nothing and simply go away.  

But holding space gives the gift of understanding to our grief and struggle without any pressure to “get over it”, or “move on”.  Holding space doesn’t abide by a timeline.

In having this done for me, I have been able to do so for others.  In this practice, I have come to learn that holding space is indeed, a sacred act.  I am so honored to hold space for others.  

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Still not sure what this looks like?

Here’s a handy dandy reference guide to get you started:
Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 12.15.25 PM
So, who could you hold space for today?  Or perhaps you are someone who would benefit from the love of space being held for you?  Reach out and share space, and watch it come back to you.

Lastly, I wonder what our world would be like if we showered one another with this seemingly benign salutation, and really meant it.

I have to believe we would feel as seen as supported as I have.  (Thanks, Robin)

Holding space,

Stephanie

#divorce, #hope, Addiction, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, Grief, loss

5 Signs You Might Be In Ambiguous Grief (and what you can do about it)

ambiguous grief face

Grief is a universal emotional experience.  It is felt by humans, and even some animals, when a loved one dies.  The Stages of Grief Model by psychiatrist and researcher, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is widely accepted as universal as well.  Grief, we have learned, is predictable: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

But what if the common denominator isn’t death? What if instead it was something far-more nefarious that first takes our loved one away?  Monsters like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Traumatic Brain Injury or Addiction. These life-altering diagnoses changes our loved one, and often resigned, we watch helpless as they slip further away from the person they once were to us.  As the relationship dynamic changes, the grieving process begins. But often, the bereft are unaware. Since their beloved did not die a physical death, their grief doesn’t neatly fit the 5 stages, though they may get lumped in anyway.  Instead, their grief goes unnamed and untreated.  

So, are you or someone you know currently living with ambiguous grief?

Here are five key indicators that point to “YES”.

1) You have experienced a significant relationship loss, and the person lost is still living.  

A Divorce is a common entry-point when the ending of the marriage is unwanted by one partner, or the marriage as it was believed to have been is proven to be false.  For those who have lost loved one to intimate betrayal, the perspective changes as the person appears different than previously believed. When reality is fissured by revelations, ambiguous grief can begin.  The loved one is still living, but they are no longer who they “used” to be.

(Other examples:  A parent’s Alzheimer’s Disease has altered your previous relationship dynamic, Your child is an addict and living on the streets without contact, A family member has rejected you based on the disclosure that you are gay.)

2) You have hope that your lost loved one will return to you as they once were.  

Without a physical death, the possibility of a restored relationship can become consuming for those in ambiguous grief.  With a warm body there is often hope that life can resume with the relationship as it was once.

(Examples of external hope include: A hope for a medical breakthrough, a loved one entering a recovery/treatment program, a change of heart.)

3) You have a sense of shame or embarrassment over your loss.   

Since ambiguous grief is most commonly born from an activating event, such as divorce or diagnosis (Caudle & Sarazin, 2018), the loss can often feel like a personal failure, or could carry a perceived stigma, preventing the grieving party from feeling comfortable disclosing to others.  

(Examples include: a parent feeling embarrassed that their child is a drug addict, a wife feeling shame for her husband’s double life, a husband’s embarrassment over his wife’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and his inability to care for her.)

4) You haven’t acknowledged the pain of your loss publicly.

When a loved one is lost to death, there is a cultural understanding that a physical death has occurred, and we know what to do.   (Cue the lasagnas in freezers!) Ambiguous grievers are most often unable to articulate their grief, much less hold a ceremony eulogizing their beloved, and therefore receive little to no support.  Without sharing your loss with others and mourning in community, your pain can fester and grow.  

Some family dynamics believe that “family matters are private”, so we may grow up being told not to share what happens inside the family home.  This can show up as shame and embarassmA loved one still aliveent when we suffer heartbreak or loss later in life.  Attempting to manage your grief privately prevents others from helping, supporting, and encouraging your healing.

5) You thought you were just really, really sad.

Watching loved ones change, or losing a meaningful relationship will often evoke sadness.  The difference is that ambiguous grievers aren’t only experiencing a loss, but a death. While not a physical death, a death nonetheless.  The trouble is that many of us associate GRIEF with death and dying in physical form.  This excludes other important deaths we endure in life: the death of a dream, a relationship, a job.  All of which can cause grief, but is most often not recognized as such. 

Naturally, sadness is a part of loss, but it’s important to understand when we are sad, and when we are grieving.  Grief is a dull aching pain that often shows up uninvited and hijacks your emotional being.  It is said that it’s the last act of love we have to give to those we loved and that tears say what cannot be said 

What You Can Do About It

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If you are grieving a loss of a loved one still alive, and these five indicators are familiar, you may be experiencing ambiguous grief.  

Being able to identify and name this grief is the first step in healing.  

Hopefully, as more and more people acknowledge this grief, we will be able to offer important resources of support to those struggling and often suffering their loss alone.  

Find support for yourself.  A therapist, friends, and/or faith-based groups are often first stops.  Additionally, there are many online forums dedicated to supporting grievers through all forms of loss. Find them with a simple google search.

For proactive practices to healing, check out the ReRooting Tool Kit at www.riseuprooted.net/rerooting-tools/

 

#divorce, #hope, Ambiguous Grief, betrayal, Grief Support, loss, Parenting

Hope Springs Internal

hope

Have you ever hoped for something so hard that it hurt?  Maybe you wanted a toy as a kid, a party invitation as a teen, a job offer as an adult.  Or perhaps, like me, maybe you were hoping to heal an important relationship.

This kind of hard-hoping physically knots your stomach, churns your insides, and pulls on so many of your emotions it feels like you a never ending ride on a rickety old merry-go-round.  This kind of hope is all-consuming.

For people like me living with ambiguous grief, hope gets in the way.  Losing someone you love, but not to death, is tricky.

For a solid 8 months after the discovery of my (now ex) husband’s double life, I stood firm in my commitment to understand why he did what he did, and like a dutiful wife, get him the professional help he needed.  I hoped that therapy/medicine/meditation/treatment would solve the riddle of WHY, and we could then get on track for healing him*.  My hope was that he would  do the hard work required to find answers, to understand his hurtful and damaging actions, and “return” to the man he once was.  So, knowing he was the only one who could do his piece, and armed with the (wrong) belief that ‘If I didn’t help him, who would?’, I waited and I hoped.

I hoped and hoped and hoped.

For those who lose a loved one to death, hope for a reunion on earth is gone.  Grievers by death aren’t waiting for their loved one to call and announce they are seeking treatment, or waiting for grand gestures of apology and working toward amends.

But that’s exactly what makes ambiguous grief so tricky.

Without a physical death, hope remains.

In observing my own behavior during this time, I noticed something: the more I focused hope on him, the faster that rickety, old merry-go-round spun.  Then, I would hop off and take a break.  Then with a running start, I’d hop back on.  Until I had to jump off, again. This is the dysfunctional cycle of hope.

As my cycle breaks grew longer and longer,  I realized that it was during this time that I focused on myself.  I was just too exhausted and drained to focus my hope on him and his healing, something I realized I had no control over.

I used these breaks like a nap, recharging for what comes next.  It was during this time, that I practiced hoping for my future as a single mother.

I took inventory of my life and my interests.

How can I best care for my children?

What are my passions?

What are my gifts?

How can I be of service to others?

How did I want to define my life moving forward?

The time and energy I spent hoping for me changed everything.

Every. Single. Thing.

I was able to detach from the hope of any resolved relationship, to see my marriage for what is was, and even for what it wasn’t (but I thought it was), and to begin to stand on my own again.  I didn’t “give up” on hope for him and his healing, I made a conscious decision to stop hoping in his direction.

But, hope is persnickety and would still make surprise drop-ins.  When that would happen,  I would acknowledge it, and then use mental imagery to move that hope to a box I keep tucked away in the attic of my mind.  Then, immediately, I would envision a hope I have for myself, sit with it a moment, and then move on with my day.

Hope keeps us going.  But it’s dangerous because sometimes, it shouldn’t.  Not when it’s  misdirected, and especially not when it’s been misdirected for so long that the rickety old merry-go-round begins to rust.  That’s a huge sign that it’s time to hop off.  I am so glad I did.

Now, my hope is for my healing, for my post-traumatic growth, and the beautiful and  (God willing) long life I have in front of me.

merry go round

*My friend Catherine wrote a beautiful piece on “The Big Why“. She’s also started a gifting service for those wanting to send comfort to their loved ones in grief.  You can check out both here:

https://www.beyondwordsco.com/blog/2018/6/11/thebigwhy

https://www.beyondwordsco.com

#hope, Ambiguous Grief

Thank you letters.

Dear 2017,

You are the WORST. Yet somehow, you began with hope and oddly, you end the same way. What’s that all about? A sandwich of suffering, you are.

In the middle though, February – November, you were brutal.  Filled with endless days of shock, grief, confusion, anger, sadness, and loss.  Days that are a blur now, blending all into one heap of a week, a month, a year.  The relentless tidal wave that drown me in my own tears during your reign have finally started to receded, though like an astute lifeguard, I am vigilant for their return.best worst year

Friends comment on how hard you have been on me. How brave I am to have endured your relentless punishment.  (as if you gave me a choice) Enduring heartbreak again and again and again. (and again.)

Seriously? I get it.

You can let up now.

Like a broken record that skips and repeats the same lines over and over again. I stutter-stepped through your days, going through motions to care for children and pets, and occasionally, myself.  I am grateful my body had muscle memory to do so.  My children saw me deep in grief, more days than not.

During your tenure, my spark dulled, my mind raced and my body ached.

CONSTANTLY.

Exercise felt like death and relief was nowhere to be found.

You probably thought I was out for the count. But that would mean you underestimated My People. My incredible friends and family. They pulled me out of the rubble and stood me up again.  With their love and support in this year of YOU, 2017, I took

every. single. blow

and got up again

every.single.time. 

During your onslaught of pain, I uncovered and grew the greatest gifts of my lifetime.

God. Family. Friends. Love. Integrity. Loyalty. Compassion. Care. Grace.

I am not what happened to me this year.

I know who I am.

Thanks to you, I am better than I ever have been before.

You, 2017 are the package that holds the death of my marriage. A love I planned to cherish for a lifetime. You are also the steward of my new life.  A life where I can live according to my own values: in honesty, empathy, love, and grace.

Without you, I wouldn’t have known, really known, how high above the trees I see life, and how deeply and genuinely I love.

I wouldn’t know that grieving the loss of a living loved one is the hardest thing I would have to do in my 43 years.

I wouldn’t know that I could come out of this experience with strengthened relationships and beautiful new friendships – more like war buddies- I can’t imagine this time without.

I wouldn’t have known how much I was not honored or respected, how I was so taken advantage of, lied to, betrayed.

I wouldn’t have known the depths of God’s Grace and the strength of my own uncompromising integrity.

You held up a mirror to my life and reminded me to hold true to the courage of my convictions, and reminded me to seek values in others that align with my own.  Doing this both removed and strengthened my relationships. But you probably already knew that would be the case. Perhaps that was your silent agenda all along.

You sprinkled in gifts and strengthened me.  You affirmed for me who I am, who loves me, and who doesn’t.  You beat me down and made me better.  I hope I never see another year like you, but I leave you in gratitude.

Thanks for the lessons,

Stephanie

Dear 2018,

Thanks for showing up.

I’m about to rise.

Watch out.

Stephanie

Fire

 

 

 

 

 

#hope, Ambiguous Grief, Grief, loss

Wise Words & Stuff

Connecting with  others enduring the difficult life of an ambiguous griever, provides a lifeline of understanding.  There is no “one-upping”, no diminishing, no comparing.  We are grievers dealing with the death of marriages, or loss of loved ones to addition, or sickness or disease.  To adjust to our new life means we have to go through grief.  Having others that understand can make such a difference in feeling supported.  Sometimes, that just means looking into the cavernous “online” and reading stories and snippets.  Here are a few favorites, that underscore in fact, that war buddies of AG are out there. It means you aren’t alone in navigating the gnarled nuisances of ambiguous grief.

Have a favorite? Add yours in the comments.

still alive

 

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