Thoughts on Grief ((Making Peace With Changing Friendships and Never Going to the Peace Corps))

I gave her several hugs this weekend and got choked up every time. Though we hadn’t been friends for long, I made friends with a gem for the past year and a half who’s now currently somewhere in the middle of the country driving back home to Texas. I didn’t think her departure would stir up so many emotions within me, but it did. And the biggest one was grief.

Grief is something I’d rather push through, fight, overlook, or ignore, immediately shifting my thoughts away from it as soon as I sense it coming. But I’m learning that doesn’t really help anything; in fact, it just makes it worse. Because in stuffing my feelings, I never get to experience God’s hand infiltrating those spots of hurt, loss, grief, and pain with his/her healing hand of hope, forgiveness, peace, and acceptance.

So I grieved this friend’s move and gave myself permission to start thinking about the other things in my life that I want to grieve but haven’t yet. I grieved the fact that I talked about going to Peace Corps incessantly throughout college, and then had plans in my head to move off to Colorado for grad school, thinking I’d have an adventurous, albeit challenging four years ahead of me after graduating college. This March, I’ll turn 26. And I’ll have done neither of those.

Funny how plans change. Circumstances change. How we can be so sure of something, only to discover that in the end, for a variety of inter-twined circumstances, you’re really not ready for this and there’s some rocks you need to take out of your shoes before you go on to do your next great thing?

So I cried. Right there in my room and there in my bed on Sunday night. It had been building up inside of me all day, like a sneeze, and after all those tears came out, I laid on my floor with my journal and candlelight, one again reminded of the definition of “a good cry.”

Because grief reminds me I’m human; I’m alive and have a pulse. If my goal was to go through life without experiencing pain, or grief, or loss, or tears, I’d be setting myself up for failure. It reminds me how much I need people around me, even though as an introvert, I don’t always actively seek out community. Throw that on top of a people-pleasing personality, and I have discovered what’s at the root of some of my lonely days and that it’s ok; we’re all uniquely made but we have to get outside of ourselves and experience the world through community. Relationships are messy; never clean cut. But that’s how we learn to forgive, where we learn all the ways that we’re annoying, but still accepted anyway; where we learn the definition of unconditional love, and that love can be hard sometimes, and maybe that’s why God talks over and over again about love, because S/He knew it would be hard for us. 

Grief reminds me that I have wonderful people in my life that are worth missing. And when you’re apart, it’s as though some fragment of you is still really with them, talking to them, doing handstands on a grassy open field with them. Because you’ve let this person into the parts of yourself that experience deep love and attachment. It reminds me to take some of what they taught me, some of the ways in which they showed me more of who God is, and turn it into something beautiful; a little bit of their imago dei rubbing up against your own.

Grief reminds me of the human tendency to run, run, run, trying to field off whatever painful experience or hurt we don’t really want to feel. But it always catches up to us in the end, anyway. And when I finally release those tears, I am in awe, experiencing all over again, so this is what freedom feels like... I’m in awe of what letting go does to my body physically- it releases, relaxes, and exhales, gripped fists now open palms.

Grief reminds me not to fear these feelings but instead reminds me that human beings are intricately wired in such a way that when a friendship dissipates, when someone dear moves away, or we see another senseless, violent tragedy impact a nation, we are each affected. A piece of our soul matches with another, and we perpetually realize in these soft moments our incessant need for each other and our God. If I didn’t experience these things, I wouldn’t be a human. Perhaps I might be a cold frog. But certainly not a human.

Grief reminds me that I have lived another day in this beautiful and broken world. It reminds me of my vision for life today (on Earth as it is in Heaven) and the acceptance to know that we won’t see it at its fullest fruition this side of Heaven. Grief helps me mourn losses in the many ways that I encounter it: loss of joy-filled friendship when I’ve settled in for people pleasing. Loss experienced through wasted opportunities spent discussing the ho-hum things of life instead of asking deep questions and learning one another’s insides. It helps me to experience peace with my family’s past and envision a more whole, intimate, and deeper future. Grief is every part as much of the human experience as eating and breathing and my choices are to either accept this with grace or to resist it with bitterness.

I will commit to choosing the former, but know I’ll need some help along the way. So as I sit here now, tears having been poured out; it’s as though there aren’t any more liquids inside for me to possibly cry with. I’m too tired to cry at this point, anyway. But my soul doesn’t feel empty. I think, if but for the moment, God has placed his hand print on my heart, healing the place that once contained nothing but grief. And grief is never a clean, one-and-done process. So maybe I’ll be back at it tomorrow. But I’m convinced now, more than ever, that this is a necessary emotion of life essential for our growth, healing, and ability to love and understand one another. Thank God we don’t have to do it alone. Thank God we have each other. I thank God for you.

bfranklin

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Therapy is not a Four Letter Word

It’s been 2 years since my first visit back to my counselor’s office. And, thanks largely in part to health insurance, it’s the best $15 billing statement I ever receive.

I remember the first friend I told my “dirty secret” to. “So I’m going back to counseling…” (crickets.) “Good for you!” (awkward smile). I remember telling them how scared I was to tell my boyfriend. I thought if he knew, he might think he was dating a psycho and want out. I thought if he didn’t know, I wasn’t being honest and transparent. You’d think I was trying to tell him I had herpes or hemorrhoids or something painful like that. Anyway, I told him (over the phone, too scared to do so in person at the time) and, lo and behold, we’re still together. He’s either ok with dating a “crazy” person or perhaps he’s “crazy” too. Or maybe he’s just human, and recognizes that this is my way of dealing with my own depravity.

I’ve learned a lot during my sessions since that first drive up 695 East, one chilly evening in October 2010, praying, hands gripped to the steering wheel, repeating mantras of, “I’m not crazy.” “This is money well spent.” “You’re doing the right thing.”

I learned that I’m still “crazy.” Just not in the ways I once thought.

I learned that I’m not as bad, as powerless, or as “wrong” as I used to think, and, in the same breath, that I’m more self-centered, self-focused and controlling than I ever realized. Maybe that’s the beauty of grace. We don’t ever maintain an accurate perspective of ourself for more than a minute or two before we’re either beating ourselves down or puffing ourselves up. And God comes in and shows us who we really are, and that, no matter which side of the self esteem see-saw we’re currently teetering on, S/He really does love us and will never give up on us.

I learned to laugh at silly Christians and the stupid things some say and learned that I’m a silly Christian too and need to watch my mouth. I can be stupid too. Even more stupid when I don’t fess up afterwards.

I cried. And the first time I cried in that office, it was painful and I felt like I had to hide my face behind my tear-and-snot sodden tissue, but really the tissue was translucent and crumpled and wouldn’t hide me anyway, nor my tears, so I might as well just show both of them, unadulterated, and experience God’s love through the smile of a patient, gracious LCSW-C with an excellent sense of humor, reminding me that I’m on my way to healing and growth and wholeness.

I learned to be open and vulnerable and real and learned to stop telling people that I’m “meeting with my mentor” when in actuality I’m about to have a 50 minute couch session with a counselor. I’ve been humbled and amazed at many of the responses to that statement (with the occasional awkward moment where the person fidgets and wonders how to respond in which case we usually just switch topics altogether). Such responses have opened doorways for people to share experiences ranging from “well, gee, I’ve been thinking about that too. Where do you go?” to, “You too? No way!!!” Instant connection.

I learned that the past will carry you into the present by default unless you do something about it. It doesn’t just go away. Nor do I want it to. Because growing up has been an incredible joy for me, with some really painful moments in between that have been used to grow and strengthen me. I don’t need to forget about such moments and pretend they never happened. I just don’t need to let them paralyze me.

I learned to recognize and not run from my feelings and how to eschew the voices of certain Christian spheres that re-iterated week in and week out during my college years that “faith is not a feeling.” They’re right. It’s not a “feeling,” per se. But feelings are Biblical. God experiences grief (Genesis 6:7), anger (Deut. 1:37), joy (Zephaniah 3:17), and love (Jer. 31:3). We know from the shortest verse in the Bible that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Just open up the book of Psalms- from the lament of Psalm 13:— “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —to the zeal of Psalm 92: “You make me glad by your deeds, Lord;  I sing for joy at what your hands have done!!!”  You can call it “Biblical Bipolar” if you want, or better yet, maybe it’s just an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a spiritual being on this side of Heaven.

I’ve filled journals with phrases like “guilt,” “shame,” “enabling,” “adapting to change,” “choices” and other things ‘therapy’. I’ve written “God, fix me, God help me, God change me, tell me what to do (NOW!), thank you,” prayers. I scribbled to-do lists (to go along with my type A, ADHD, task oriented personality) that could be summed up in six words: “do more, be more, be better.”

I’ve mapped out Thought Records, made my own “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, annoyed people I care about by asking them questions like, “So how do you feel about that?” and, “Where along your childhood might you have picked up this message?” Then I annoyed myself with Bible verses, taping them to my wall or writing them over and over again in my journal until they practically would bleed from my head, quoting them with my eyes shut, shouting in the dark, “Do not be anxious about anything!!!” “Take every thought captive to Christ!!!” “Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you!” Oh sure, these verses are beautiful and encouraging; I won’t minimize that. But they’re not a panacea, nor are they a replacement for doing the dirty work of staring your junk in the face, your past, present, and future, dealing with your feelings, your struggles, anxieties, worries, and fears. And, if you’re cowardly like I used to be, such verses can be used to hide behind (memorizing scripture earns brownie points with Christians, after all) instead of womaning or manning up and forcing yourself to grow up in your faith and grow in maturity, break, be broken, be remade, be renewed, be made whole.

It’s been a journey. Who knows. I might be in it for another two years. I don’t care. Bring it.

Because I’m tasting a life in which depression is fading fast and anxiety is slowly lifting, much like the kite I flew on my 25th birthday back in March. It was the first time I touched a kite in 10 years and felt like I couldn’t quite remember how to make it fly, but sure enough, with barefoot feet firmly planted on the green grass, I gazed upward, amazed as this piece of plastic wiggled upward into the sky, suddenly dancing in the early spring wind. I feel changed, from the inside out. I’m whole…ish. And that’s ok for now. I’m growing. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made on myself. And I owe it to God, health insurance, SafeHarbor Christian Counseling, the patience and grace of friends and family who support and encourage me during my most anxious days…

but most of all, I owe it to the “dirty word” therapy.

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Did you know?
-Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).*
-An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.**
-Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder.**

None of us are as “crazy” as we think we are. If you’re struggling with an area of your life, feel stuck in your personal growth, question faith and life and existentialism or wonder if life is just some big joke, kick yourself in the…. rear… and come join us. You might find us on couches, in offices, or in support groups, but come on in. There’s room for you. The table is big, the couches are soft, and the judgments are gone. All that’s left is love, love and more love. And some growth. And talking about feelings. But I think you knew that was part of the package anyway. 🙂

To find a therapist in your area: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/

If you are interested in faith-based counseling (beyond paying someone good money to say “just pray more”) and you live in the Mid Atlantic Area, I highly recommend Safe Harbor Christian Counseling (don’t worry, they don’t even know I’m writing this.) http://www.safeharbor1.com/

If you don’t want to have anything to do with therapy, but are hurting, in pain, struggling, or depressed, just do one important thing: talk to someone. Life’s too big for anyone of us to handle by our lonesome. Reach up, reach out, and don’t stop reaching until you’ve got the hand of someone you know you can lean on.

*Source: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics **Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml