I wrote this in October but never posted it. I had the idea it wasn’t ready but it looks fine to me. How can a guide to something unknown ever be perfect? It seems odd that it is in the present tense. That was then, this is now. I am leaving it as is. It is a moment for me to have new compassion for myself.
There is also the way I feel now, which is way less dominated by the grief of this loss. It is not gone. Everything below is still familiar, even daily. But it has lost its intensity. The moments come and go with less cortisol.
Maybe it worked! This has served as a guide to my own process. I have been conscious of which bit I was working on, what was a bit done, and what was next.
There is of course a lot more to this but it is time to press publish. I hope you find some value in it.
From the pit
Damn this hurts.
It’s also really annoying. I want to get on with my life. Right now I can’t. All I feel is waves of pain and loss. All I can do is be in that and do the grieving the best I know how. Which is mostly fumbling in the dark. But I want to do get it done. I know this is self-contradictory. Sitting in the hole is how you get out of it. But I want to get out faster. So I am writing down what I know so I have some kind of guide for myself. Maybe a map where I can plot progress. And maybe so someone else might find this useful. Getting out of an impossibly deep pit. Good luck with that. Maybe I am just crying aloud on the internet.
It feels like there are pieces of my body connecting me to my lost loved one. Some of them also connect to other people, things and places. I feel as if my nervous system extends outside my body. The big nerve to her is torn off at the other end, raw and bleeding. The three-way ones are attached to so many things. Our local favourite bar, the restaurant, all the streets, my house, my own damn bed, her house, songs, food, memories, hopes, the garden we were growing together, alerts on my phone, a gate latch, a treasurer’s report… things jump me everywhere I go. For each there is a nerve torn or tearing off and bleeding at the end where she was. All still attached to me. I feel the tearing. There is a sort of phantom limb where it feels like she is still there. But she is not. Just the raw bleeding. It keeps happening. It keeps hurting. Until the pain fills my life.
What the hell do I do about this?
I want to tear the ties off me so they stop hurting. Especially the big one. Of course I don’t as well. I want to stay tied. But I know I have to let go. Not to the things around me. I want to keep those for myself. Just the hanging torn bits. Gotta be gentle tho. Gentle with me. Maybe bathe the wounds, dress them with soothing balm. Trust that the severed ties will heal back towards me. How do I do that?
I don’t know what to do. Except sit in the not knowing. Damn that old thing.
And I can claw something else together.
Go in to get through, with love and not all alone
Here is the first unpleasant task. I know the only way out is in. This means I have to face the loss. Bring to mind one attachment at a time. Feel them tearing off. As much as I can face. And in the presence of kindness – my own at the least. And in relationship at least some of the time.
The other day I made a list of all the attaching things I could think of. Got photos and made a collage on a timeline. Used post-its for the things I did not have photos for. Cried the tears.
Cry the tears. Sit in the pit. Some of it has to be done alone. Sometimes saying it aloud…
She isn’t coming back. I want her to but she’s not. It hurts like hell. Ow, ow, ow. I want her here telling me she cares and values this and is willing to work for it and she’s not and she’s not going to. I know that…
But that is not enough by itself. I don’t leave myself in the hole.
You poor bastard. You really love this one. And she’s gone. I know you feel this, Dan. And I am here with you. You have not lost me. I am with you and I’m sticking with you. I love you, Dan.
Over and over again.
The neuropsyches think we work a bit like computers and pain is kind of written to our memories. Rather than just over-writing it, though, the reckon write better things like compassion in the same place. That way the pain and love are connected so that next time you feel pain, love is right there. I think this might be the mechanism for what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The problem is that the pain events are intense, and the love events are kind of tiny. Plus jungle brain counts pain lot more than love. So you need lots of repetitions.
There are some great self-compassion meditations out there.
Ooh, I really don’t recommend this one. EKR says you have to go through it but I think she means it is likely to happen. I can’t see how it helps. Trying to pretend she’s coming back. Waiting by the phone. Checking the phone when it tings. Eugh.
Oh. Hang on. Maybe I do know how it works. It makes you face the loss and disappointment again and again. That’s why I don’t advise it. Feels nice for a second and then chucks you in the pit.
Sometimes, these moments are provided by a little bit of denial. I am all for this. Denial is a friend who dispenses pain to you in doses that you can manage. I am so so glad of the moments of respite.
Sit on my lovely couch. Listen to soothing music. Play ukulele and sing sad songs. Try to find some food that seems appetising. And not associated. Maybe watch some tele with love in it. See a movie. Have fun with friends. Laughter is good.
I know how to do these things but are they working on the ties? They seem like avoidance. I love respite but I want progress too. Maybe slowly the moments might actually be real signs of progress. Acceptance.
Should have put this one earlier. You can use this for emergency respite. It is not a bad idea to use it all the time, too. Singing. Being with yourself. I recently started a morning meditation practice. Just googled some simple instructions and followed them. Seems to help. Breathing practice is good cos then I can do it better the rest of the time. Breathing and bringing my attention back to me. Return to the breath. Return to me. I am with me. I am alive. Gently dismiss this, dismiss that.
Re-paving my paths
This one starts slowly with the three-way attachments. A quiet moment with the trigger object, person or idea.
Making a coffee. This is me making a coffee. Coffee is a thing in the world. This is my coffee-making gear. That coffee is for me. I am making it for me. This association between coffee and her. Yes, I know that is there. This in the here and now is also here for me.
Gradually, one by one I am over-writing all the associations with new ones that are all mine.
The key to this is repetition: I do this hundreds of times a day.
I sing this little song as I ride around on my bike.
This is for me.
It’s all for me.
This is pretty good.
I am happy.
I have moments when I think of my actions as towards some to shared vision. I replace those thoughts with this one:
My intention. My cause.
As I get good at this, I might start thinking of it as getting on with my life. God knows I need to do that.
Listing bad things you lost
This one might be a bit cynical. I am not much motivated for it, anyway. Maybe further down the track it will look more interesting. There are some upsides to this, you know Dan. What about you dodged a bullet there?
Right now it is just I know you get ordinary not perfect. I chose this one. Chose to say yes. Chose to not dwell on the areas of poor fit. That is a taking a bit of releasing.
Appreciating the wonderful things
This idea comes from the gratefulness that the neuropsyches want us practising. What if I thought about some of the wonderful moments we had together. The great feelings. The love we shared. The rituals. The holidays. And was thankful for them. Noticed how wonderful they were with gratitude and appreciation. Maybe even saying out loud wow, that was so lovely, I am so glad I had that moment in my life.
You are probably thinking what I’m thinking. Fuck that. What a stupid idea. And how can I possibly expect myself to achieve it when right next to all of those lovely memories is the loss, the tearing knowledge that they can never be repeated or built on to create more lovely moments. But what if I could get myself to a strong enough place to do this. Then I would have good feelings flowing around me not the bad ones I have now. I would be warming up to gain not loss. I might get some oxytocin.
Maybe to get ready for this one, I’ll start with gratitude for things that are mine alone. Then I’ll try some things I still have from the relationship – like the lovely cufflinks that she made me. And work my way up to a cherished memory.
Holding her in the light
My dear late friend Julian Carver suggested this one to me when I was grieving an earlier loss. I am really not ready to do it. I know how and have even tried for brief moments. It is way too hard. But I know it will help. It is a Quaker idea where you hold someone in your heart wishing them well. A bit like praying for them I suppose. I am not a great one for magically helping someone by thinking about them but I don’t rule it out.
The point here is the difference it would make for me. To do this, first I must warm myself up to a sense of abundance, generosity and strength. And then act on that with the good wishes. Feel positive towards myself and positive towards her. Somehow I know that would push the good strong feelings into my cells.
But nope. Can’t get there for now. Maybe the previous step would make this one easier.
Let’s be friends
This one has crossed my mind. I suspect it is available. It has worked well for me in the past. We even did some grieving of the lost relationship together. But that parting was mutual. Right now the asymmetry makes this impossible for me. To have the one I love right in front of me but not returning that love. While we get on with ordinary things and I do not cry and double over in agony. No thank you. Fuck that.