Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How to have a healthy relationship with Grief

I moved into my new apartment over the weekend. It is such a relief to be in my own space again, and yet it is also very hard.

My first night at the new apartment was scarier than I expected. I had prepared myself for the possibility of strong emotional reactions to seeing our possessions unpacked for the first time since It happened, and also to the even stronger possibility of seeing some of Andy's items that were mistakenly packed with mine instead of donated (like his bath towels). Surprisingly, overall the unpacking wasn't so bad and it was helpful to have friends around for support.

Then I made dinner.

Cooking has always been enjoyable for me when I'm not feeling tired or lazy. Doing the dishes and cleaning up after the fact however, is one of my least favorite things to do. Andy and I had had a good system going- dishes were his duty, laundry was mine. We both disliked the other's chore, so it was no issue to tackle the entirety of our 'assigned' chores. This meant he did all the dishes, and I did both of our laundry. For the most part.

After making and eating my first dinner at the new apartment on Sunday, I walked back into the kitchen and was confronted with cleanup duty. As always, my initial reaction was disgust at doing a chore that I despise. Also like always, that reaction was immediately followed by a habitual relief that Andy would tackle the dishes. Then, a new, final reaction completed the trifecta: a horrific pain at realizing (again) that he was gone.

How odd, right? How odd that the catalyst to the beginning of what was going to be a long first night in my new place wasn't anything that I had prepared for. It didn't take seeing our possessions slowly shape and furnish my new apartment, or even seeing something as intimate as his bath towels reappear... All it took was the simple act of doing the dishes.

Up until now, Andy has been gone. I knew he was gone, but 'gone' was all he was. Now he's dead. At the end of the day, it's not some friend's guest room I'm returning to, it's my own. Mine. And Andy's not there. He's missing. This is really happening, isn't it? The permanence is seeping in. Reality is hitting. And I'm scared as all hell.

When Andy was 'gone,' I was aware of my emotions. I faced them, endured them, and went through long spells of despair in private that I found healing. Now that Andy's dead, I'm finding myself running as far away from my emotions as I can. As soon as the first hint of the pain of his loss appears, my mind goes into immediate survival mode: Think of something quickly, anything, anything but that. The pain is worse now than I imagined it would be, and it is too much to bear for longer than a moment.

My need for distraction is up 100%. Before bed, I put on Headspace, a meditation app that I use to think of breathing instead of the pain. During the day, I distract myself with decorating the apartment, work, TV, and friends. Now, the only time I allow myself to dwell on the pain is in therapy:

"I'm worried that this is a problem. That I'm going to have a breakdown months or years down the road because I'm unable to confront the pain anymore and I keep pushing it away."
"I don't think what you're doing is unhealthy at all," my therapist said, "It's okay to give yourself space when you need it. This is a new relationship you're having, a relationship with Grief. Like any new relationship, you'll need to give yourself some space to process your feelings, especially in the beginning. Some people dive all in too fast, but you're taking your time, and that's good."

In many ways, I wish this wasn't the case. I wish I could confront the pain like I did before, back when I understood it. Now I'm too scared to even face it, so I save it for therapy. I am told that down the line the pain will become easier to bear, but for now I'm going to keep running. My relationship with Grief is going to be a push-pull one, and for the time being I need my space.

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