Here’s my story called ‘Realising that grief isn’t the enemy ‘ which was published in the August 2018 edition of Happiful Magazine.
“Here it comes again, my daily weep. I don’t want to cry today. My chest feels very heavy with that all pervading sadness. I’ve worked SO hard over the last 14 years to push grief into a box, why can’t I wave a magic wand to keep the lid closed and make it all go away? Then I might at least have some joy in my life.”
I wrote those words two years ago when I was at my lowest ebb. I’m childless, an only child and I’ve lost both parents, and at this point I’d spent 14 years trying to out run grief. Let’s just say that it wasn’t going well.
My parents taught me many wonderful things, but not how to express how I felt. Over time I learned to take everything I didn’t want to feel out of my head, put it in a box, and close the lid. I promised myself that I’d investigate later but, guess what? Over time I piled more into the box and kept forcing down the lid. Grief from six unsuccessful rounds of IVF; in it went to the box. Grief from losing both parents; in to the box it went. I was very successful in banishing sadness and I also banished joy so I was numb, not feeling very much at all.
I thought grief was the enemy
I was struggling to keep it all together, and the lid would come off at unexpected and inopportune moments: I kept snapping at Roger, my husband, I felt sad and listless, and regularly burst into tears. On the outside and to most of my friends I was the confident, capable Lesley that they all knew however, inside I was falling apart. And believe me, the last thing I wanted to do was fall apart.
People who loved me told me grief was not an enemy, it was a friend. They told me lovingly that I couldn’t outrun it forever; I would have to take my armour off at some point and there was magic in doing so.
And still I resisted.
Asking for help
Salvation came in an invite to a workshop based on Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong where I learned that feelings are called feelings because you actually feel them in your body. It’s not that I hadn’t felt things before; it was simply the first time I connected what happened in my body with what was going on in my head.
It was also the first time in my life that I cried openly and freely, and oh my goodness did I do a lot of it that weekend!
I remember as we worked round the room talking about grief, I felt a real tension in the top of my head and I wanted to flee. The closer it got to my turn, the stronger this tension became. In the past I thought this was the start of a headache and at that moment I realised, no this is what anxiety FEELS like. For someone who hadn’t connected these particular dots before, this was massive for me.
That weekend was the most transformational of my life, starting to touch my feelings was like opening up a new and fascinating world.
I realised I needed help to continue my exploration so a couple of months later I reluctantly started working with a therapist. I say reluctantly because, at the time it felt like the last resort, and not something I wanted to admit to. But it was one of THE best decisions I’ve made and has changed me in many wonderful ways. My therapist helped me to open the lid and gently rummage round, and I realised that what was in my box wasn’t as scary as I imagined it to be.
Oh this is my body….
She also encouraged me to try new things, one of which was yoga. After a sprained ankle left me unable to move very much I was drawn to yin. Yin is different to most other yoga, as you’re mostly sitting or lying down and you stay in your asana/seat/pose for anywhere between three and ten minutes.
I found something special sitting quietly stretching my body to it’s limits and, after few months a voice inside me suggested I have private lessons. My head thought I wanted to learn the seats, and now I realise this voice was my heart calling me to trust myself and my teacher as it would be the last piece of the jigsaw of my healing. And it was.
So much has changed for me in the safe space of my private lessons.
I’ve learned to grieve and am now in touch with my emotions. That box, which once held everything I didn’t want to feel outside me has gone forever, and in its place I feel everything inside and I know how to express them on the outside. My yoga teacher observed that I almost look happy when I’m crying, and that is true because each time I let something go, I feel like I’m shedding another layer of the armour that prevents me from being my authentic self.
It turns out that the meaning of Saddle is Hero, and a Hero (or Heroine) acts, goes through challenges which she tries to solve easily, and in the end the only way she can get to where she wants to be, is by changing herself. This is my story.
Each time I move into Saddle, I’m aware that I am exposed, laying my heart and vulnerability bare for all to see. I can feel the power and strength in my body, as I connect very deeply with me. Staying there takes everything I’ve learned, and all the courage, strength, and trust I can muster. It’s teaching me that connecting to my heart connects me to my deepest meaning and purpose; it encourages me to be fearless and to realise my potential.
It is my seat. It is telling the story of me. A story of strength, power, and heart connection and of changing myself to reach my full potential.
Now my body is leading my mind
What my body can do and how far it can stretch has astounded me many times. I am more bendy and supple than I have ever been in my life. Each time my body does something unexpected; another belief I had about my limitations is shattered. Each week it shows me that it can do more and more, and where my body goes, my mind follows.
If my body is telling a story of determination, strength, power, and achievement, why shouldn’t my mind? If I can do these physical things, why can’t I do other things? If the limitations I had about my body no longer apply, what about those other beliefs I had about what I can or can’t achieve?
So much has changed for me and I can’t put myself in the shoes of the Lesley who wrote those words two years ago.
I found gifts in the pain
I’ve learned that you can’t outrun grief. It will catch you eventually so you might as well work through it on your own terms. I did fall apart, and it was painful, but by opening myself up to feeling grief, I’ve let so much more happiness and joy into my life. I’ve found many gifts in the pain, and the biggest gift is my true self.
Now I am a completely different person. Well maybe not completely different, I am now, eventually the true, authentic Lesley. The Lesley who wears bracelets and leopard skin boots and paints her nails blue. The old Lesley would never have considered any of these things, but the new me is happy to experiment and play with different looks and ideas.
I am an only child, with no children and no parents, these are facts that I cannot change. I’ve learned to live without all that I’ve lost. I will always miss my parents and not being able to be a mother caused a deep wound. This used to hurt a lot and make me feel as though I was bobbing around in the sea at the mercy of the waves and currents. Now it no longer hurts, the scar tissue is thick and strong and I feel much more anchored. The story I tell is of finding happiness and joy and making the most of the gifts that this life brings me.
I feel incredibly sad when I hear childless women say they will never be happy. I know from experience that there are many paths to this place we call childless, and there are many paths out. One of my paths was yoga, and I want other childless women to know that they can find their path to happiness even when their biggest dream didn’t come true.
The Happiful Expert (Rachel Coffey BA MA NLPMstr) says: Grief is a complicated process involving many emotions. Many people, just like Lesley try to stop feeling in an effort to ‘cope’, but this often just prolongs the pain. Lesley discovered that healing is actually part of the process, and delaying this can mean it takes us longer to heal. Realising that her mind and body are interconnected allowed Lesley to access her feelings in a safe way. Her story is one of inspiration, that reminds us we should never be afraid to seek help, feel and heal.
Have you used body work to process your grief?
You can read more of how I connected to my body in Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness (Chapter 8: What’s that Below Your Head? Reconnecting to Your Body)
As I talk to others and read more about grief, the more I realise just how important body work is to processing it. In my case it was Yin Yoga, other women who share their stories in Finding Joy used other ways.
I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below, have you used body work to heal, and how did it help you.
You can download Chapter One of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness when you sign up to my email list.
You can read book reviews and interviews I’ve done here.