When you are working through hard things, you can sometimes become stuck. It feels as though you can’t move forwards fast enough to escape the pain, and yet you cannot go back to the way things were. Something has changed for you. This is the experience of a very dear friend right now. He is in the process of separating from his long term partner. Life is very, very hard. It is clear to both parties that being together is not the right thing any more, and yet, moving forward is, at times, agonising.
My dear friend, let’s call him Dave, is a man of courage and conviction. He is respectful and kind, and yet, he is stuck. They are living in separate houses, and have severed communication, except for what must be done to split assets and the like. Much like his partner, Dave is grieving. It is hard. It is so very hard. This time of year is hard enough, without the complexity of processing major events with a new relationship status.
My experience as a psychologist teaches me that major losses, such as a long-term partner, no matter how amicable, take between 6 and 18 months to fully process, integrate and heal. It is hard to separate from someone we love, no matter how ‘right’ it is for us. Each major milestone that comes around without them is hard. We remember the good and bad times, and parts of us ached for what has finished. Christmas, birthdays – the whole calendar cycle. We can be triggered both during these milestones, and within the ordinary every day.
There are things to remember when it is you who is processing loss, or if it is you supporting a friend who is moving through the holidays bruised, but determined:
1. Be kind to yourself: Allow the feelings to be. Name them to make sense of them. Allow yourself a moment to experience the loss, and then gently remind yourself of the decision that has been made and why it is you are moving on separately.
2. Remember the rabbit hole: Alice in Wonderland disappeared down a rabbit hole into an alternate universe. Things there were strange and yet accepted. Alice had trouble navigating these differences at times, as anyone would. Remember you may have trouble navigating your personal ‘rabbit hole’, but that just above the rabbit hole lies a tree by a river – this is your new land. Whenever you get stuck in the rabbit hole, you need to remember your riverbank – that is, your new life that is being created.
3. Treat your body kindly – we tend to somaticize stress through our body. It shows up as tension in arms, neck, shoulders, stomache aches. Take care of your body, eat and do things that give you energy, not deplete it.
4. Do something for someone else that is kind – neurological research shows that the act of service for others helps anchor ourselves into a positive cycle. We are creating new ways of being and helping others – this always feels good and more powerful.
How do you help yourself or others through loss?