Get Unstuck: What To Do When You Feel Stuck in Grief
Hello, I’m Cristi Bundukamara, and today, I want to share my deeply personal journey through grief and how I’ve managed to turn my pain into purpose. I recently received a request to discuss the concept of fight or flight in the context of grief, and it’s a topic that resonates deeply with me.
Understanding the Fight or Flight Response in Grief
I’ve been three months into this painful journey, and at times, I’ve felt like I was on the brink of explosion. The intense pain and pressure can be overwhelming, and the diagnosis of Prolonged Grief Disorder, which is typically given when grief symptoms persist for over a year, can feel inadequate to capture the depth of suffering. During the first year of loss, many of us find ourselves in a state of shock, akin to the fight or flight response. It’s that intense feeling of disbelief – “I can’t believe this has happened.”
Three Essential Strategies to Avoid Getting Stuck in Grief
I’d like to share three crucial strategies that have helped me navigate my grief journey and avoid getting stuck in the depths of despair:
1. Self-Love and Grace:
Grief is an excruciatingly painful experience. If you find yourself in the early stages of grief, like the person who prompted this discussion, it’s crucial to manage your expectations about the healing process. Self-love, in this context, means giving yourself the grace to feel the pain and acknowledging that grief takes time.
One wise mother I interviewed, seven years after losing her child, emphasized the importance of being “very free with tears.” Even if it makes others uncomfortable, it’s essential to allow yourself to grieve in your unique way. In my early days of grief, my car became my sanctuary, where I could scream, cry, and talk to God about my pain. It was a refuge where I could process my emotions and gradually find solace.
I returned to work far too soon, just two weeks after my loss. It felt like the only thing I could do at the time. However, I learned the value of honesty during my grief journey. Initially, I hesitated to be honest about my feelings because it made others uncomfortable. But I eventually realized that I needed to be authentic and truthful about my emotions, even if it made those around me uneasy. It’s crucial to give yourself ample grace during this process. Remember, you’ve never walked this path before, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Separating Grief from Other Emotions:
Grief is a complex journey, and it often brings with it a host of other emotions, including trauma, negative self-talk, anxiety, and spiritual conflict. It’s vital to differentiate these emotions from grief itself.
Trauma can be triggered by the circumstances of a loved one’s death, especially if it was traumatic or unexpected. Trauma should be processed separately from grief, as its goal is to process and release, not to cherish the relationship.
Negative thoughts, such as self-blame or feelings of inadequacy, often creep in during grief. These thoughts need to be addressed and changed, but they are not the same as grief itself.
Similarly, anxiety can manifest during grief, even if you’ve never experienced it before. Worrying about what’s next or fearing more bad news can be overwhelming.
Addressing spiritual conflict is another essential aspect of the grief journey. Even if you had a strong belief system before your loss, grief can challenge those beliefs. It’s crucial to explore your spirituality and find your own truth.
3. Taking Action and Finding Purpose:
One of the most significant steps you can take during your grief journey is to take action. For me, this involves turning my pain into purpose. I’ve made a promise to myself never to give up, and it’s this commitment that propels me forward.
Other grieving parents I’ve encountered have also chosen to take action in their lives. For example, one mother pursued a career as a psychiatric nurse practitioner and aspires to influence mental health policy to improve care for others.
Taking action doesn’t always mean making grand changes. It can be as simple as answering your own questions, telling your own story, or finding meaning in your experiences.
Remember, these strategies are not one-size-fits-all solutions. Your grief journey is unique, and what works for me may not work exactly the same for you. However, I encourage you to embrace the idea that grief and joy can coexist. It’s possible to find purpose and meaning even in the midst of profound pain.
Turning Pain into Strength
Through my experiences, I’ve learned that grief is not just about coping with loss but also about finding resilience and strength within ourselves. While grief may never fully disappear, we can learn to navigate it, separate it from other emotions, and ultimately transform our pain into a source of purpose and healing. You are not alone in this journey, and I encourage you to