Vulnerability and other things:

I’ve talked a lot lately about how I’ve never had to fight so hard just to survive as I have had to these past few months but after looking back, I realize that that isn’t true. I remember feeling the same way months after placing my baby up for adoption. I would look at my life and the world around me and I just didn’t believe that anything had the potential of getting any better. But it did: slowly and with enough work. I try to remind myself of that now because honestly, everything feels so dark. I look at my life and it feels beyond my control. After years of therapy, I’m able to realize red flags when I see them and this is one of them: feeling out of control. In the past, it’s  the excuse I’ve used to turn back to substances or to engage in disordered eating. It’s uncomfortable to exist in a place where nothing seems to make sense. It’s difficult for me to accept things as they are. But death and loss are two of the things we cannot change once they happen. Trying to make sense of something that has no apparent reason doesn’t make accepting the loss any easier. And for me, frantically trying to gain control of everything around me never works in the long run.

So for the past few days, I’ve just been sitting in this place where my emotions are up and down. Without having old vices to fall back on, it’s as if my brain has gone in over drive. I come up with scenarios that would “fix” everything. The funny thing is, the scenarios I come up with involve external change. “If I lose weight, if I change the way I look, if I change where I live, if I change who I live with… my life will get better.” It’s the motto I’ve lived by my entire life. When things got hard, I’d leave, or change something about myself. It’s taken a long time for me to realize that seeking external change will never bring about internal results, especially not the internal results you’d want. I can change any of those things but until I work through, and accept, my life for what it is, no true healing will take place.

Learning to meet myself where I’m at without trying to force change is difficult. I’m not where I want to be: emotionally, spiritually, physically or financially. But all of those things are so interconnected so merely focusing on the one aspect I usually focus on (physical/ weight), won’t bring the rest of those things into balance. I’ve been trying to listen to my body and allow myself to take what I need but it’s so hard when you’re used to drowning out your own intuition.

I haven’t been in a place of acceptance in a long time, if I’m being honest. And that is where most of the problem exists. I haven’t accepted that my dad is really gone and I haven’t accepted that Ethan’s dad is gone, either. I haven’t accepted that the loss of my dad has irrevocably changed my family and that no amount of “trying” can fix my mom or my brother’s grief. Trying to be strong for everyone won’t bring about the healing that they need, and ignoring my own emotions wont ever serve me. I haven’t fully accepted that I’m not okay right now, and I definitely haven’t allowed myself to process my emotions without judgment. I am terrified of what this healing process looks like because I feel so completely stuck in place. There have been days where I did not get out of bed until 5 pm and there have been (many) days where I’ve done nothing but binge on food and cry. Ultimately, though, I have to acknowledge progress where and when it occurs and although I’ve gained 10 (or more) pounds in the past two months, I haven’t relapsed into bulimia and more importantly, I rededicated myself to sobriety.

This post happened because someone messaged me a few days ago telling me how it seems like I’m dealing with everything so well. Another person had said the same thing. It was then that I realized how social media alters the way we interact. It has always been easy for me to be open about things that have happened, but being vulnerable and honest about things that are currently happening or how I’m currently feeling has been more difficult. But I know that our humanness is what connects us and that all of these human emotions inextricably tie us all together. I know that my vulnerability is what allows me to grow and that my true strength lies not in my ability to fake happiness, but in my ability to overcome adversity and build resilience. I think that if we all became a little more vulnerable, we’d become a lot more accepting of ourselves and of one another and maybe, that’s where true healing begins.

So no, the last two months have not been a tidy package of grieving. It’s been two months of messiness, laziness and an unwillingness to accept loss. It’s been a fight to keep my head above water and that’s a fight that some days, I’ve lost. It has been two months of merely existing and fighting like hell not to give into addiction or disordered eating. I can’t remember when the last time I fell asleep before 2 a.m. was and I long for a night of  sleep where I’m not replaying my dad’s death over and over again in my dreams. But through these two months, other people’s ability to be honest and vulnerable with me has been the one saving grace I’ve found. Thanks to them, I know that this is all a part of the process and so, I am trying to do the same: live genuinely and vulnerably because only through our vulnerability will we find resolve.

 

 

 

Grief is…

I told myself that I would commit to writing in this blog everyday. But let’s be honest…I’ve never been good at commitments , especially daily ones. I know that writing will help my grieving process, but I honestly feel so stuck in one place. It’s odd how the world keeps turning and life keeps happening, but my mind is still existing in the same place it was almost 2 months ago: in the hospital room, with my family, watching my dad die. I never have had to fight so hard just to survive. The amount of effort it takes to just get up everyday instead of laying in one spot would have been enough effort plenty of other times in my life. I didn’t know that something could both hurt so profoundly and make you feel nothing at all. I wanted this blog to be a place of positivity, where I could come and re-read my entries later on and like every other time, realize that it wasn’t really “that bad.” But that would be complete bullshit and the one thing I have kept my commitment about is being honest through my writing. I’m great at convincing myself that I’m fine but when I lay it out on paper, my heart is able to speak the words that my mind intellectually shuts down. This is a piece I’ve been working on and slowly adding to over the last month:

Grief is ….

Grief is laying on the same spot on a mattress with no sheets because it takes too much energy to do the laundry. It’s watching the clock move into a new hour, over and over, without moving: without wanting to. It is running your fingers over the picture of his face on your computer, just one more time, as if it is really his face you’re touching. It’s not.

It’s wondering why you’re still here and he isn’t. But then you realize that you’re no different than the rest of the world. Why should your loved one have been spared at the expense of someone else’s loss? Grief is trying day after day to move forward because you know it’s what they want. It’s also thinking it doesn’t matter because they’re fucking dead anyway. It’s replaying the last day you spent with them over and over, as if in doing so, you’ll discover a memory that makes this all okay. You won’t. It’s pondering whether or not you did enough while simultaneously telling yourself that you did too much. You pushed too hard. If you would’ve begged him to stay, instead of giving him permission to leave, then maybe he’d still be here. It’s wondering how many times you could replay the same story expecting a different outcome? Grief is thinking that you’re selfish for allowing him to go, and thinking your selfish for wanting him back. It’s living life in slow motion: looking at the calendar and realizing a month has gone by but the void is still there. It’s the realization that the void may be there always, regardless of feeble attempts to move forward.  

Grief is wishing that you could take all the drugs your dad did hours before he passed, but knowing that no amount of morphine can numb this type of pain. You want to feel the pain because it means you still can love and you still can feel. There will be some days when you are afraid you can’t. Look back at this and remember, you’re alive.

Grief is watching your boyfriend lay in the room next to you and not being able to be present. It’s not showering for days, and certainly not brushing your teeth. Or maybe you’ll brush your teeth too much because your dad always reminded you how important it was. It’s regretting the time when you told him you didn’t want him to walk you to the bus stop. You did. It’s going to the grocery store and crying when you see chocolate syrup because it’s what he used to make his chocolate-strawberry milk concoction. It’s not crying at the funeral because you’re not sure you feel anything. It’s regretting the way you moved to the other side of the country, and made it back only once he was sick. It’s staring at yourself in the mirror and thinking, if this could happen to him, then what the fuck is growing inside you? It’s the pit in your stomach that you feel every morning.

            Grief is all of those things but, grief is also what keeps you strong. It keeps you real. It’s the one thing that bonds all living beings together. We feel love and thus, we feel loss. We crave connection, we find that connection and then we have to let go, of everyone at some point. Grief allows you the grace of still feeling your loved one around, whether it’s by the water or in your dreams. It’s what makes music feel more real, and life feel that much more sacred. More than anything, grief screams at you to make you realize that despite it all, you’re alive. It has ultimately awaken your senses and after being a witness to death, you feel that you’ve woken up to all that is around and within you.  You are so present that it hurts to exist, but it hurts even more to think of not existing.

Grief is all of these things at once: pain and joy. It is feeling present but disconnected. And, it is loving the person who is gone and hating yourself for loving so deeply. It’s wanting connection but fearing the loss that comes with love. It’s both bleak and bright. It’s the biggest paradox I’ve ever known.

Things I’ve Learned About Grief (so far)

I feel odd writing this piece but it’s been something that’s been weighing heavily on my mind. I feel odd because the world still doesn’t seem real without my dad in it, but yet I know the days have gone by and somehow, I’ve survived almost 2 months without him. It was a goodbye I wasn’t ready to say and it brought with it so many feelings that, most days, I still feel unable or unwilling to feel. These two months have challenged my ability to cling to what semblance of normalcy I could find and forced me to accept uncertainty without demanding answers. I’ve also learned that the human soul can be a lot stronger than one predicts, specifically when it is forced to survive and endure. So, in short, here are some things I’ve learned about grief (so far):

  1. Grief exists, with or without your permission: I wanted to write “grief demands to be acknowledged or felt” but that seemed inaccurate in describing the past two months.  I remember leaving the hospital without my dad on March 7th and feeling so numb. I wondered when the grieving would begin, and when the “worst” of it would hit. I found out that it had already begun the days before his death, in hospice, where we prepared for my dad to leave this world. Grief existed as we held him, and one another, close as we waited for the end. It was my inability to sleep the night before he died, because I couldn’t peel my eyes off of his pulse monitor just in case it happened and I wasn’t there. Grief was the way we joked about death as we watched him die and it was also present when we sat with his body, even though he had been gone for over an hour. I didn’t realize that grief was my heart racing 190 beats per minute the night after he died, and my legs trembling because I was afraid that I, too, was dying. My grief changed over the two months he has been gone, but after the initial loss was over, I couldn’t cry. I felt unable to feel or process, and I was sure I was a sociopath. But then the dreams started, where he’d be talking to me and he’d have to leave all over again and I’d wake up, panicked and saddened all at once because when I woke up, he was gone. I would replay the night in the hospital over and over and over again, looking for something that made all of it make sense, as if I could intellectualize loss (I couldn’t). So some days, I cry on my porch when looking up at the night sky. And some days, I don’t talk about him at all. But my grief manifests physically through somatic pain in my shoulders, and through panic attacks where my hands go numb and I have to remind myself that I’m no longer watching him die; I am here, alive and present in the moment and I am surviving. Learning that all of those things, including the physical, were also manifestations of grief took a lot of reassurance from people who have been there constantly reminding me “whatever you feel or don’t feel is normal.” So whenever a new “symptom” of my grief appears and I’m unsure of why it is there, I remind myself that I have faced loss and this is my body’s way of dealing with it.
  2. Preparing for death doesn’t make it any easier when it happens: My dad was sick for 8 years and his health has been on the decline ever since his diagnosis in 2011. We knew that without a transplant, his disease was terminal but we clung to the hope that he would be one of the lucky ones. It wouldn’t be our family that would miss that chance. He followed all of his medication regimes, ate what he was supposed to and went to every doctor’s appointment without hesitation. He kept his body strong. So, naturally, we didn’t let ourselves ponder the “what ifs”. I did start to think more about his death in the last two years when he became dependent on oxygen to survive. I centered my undergraduate research around mortality and how our perception of it plays into our worldview. Again, if I could just understand all there was to know about death, saying goodbye wouldn’t be so hard. It was as hard and harder than I had ever expected. My world was still torn and my heart was still shattered when we heard the words: “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you. We will make you as comfortable as possible.”
  3. Support comes from the most unlikely places: Through all of this, I’ve gotten by due to the support and love from friends and family. There has been a specific group of people that popped out of the woodworks and have carried me through based on their own experiences: those who, too, have lost a parent or family member. They assured me that I would survive but that this would forever change me. They checked up on me, even after the funeral, because they knew that’s when I needed the most support. Without them, I would be navigating this without a compass. There have been those few friends, too, who without having endured the same loss, have gone above and beyond to just listen and support when they were able. Even if they didn’t know what to say, the fact that they try has meant the world of difference.
  4. Grief makes people uncomfortable, and some people will leave: This kind of goes along with what I said above. One of the most surprising things throughout this experience has been realizing who is there and who isn’t. Some people who I always felt were my biggest supporters seemed to pack their bags and leave when my dad died. I’ve been told it’s out of fear, or an inability to know what to say. But, either way, through his loss, I’ve both found support in the unexpected places and realized that sometimes, people aren’t capable of loving you in the way you feel you deserve. They’re just people and death is uncomfortable and scary. I’m learning to count on those I can and forgive those who were unable to be there for whatever reason.
  5. You will survive: For me, this is the most important thing to remind myself of and to tell others who are experiencing loss. There were times when I truly believed that I would not be okay. I didn’t think a heart could break so deeply and still continue on. When my boyfriend’s dad died 10 days later, I was sure that there was only so much loss people could withstand, but I’ve learned that our threshold for pain is much larger than we’d like to imagine. Surviving may be all I’m able to do for quite some time, but that in of itself is enough.

The beginning.

I’m new here.  I’m not really sure what my goal is or what the end point is, or if there even is an end point in sight. All I know is that I’ve been having to write for so long, but the words have seemed to slip right by me. But now it matters more than ever. It matters to document, to experience, to live out my truth as painful, or dull as it may be at some points..

I’m titling this blog, ‘Making Every Breath Count’. Now before you discount the title as some cliche saying, bear with me. In 2011, my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. It’s progressive and incurable. The lungs become so scarred until there is no viable lung tissue left. It’s slow and degenerative, and eventually, the person is unable to breathe on their own. The prognosis is usually anywhere from 3-5 years, but due to modern medicine, he’s on his 6th year of having this illness. He’s awaiting a double-lung transplant, which is his last hope for survival. Everyday, he struggles to catch his breath; he fights to live, as his body has progressivly been failing him.

I was sitting in a yoga class last night- the first one I’ve gone to in a few years, and definitely the first time since I got sober. At the end of the session, the yogi turned down the lights and suggested that we lay on our back, noticing only our breath. It was silent and in that moment, I didn’t have to hide from those things I am afraid to feel. I began to cry, but it wasn’t tears of sadness, or anger, it was merely tears of being. I was filled with a mixture of both gratitude and grief, of joy and fear simultaneously. I became aware of my breath and how our breath is what separates us from death. Something my dad is fighting for everyday, I am taking advantage of. I’m taking advantage of it by not living my life fully, or by running from vulnerability. How often do I go through the motions of everyday, taking little time to bask in the present moment? How often do I forgot to be grateful? And how many days of the week do I take myself too seriously, thinking nothing about the fragility of my human life.

I want to live with intention. I want to live in each moment as it comes, or at least awaken to more moments in my life. I know that no one is capable of fully attending to each moment as it occurs, but I know I can try. Instead of going through the motions, or constantly living in fear of the future, I can try and make every breath count. This is what this blog is about- making it count, even when it’s hard. This is my journey of learning how to live, how to grow in spirituality. It’s also a place where I can come, where I can pour out my vulnerabilities, and where I can navigate this life. I’ve been running from dealing with my dad’s illness, and I’m tired of running. I want to be present, even if it hurts.