7 Ways of Coping with Traumatic Loss

While there are many forms of  loss such as divorce, unemployment, estranged relatives, the death of another human being cannot be compared to any other experience on this earth. It is a totally unique experience. When it’s unexpected, there’s a whole other set of challenges that present themselves.

Everything is cyclical. You will have dark periods that cycle out and return, and with time and healing, the dark periods grow shorter. Do not expect them to disappear completely though. We loved that person; And it’s because we loved that person that there will always be sadness associated with their absence.

I’m not an expert (I don’t know who would want to be an expert in this). These are all things I’ve learned and observed through the last two years. 35985576_10214767892245350_7557907341509656576_n

My long time friend and fellow writer, Trisha Lynn, and I did a FB Live this week to
discuss some ways we cope with the losses that we’ve experienced. (*to see a replay of this go to www.facebook.com/31MainStreet ) Here, I briefly recap those suggestions, as well as discuss some other tools that weren’t mentioned in our Facebook Live:

Music – PURPOSE: Creating new pathways and associations in your brain. Music can understand you in a way that people can’t some times. When talking to others who are grieving, I’ve noticed a commonality. A lot of us have songs or entire genres associated with our loved one. In the beginning, it can be painful to listen to a song that feels like it belongs to someone else who is no longer here. So until then, I highly recommend finding an artist or genre that you never considered before. It could be EDM, Classical, or Jazz. For me, there was a whole other world of music that I never knew about (*for more on this see my post: How Music Worked With Me this Year )

Journaling – PURPOSE: Our minds race. Thoughts can build up and intertwine with one another, binding us, making it impossible to function. Many times, our thoughts can get so tightly wound up. It can be hard to make a decision as simple as what to do first in our day, so we go back to bed. Journaling (first thing in the morning or last thing at night in particular) can be a wonderful tool to rid ourselves of the useless thoughts. There’s a book to reference for this. It’s called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the book, Cameron offers a means of decluttering one’s mind. She calls it “Brain Dump”, and I think that’s the perfect term. Get rid of all of the crap bouncing around in there, close your journal, and be one step closer to clarity.

Learning Something New – PURPOSE: Creating new neuro pathways within our brains. Learning something new will build your confidence in this foreign world. It will give you a sense of control that you feel you’ve lost. Some skills that I’ve learned over the past two years are real estate and shooting. Both of these areas have served different purposes for me personally, but the world is boundless with possible new careers, skills, or hobbies you could develop.

Reading – PURPOSE: This serves as a great escape from reality and can be incredibly comfortable and relaxing. It also serves another purpose. It goes along with the suggestion above: learning something new. I highly recommend reading books that feed you in a positive manner. Books like, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, come to my mind. As Olson states in his book, reading just 10 pages a day will still move you in a positive direction forward. This fosters both patience in the process of learning, and also, it’s effective in the absorption of content.

Faith – PURPOSE: It’s my ‘why’. The promise that I will be reunited with loved ones some day is what keeps me going. While I don’t push my beliefs on another, I will say that believing in something bigger than myself has gotten me through some extremely dark times. (If you ever want to have a respectful conversation about it separately, I’ll gladly discuss my beliefs.)

Exercise – PURPOSE: Get rid of toxins. The enzymes in a sad tear have a different make up than the enzymes in a happy tear. These are toxins being released. Exercise elevates the heart rate, getting blood cycling throughout your body, but also, helping you to literally sweat out bad feelings. There’s so much already written about this, and I invite you to research it on your own, but endorphins have been way more powerful in my life than any other outside substance.

Physiological Exercises: PURPOSE: These are calming activities done for severe panic disorders as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The sudden death of a loved one brings trauma. Traumatic memories are stored differently than other memories. Our brain boxes them up tightly, so we can function in other aspects of our lives. The problem is that the mind takes this tightly packaged memory and puts it in the emotional section of our brain, so if we have a trigger, a stimulus that pops the top off of this memory, we experience the emotions as if the event is happening all over again. This is overwhelming. Here are some recommended activities that one can use to calm his or her self down from a panic situation. While Trisha and I explain it in the context of PTSD, it is applicable to many other situations. Parents use this for children with intense emotions or who may fall on the spectrum. With the demands of our world nowadays, these activities are beneficial to anyone who feels like they are overwhelmed with panic. The first step before any of these recommendations is to recognize the rising feeling of panic, then proceed with any of the following exercises…

  1. The A-B-C Trick – Trisha explains this as first, choosing a category. The example she gives is “Animals”, but you could decide on any category (i.e. food, cars, TV shows). Once your category is selected, go through each letter of the alphabet and name an item within that category. So for Trisha’s category, “Animals”, one could say, “A – Alligator; B – Baracuda; C – Chamillion…” And so on. Do not stop until you’ve reached ‘Z’. Repeat as desired.
  2. Shoulder Tapping – This was recommended to me by a fellow widower, who experienced intense trauma in his life. Here, the individual takes his or her arms and crosses them over their chest, each hand on his or her shoulders. Then, just lightly tap their shoulders with their hands, remaining silent while tapping. (I was also told that one could tap their own sinuses to alleviate stress. This is depicted in my blog: Panic Attacks: 5 Quick ‘In-the-Moment’ Exercises to Alleviate Them)

While I know most of these are fairly simple recommendations, I also know that adding them into your life, when you’re under mental stress and emotional pain, is easier said than done. Here, I reference the book “The Slight Edge” again. Jeff Olson, the writer, points out that this “…path can be uncomfortable…scary. Especially if you’re the only one around who’s on it.” He also continues on to say that, despite this, if we take small baby steps forward, we will see change. Positive change. Pick one small way to cope and take your first baby step, even if it’s itty bitty.

Big Love,

Megan

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Being Ok With Nothing

         On our third date, Scott and I had a long conversation about where “this” was going. We talked about what we wanted for the future, and I remember my neurotic tendencies enveloping it all. Finally, Scott grabbed my hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “You’re gonna be my girl.” 

         My heart skipped a beat, and I smiled. Looking into his eyes, I felt the sincerity emanate from him. This was it. I was his. He was mine.

          What neither of us realized then is that we don’t get to keep people. They are lent to us for an undetermined period of time. . As much as we can “claim” someone on this earth. The truth is that nothing truly belongs to us. The only things we possess of our own are thoughts, feelings, and spirit.

         This is something that I quickly realized after having my oldest daughter. Holding her in the hospital and again, looking into her curious eyes, I knew. She wasn’t mine. She was my DNA. Her title in this life would be my daughter, but my responsibility was only to guide her on the ways of the world. And funny enough, many times now, she’s the one who guides me. 

        Eventually, she will leave me. She will have a family of her own to tend to, and it will hurt. If I’ve done my job right though, she will flourish on her own. This is my perspective with all of my children. Of course, I would later learn a deeper version of this lesson.

—-

         Scott died on the phone with me. Mid sentence. One moment he was “mine”. The next he was “gone”. 

        I knew, before, that life was short. I went to bed every single night and prayed to God, listing off the things in my life that I was grateful for. I said I love you. A lot. And still, nothing could have ever prepared me for the way my life would literally become the cliche that everything can change in an instant.

        I’ve asked “why” often since Scott was taken, and that’s an answer I won’t get in this lifetime. My “why’s” began with desperation, then they were bitter; then they came from a place of deep sadness and defeat… Now, I find myself slowly growing into humility. 

Why? 

Only He knows.

The answer isn’t for me to understand, but what I’m learning for sure is that people are lent to us. They come into our lives to teach us. They teach us in the literal sense, but moreover, they teach us in their actions and way of being. The relationships we form, both atrocious and Godly, contribute to our growth. They prepare us for something bigger. 

And for today anyways, I’m going let go of all possession and to look to bigger things. 

Love you all. 

Coping with PTSD in December

Well, here we are. It’s the end of Christmas break (hallelujah!).

Weeks ago, I was so looking forward to the “busyness” of December to slow down.

Before grief, I knew that December was a demanding month for parents; Take away one parent, add intense emotional pain and the demands of every activity my children are involved in, and you’ve got me: someone who was just pushing through the tunnel to get to the light:

Christmas Break.

Little did I realize that once the “busyness” stopped, then other things would come to take its place. Things like reality.

My current reality (and just going to put it out there): I’m living with PTSD because my husband was killed on his way home from work, while we were in the middle of a conversation. I am now left to make a new life for our three babies without him. I attended a funeral without him for the first time ever as an adult (my sweet grandpa, RIP). Other glaring firsts: My first wedding anniversary since his death. My first house signing. This was also our first Christmas without him. It was our first New Year too. We were forced to leave him in 2016. And it’s because of all of those reasons, that I find myself using the eff word a lot these days.

When my therapist told me that I have PTSD, I thought she was being dramatic. I’m not suppose to have PTSD. That’s something that men and women who serve our country get. People in uniform who run into burning buildings and kick down doors. Fighters. Defenders. Not a mother of 3.

Sure. If I hear sirens when my kids are not with me, where I know they are safe, I fall to my knees. Sirens. It’s always the fucking sirens.

Then, the other day, while driving on the way home, the red lights of a state trooper filled my rear view mirror. My heart sank as I pulled my car to the shoulder of the expressway.

I was speeding.

My heart sank and guilt and grief turned into curdled lumps. Sirens again. And they’re my fault.

To my surprise, I watched the trooper  zoom past me. It wasn’t me that he was heading towards. My heart sank again, and I knew to where he was going before I even looked ahead, but I looked anyway.

Up ahead there were dozens of flashing lights…and I bawled. Traffic came to a stand still. And I had to fight the urge not to get out of my car and run.

I wanted to run up to the scene. I wanted to find my husband, drag him out of his stupid car myself, and hold him in my arms. I wanted to beg God to please grant me a miracle. It’s something I’ve longed for since hearing his accident.

We were rerouted around this fatal accident. And as we passed, I didn’t see any other person… I saw my husband. Let me be clear here, I’m not speaking figuratively. My emotional reaction was so strong to seeing this other car that my mind thought it was my husband.

So that was new. Hey, I guess that’s another “first” to add to my list of this December.

December is a month where all of us, by nature, reflect on the past. Family traditions, etc. This is so bad for the grief process. I repeatedly say that in order to survive this grief, I have to be present. December took me by my face and shoved my nose in the mess of my recent past. It forebode me from being in the moment. Ok, I feel the need to say the eff word again, so I’m going to: Fuck December. Seriously, fuck it.

All sarcasm and negativity aside — I am now looking to January and February… and every other month for that matter. My goal: Focus on that which gives me hope.

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my Henry was a drug addict.

He ate his little pills

i’d ask, “What is wrong with you?”

he’d say he was only ill

my Henry was a comic

funniest ever met

his silly laugh,

something I won’t forget

my Henry was a poet,

writing verses blue

although he did not graduate,

his soul ran deep and true

i loved my Henry,

stupid girl

i loved him…so i thought

 Henry?

he loved opioids 

And, for that,

i too was caught

A newly discovered dead man

exumed before my eyes,

thinking i found true love,

our hearts, woven

with his lies.

the mighty truth

swung its bat,

bashing through my skull,

leaving me the pieces

discolored.

jagged.

dull.

my eyelids were sewn shut

stitches ripped off fast.

acid burns my stomach now.

through my throat

no air can pass.

Tear banks, two heavyweights,

fighting for lifeless eyes,

draining all emotion

For, i’ve wept the thousand cries.

Here i sit, immobile.

limp. yellow. shell.

shackled by tears sobbed,

i’m drowning in his Hell!

Henry was lost to heroin.

On a sponge, set out to sea

And because i loved this addict,

disabled i will be.