Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you. ~John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
I’ve been thinking a lot about grief. How grief can be present at the same time as excitement and anticipation. How in our culture we don’t have ways of grieving that are helpful. How we try to put a time limit on our grief. How we, in my profession, often don’t include grief work in our trauma work with clients.
Here’s some things. There are no time limits on our grief. Ever. And grief work is a vital part of our trauma work.
A vital part. An essential part. A necessary part. A required part.
Those of us living with trauma in our bodies have had horrible things happen to us, done to us. For those of us who experienced trauma in our childhood, those events literally shaped our brains and the ways we are able to see and be in the world. These childhood experiences also impacted our physical health, specifically our nervous systems and autoimmune systems. Those events have life long impacts.
It is hard for me to imagine who I would be if all the trauma I experienced as a child hadn’t occurred. If I have been raised in a household where the ACEs score was under 4. If I had never been touched inappropriately. I would be a totally different person, of that I am sure.
It is heartbreaking to know all the damage that was done, and to know that we have survived (and some of us are learning to thrive) DESPITE all those experiences.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply be thriving? If we didn’t have to learn how to do that.
Yes. Yes it would.
What happened to us as children is not our fault. Those events took so much away from us. Some of which will never be recovered, and some of which may be. Because of those childhood events, we have, as part of the trauma, experienced great loss. Loss of innocence. Loss of trust. Loss of resilience. Loss of “normal” neuropathways. Loss of an ability to relate and connect to others in a healthy way. Loss of feeling comfortable in our own skin. Loss of a sense of safeness. Sometimes even loss of hope.
We have experienced a lot of loss.
When we experience loss, grieving is a natural process. Yet we don’t talk about the losses we experienced because of the trauma events in our lives. We don’t acknowledge all those losses, let alone grieve them. And this I believe is a disservice to ourselves, and our greater culture.
How do we grieve these things we (perhaps) never had? How do we grieve these losses that feel totally theoretical?
We slow down. We acknowledge the losses. The things we never had. The things we wanted so desperately. The things that will never be.
We acknowledge the struggles. The difficulties being in intimate relationships. The challenges being present in our bodies. The extra work we’ve had to do to try to break (generations old) cycles and patterns.
We allow the tears. The anger. The deep sadness.
We allow ourselves to acknowledge and feel the unfairness and injustice of it all.
We grieve. In community. In ritual. In our own hearts and bodies.
I believe when grief is not a part of our trauma work, that we are missing a huge piece of the work. Grieving what we have lost, what never was, and perhaps what never will be, is vital to our ability to move the trauma out of our bodies and systems and to learn to shift from simply surviving into a place of actually thriving.
We need to acknowledge these losses and create space for our own grief process along with our trauma work. This is part of building our own self-compassion. This is truly part of our life long healing work.
This essay was originally published in my weekly(ish) newsletter on June 4, 2018. It has been edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, you can subscribe here.