Everyone experiences grief
We all suffer after a loss. There’s no getting around it, though we often try to avoid feeling the pain. If avoiding feeling your grief worked, I’d be all for it. Grieving hurts, and it’s natural to want to avoid it. But avoiding doesn’t work. In fact, it prolongs it. The quickest way through grief is to let yourself feel as much as is practical. If you continue to avoid, you never get over it. I’ve had clients still suffering from 50-year-old grief simply because they never let themselves feel and heal.
Though we generally think of grief in relation to the death of someone we love – bereavement - we also grieve other losses in life like divorce, retirement, job changes, aging, and kids leaving home – the so-called “empty nest.” Again, it’s very, very normal to grieve the loss of someone, something, or some experience or ability that is taken away from us.
Grief counseling can help.
Working with an experienced grief counselor can help you move through your grieving process in the quickest and healthiest way. Often the people closest to you might be grieving the same thing you are, so you may be reluctant to add to their grief by talking about it. It’s very common when grieving to not want to further burden those around you. But you need to talk. Grief counseling gives you the opportunity to discuss your feelings with someone who won’t be affected by them, who you don’t have to worry about burdening, and who you know you won’t have to interact with outside of the therapy room. Over the last 20 plus years, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients grieving the loss of a loved one, their own impending death, a job loss, retirement, etc. Grief in some ways is a straightforward and uncomplicated thing to work on in therapy. The more you talk and the more you let yourself feel, the quicker you get through it.
Grief doesn’t necessarily occur in stages
In the late 60s, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book called “On Death and Dying,” which made famous the idea of stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Though her book was specifically about what people go through as they deal with terminal illness, the model has been used to discuss grief in a more general sense. The research conducted since this book was written show that, although the stages of grief are a useful way to look at things in that these are all feelings people experience when they grieve, these don’t necessarily occur in stages or in this order. Grief is usually much messier than this model suggests with people sometimes feeling all of these feelings at once and sometimes feeling one more than another. The idea is no longer to work through the stages of grief in structured, sequential way, but to allow yourself to feel as much of the feelings as you can without the grief stopping you from living your life.
Drugs and Alcohol When Grieving
It’s not uncommon to turn to alcohol, drugs or other addictive behaviors during grieving, but this usually isn’t a functional solution. Though self-medicating in this way can push away the uncomfortable feelings temporarily, it never allows you to feel your feelings, which is what’s required to heal. As a licensed psychotherapist and certified addiction counselor, I can help you sort through everything your're feeling and help you grieve. If the self-medicating has become a problem unto itself, I’m qualified to help you with that, too.
Men and Grief
Guys sometimes have an especially hard time with grief. Since we are usually taught from an early age that being a man means being strong, holding it together, and not crying, grief can really kick our butts. Men are more likely than women to turn to drugs and alcohol when grieving and more likely to think there’s something wrong with them if they feel sad. But feeling sad due to a loss is normal. Even for a man. Holding it in won’t work long-term. Talking will help, it won’t kill you, and it will actually provide you with relief. You can still be there for your family and still be strong, but you need someone to talk to during this.
You may have some questions about grief counseling.
Will grief counseling make me forget about my loved one?
No. This is not the goal and it won’t happen. You never have to forget about someone you loved who has died. But you can get to a place where thinking about them doesn’t hurt, where you can remember them more fully – both with sadness for their loss and with happiness at the time you had with them.
Haven’t I already grieved enough?
Not if it’s still hard to feel those feelings? You know you’ve grieved adequately when you find you feel the grief less and less over time and returning to those feelings no longer hurts. If the feelings are still painful and you find yourself avoiding them, then there is still work to do.
Won’t talking about it just make it worse?
No. It might be uncomfortable, but avoiding grief is actually what prolongs the pain. The more you let yourself talk and feel, the quicker you will heal. Though it may seem counterintuitive, this is how grief counseling works. And it does, in fact, work.
What if I can’t stop crying… ever?
This is another common concern, but also not how grief works. If you let yourself feel and cry, you will move beyond the grief. The best way to get to the point where you no longer cry uncontrollably is to let yourself cry as much as possible at times when it’s practical to do so – like in therapy.
How do I know if I’ve already grieved enough?
A good rule of thumb is this: If it’s still hard to talk about, if you still try to avoid letting yourself think about the grief, then you probably haven’t grieved adequately. This means grief counseling can likely help.