On Getting Unstuck.
This post is inspired by this comment, written as part of a response to a mother who had a miscarriage when she was six and a half months pregnant:
“This is how you get unstuck, Stuck. You reach. Not so you can walk away from the daughter you loved, but so you can live the life that is yours — the one that includes the sad loss of your daughter, but is not arrested by it. The one that eventually leads you to a place in which you not only grieve her, but also feel lucky to have had the privilege of loving her. That place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really fucking hard to get there, but you can do it, honey. You’re a woman who can travel that far. I know it. Your ability to get there is evident to me in every word of your bright shining grief star of a letter.”
There is a moment in the grieving process when you think you can’t make it. It’s an immobilising series of weeks, months, maybe even years, that all roll into one seemingly endless moment. You drown in it. That moment eats its way into your thoughts and dreams, takes away your ability to laugh and surrounds you in its blackness. There is nothing else then, nothing but your aching loss – a decidedly physical pain that centres right in your chest and makes you breathless sometimes. It forces you to curl into a ball, tuck your arm around your ribcage in desperation to hold yourself together, as if clutching at your own skin will keep this feeling inside, even as it threatens to crack you open with its enormity.
The world changes shape then. You become the square peg on this circular Earth and everyone is moving so much faster than you. You wonder how everything looks so normal when you walk out the door, because surely when something so huge happens, there should be some noticeable shift elsewhere, just to keep the balance. You are outrageously angry at your closest friends, because they are going about their daily lives as they were before. They are sad for you, there for you, asking you out for dinner and coffee and bringing you gifts, but you wonder how is it possible for them to still be going on dates and gossiping about work? How are they still making plans? How dare they discuss how close we are to the New Year and sigh about how quick the year has gone. You become unbelievably selfish.
That moment damn near destroys you. You push away the people who are kindest, because they are trying to cheer you up. You don’t want to be cheered. There is no reason to be cheery now. You are drawn to people and situations that only serve to drag you down, and you revel in it. You can’t get any sadder, after all, so you walk along rock bottom for a while, exploring just how fucked up you can get all at once.
I can’t pinpoint when, or how you will take the first step in the other direction, upwards. It might be the first day that you don’t have to hold your hand against that ache in your chest, or the second you actually laugh at a TV show, instead of the little half-smile and puff of air that you’ve been letting out at the parts you know are meant to be funny. You won’t do anything with it, this glimmer of something-else-ness, but it will be the start. While you’ve been drowning, your truly incredible, inspiring subconscious has been working behind the scenes to heal a little part of you. One broken thread at a time. That glimmer was the first bit coming together again.
Here’s the shitkicker of it all though: your subconscious can try its hardest, but it can’t heal you all up on its own. You have to breathlessly fight for the rest of it. You have to drag your dismantled self out of bed and actively try to stop hating the world, or God, or yourself, or the one you’ve lost.
An anecdote from my experience: At the time I was writing for an online magazine, and was offered a few nights’ stay at a weight loss and wellbeing retreat in return for reviewing it. This place broke me, entirely shattered me to pieces. I arrived after a horrific 8-hour drive down to Devon, during which I almost crashed and died several times, and the sheer peacefulness of the place gripped me immediately. My mind had been going a thousand miles a minute for the last few months, and all I was expected to do for the next few days was pay attention to me. Sleep. Eat good food. Workout. Talk. It was terrifying. The first night I sat in the shower for forty minutes and let the waterfall of water beat down on me while I cried and ached and moaned. Then I wrapped myself up in a fluffy robe and I let my hair dry naturally instead of hastily blowing hot air on it until it was touch-dry enough to scrape up with a hair tie. Every workout over the weekend was designed to push you to your limit, and each one felt like it was scraping out another piece of the darkness that still gripped me. It’s funny how exercise can do that to you, as if your body starts to draw on your emotional energy once you reach empty on your physical resources. It is so painful, and so intrusive, yet so necessary.
You see, the first part of the process is simply living through the pain. Learning how to step out of bed and put clothes on without it getting in the way. The next part is you kicking, screaming, punching, clawing your way on to the rest of your life. I don’t care how you do it. It doesn’t matter if you run, bake, talk, travel, or draw your way through it, but you find something and you fucking cling to it like its your parachute on a skydive. It may as well be.
Whoever you’ve lost will heartbreakingly still be gone, whether you continue to despair in it or not, but you’re still here. So you have to make a new version of your life without them in it. You have to rethink Christmases and birthdays and you have to decide on a new emergency contact. They’ve left a gaping hole and you have to fill it with something else, so you can be full without them. You’ll say you can’t, that your life can never be the same anymore, that you want to keep that hole open for them.
Then eventually, just by continuing to fight through it all, you’ll realise that they have their own space now. You’ve kept their memory safe, and you’ll run over each of the mental images one by one, every now and again, just to keep them fresh. You’ll close your eyes and breathe in their distant smell. You’ll feel the pressure of their shoulder against your cheek as you remember hugging them. You’ll picture each of their different haircuts and the way they drank their tea. Gradually, almost without you noticing, their hole fills up with the rest of your life, and you’ve carved out a different spot for them to sit in.
You’ll realise, at some point, that you’ve become unstuck. You did make it.