Grief is a Beast That Drags You Kicking and Screaming from Your Life

Grief. Not a monster be trifled with. When it jumps into your lap you have two choices: confront it or run away. Both have consequences.

Whether it’s grief from a sudden, shocking loss or a slow, agonizing death; whether grief arrives at the tail end of a betrayal or in the swirl of a disappointment, it gets right up in your face and says, “ignore me at your own peril.”

But grief is a cruel beast. It sucks your time and energy. It stomps its feet like an angry toddler, saying, “attention must be paid!” And when you finally acknowledge its presence, it rolls out a long list of demands. Grief needs constant tending, like a wild animal suddenly thrust into your care.

When grief leaps up on you, it doesn’t just knock you on your ass — it knocks you right out of life. It drags you off to the sidelines and forces you to watch as everyone else gets on with things. In your grief, you’ve been reduced to a spectator. Grief is all-consuming, leaving you with just enough energy to go through the motions of your normal existence.

Many choose to ignore their grief. It’s a burden, an inconvenience. It’s something to be feared. But then grief pounds at your heart. “I’m here,” the beast shouts. “Deal with me!” If you refuse, your only option is to make it go away. You’ll have to silence the noise, numb the pain. You’ll need soothing, distraction, anesthetics.

Grief and addiction are best buddies. One leads to the other. You drink to numb the pain of your loss. You grieve the life you abandoned when you crawled into the bottle. You drink more to deny your compounding grief. You grieve the person you used to be before you succumbed to the drink.

Whether you choose to face it or avoid it, grief rips you away from normalcy. Even in choosing to ignore it, you become its prisoner. It’ll get you either way. My suggestion: surrender to it.

When I think about the losses in my life; the disappointments and the betrayals, I estimate that I’ve spent over a decade hanging out with grief. We’re old pals. I’m quite familiar with its chilly embrace. I’ve memorized the routine for the care and feeding of grief: weep, wail, sob, sniff, blow nose, rinse, repeat.

It’s a drag that I’ve had to spend so much time hanging out with grief, but the alternative is worse, so I always opt for the lesser of two evils.

Whether in the car on the way to an appointment or in the kitchen fixing a cup of tea, grief creeps up and says, “heed me now!” Each of these moments offers a choice. Resist or surrender. Accept or deny. But know this: either choice will take you away from your normal life.

Grief wraps you in a familiar blue-black haze, obscuring your vision; numbing your senses. Everything feels different when you’ve surrendered to your grief.

You’re a few steps removed from your friends and family. You can see them and touch them but you can’t really reach them, and they can’t seem to reach you. Their words are muffled; their caresses blunted.

You’re very much alone in your grief. It’s something only you can feel. No-one else can share it, even if they’ve experienced the exact same loss. They’ve got their own grief to deal with and you have yours.

If you choose to surrender to your grief, you must accept the first truth, which is that the feelings will come up at the most inopportune times. Sometimes you can make it wait. You finish stitching up your patient’s abdomen and remove your gloves, mask and gown. You’re alone, washing up post-op, and you notice that your cheeks are wet. You pat them dry, grateful that you didn’t drip tears into the surgical site.

If you choose to avoid your grief, you find yourself at the corner store on the way home from work purchasing bags of cookies or pints of ice cream. Or you get home and order an extra-large pizza, for one. You’re gorging yourself in front of the TV, not seeing the show or tasting what you’re eating. Later, you feel nauseous, bloated and ashamed. Your grief has been transmogrified, but it hasn’t gone away.

Avoiding grief prolongs it, because you’ve exchanged an acute problem for a chronic one. Grief, miserable as it might be, is finite. You face your loss, mourn it, and in time there’s relief and release. You’re eventually ready to re-enter life; to smile and feel it; to laugh and mean it.

Avoiding grief gives you a new habit; one that quickly takes over your life. After a while, you no longer remember why you even started it. It’s become your new normal. Re-entering the world from the depths of addiction ever so much harder than re-entering from the depths of your grief.

With addiction, you’ve now got two problems to deal with, now: the addiction and the grief you never addressed. Don’t be so naïve as to think that the grief will just go away. It sticks around. It’s a persistent animal, embedding itself into your psyche; poisoning your mind as you ignore it.

The poison seeps into everything you do — making you angry, neglectful, and impulsive; self-indulgent and yet self-destructive. Maybe in a moment of clarity you wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier to just face your grief. But now it’s too late. First, you have to battle the addiction. Then, you can revisit your grief.

Re-entry into life is easier. After a couple of years of grieving you experience a gradual unfolding. The colours around you seem a bit brighter each day; people are easier to talk to. You’re no longer watching the game of life from the sidelines. You’ve come out of the dungeons and you’re back in the real world.

You feel a sense of connection, or full engagement, and you sigh with relief that the ordeal is over. And thankfully, it is — until the next loss, the next disappointment, the next time grief lands at your feet.

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Marcia Sirota

Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series