On my Let’s get movin! page, I have been talking about the six week pain course that I went to to help deal with the chronic, all consuming pain of fibromyalgia.
As we came into the fourth week’s class we see the front of the room set up as though it were a funeral. A small, cardboard, casket, flowers on each side and a small simple pulpit placed in front of the casket. Somber music was playing quietly.
After we all sat in the designated chairs and were whispering among ourselves, wondering who died, the teacher took the pulpit. “We gather here today to mourn death. For all things that are, or ever once were, or ever shall be must come to an end. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. For this is how it shall be for all things.”
We all sat there dumbfounded. He paused for a moment and looked each of us in the eye. Paused. “Today we are going to mourn for the things your pain has taken from you.” He went on to explain that mourning is an important part of healing when something is lost that affects your life so profoundly. Whether that loss is a soul ~ a breakup / loss of friendship / a death / mental illness / a pet. Or that loss is your livelihood ~ your job / your passion / the economy / networks. Even if that loss is an expectation or dream, It is important to grieve for it, to move past that hurt in your life, so you can realize your value and life affirming attributes beyond that loss.
This pain we have, we didn’t ask for. We don’t want it. It has taken so many things from us that we weren’t planning on giving up. Things like, working like we used to or want to. Things like doing things with our family like we used to or want to. Relationships. Dreams. Plans. And on and on. It has affected our emotional, mental, and physical health to the point that it is the center of our lives. Our pain has affected us greatly. Just as though someone we love has died. In order to heal to the point of acceptance and moving on with our lives, mourning is a vital part of our healing process. There are five stages to the mourning (and thus healing) process.
“In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage more or less intensely. The five stages do not necessarily occur in order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of loss.
Many people do not experience the stages in the order listed below, which is okay. The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are in the healing process.” (1)
These are the stages of grief;
- Denial and isolation – A normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts.
- Anger – As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We had all these plans. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.
- Bargaining – A normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
- If only we had tried to be a better person …
- If only we hadn’t done this thing or that thing …
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone or reverse what we know to be true. This is a line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
- Depression – Sadness, worry, regret, feeling burdened or burdening, feeling worthless, feeling helpless, feeling hopeless.
- Acceptance – Realizing that this loss is not the end of you. There is a future to look forward to. With chronic pain sufferers, acceptance is the realization that you may always have this pain, but there are ways to ease it and there are people to help you. Coping with loss is a ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience. Allowing others to be there for you and help comfort you through this process is beneficial for both persons. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing. (1)
Many of us experience the first four stages of grief quickly and routinely, since our diagnosis. In order for us to move on to the acceptance stage of grief we often have to sit down and visually and symbolically work through any stages of grief as the come to us.
Have you ever had a terrible break up? You thought you couldn’t go on, you were worthless. You begged and pleaded for that person. Then you got angry. Really angry. You gathered all their things you had in your possession and you broke them, ripped them, threw them, yelled, screamed, cried and finally you burned them. After you let all the emotions out, suddenly the world looked brighter. You felt better. You could go on, and screw them anyway. it was cathartic.
Here is a great exercise that we did in class that you should try as well.
Take a piece of paper. Write down any and everything chronic pain has taken from you. Feel the emotion as you write them. Write in the manner that you feel them, i.e. don’t write everything in pretty cursive. Pretty cursive is happy and content and accepting. Write as though your screaming in LARGE BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS. Write as though you are sad in small printed letters. Do not use the lines of the paper. write sideways, cross ways, in the margins, however the emotion strikes you. Write things like hate, maime, injure, suck. curse. Express everything in your mind, heart, gut. EVERYTHING.
Now read it out loud. Read it with the emotion you wrote it. Scream to God. Cry to your cat. Grumble to your pillow. Punch your bed or pillow or couch. (Do not punch anything alive or solid – this is a very very bad idea). Just scream at the top of your lungs. ( We were given 10 minutes to write down what pain took from us and when we did this all at the same time in a sound proof room while we were in class. Thank God is was sound proof!)
Now rip it. Rip that piece of paper to shreds. Scrunch it. Throw it. Stomp on it. Abuse that piece of paper. Make it feel what you feel. Let it all out.
In class we put our maimed, abused, pieces of paper into the coffin and had a funeral procession out to the parking lot and burned the casket. While we stood there and watched it burn, the teacher repeated, “We gather here today to mourn death. For all things that are, or ever once were, or ever shall be must come to an end. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. For this is how it shall be for all things.”
If you are going to have a cremation to complete some of the healing process, make sure to do it safely.
The mourning process is as important for the healing and acceptance of our chronic pain diagnoses as it is for the healing and acceptance of the loss of a loved one.
Have you mourned? Have you mourned the loss of the life you had? Have you mourned the loss of the life you wanted to have?