I WASN’T READY TO SAY GOODBYE: TIPS TO HELP THOSE EXPERIENCING LOSS AND FOR THOSE WHO MAY LOVE SOMEONE EXPERIENCING LOSS.
BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
The green, red, orange, and blue lights twinkle amidst the branches of the tree. Staring me in the eye is the glass ballerina ornament my daughter hung with such love only weeks before she was to leave. “What do you want from me”, I asked the silly thing. Tear streaks staining my cheeks, “I wasn’t ready to say goodbye”. Here in few weeks I will take her down, wrap her carefully, and begin the process of moving into the next phase of the season, a new year, and a new chapter of my life. I need to be careful this time of year as I am prone to situational sadness. This year I need to be extra careful, because my whole life will have changed once again.
In recovery we learn many things. Most of what we learn is crucial to our survival. We take steps to recover, we work with others to recover, and we stay in the solution to recover. As part of my recovery I practice a couple of Twelve Step programs. It is in Al Anon that I learned what self care meant and how that applied to me.
Often times it hard to remember that I am important too, that my needs matter as well. This time last year my daughter and I were preparing for our trip to Sacramento, California for the WACYPAA convention (a young person’s convention for Alcoholics Anonymous). We were both so excited. This will be my first year without her and I feel so lost. So, I have to double up on my self care because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, not yet anyhow.
I thought it might be helpful if I addressed two topics here. First, what I can do to stay connected with myself during this loss and to give others a guideline they might be able to use if needed. Second, to let others know what they can expect from someone who is experiencing a loss, especially at this time of year.
This is the check list that I developed with a little help from Brook Noel with Pamela D. Blair, PhD to help me check in with myself everyday and keep any depression or grief at bay, especially during the holiday season. I have revised it to fit my experience.
SELF CHECK FOR THOSE EXPERIENCING LOSS
· Extreme Avoidant Behavior – if I start avoiding friends or places that I attend regularly, or if I cease doing my normal everyday activities (for more than a month) I need to reach out to a professional or someone who can help point me in the right direction.
· Lack of Self Care – If I am unable to meet my basic needs like food, rest, and cleanliness then my energy has dipped too low and I no longer have the emotional capacity to deal with simple self care. This is a huge warning sign that I need to reach out.
· Prolonged Denial – If months have gone by after this loss and I just can’t move on, if I am not able to process this loss and deny that I need help (especially if others notice) its time to seek outside help.
· Self-Destructive Thoughts – Harmful thoughts are normal, not helpful, but normal. It is when a person obsesses on them, formulates a plan, or takes action on them that we have reached the tipping point. I need to be aware of this and monitor it heavily. At the first sign of any of these expressed above, I need to call someone immediately without further delay.
· Displaced Anger – It is often common to lash out without meaning to. This causes undue wreckage. I have outlets in place to help alleviate some of that anger like the gym, bicycle riding, and talking with someone just to hash it out. If none of these work, I need to speak with someone else to get ideas on how to manage my anger. If not, this can affect my work and personal relationships.
· Prolonger Depression or Anxiety – If all else fails, and I need to seek out medication, I need to know that I am going to be okay and I haven’t failed. If I am unable to function in my everyday life and it is affecting my work, my sleep, and my personal life, I have to admit I am powerless and search out alternatives to get a handle on it.
· Self-Medication – If drinking becomes an option on the table to cope with any of the above, I have reached critical condition. I need to call my sponsor ASAP, go to a meeting immediately, and call someone until I get over the compulsion. I need to find someone else to work with fast.
This is just a small list to help me keep an eye on my disease. I am important and during this transition in my life I need extra care and vigilance in order to make this as smooth of a transition as possible in my life, especially around the holiday season. Loss of any kind is huge. We each respond to it differently. In fact, we respond to each loss differently. I have never been here before. Sure, I have had two other children leave home, but they were never far from me and my daughter was always here. Its been just me and her for as long as I can remember. But, I have never been without a child in my home – an empty nester. Nor, has any of them been so far away from me for so long. Everything is about ready to change and I’m scared. Use the list, modify it to fit your needs if necessary, but please keep a check list present to keep tabs on yourself.
If you are not the one experiencing the loss or depression but know someone who is, here is some things to be aware of that could help you as well. I thought it might also be helpful if you knew what to look for if you think someone is suffering from depression or grief. There are behaviors that we may exhibit this time of year that may concern you, but please know that they are normal behaviors for loss and grief. Please keep an eye on us, let us know you care, and realize that your support means everything. Unfortunately, grief and loss has no timeline.
WHAT YOU MIGHT EXPERIENCE WITH SOMEONE GOING THROUGH LOSS
· We may need to leave your home earlier than we would normally during a party or get together. (It gets stressful feeling the loss so it can sap our energy and we need some down time) Share your gratitude that we could make it. It’s a big step for us. But we’ll be okay.
· We may need to take a walk after dinner if you invite us over. Don’t be upset with us. You did nothing wrong. (its just hard to around happy loving families this time of year when we are still experiencing the feelings of loss)
· We may cry unexpectedly during this time of year, especially when we hear certain songs or something else triggers memories of our loss. Do not be afraid. It is normal. Ask us if we need anything or if it is allowed, a good hug always helps. (Our memories are fresh and fragile right now. We are still very raw.)
· We may turn down food you offer us or not be able to eat it all. Please do not take offense. You are doing a kind act. (its just that our appetite hasn’t been what it usually is. It will return)
· We may also turn to down invites to parties this holiday season in order to avoid adding salt to our already fresh wound. Please know it has nothing to do with you. We appreciate you thinking of us during this time. In fact, its comforting to know you care. (its just that we need to protect ourselves from further harm right now)
· If we don’t answer the phone, leave a message please. We may not be ready to act like we are okay when you call. If we answer, be patient and empathetic to what we are going through. (It takes a lot of energy to try to exist some days) But, please call back. We do need to know we are not forgotten.
These are just a few reactions you might experience when dealing with someone who is experiencing loss or depression. It helps to know that it is normal for some of these things to occur. Be advised though. It can easily switch over into something much deeper if left unchecked. Knowing that someone cares can make a world of difference in our lives. Leaving us alone is not what we want or need at all. Sometimes we just need to take a small break to feel what we need to feel. We need you to help us make it through this.
My hope is that if you have ever experienced loss or depression that you can share your story with those who may be suffering at this time. If we make it through our low spot, we too will be able to make it our dark past our greatest ally. Please just don’t forget us.
Tonight I watch my daughter beside me within arms distance, knowing that in two short weeks I will reach for her and she will not be there. The carols will play Christmas day and there will be no one to wake up with that morning. The lights on the tree will be dimmed and the quiet little glass ballerina will patiently have to wait in the shadows of the tree limbs until I have the strength to take her down.
Doing all that I know how to do, I grab my tools and get to work on setting up my safety net. I’ve been at a painful crossroad a time or two in my life. I know what to do. Just know, that I will do my best to be present for my readers, as this blog helps me stay globally connected to my recovery. Keep watch out for those who are still suffering. Suit up and show up, even on Christmas Eve and Christmas night. You never know whose life you may save if you do. I know that’s where I’ll be, with my “other” family celebrating another holiday sober, God-willing.
May your higher power keep you protected during this holiday season and all the days after.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
This blog was written with the help of the book “I Wasn’t Ready To Say Goodbye” by Brook Noel with Pamela D. Blair, PhD. It is one of the many resources I get to use today to help me through the certain low spots I will encounter. If you are struggling with saying goodbye to someone or something, this is a great book. If you want to help someone struggling with loss or grief this can help you too. You can find it on Amazon. Here is the link if you are interested.