Dealing With Stages Of Grieving A Break Up And Recovery.
Now that you have found this web site I am sure you have already done some reading on dealing with the stages of grieving a break up and divorce recovery. You must have heard about the five stages of the grieving, the stages of Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. Sometimes called, the “classic pattern of the coping strategies”.
Speaking for myself, being “classic” did not make me feel any better. I remember hearing this during my darkest hours and wondering, who figures this out and how does this relate to me. I have done some investigating and as it turns out this was documented by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book on dealing with terminal cancer patients in the 1960’s.
In case you’re interested in the book it’s called, “On Death and Dying”. Many therapists have used this “diagnosis” to deal with the “end of the relationship”.
I remember having heard this and trying to figure out at which stage I happened to be in. In many ways I was trying to establish a timetable with milestones. Suddenly panic set in, I had this horrible realization that I had somehow fallen out of the mold and not gone through the stages in the correct order. In fact, I had cycled through some of the stages multiple times.
This was not good. Somehow this “classic theory” had failed to identify what I was going through!
In talking to others it quickly became apparent that there is no “correct” sequence and in fact you can cycle through the various stages repeatedly. The good news however is that over time the intensity of the stages become less and less intense.
You see grieving is a natural part of the healing process and like any wound, with time and the appropriate care the wound lessens in pain. For me, hearing and understanding this theory did not make it feel any more normal or hurt any less.
Recovery is a deeply personal experience and there is no “right” way to grieve. Everyone has their own style of grieving that is unique and personal. What is important is allowing yourself to grieve.
In a spiritual sense, grieving allowed me to fully participate in a full range of human emotions. On a practical level, grieving is your body’s natural coping mechanism. Denying or delaying grieving can reduce your immune system and diminish your emotional strength.
Resisting your natural ability to grieve prevents healing. I remember at times I deliberately avoided grieving because, quite frankly, I was afraid it will simply hurt too much. This avoidance simply bottled up deep inside me. In the end, the emotions required an ever increasingly greater effort to keep pushed down and in place which lead me to being numb at life.
This of course was not living but rather going through the motions of life.
I remember a specific occasion where I was invited to a friends wedding shortly after my marriage ended. Having just experienced my marriage end meant I was truly cynical about life. Being at this wedding was an enormously painful experience. It wasn’t a feeling of jealousy, it was a feeling of cynicism which if expressed would have sounded like, “Why bother getting married, it will only fail!”.
At the time, I certainly avoided grieving by “filling” my life up senseless self-destructive behavior. For a short time I did things which today I am not proud of. At the time it was the adoption of a lifestyle I was unaccustomed to but seemed to validate my attractiveness to women. For you, it may be drinking too much or bar hopping or simply not allowing yourself to sleep enough or maybe using drugs. Anything which muffles, blocks out, helps avoid and distracts you from reality.
Ultimately what I learned was, if you do not allow yourself to grieve you become a zombie of sorts and you start becoming increasingly dysfunctional.
Your energy and effort now focused on avoidance will leave you very limited. Your attention to other significant relationships will be reduced and obviously there will be some consequences. In time you will no longer be able to repress the hurt and it will erupt in ugly ways.
Giving yourself permission to grieve is much like making the decision to clean things up. You know it will be difficult but you also now that it is necessary to do so. One you start, you will know in your heart that you will be on the first step to improving your life and avoiding future complications from the past.
Unfortunately, and I learned this the hard way, you have to grit your teeth dive-in, much like diving into a cold pool of water. It feels uncomfortable but this truly is the beginning of the healing.
Lets talk the stages Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance a little.
Denial often the first step of grieving is a time of total disbelief. The truth feels too much to bear. I remember saying to myself, “This can’t be true. We were meant to be together forever”. Even after leaving this stage, I kept hoping. I wanted to go back to try negotiating with my ex into try again.
Of course the truth was the marriage was very much over and clearly getting back together again was impossible. But in my mind, there was always the smallest shred of possibility that this was a bad dream and that things would soon go back to being as they once were.
Having realized that it was truly over, I got very angry. Sometimes my anger was directed at the ex for the breakup, the events that led up to the break, her unwillingness to try marriage counseling or for her seemingly moving on without effort.
Sometimes my anger was random. Anger at the world, anger at slow traffic, anger and frustration at finding myself incapable of simple tasks. I got angry at myself for being unable to remember things, or being unable to concentrate.
For me depression and sadness came about with the realization that there was a permanence to the end of our relationship. This was coupled with crying, an overwhelming sadness. I felt, “How can things ever go on again normally?” Some days it was just simply hard to get out of bed.
Of course I knew that some form of depression was normal, but I couldn’t see how things could ever change for the better. I don’t mind admitting that this prevented me from functioning “normally” at the time – whatever that was supposed to mean.
I remember bargaining, that is fantasizing, “let’s make a deal” with God. I also remember trying to figure out elaborate and unrealistic schemes to get my ex back. Looking back, I am amazed at how creative I was at that stage. I remember looking back at how I would have sold my dignity to get her back.
Yuck, the very thought today makes me shiver with disgust at myself.
Finally, even acceptance that this was how things would be took hold. One thing that I can say which may sound odd is that I had a glimpse of acceptance even in the early stages of grieving. The feeling just grew more intense as time went on.
Don’t get me wrong, it has been several years since my marriage ended and even today I will have the odd nostalgic moment and cycle through a grieving moment, but I know realize it will pass like a sneeze. Things will never go back to the way they were.
So there you have it, the five “classic” stages of the grieving process. However, I personally would like to add one more as I believe that what has been written is incomplete. I would like to introduce you to the final stage-the most important stage of grieving, “Celebration”
This is the purpose and end of grieving. Healthy grieving results in the realization that life is full of infinite and amazingly good possibilities. Unlike the terminal cancer patients in Dr. Kubler-Ross’s book, “Celebration” is that point where you start to realize that life can renew itself. You rekindle the passionate you once had. Unlike her terminal patients YOU do have the power to recover. Of course, inside the “classic” five stages you cannot understand or imagine this as an outcome.
But you need to know that if you trust in yourself and in this natural process, life can become even better than before. You now can open yourself to better relationships and a greater perspective.
Someone once said, “Even after the worst storm, the sun must shine again”. I know for myself, I was unwilling to allow my ex to make me numb to the world. I was determined to continue and get stronger.
So there you have it, choosing not to grieve, you will cut yourself off from the possibility of getting over the trauma that has become pivotal to your life. On the other hand, deal with the grieving, recognize what is happening to you and you will start to recover and reach that point called, “Celebration”.
There you have it, the “5+1 stages of grieving”.
I hope this helps you with to Deal with the stages of grieving and please check out this other helpful article about grief recovery found here.