OK, I know what you’re thinking… There is nothing worse than a Breakdown. It’s been days, months, and maybe years since you’ve had one. It could be just hours or minutes since your last. Congratulations on getting through it! Now what did you learn?
To me, Breakdowns are the worst parts of my grief journey. They seem to just hit me when I least expect it.
Recently, my husband and I were away for the weekend with a group of friends, celebrating a birthday. There was good food, great wine and beautiful weather. As we were gearing up to celebrate the final night away with the crux of the celebration hours away, excitement was in the air. And then, out of nowhere, Grief got me.
I excused myself as if I was tired and needed a nap. I went to our room and collapsed in an endless pool of tears. For several hours, I was inconsolable. The wounds ripped apart right down to the bone. That realization and trauma became so fresh you would have been excused for thinking it had happened just yesterday. There were howling noises coming out of me that hadn’t surfaced since that first month, when we shook hands with Grief and said, “wow, it really sucks to meet you”.
We’ve all read about triggers, and I guess I had a few that I wasn’t aware of or hadn’t yet been exposed to. Big group situations have been hard for me, and I do my social-time in small doses. That weekend away was intense and in that moment made me feel that if I couldn’t match their happiness, then I couldn’t join the celebration. It’s how I felt, but I know it’s not true.
One of my coping techniques is, unashamedly, regression therapy. Thanks to my tech-savvy husband, I’ve been playing the video games I enjoyed as a kid. The graphics and story lines are basic and the load time is slow. But it’s familiar and it’s safe.
My character, an adventurous bear, needs to fight a witch who stole his sister. But he can’t just go to the witch’s lair. First, he needs training. I go through each level acquiring new moves; ultimately facing a bad-guy to prove my mastery of the skills the level has taught me.
If I skip a level, or don’t fully master my moves, then the game becomes even more challenging, until eventually, I’m defeated by a bad-guy, and unable to move on. My fingers on the joystick are eager to progress, but my animated bear can’t coordinate moves he hasn’t earned.
In real life, Breakdowns are my bad-guys, and when I’ve advanced to quickly and turned up without the right moves, then they win.
If I’ve got the right skills, I can squash a Breakdown before it takes over. And as time moves on, the Breakdowns get further and further apart. To me, that’s a clear sign I’m learning, improving and winning.
So if Breakdowns are my bad-guys then triggers are the smaller baddies that I get to practice my moves on. For example, the well-intentioned “Do you have any children?” question is preparing me for when it’s time to decide whether to place a stocking up at Christmas. If I know how I define my family and am comfortable in my solution, then a critical Breakdown is avoided, regardless of whoever may comment on the extra sock hanging next to mine.
At our weekend away, I realized there are still so many basic skills that I’m missing before I can fully rejoin the party. I’m working on them because I know that I cannot defeat Grief by pretending to be well. No, defeating Grief will take time, my entire lifetime, so I’m told.
I’m thankful to Breakdowns for showing me when I’m moving too far too fast. As mothers of angels, we need to take it slow. Take care of yourself and don’t skip the steps. That way when you finally get to the witch’s lair, you’ll be ready to win the battle. And I’ll be standing alongside cheering you on.