Stuck in Grief, freed by Anger

[Written by Steve Melio; posted by JZ]

Since my last entry, I’ve gone through the Adaptation and Grief portions of Rebuilding. Adaptation by itself didn’t seem all that significant, but the Grief exercise freed me from a dark place I’d been stuck in for months.

Adaptive behaviors are all those “coping mechanisms” we acquire as we grow up. A lot of these are bad habits that we come to mistake for our true selves. For me, those would be such roles as the Rebel and the Entertainer. I’ve known for a long time that both of those are habitual strategies I use to compensate for my basic shy or even antisocial nature… ironic, huh? Take on roles that are inherently high profile when I’d really rather be low profile. I think it’s something I learned from my mother — kind of a “the best defense is a good offense” thing.

I resisted parts of this exercise, because I was afraid it might devolve into psychobabble — you know, casually labeling difficult people as Passive-Aggressive or saying that all unmarried men in their thirties are afflicted with the Peter Pan Syndrome. I was glad to see that this exercise didn’t really go there.

The focus on Grief was much more meaningful for me, because that was a place I’d been stuck in for more than six months. No matter where I was, if my mind wandered to the unraveling of my marriage, my tears would start to well up. That was especially awkward at work, so I’d have to jerk my mind out of that place and focus on something else, stuff it down, only to open it up later, when I was somewhere safe.

Moments like that felt like a tsunami wave of grief came out of nowhere and leveled me. I wasn’t able to move past that point until a Rebuilding exercise had me writing a goodbye letter to all the things I was leaving behind in my breakup… the good moments with my wife, the home where we raised our kids, our special shared memories, and so much more.

Then an odd thing happened as I wrote — I shifted from saying goodbye to the good things and began thinking of the things I wouldn’t miss, such as pointless arguments and the corrosive pride of two people unwilling to give an inch. It brought back the lyrics of “Husbands & Wives,” an old Roger Miller song:

Two broken hearts, lonely, looking like
Houses where nobody lives.
Two people each having so much pride inside,
And neither side forgives.
The angry words spoken in haste,
Such a waste of two lives,
It’s my belief
Pride is the chief cause in the decline
In the number of husbands and wives.

…and then I got angry, angry at that stupid pride in both of us, and the tragic impasse we had created. I certainly was glad to say goodbye to that. A half-dozen more painful memories leapt to mind, and I finished the letter with those, feeling some satisfaction that they, too, would someday vanish in my rear view mirror… providing I learned some lessons from this experience.

When I put my letter away, I realized that I had somehow come unstuck from Grief and had moved into long overdue Anger. I’d been wallowing in grief too long. By writing that letter and breaking-down my grief into bite-size pieces, I could finally deal with it rather than be crushed by it. That felt great.

For me, anger put me back on the road to processing my breakup. I may get stuck again in the future, or have to revisit issues I thought were fully resolved, but it gave me a lot of faith in this rebuilding process. I’m not the first to go down this road, and I won’t be the last, so I’m sure glad there are experienced guides out there.

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