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Overview of Grief Journaling
Visiting Nature Helps You Heal
What are the stages of Grief and Loss?
In order to start journaling for a loss, you need to understand clearly the stages of grief and loss. I have studied this in college extensively when I was earning my Psychology degree and there was a speaker in one of my classes that put it the simplest way i have ever heard: DABDA. Then he made a lame joke: A little DABDA will do ya!
To break it down, DABDA stands for Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
Any of these stages can happen at any time, you don't have to "feel" in any particular order to actually be "healing right". So please, don't worry that you are not normal or that there is something wrong with you if you get angry first or you accept the death or loss right away and then you deny it a month later. It is all perfectly normal because everyone has their own individual processes to go through and every loss is different. One loss can hit you harder than another or in a unique way. Everything is okay, so reassure yourself that you are okay and that you are healing correctly. =)
Some losses will take a few weeks while other can take months or years. Some you will heal from but never quite recover from 100%. That is okay too as long as it is not interfering with your daily routine. If you sink into a deep depression and cannot get out of bed, it's time to call a health professional to get you back on track.
By the way, you can experience grief over any kind of loss at all. If someone you love dies, your favorite pet passes, you lose a job that provided your livelihood, you lose a house or place to live, you went through a breakup or divorce or ended a friendship that was no longer serving you. Loss can take many forms and you should understand that going through the stages of loss occur no matter what you have lost. You can experience this on a small scale even if you lose your favorite sweater or coat or your purse strap finally breaks and you need to buy a new one. Seriously! When we have changes that take place in our lives, it takes us time for our emotional bodies to adjust to this change, no matter how small.
Denial is the stage in which you literally deny anything has happened at all. You are ignoring or avoiding the situation in order to protect yourself from pain. Basically, you are not consciously in control of this stage: your subconscious mind is doing this as a defense mechanism, a way to help you cope. This stage brings a little relief after the shock of the loss.
Anger is a passionate stage in which you can get very angry over the loss, especially if it wasn't your fault or you had absolutely no control over this loss and you could not prevent it from happening. It is okay as long as you remember not to take it out on other people. Setting your ex's car on fire is not a good way to deal with your anger stage! (This literally happened to a friend of mine, her ex husband set her car on fire from the inside, then locked the doors and walked away.) Good ways to get rid of your anger in a constructive way is to scream into a pillow, lock yourself inside your car away from other people with the windows rolled up and scream your head off, go to the ocean or an empty field and scream into the wind, etc. Basically screaming is a good way to let go of anger, even for men. Another constructive way to get rid of anger energy is to put on some boxing gloves and hit the punching bag. You can also go running, hit the gym and lift weights, do anything physical in fact. Usually the anger stage will come and go and it doesn't last too long when it does come. It is helpful to note that anger is a band-aid that we put over pain so we can avoid feeling the pain of loss. Once you understand this, you don't have to keep feeling anger nor do you have to go to anger first. But it is okay to feel this emotion, it is healthy and normal. Just channeling your anger in a healthy way will keep you out of trouble or from doing something that you will regret later.
Bargaining is an interesting emotion in which you will try to weasel your way out of the pain by trying to do a deal with God. "If you let him live through this cancer, God, I will donate blood to help others." That was a bargain I made with the Big Guy in the Sky. The day after my boyfriend's cancer surgery was a success, there was an unplanned blood drive at my college. WOW, God collects FAST! I kept up my end of the bargain though and I did donate my pint of blood. Always I want to have integrity with God and myself, so it was important that I followed through on this one. You will try to bargain with your boss for you job back, with your ex to take you back, or with God for deeper losses. Usually the bargaining doesn't work and this leads to the next stage of loss.
Depression is a very scary emotion for most people but it doesn't last too long, thankfully. You might stay at home and not wash your hair, stop eating, or eat way too much, or stop cleaning your house. This is normal but sometimes it can lead into a deeper depression that is dangerous to your mental state of well being. It is good to watch sad movies (The Last Time I Saw Paris with Elizabeth Taylor will make women and men cry every time, so it is a go to movie for me when I need to let out my sadness.) When you cry, it releases the energy of the emotion of your sadness and this will allow you to heal faster. Keeping your emotions in and stuffing them down can lead to heart disease, obesity, severe clinical depression, and much more. Don't deny your feelings. Honor that you are human and that you have feelings to feel right now and then let them come out. Give them some time to express themselves. After you watch a sad movie, try to change it up and watch a comedy to lighten your mood a bit. This way your brain doesn't not get stuck in a holding pattern of sad chemicals. Clinical depression happens when you get stuck in an emotional rut and you constantly force yourself to feel that sad. If someone you loved died and you feel guilty over it, for example, it is easy to fall into the pattern of making yourself feel bad out of guilt. This is wrong! Don't force yourself to feel bad emotions. Try to change it up often. If you feel sad, allow it. But give yourself a break from this emotion every couple hours. This will keep your brain chemistry balanced. Allow yourself to feel sad again later on. It will happen naturally as you go through the stages of loss. Just make sure you have a good hearty laugh once in a while.
Acceptance is the final stage of loss and it is where you learn to let go. You have felt all your heavy and intense emotions and you are now at an equilibrium, more or less. You accept the loss and decide that you can move on and life is and will be okay from this point forward. The pain will still creep up on you and you will have some bad days and some good days. But you will by far have more good days after you have accepted this loss. Always, every day of your life will hold new surprises and new things. Moving forward and accepting that life goes on, you will begin to discover new chapters of your life that you never could have guessed were coming. Two years after the loss you will be amazed at all you've gone through and how much has changed. So don't ever give up, always hold hope in your heart and know that God and the Universe won't let you stay stuck in your holding pattern for long. New adventures await and you will be healed and happy again! I promise this to be the case. =)
There is Beauty...
Journaling for Grief and Loss
When journaling for a major loss, I recommend that you buy a separate journal from your normal journal. Especially if the loss is very intense. When I was going through my horrible, ugly divorce, I bought the ugliest journal I could find. I also bought one for each of my kids. It was an ugly brown, looked like it was made from a paper sack and it was only a dollar. I bought it at the Dollar Tree store in my town. The kids and I sat down nightly to write out all the crap we were feeling. All the hurtful words, the hurtful deeds, all the "junk" that happens during a divorce. We all wrote down our emotions and when it was all over, we destroyed those journals. My son ripped his up, my daughter threw hers in the garbage and I drowned mine in water before hurling it into the dumpster. Afterwards, we all felt like a weight was lifted off of us. We actually laughed when we could get rid of them!
Hey, guess what? After you feel all those emotions and go through a big loss... I officially give you permission to release and let go of all of it! You do not have to hold onto these sad and angry and hurtful emotions any longer! You can set them on fire, bury them into the Earth, throw them into the river if you like. When you have reached acceptance, you can just let it all go now and move forward.
I didn't want that stupid ugly journal destroying my mood every time I saw it. That boring brown book held some pretty ugly emotions that seemed to emanate from it every time I touched it. Destroying that book gave me such a freedom, I cannot begin to tell you! I got rid of a lot of mental clutter that day I heard that loud thud when it hit the bottom of the dumpster.
So if you keep a daily journal, I suggest you buy a separate, ugly, cheap journal to write all the emotions you plan to get rid of as soon as they have served their purpose, which is mainly to help you heal through all the pain of loss.
When you are writing in this journal, I would suggest that you write out all your feelings and when you are done, simply write one of the words that best describes the stage you are going through. Pick one out of your DABDA list. For example: "I hate him! He is a jackass!" Anger. Or "Maybe if I apologize again and promise to do better I can get my job back." Bargaining. Or "Well that happened. Maybe I should look for love again." Acceptance.
By labeling what you are feeling (after and not before) you write these feelings out, you can start to see your pattern in this loss. This will help you separate gently from the experience that has caused you so much pain and your healing will be more complete.
Remember that everyone goes through loss at their own pace. If you do absolutely nothing pro-actively to heal, it will take half the time to heal than the thing that you lost had been present in your life. For example, if your marriage was 12 years long, it will naturally take around 6 years to get over it ending. But you can speed it up a little by going to a counselor, talking to a friend who has gone through the same thing, and journaling for the loss. Don't make your friend your counselor though, you need a professional sometimes to help you with the roughest bumps.
We all have our bruises in life and we have to go through loss and we all have to grieve at some point in our lives. It is a normal part of our learning and growing as human beings. I wish you the best in your mental health and your heart happiness.
Books to help you on your healing journey...
© 2012 Alanna Fox Starks