With the promise of a new year comes hopes, wishes, dreams and expectations. And sometimes it’s not at all what we’d hoped for. Recently I’ve been hearing from many who have been going through a difficult start this year—three with a death in the family, three who are dealing with debilitating health issues, a family whose home burned down in a fire (not to mention the devastating fires that happened in Australia) and many others who are having a tough time getting back on track in their lives after loss.
Change is not always easy, especially when it’s prefaced by a traumatic event. The promise of a new year seems to die with it.
How, in the face of a new year and a new decade, can we cope with the reality that life may not be at all what we’d hoped or dreamed for in this moment? What do you do when you’re looking at the ashes of a loved one or the ashes of your burned down home? What do you do when you’re missing someone who meant the world to you and now they’re gone?
You embrace it. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. The first thing we want to do is run away, to not feel the pain of it. But running away from it only prolongs the pain and makes it harder to deal with in the long run.
The best thing is to let the feelings arise and to be with them, as impossible to bear as they may seem.
What helps me most make sense of all those jumbled emotions is to journal about them. You don’t have to be a writer to do this. Your journal is your own private (and a powerful) tool for you to vent and let it all out.
This is also especially helpful when you’re not big into talking about it with others. Holding it in and not expressing your emotions is destructive to yourself and to your loved ones. This is why I highly recommend journaling.
If you’ve never journaled before and don’t know where to begin, pull out a paper and pen or your computer and set a timer for 10, maybe 20, mins (it doesn’t have to be long and setting a timer will help you not get swept up in a never-ending downward spiral–God knows I’ve gotten lost in that perpetual spiral more times than I can count).
Then sit down and take a few slow deep breaths to ground yourself. Begin with the intention:
“I am willing to heal.” Notice what feelings come up around your intention.
You can write down those feelings–is it resistance, anger, shame or reluctant acceptance? What does it feel like in your body? Is there a heavy pit in your stomach? A lump in your throat? Notice and breathe into those spaces.
When everything is screaming at you to run away, lean in.
Consider these statements to help you get going in your journal:
“Today I feel ___________.”
“The hardest thing about going through what I am is ____________.”
“What I miss the most about __________ is ___________.”
“I wish that ___________ because ___________.”
“Because of this, I have been or I am learning that ________________.”
When journaling, don’t pause to edit or think too much. No need for grammar or complete sentences. Just let the feelings and words flow out in whatever way they come. Let your journal be as messy, scary and uncontrollable as your feelings. Just go for it and let it out.
Return to the journal to write as often as you need. Let it be your safe haven, where you can let your deepest darkest feelings out. Also know it’s ok to let your joy out too. It’s entirely possible to be sad and happy at the same time. Don’t feel bad for feeling happiness when everything around you seems to be falling apart.
It’s all part and parcel of the rollercoaster of grief. Ride it fully.
Reading over your journal can also help you see patterns you may be stuck in over time. Hindsight is 20/20. Witnessing what you’ve been through, through your journal, can help you be more compassionate with yourself and with others too.
This is what journaling through grief is about. Compassion for yourself as you give yourself a sacred space to let it out and heal. One day at a time. One word at a time.