Loving yourself is a challenge on the best of days, let alone in the midst of loss and grief. And let’s get real right quick—grief is fucking everywhere. It’s in the shitty stuff like death, divorce, hurricanes, miscarriage, racism, misogyny, etc. And it’s also in the wondrous things: Marriage, motherhood, climbing that mountain, or starting your own business.
The Deal With Grief
I define grief as the normal and natural response to a loss or change of any kind. It shows up as sadness, confusion, anger, or anxiety; it also includes feelings like joy, relief, or hope. Contrary to popular belief, grief is a daily part of life.
As all y’all know, we’re living in an age of unprecedented madness. A white supremacist, sexual predator is President. We’ve royally pissed off Mother Nature. The omnipresence of rape culture is rearing its ugly head. And we’re all walking around trying to handle our own shit. So, yeah, grief is pervasive. Learning to love ourselves amidst all this loss is pretty damn important.
I know, because I loved myself back to life.
My Days in the Darkness
After a heart-wrenching, twenty-year battle with multiple sclerosis, my mother chose to starve herself to death. At first I was relieved. No longer would I have to bear witness to her pain and suffering. But then, all I felt was sad. Whatever relief, whatever respite, had vanished. All that was left was the incessant reminder that I was motherless. Alone. My only parent and family—gone.
In addition to grieving my mom I was also carrying a myriad of other losses. Sixteen days after my mother’s death I was in Paris during the Paris Attacks. My father-in-law and uncle had both died suddenly the year before. I was grappling with my identity after leaving my career as a corporate lawyer; struggling with chronic physical pain from a car accident; and trying to navigate a racist, patriarchal society as a Black woman.
There’s a lot more, but you get the point. Shit was rough.
I buckled under the weight of my loss. Depression, anxiety, and a serious downward spiral ensued. I went to deep, dark places in my mind I didn’t know existed. I spent an entire day sobbing on the bathroom floor and contemplated suicide on several occasions. Still, amidst it all, I felt in my bones that there had to be a way out. There must be something that could make me feel better and ease all my emotional pain. The answer was ultimately me.
For the first time in my life I chose to put my needs first (Shit is so hard for us ladies—am I right!?). I learned to shower myself with unadulterated love and attention and ask for what I needed so I could heal my own heart. And slowly but surely, I did. I looked long and hard in the mirror and got real with who was staring back. What she wanted, the support she required, and how the fuck she planned on getting out alive.
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation…” – Audre Lorde
You Get To Choose
No matter its source, grief fucking sucks. It is a messy, painful, heartbreaking experience. But it can also be empowering, life-affirming, and transcendent. The choice is yours. So how can you best use grief as the gateway into grace? Peep my suggestions for loving yourself through loss:
#1. Meet Yourself Where You’re At
However you feel, you gotta own that shit. Are you anxious, exhausted, sad, elated, confused, excited, overwhelmed? Whatever the hell it is, please meet yourself there. Don’t run. Don’t be afraid. Lean into it and ask what it needs you to know so it can cycle up and out. Love yourself enough to honor the rollercoaster of your emotions and do your best to get comfortable with the discomfort. Pain isn’t always your enemy; it’s there to tell you something, to shed light on what ain’t right. So slow down, dearest. Start to journey within and listen.
#2. Practice Healthy Boundaries
If you’re in the middle of a shitstorm you can only focus on how to survive it. Of course it would be great to grab your fave jeans and super hip succulent before the wind knocks your house down, but there isn’t time and it doesn’t fucking matter. You have to board up the windows and put the valuables in the dishwasher…or not, there’s been a lot of controversy about that but you get the point: Protect your most valuable shit—your heart.
Say hell yes to the things that light you up and, to the extent possible, a huge N-O to the things that don’t. Your needs, your time, your desires, your energy, your emotions. When you’re bereaved they become the priority. Easier said than done which is why I also suggest that you…
#3. Ask. For. Help.
I know. You’re a strong independent woman and you don’t need noooobody (finger snap, neck roll). I hear you. And you can also fuck right off with that shit because girl, it’s gonna be hard as hell to survive this all alone. Stop trying.
Asking for help is an act of strength. It takes courage to be vulnerable and mad inner power to voice your needs. Find yourself a friend, family member, pillow, or pet. Hire a counsellor or grief coach (holla at yo girl!). Whoever it is, be sure to lean on someone with integrity, wisdom, and compassion. Not everyone is able to sit with you in your darkness, usually because they haven’t sat with their own. Ideally, find someone who is well-versed in loss and has ample experience with grief. It truly takes one to know one.
So there it is. Grief is natural, normal, and a total mindfuck. It comes for us all and yet, more often than not, we don’t even know we’re in it. Loving ourselves through grief is simply loving ourselves through life. I wish you mad success.