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The Only Way Out is Through


Hi, my name’s Wesley Lawton. I’m the Licensed Professional Counselor at All Things Grow Counseling. This is going to be my first video teaching about grief. While every loss is different, there are some principles and ideas that can be helpful for the vast majority of grieving individuals to consider, and that’s what I hope to speak to in this and some of the future videos that I record.

What I wanted to talk about for this first recording is the importance of facing your grief and working through it, as opposed to avoiding it. One of the biggest reasons that most people in our society don’t like talking about grief is that it’s so incredibly painful that we’d rather just not address it.

When someone you care for dies, or when you go through another major change, it’s really common to feel like your whole life just doesn’t feel OK anymore, and like you as a person just don’t feel OK anymore. Sometimes, it’s a constant, empty, sad feeling that you carry around in your stomach. Perhaps you don’t break down crying very often, yet the grief is still always there. Or, maybe you, like many others, feel so overwhelmed by the pain that you cry every single day, sometimes for long periods, and feel like you can barely catch your breath.

A way that many people try to respond to this pain is simply trying to ignore it and hoping that it will go away over time. We hear things like, “You just have to keep busy,” and, “Time heals all wounds,” so we do our best to push the pain down and “hold it all together.” And some of us are actually really convincing! You might have lots of people in your life telling you that “You’re handling it really well” or “You’re so strong.” Sometimes, for them it’s nice to believe that you’re not having a hard time so that they don’t feel as bad for you. However, what we eventually find is that this coping strategy simply doesn’t work. The grief stays with you. It doesn’t go away on its own. Time alone does not do much at all to heal your wounds.

I hope that I don’t sound overly critical or judgmental if you’re someone who’s tried this strategy. As I said, many of us do that as our first instinct. What could be more natural than trying to avoid the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual pain that grief can bring? Yet avoiding the pain, whether by pushing it down, not talking about it, or by staying busy does nothing to truly avoid the pain. You carry it with you, it waits for you, and it can negatively affect you in all kinds of ways – keeping you up at night, causing that feeling of constant sadness, sapping your energy and your sense of motivation, and making it hard to focus, among other things.

Unfortunately, when it comes to grief, the only effective way to actually be less bothered by it is to do the thing that many of us least want to do. Instead of trying to avoid or outrun our grief, we need to slow down, turn, face, and address it. The only way out is through. I’ll be honest about this: in the short term, this can be very difficult and painful. You will still likely need to work through it in doses over a long period of time, and you’ll need to work to find a healthy balance of feeling and allowing your grief while trying to stay engaged with your life and find things that can help provide some relief on your journey. But the fact remains that the more grief work you can get done early on, the sooner you will find your way to better days.

And, by the way, working through grief is not at all about forgetting your person who died or about how much you love them. It’s about getting through the most difficult feelings about their absence so that you can more easily smile when you think of them and find healthy, positive ways to continue feeling connected to them as you live the rest of your own life.

As you are likely already aware if you’re watching this video, working through grief can be one of the hardest things many of us will ever have to do. No one can do it alone. Not everyone necessarily needs a mental health professional to help them. If you have a strong support system with people who know how to listen to you and be with you in the pain of your grief journey and know that they can’t fix you, people who can process with you while you figure out how to adapt to your life, that can make an enormous difference.

However, my experience is that most people aren’t lucky enough to have that kind of support system. If you don’t, it’s really critical that you seek out support, ideally from others who have undergone a similar kind of loss to what you’re going through or a professional who has gained a lot of knowledge and experience helping grieving people. Even if you do already have great support, you may still benefit greatly from the guidance and attention that a therapist or grief support group of some kind provide, and from the tools that you can learn with them to use as you find your way through the many difficult challenges that can accompany a loss.

If you’re interested in learning more about grief therapy with me at All Things Grow Counseling, or would like to request an appointment, please visit allthingsgrowcounseling.com. I’d be happy to hear from you, and to help you however I can.

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