Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast
One of the questions people ask when they attend support groups is, How can I enjoy life again when I have just lost the most important thing in life?
As we continue this series on recovering from losses, we will address not only healing and recovery, but rebuilding.
Recovering from a significant loss is never easy. If you lost your spouse, child, parent or best friend, that loss takes center stage and everything else is blocked from view. You may have resumed the daily tasks of life but find no pleasure in them.
Recovery includes the need to not only accept and let go but think about your future. But where do you begin?
You can’t begin to imagine the possibility of happiness in the future without your loved one. You might have accepted, but you can’t envision anything positive to look forward to.
If you were choosing a frame for a picture you had taken, you would experiment with different sizes and colors of frames and mats that would complement and highlight the main feature of that picture.
How we choose to frame our lives at any point in time can have the same effect. There are many snapshots of life that are special. Right now, the spotlight is on what you lost and it’s not very inviting. But if we expanded the frame and increased our view, we would see hope and possibility as well as sorrow and discouragement.
Reframing begins when you step back from despair and get a glimpse of what is available.
When your face is pressed against a stone wall, all you see is concrete, until you step away and notice the surrounding fields, trees and blooming flowers.
Reframing gives you the opportunity to step back from the stone wall of impossibility to see the possibilities of being happy again.
When faced with any loss or tragedy, our beliefs about what we think we can and cannot do are brought into focus. Reframing allows us to review and evaluate those assumptions and accommodate for change, even radical change. When we only see our limitations and negative evaluations, we don’t see a bigger picture of what the future might be.
Looking at your loss in a larger context allows you to step away from the stone walls of anger, stress, pain, sorrow and hopelessness. When you do, you begin to see blooming flowers and blue sky and know that life hasn’t ended. It allows you to grieve, but also rebuild.
Here are 8 steps to help you begin again:
1. Acknowledge and accept all aspects of your loss and all the feelings associated with it.
Make a list of emotions that keep you stuck. If you are feeling resentful, anxious, fearful, hopeless, or a never-ending sorrow, write it down. Don’t evaluate or put any value judgment on them right now. You are simply acknowledging that they are keeping you trapped in grief instead of healing.
2. Write beside each emotion the thoughts that preceded it.
For example, there is nothing to look forward to, or I should have done more, or why did he have to die? These thoughts reveal beliefs you hold about yourself and your situation. What are your thoughts telling you about your past that keeps you from believing in yourself?
3. Challenge thinking that looks backward instead of forward.
Thoughts that keep you focused only on your pain will continue to keep you feeling helpless and hopeless. We can recognize that life can be unfair without turning it into a bitter story. That will only make your grief worse.
4. What have you achieved in the past that took you through difficult times?
What strategies did you use? Maybe it was an attitude of, yes, I can. Maybe you said to yourself, I won’t quit. Maybe it was a fierce determination of, I will find a way. I can ask for help or go back to school, etc. Which strategies can you use again?
5. Make a list of your strengths, skills, talents and abilities.
Maybe you are someone who is decisive or reliable and trustworthy. You might feel a great compassion for others. These characteristics and traits are important to recognize. Is there an opportunity to improve or develop new skills that can increase your confidence? Explore all available options – no matter how small or trivial they may seem.
6. Practice mindfulness.
Resist ruminating on what you lost or what the future might bring. Focus your attention on what you are doing in the moment and what you can do in the future. No matter how seemingly insignificant, find one positive thing to work on every day.
7. Resist the urge to hang onto resentment associated with your loss.
Let it go. We can’t move forward until we let go of the past – all of it. Begin to look for those kernels of blessings and gratitude.
8. And finally, ask yourself, what benefits am I getting from remaining fixated on my loss?
What am I avoiding by remaining angry, bitter or resentful?
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC
We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.