Thursday, 29 July 2010
In a previous life I was a counsellor and therapist before the urge to tell people to pull themselves together got too strong and I became a teacher and actively encouraged to boss people around. When I first learned about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her model for the stages of grief I was amazed by the common sense I saw in it and how pertinent it was to my life. I've seen it mentioned as having anything from four to seven stages and it applies, not just to the grieving process following a bereavement but, to any ending. I've realised this week that I'm in a really good place emotionally and was thinking about how the model applies to the ending of my marriage. I've reproduced it here, with notes- in italics- by me.
1. SHOCK & DENIAL-You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
This was the stage where Husband moved to the spare room but I went on as normal, cooking, cleaning, going to work. Nothing changed. I told people we'd split up but did nothing else differently.
2. PAIN & GUILT-As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
This went on for a long time. I was working in a town someway from home and I spent a lot of my commute crying. When I told my sister-in-law that I found it difficult not to cry on buses because I had time to think about what had happened she suggested I stop getting the bus...
3. ANGER & BARGAINING-Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair ("I will never drink again if you just bring him back")
My anger was aimed at his family (over real issues is has to be said) and those of his friends who dropped me, but rarely at him, though phone calls (once I'd kicked him out) always started calmly and then went through anger, crying, begging, crying and back to calm again.
I also tried to find practical ways of sorting things out, in retrospect it was obviously bargaining.
"If I lose weight will you come back?" "If I pay for you to go into rehab and get over your addictions, will you come back?"
4. "DEPRESSION", REFLECTION, LONELINESS-Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
This was last summer. I even had a (very brief) fling with someone and attempted Internet dating until I realised I wasn't ready and it wasn't fair on others. I found it difficult to tell friends how much I was suffering as they could all see how much better off I was without him but I still managed to talk about him ad nauseum.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly.
Work picked up after the summer break and The Stitchettes started meeting, my life started to open up and I started to get on with things and see my own value.
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
This started around Christmas 2009. I started to talk about him less and have more interests in my life. I'd still tell people what had happened at the drop of a hat but now I often related stories from my marriage as funny anecdotes until I realised that no-one else was laughing and I was telling tales of emotional and mental abuse.
I had a set-back when I had to spend some time in contact with Husband over some fall-out from his extra-marital activities and was so dismayed at how badly I coped with contacting him that I decided to be proactive and get myself some help. I found a therapist who had a working style that suited me and started seeing him once a week. Talking in any detail about my marriage must have lasted about three weeks before we moved on and Husband became largely irrelevant. Which brings us to...
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.
You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.
Joy? Did you see me with The Stitchettes on Tuesday? I was pretending to have antlers and laughed so much I snorted? Did you see me last night at MrsB's? She made an absolutely filthy comment and I nearly fell off my seat? Did you see me when I sold my Stitching? I was almost dancing in the street. Will you be there next month when I see my family including a brother I've not seen in eighteen months (he lives in Spain), a sister I've not seen in three years (California) and sisters and nephews and nieces I haven't seen for a year? My life is so much better now. It's not perfect; I worry over money a lot; my health isn't what it should be and, Oh God, what I'd give for a bit of bedroom shenanigans but day-to-day living is fun and fulfilling and I have friends and family who love me.
I still think he treated me appallingly. You shouldn't marry someone you don't love, someone the wrong gender, and then punish them for your unhappiness. You shouldn't make promises you have no intention of keeping. You shouldn't start relationships with new people (yes, plural...) until you've ended your old one. You shouldn't lie, cheat and abuse. But, and it's a massive but, I will not let his actions, his cruelty, define me. Despite what he told me I know myself to be strong, brave, kind, energetic, intelligent and attractive. I am not lazy, stupid, boring and unfanciable, but I suspect I know someone who thinks he is...
I couldn't have done this on my own and, though almost everyone in my life was a support in some ways, I need to mention some people in particular: MrsB who can't cope with me crying but can always make me laugh so it doesn't matter, HullBestFriend for listening to my endless analysing, BermudaGirl for taking me in and taking me away, BellyDancer for showing me that I was worth enough to travel miles a three-hour round trip to visit on a school night, OriginalBestFriend for total unconditional acceptance, The Stitchettes for opening my life to new possibilities, listening to my analysis of my therapy (poor sods) and keeping me from violence on one of the worst nights of my life, and Boy for showing me I was sensual, sexual and desirable. Thank God for them all.
The details of The Seven Stages of Grief come from http://www.recover-from-grief.com/7-stages-of-grief.html which isn't a bad website if you can overlook the comic sans.