In this episode of Thanks for Sharing, Jackie Pack talks about the difficulty of change and it’s connection to loss. During this time of physical distancing, there are many tough emotions people are trying to manage.
How can we embrace the time we are in and embrace the change we are facing?
TRANSCRIPT: Grieving, Loss, and Finding Hope
Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing. I’m your host, Jackie Pack. Before we get going on today’s episode, I wanted to give a short announcement about an upcoming group that we are going to be starting at Healing Paths. I know many of my listeners are also listeners of the podcast Recovery with Amy Smith, and I’ve had Amy on the show a couple of times I believe as a guest, and I’ve also been on her podcast a few times as a guest and we’ve partnered on different projects and the intensives that we offer at One Layer Deeper is something that we partner on. So many of you may know or you may not know, Amy has been going through a process of education so that she can become a therapist, and she’s about halfway through her grad course work and is going to be starting an internship. So the second half of a grad program , you have to do an internship and complete so many hours, and she had asked me when she was starting school if it would be possible for her to do her internship hours with us over at Healing Paths, and of course I said yes because Amy’s pretty amazing. So she’s going to be starting May 4th working with Healing Paths, and one of the things that she wants to do and I want to do as well is to do an online psychoeducation group for women across the United States, possibly outside the United States if the time frame works, but at least for women across the United States who have been dealing with sex and love addiction and are looking for support and are looking for a psychoeducational group to further understand what’s going on in their life to help make sense and then to start to move recovery forward. So also that group will be starting the first part of May. As that time gets closer I’ll be announcing dates and times that we have set aside for that group, and I’m really excited. Now we’re going to be doing a beginning group, but I know that there’s a lot of female listeners out there who are more advanced in their sex and love addiction recovery, so we’re going to be doing a beginnings group for those who are at the beginning, but we’re also going to do a more advanced group for those who have gotten through the beginning process and are looking for something else. So we’re going to be doing two groups for female sex and love addicts across the country, so I hope that you’ll email me, join us, look for more announcements, look for the dates and the times as that gets closer.
Now on today’s episode I wanted to talk about loss and I wanted to talk about hope. Those two words, those two feelings can seem diametrically opposed, and yet often they need to work together. One of the things that can get us through loss and onto the other side is hope. Now as I was preparing this episode, I was looking for an article that I vaguely remembered on the internet that was written almost a decade ago, and I’m pretty sure I was able to find it. I didn’t have a lot of great search terms in my brain for finding it, but I do believe that I found it, so this was an editorial in the New York Times that was written on September 10, 2011, and this is what it said. I’m just going to start reading it. It says, “It is painful and puzzling to look back to that day, to the chasm after the second tower fell, when we knew nothing except that fires were burning, an untold number of lives had been lost, and Lower Manhattan was gasping in a cloud of what looked like Pompeian ash. That morning’s terrible events marked a border between one realm and another, a boundary none of us would ever wish to have crossed. Everything had changed — that was how it seemed. We tried, almost immediately, to understand how the morning of 9/11 would change our future. A decade later, we’re still trying to understand, looking back and looking ahead. It is not enough simply to remember and grieve. At first, there was only shock, grief and fear. But by the next evening there was something surprising in the air. Do you remember? It was an enormous, heartfelt desire to be changed. People wanted to be enlarged, to be called on to do more for country and community than ordinary life usually requires, to make this senseless horror count for something. It was also a public desire, a wish to be absorbed in some greater good, a reimagining of the possibilities in our national life. There was courage and unity on the streets of the city and all across the country, for we were all witnesses of that turning point. But America has not been enlarged in the years that have passed. Based on false pretexts, we were drawn into a misdirected war that has exacted enormous costs in lives and money. Our civic life is tainted by a rise in xenophobia that betrays our best ideals. As we prepared for a war on terrorism, we gave in to a weakening of the civil liberties that have been the foundation of our culture. It seemed in the days after 9/11 as though we stood at the juncture of many possible futures. There was as much hope as grief, as much love as anger, and a powerful sense of resilience. We still stand at the juncture of many possible futures. They are occasioned not by what terrorists in four airliners did to us, but by what we have done in the decade since. As a nation, we have done a better job of living with our fears, sadly than nurturing the expansive spirit of community that arose in those early days. We are still learning about the events of 9/11 and in truth, 10 years is a short window to assess the consequences of those attacks. Perhaps in time we will realize that the full meaning of what happened on 9/11 resides in the surge of compassion and hope that accompanied the shock and mourning of that September day.”
Currently we find ourselves almost 19 years after 9/11, facing another battle. The epicenter again is in New York, although it didn’t start there. The number of lives lost exceeds those on 9/11. We reached that point this week. It’s a different type of threat, and one that it seems we can’t all agree on how to proceed. It’s also one that is not likely to stay in New York. In some ways, it is bringing people together, while also staying 6 feet apart. In other ways, it pulls back the curtain on issues that have long been festering in the background and sometimes the foreground. It is increasing levels of anxiety and stress. We are seeing an increase in domestic violence and child abuse. Last week alone in the city that I live, Salt Lake City, they reported a 42% increase in domestic violence calls. People are filing for unemployment at a higher rate than we have ever seen. The uncertainty is tapping into people’s wounds over needs and wants, fearing they will be forgotten or overlooked, so they are panic buying, and they’re overbuying. Now if we pause and breathe for a minute, maybe two, maybe three minutes, can we feel what the author of the op-ed wrote about in 2011? Can we feel that enormous heartfelt desire to be changed? To be part of change? Can we tap into that feeling of wanting to be enlarged, expanded, to be called on to do more for country and community than ordinary life usually requires? Can we tap into wanting a personal and also a public desire, a wish to be absorbed in some greater good, a reimagining of the possibilities in our national life and in our global life? Can we tap into hope?
As I talk online with my therapist colleagues and friends since this started, we’re heading into week 4 I believe of working online, at least at my office, and as I talk with my therapist colleagues and friends across the country who have moved to an online platform, I’m hearing from most of them a realization that most of the United States and the rest of the world will experience collective PTSD after all of this passes. It’s hard to be positive right now. As therapists, we are helping clients manage their emotions, anxiety and fears, many that we share with our clients. It’s difficult to see online posts from people who don’t believe this is a big deal, and yet I know that denial is a powerful friend that shields us from realities that are frightening. A friend of mine put it this way, and I love this, he said, “I am becoming curiously optimistic about what will unfold as the world tapestry is re-woven and many of us become the architects of a more compassionate and unifying change.” I hope that he’s right. I hope that many of use do become the architects and that this is a re-weaving of the tapestry of the world that is unfolding and moving us into a more compassionate and unifying change. In their book “Leadership on the Line”, Linsky and Heifetz note that people don’t resist change. They resist loss. Change is loss, and loss requires grief. Have you thought about change as loss? Even when change is due to the best of circumstances, it requires us to lose something, whether it’s a routine, a relationship, familiarity, a place that holds memories, convenience, a reputation, a known experience. Change means unknowns. Change means having to re-learn or learn something completely new. Change requires us to face the reality that we are not in control, and change often makes us face things within ourselves that we could conveniently avoid when we are in the status quo. Change or the unknown may also stir up previous experiences with change, loss, or uncertainty. Now Viktor Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I’ve had many conversations with clients as they are dealing with what is happening around them and the emotions that it brings up and the experiences that it brings up for them, and we talk about choice, and we talk about being at the fork in this road where you can give into the fear and the anxiety and you know what living that kind of life looks like, or you can choose to have hope. You can choose to believe that something will come out of this. You can choose to grow from this. You can choose liberation, and you can choose to change your place in the world.
Alan Wolfelt is a PhD from the Center for Loss and Life Transition. He says, “The fears, doubts, and questions that come when we experience grief have been with us since the beginning of our awareness that loss is part of the cycle of life. Loss truly is an integral part of life. You are asking questions that others before you have raised, questions that have been raised to God, questions that have been asked , about God. Like others who have been where you are, you may be feeling distant from God, perhaps even questioning the existence of God. These kinds of questions have been preserved in time because they belong to and are asked by most everyone who experiences the pain of loss. So like your fellow travelers on this grief journey, you are faced with sitting in the wound of your grief. When you sit in the wound of your grief, you surrender to it in a recognition that the only way to the other side of the pain and hopelessness is through the pain and hopelessness. You acknowledge that you are willing to do the work that mourning requires. Paradoxically it is in befriending your wound that eventually you will restore your life and reinvest in living.” So I want to ask this question: have we as a community or a nation, a planet or a neighborhood or a family been reinvesting in living? Maybe we can’t start to do those things now because we’re practicing physical distancing, but are we planning for it? Are we talking about reinvesting in living? Now I’m not one of those to say this virus, which has been deadly for far too many, is a good thing or that God sent it to us to remind us and help us get back on course. That kind of higher power never has worked for me. I do believe, though, that when we are sitting in the wound of our grief and we surrender to it and we do the work that mourning requires, we can come out the other side restored and reinvested in living.
Agatha Christie said, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” Now where I live, I also like the symbolism in my part of the world that right now it’s spring. When most people think of spring they think of the beauty associated with spring, and that’s one of the reasons that I love spring too. I love all the blossoms and the beauty of the world waking up and coming to life, even though my allergies also wake up and come to life and I hate going out because I’m sneezing or I’ve got a runny nose and I’m like, I just have spring allergies, one of the reasons I don’t like to go out. But I do, I love the blossoms, I love the beauty of the world waking up and coming to life. However, in order to get to the blossoming of spring, there is a process that must first happen. Oftentimes we forget about the struggle that takes place prior to blossoming. If you imagine a bulb down beneath the frozen ground, before it can do what it was created to do, it will hit up against the frozen ground many times, and the frozen ground is the first barrier that it may hit up against in trying to come into life. It might hit up against another root system, which would be another barrier. As this bulb goes through the struggle, it will eventually find its way around the barriers encountered and fulfill its destiny. I love this line from Frances Hodgson Burnett in “The Secret Garden”. She says, “However many years she lived, she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow.” I’ve thought of that often as a mom and as I’ve gone through various periods if my life where I emerge from a season of winter where I’m hibernating, where I feel like shutting off the world or I feel like the world is very barren to times when the garden begins to grow.
Now I want to emerge from this experience different. I want to grow, and I don’t just want that for me or for my family. I want it for us. Another quote by Viktor Frankl says, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” I think this has been the challenge for many of us for a long time. Going back to that op-ed that I read at the beginning of this episode, that was written a decade after 9/11, and here we are almost two decades after 9/11. Have we sufficiently challenged ourselves to grow and to change?
Several years ago, coming up on 11 years in fact, I experienced a traumatic event that made me question everything. It made me question my reality, who I thought I was, who I actually might be, and it was heavy. I felt like I was just slogging through life, and just moving my body took most of my energy. I cried. I cried a lot, which is not typical for me. I was depressed. In the 3 or 4 years prior to this, my family had moved into a new area, a new neighborhood. I made new friends, which is not an easy thing for me to do. They approached me one day after I had taught a lesson at church. They told me that they loved my lessons and that they wanted to be friends with me. I felt so flattered. Nobody had approached me like this and asked me to be my friend I don’t think ever. So we became friends. Good friends, or so I thought. Our husbands got along, our kids for the most part got along. We vacationed together, we had many, many dinners together. We spent a lot of time together, and during those years, we were part of every meaningful event that happened in each other’s lives. Then one day in the fall, I got a phone call from one of these friends. In the phone call she didn’t say much, just that she was done being my friend, that she couldn’t take it any longer. She said some very hurtful things about me that cut me to my core. I did not even know what to say. I know I started crying, standing there in my kitchen. I was confused. After that phone call, I called our other mutual friend to try to make sense of what happened. What had I done? That call was also very short, as she told me that her loyalties lay with this other friend. After a few days, I sent an email to this friend. I’m not proud of this fact, but I begged to be let back into the friendship. I pleaded with her in this email. The response I got made it very clear that that was not going to happen. I felt embarrassed, heartbroken, overwhelming sadness, anger, and confusion. I believed the things she said about me, and I was certain that if she told anyone else in our neighborhood, they could know that what she was saying was true. I was sure that they also believed those things about me as well. I wanted to disappear. I went to therapy. I felt so much shame, and I felt horrible because my actions not only ended my friendship with them, but it impacted the friendship my husband had with their husbands, it impacted the friendships my kids had with their kids. I felt it was all my fault, and that felt awful. So like I said, I went to therapy. It took a long time for me to heal. It took a long time for me to believe that it wasn’t all my fault. I remember the day that my therapist told me I don’t think that anything you did was unforgiveable, and I had all this evidence of like clearly it was because I was not forgiven, and we had to work through that for several months before I could believe that I wasn’t that horrible person. We had a lot of talks as a family about what had happened, and all of the feelings each of us had that was wrapped up in this situation. I gave myself time. I remember the day I told my therapist it’s going to take time isn’t it? And I said I’m not going to be better in a year, maybe not even in two years, but maybe in three years, I will be okay. She told me to hold onto that, to be gracious and patient with myself. I was reading through my journal the other day and read this that I had written during this time of healing and towards the end of my three-year timeline. “One of the things I have learned is that in the vast scheme of things, we are not very different. No matter where we come from, our backgrounds, our vast talents and abilities, our life experiences, everything that could potentially make us different actually brings us together and makes us very much the same. We are all just people striving to do our best in our own little corner of life. We all long to be loved, to give love, to find happiness, and to feel safe and secure. Unfortunately, many of us don’t focus on our similarities and instead allow our insecurities to focus on the faults of others or our differences. I have found that through this process, it really challenged me to look at who I am and how I am. This process has made me stronger. For the most part, I like who I am, and I feel peace about how I am. I admit I have my failings, my bad days, my moments of doubt, but I truly accept myself for who I am, the good, bad, the beautiful, and sometimes ugly and unruly. This process has also challenged some of my beliefs about relationships and friendships. At the end, it brought me back full circle and has reinforced my beliefs that friendship is priceless. Relationships are hard but worth the effort, and nothing we can attain in this life is greater than the relationships we create with others.”
In the book “We are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life” by Laura McAllen, she writes, “In every big transition of my life, pregnancy, becoming a mother, marriage, divorce, and especially getting sober, I have been gobsmacked by the messiness and difficulty of it all. It can feel like the most basic tasks, things you have been doing since childhood, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, feeding yourself, are new again and near impossible. Time slows. Axioms you understood and relied on all of your life fall away. There is a profound a complete dislocation from the very center of things, as if gravity itself has relocated. There’s a term for these phases of life in Biblical and psychological terms: liminal space. Limen is a Latin word that means threshold. It is the time between what was and the next. It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. Generally we resist and wish like hell against these times, but for me, learning that it was an actual spiritual thing defined by groundlessness helped a lot.”
In “Everything Belongs”, author and theologian Richard Rohr describes liminal space as the place where we are betwixt and between. There the old world is left behind, but we’re not sure of the new one yet. He says, “Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. If we don’t find liminal space in our lives, we start idolizing normalcy.” Now I believe we are in a liminal space. I think we have brushed up against this many times in the past decade, and now as we shelter in place, as we hear the news reports of the many people sick or dying, this liminal phase has descended on us. We can’t turn away from it. Well, we can, but we shouldn’t. I do believe this liminal space is a time for us to reflect, to assess, and when the virus passes, to step into and be part of a different world.
In his book “Consolations”, David White says this about regret: “Regret is a short, evocative, and achingly beautiful word, a eulogy to lost possibilities. Even in its brief annunciation, it is also a rarity and almost never heard except where the speaker insists that they have none, that they are brave and forward-looking and could not possibly imagine their life in any other way than the way it is. To admit regret is to understand we are fallible, that there are powers in the world beyond us. To admit regret is to lose control not only of a difficult past, but of the very story we tell about our present, and yet strangely to admit sincere and abiding regret is one of our greatest but unspoken contemporary sins. The rarity of honest regret may be due to our contemporary emphasis on the youthful perspective. It may be that a true useful regret is not a possibility or province of youth, that it takes a hard-won maturity to experience the depths of regret in ways that do not overwhelm and debilitate us, but put us into a proper, more generous relationship with the future. Except for brief senses of having missed a tide, having hurt another, having taken what is not ours, youth is not yet ready for the rich current of abiding regret that runs through and emboldens a mature human life. Sincere regret may in fact be a faculty for paying attention to the future, for sensing the new tide where we missed a previous one. For experiencing timelessness with a grandchild where we neglected a boy of our own. To regret fully is to appreciate how high the stakes are in even the average human life. Fully experienced, regret turns our eyes attentive and alert to a future possibility lived better than our past.”
With this “Prayer for You” by Alan Wolfelt in his book “The Mourner’s Book of Hope”, he says, “May you continue to discover hope, an expectation of a good that is yet to be. May you continue to find new ways to renew your divine spark and to believe that meaning, purpose, and love will come back into your life. No, you did not go in search of this loss, but it has come to you, and you have discovered the importance of sitting in your wound on the pathway to your healing. If you give up, the essence of who you are will die or be muted for the rest of your life. Hope can and will keep this from happening. May you never give up, and may you consciously choose life. May you turn your face to the radiance of joy every day. May you keep your heart open wide and receptive to what life brings you, both happy and sad, and may you walk a pathway to living your life fully and on purpose until you die. Blessings to you as you befriend hope and choose to celebrate life. May your divine spark shine brightly as you share your gifts and your love with the universe.”