Recovery – Experience the Tears
by Judy Tatelbaum
published in Meditation Magazine, Fall 1990
“What is extraordinary about us is that we each have the capacity to rise like the phoenix out of our ashes, to create ourselves newly, to begin again. We can transform ourselves and our lives, regardless of what we have endured before now. Maybe the true purpose of suffering is that out of lur pain we will rise, expand, grow and achieve.” – From “You Don’t Have to Suffer”
Living in a death and grief-denying culture, it is sometimes hard to accept loss and death as natural parts of life. The truth is that in every full life one will experience loss, disappointment, hurt and failure. Grief is a natural response to be managed. We do have a choice as to how much and how long we suffer.
It is natural to feel sad and angry, regretful and bereft. Not only over losses, but over many of life’s changes; changes in lifestyle, employment, home, health and heart. We need to accept that these mixed and intense feelings are healthy and that we can recover. Initially we may be shocked or overwhelmed. Still, we can move through our experience a step at a time, allowing and expressing our feelings, accepting what has occured, and eventually healing and becoming richer for having lived through powerful experiences.
In countering the stoicism in the world, my motto is: Never miss an opportunity to cry. crying is the best way we have to release our distress. Having done so we must be as willing to be engaged in living even though life may have pain, imperfection and be missing something or someone that matters very much.
Perhaps few of us were ever told that we need to go ahead and experience the pain in our hurts, and then to let it go. Yet this is the secret of recovery from the most painful of life’s offerings. Each of us is capable of learning this although we may doubt it. We humans have an awesome capacity for recovery.
The ideal training for us as children would be the first time we hurt ourselves, or failed, or someone yelled at us, or we experienced a loss, that our parents sat down with us and say, “Sometimes life hurts. What you need to do is cry, get angry, feel your pain. Feeling and expressing feelings is healthy. Then let them go. Forgive and forget and go back out and play.” With simply this, how much better prepared we’d be the next time hurt or disappointment came around. How much more flexible we’d be in our dealings with pain. We wouldn’t be as shocked and resistant to experiences.
Children have amazing resilience but we sometimes fear having them tested. They can be taught to feel their own feelings, to distinguish between sadness, disappointment, rage and regret. By giving them an opportunity to learn about what they experience, they can recover and go on to adulthood far better prepared.
I could accept the deaths of animals and ailing grandparents but nothing prepared me for my vitally young brother’s death in a car accident at the age of twenty. I was seventeen. In those days there was more denial of death and grieving than today. I didn’t have the opportunity to allow and accept the varied feelings this loss provoked in me. It took fourteen years to finally be complete, and only after I admitted I was angry at him for dying. Fourteen years of grieving is not healthy. My work today is to help free people to feel all of it – the anger, the abandonment, sorrow, loneliness, disappointment, regret and guilt – and to recover.
One common misconception in our culture is that of equating how much we loved someone with how we can grieve over their departure. We sometimes use our grief as a statement of love even though love never really dies and need not be replaced with grief. A more powerful testimonial is to heat, recover and live a full, satisfying life. If we need to we may create memorials out of work and service that make a difference in the world. Most of us would not want our loved ones to cease living because of our own death.
Personal beliefs have everything to do with recovery. Often we say negative things like “I’ll never get over this” and “Life will never never be the same.” These statements may become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we can say, “I can recover” and “I will make it through this,” we can fulfill that as well. Our words have tremendous impact. Where we may not know just how to overcome pain, our commitment to do so will teach us how. Positive affirmations can help. They may sound far from the truth, yet affirmations are often the first step in mastering the necessary courage.
Another aspect to consider is the view we have of our personal experience. When painful events occur we may wonder, “Why has this happened to me?” This can be a trick question leading us into self-judgment, self-doubt, invalidation and despair, adding to our pain. I’ve found the only satisfying answer to “Why?” is “Because.” Philosophically, it helps me to think of each of us as being on our own path with our own set of tests, lessons and experiences from which to grow and develop. We can not, then, compare our paths. However, we could realistically choose to view upsetting events as challenges and opportunities rather than predicaments and punishments.
The steps toward recovery are: Allow the experience. Express the feelings. Do not stiffly try to brave or deny the experience. Having fully allowed one’s feelings and thoughts, make positive statements from a posiiton of inner calmness – “I can recover.” Then be willing to go on with your life, willing to create a wonderful future, even though we have suffered.
Lastly we will probably need, in order to accomplish the above, to forgive ourselves and others. From my years of doing grief work with people, it is clear that we become stuck or immobilized by our unwillingness to forgive what we or someone did or didn’t do. Often we find hardest to forgive the fact that we didn’t express our love. Our willingness to forgive, to find ways of expressing our lvoe to everyone who occupies our life, and to allow for the ever evident imperfections in others as well as in ourselves heals us.
Spiritual beliefs are a strong part of recovery. I’ve come to think of my departed loved ones as long-distance relationships. After my brother died I had many dreams in which he came to me saying he lived where there were no phones or addresses. Years later in a meditation workshop I sensed the continuum of life after death. This belief has helped me confront and accept many losses since.
My knowingness about souls living on after death has come to me particularly in meditation. Quieting and freeing myself to be peaceful, I invariably get a sense that there is more than solid appearances. I also often use the time before sleep to search for answers that may not be available to me in everyday life. Before I meditate I often write questions regarding my life or about someone who has passed on, such as mother, father or friends. Sometimes I ask for help and guidance. If and when I receive the communications I request, I write them down so as to my experience concrete.
It may be difficult to become quiet and meditate when very upset or stressed. Guided meditation tapes are particularly useful then. Also useful is listening to classical music, which for some may be easier to accept than words.
Most important is knowing that we can face and recover from anything. Out of tragedies and ordeals we can heal and even transform ourselves.