Grieving, Losses and Help in a Healing Direction

Charles Whitfield, MD has written a bunch of books geared toward those of us who grew up in toxic and dysfunctional environments.  I finally took one out of the library and have been read through most of it.

There’s a section a little past mid-way through called:
Beginning to Grieve
-Identify (i.e., accurately name) our losses
-Identify our needs. (He has a table in the book for this but you can just look up “the hierarchy of human needs” to help you with that.)
-Identify our feelings and share them.
-Work a recovery program.*

*My personal opinion on the last one in the list is that this is a personal choice. It works well for some and for others not so much. It depends on what you’re working through. I attempted AA because I have a binge drinking issue. And when describing my father’s behavior it can sound like I’m describing an alcoholic in some ways. He was quite unpredictable but he didn’t have a drinking problem. Anyway, I found that I did not really fit into the AA groups/meetings I attended at that time and I tried a number of locations. I didn’t relate and one particular meeting I felt coerced and manipulated into sharing the first time I went there.

At the risk of sounding like I’m in denial, I think that a binge drinking problem is quite different than someone who feels the need to wake up drinking. I have never been one to go for the hair of the dog…unless you count wake and bakes. And as silly as it sounds, if I don’t start drinking I am fine not drinking. Blu (the roomie) has also had beer (my drink of choice) in the fridge for weeks at times and I am not tempted by it.

But then there are other groups too. Like Codependence Anonymous CoDA, which I’ve been thinking about checking out but have not wanted to make the hour drive.

There are tons of others and it all depends on you and whether it can work or not. Personally, I’d rather be part of a therapy group for ACoNs if I could find one. But that’s just me.

So onto the next section called
Identifying Our Losses and Trauma

I find this section really helpful because having been traumatized so much you can build a wall to not only guard yourself from the pain caused by others in the moment but also to your own feelings about them. I know that’s true for me.

In my young adult years (20s and some of my 30s) not only did I have a very limited emotional range but I thought that a loss was simply when someone you cared about died. I also did a lot of ‘stuffing’ and suppressing because it was what I’d grown to believe was safe. Of course I was not completely conscious and aware of this then, despite knowing something wasn’t right.

The author states that “talk therapy” may not be enough to activate feelings or grief around un-grieved losses. And in this section, here he recommends “experiential therapy.”

Below I include his list but know that I don’t agree with every one of them and think that each one is a personal choice to do or not.

-Risking and sharing, especially feelings, with safe supportive people.

-Storytelling (telling our own story, including risking and sharing.) Many are doing this via blogging and writing memoirs.

-Working through transference (what we project or “transfer” onto others and vice-versa for them.) I’d imagine a therapist is helpful and may even be necessary for this. Of course having PTSD of any sort is not a problem to take to just any old therapist. Trust me on that one, I’ve got tons of experience with shitty therapists.

-Psychodrama, Reconstruction, Gestalt, Group Therapy, Family Sculpting <–Click the link to read about it. Sounds pretty cool to me.

-Hypnosis and related techniques. Here’s a touchy one. Lots of people with trauma have severe trust issues…understandably. So this one might not be the place to start or even ever do if you don’t feel comfortable. Individual decisions need to be at work on this suggestion for sure.

-Attending self-help meetings. I have no idea what these are or where you’d find them. I suppose it could be anything ranging from a book club, to a meditation class/group to a fitness class.  But I’m just guessing here.

-Working the 12 Steps of (Al-Ann, ACA, AA, NA, OA, etc.) He forgot CoDA lol. And he even wrote a book on healing from co-dependence. I’ll say it again as I said above. This is a personal choice and I will also add, proceed with caution.

-Group therapy (usually a safe and supportive place to practice many of these experiential techniques.)

-Couples therapy or family therapy. This of course depends on your situation. My family of origin has no interest in working through shit so this won’t work for me.

-Guided Imagery. I love this one, especially if you can get someone to do it with you in person. My last therapist did this with me a couple times while I laid down on the couch and she read from a book of scripts for guided imagery. But if this doesn’t work for you then there are tons of them on YouTube and you can also buy them on CD. Also look for ‘Guided Visualization’ too. If you type that into YouTube search bar one particular guy comes up a lot whose name is Jason Stephenson. He’s got a whole channel of meditation type recordings and has a soothing voice with a beautiful British accent.

Breathwork I looked into this years ago but couldn’t find a decent practitioner close enough in travel time to me.

-Affirmations. Hoo boy, this one is so debatable. I’m reading another book that goes into this topic as well and stresses that affirmations will not work unless done right. First off, write them down by hand and second, they need to be statements that are believable to you at the time. I mean if you are depressed as fuck and attempt an affirmation that says, “I am cheerful and happy and nothing brings me down.” Inside you will be like, “What a fuck load of horse shit!” So no, that’s not a good one. Tell ya what.  I’ll put up another post on this topic using the book I read these ideas from when I get a chance. I want to take notes from that book as well anyway. If you can’t wait, check out the book called What’s Stopping You? Overcome Learned Helplessness and Do What You Never Thought Possible by Nicky Marone. (It’s an oldy but a goody.)

-Dream analysis. The cool thing is that I found many therapists are into this. Even one of the bad ones I had was particularly good at this. If I could I’d go to him just for dream analysis. If you’ve got the money there are actually people who do just this. They aren’t therapists though. Of course be careful and use your discretion.

-Art, Movement and Play therapy. These pretty much speak for themselves. The two times I was hospitalized in my 20s, my favorite group therapy to attend was art therapy. Fun and insightful. This coming from someone who is not an artist either and don’t draw all that well. 

Movement: I have found stretching to be helpful because I have a tendency to contract my body whether under stress or not. I am not as flexible as I used to be though since acquiring a herniated disc and then letting myself go because of the shock of the traumas. Qi Gong is nice though, more like a meditation in motion. You can even do some of it in a chair.

Play: I was thinking about this earlier. I had a flash memory of me climbing trees when I was a kid. Which led me to the general thought of doing things now, that I used to enjoy doing as a kid. Of course they are not all possible.

But I am still pretty able bodied and could do some of them.However, the thought of visiting a playground and climbing the jungle gym is kind of cringe worthy.

Some things I used to love doing is roller skating, ice skating, sledding (pre-requisite of snow needed), kick ball, swinging, climbing in general. I also used to love to color and in fact still do. My mind tends to go to physical activities and even as an adult I’ve done things I can still do. It’s just a matter of peeling myself away from the computer and getting out the door.

-Active imagination and using intuition. I’m not sure what Whitfield means by ‘active imagination’ but the thing I thought of is an NLP modality that I got from John Bradshaw. It involves anchoring first and remembering a traumatic event at a time you didn’t have the resources to stand up for and protect yourself. What you do basically, once you’re anchored, is use your imagination to picture doing what you would want to do if you could have. I’ll give you an example.

Last time I did this, I used a memory from when I was about 4 years old after a swimming lesson.

I struggled in the beginning with trusting the teacher as well as opening my eyes under water.

The behavior of my father, which I’m about to explain was how he behaved after each lesson until I developed both trust in the teacher and confidence in myself. It would have happened sooner if my father himself hadn’t emotionally regressed in his own behavior.

Upon me exiting the water and walking toward him, I could already sense the cold attitude toward me, emanating from my father. I knew that look and I knew his body language.  I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed and even scared as I ran to catch up to him.

He’d walked so far ahead and so fast, my little legs could not keep up. I was in a bathing suit, dragging a towel and walking in flip-flops. The car was in a big parking lot on a major highway.

Years later, not even all that long ago, I learned from my mother that at that time, the asshole didn’t know how to swim himself.

Now to the technique: I anchored myself with the actual memory, using my senses as well to put myself in the scene as well as I could. You also have to think of a couple resources you have used successfully in your life to apply to this technique.

(I will find the exercise and put it in its own post. Again…when I get a chance. But if you don’t want to wait you can find it in his book called Healing the Shame That Binds You.  )

I think if I had to choose just one thing to use on my own, this one would be it.

OK so, back to my imagination. I pictured my little 4 year old self catching up to my father at the car, climbing into the back seat (although in reality it would have been the front seat in the late 60s-early 70s) and laid into him.

I was home alone when I did this technique and had the freedom to say whatever I wanted out loud, pretending I was able to tell him what someone should have, all those years ago. It took me a while and I just let it all flow. I was angry and told him how fucked up it was for him to behave the way he had. I even cursed him out and said shit like, “How fucking dare you!”

Note and reminder: This is all in my own imagination. It’s not really happening. I did not actually go to my father and ream him a new one.

I felt so much better and still now as I write about it here and bring up the memory in detail,  I notice it doesn’t effect me the way it used to. I could use a bit more work with it. I’m not completely indifferent about it. But the pain just isn’t as intense. Not even close. I have thought about this incident between the time I did this technique and now and noticed then as well that it doesn’t hold the triggers it once did. So yeah, I highly recommend this one.

-Meditation and Prayer. Things I need to spend more time on.

-Therapeutic body work. I would love nothing more than to be able to afford a full body massage via my favorite massage therapist every single week.  There are other types of body work as well that I’d be interested in trying. I am an advanced Reiki practitioner (don’t use it right now) but love to receive that as well. Healing Touch and Feldenkrais are other types of this modality as well.

I also want to add here, although it’s not direct body work, ASMR is really nice to help with relaxing and to sleep. YouTube search it. Try different creators and see what you like or if you like it at all. One of my favorites is Tony Bomboni. But I also have a favorite list of different videos by different channels.

-Keeping a journal or diary. Even if you blog, there may be things you don’t want to put on the internet even in a ‘private’ setting. Besides it’s nice to hand write things sometimes.

At the end of this list Whitfield writes: “These experiential techniques should be used in the context of a full recovery program, ideally under the guidance of a therapist or counselor who knows principles of healing our Child Within.”