When the shock and numbness begin to wear off, reality starts to sink in around the edges.
When it happens is different for everyone. Sometimes it’s a few weeks, sometimes it’s a few months. There is no timetable. Almost everyone experiences anxiety. There are many ways we try to alleviate it. For me, it was walking. What is it for you? It could be binge watching Netflix or drinking too much or eating too much or sleeping too much or cleaning the house over and over or keeping yourself so busy you don’t have the time to think. That’s the whole point – it’s hard to be in the new world of After.
I channeled my anxiety into walking. Although I didn’t know it then, now I know the compulsive walking and the feeling of not wanting to be in my body was an unconscious way of trying to avoid feeling the deeper grief that follows shock. The grief you feel when the fog lifts.
When Jim died I didn’t know any other young widows. After 9/11, when I knew so many, too many widows, I discovered I could help those who were now going through something I knew about. I found I could offer comfort and be with them, holding a space that many have never known. Holding their gaze in a way people couldn’t hold mine when I was a new widow.
And I would ask some of them, “Do you sometimes feel like you can’t stand to be in your skin?” And the astonishment in their pain filled eyes, as they said, “Yes, how did you know? I thought I was the only one.”
So if this is your experience, know this: you are not the only one. You’re not going crazy.
I had to stop the “magical thinking” and face the fact that this WAS my life now. And I could either keep walking, or start the deeper grieving of acceptance so I could find my way back. This is how I began to heal.
That dark night of being lost helped guide the way for me to walk into the world of After, into my new life, my new normal. Remember, grief is not linear. You will go back and forth between all the phases of anger and denial and bargaining and depression and acceptance. Sometimes in one day. Sometimes in one hour. So as you stumble and stride and stop to gather strength along the way towards healing, be compassionate toward yourself.
This is an excerpt from Debbie Augenthaler’s award winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope. Order your copy here.
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.