Wellness Wednesday – Grief and Identity

Most people have heard of the five stages of grief, and by now many people know that these stages aren’t exclusive, linear, or clear-cut. I, for example, never really do much with the bargaining stage, but bounce between denial and anger for ages before slipping into depression and then back for another wrestling match between denial and anger. It takes me forever to get to the acceptance stage, probably because my complex-PTSD makes it difficult for me to trust that the cause of grief is over and I’m safe to let my guard down.

Three years ago, I was dealing with heavy deferred grief from the extremely horribly year my family spent in Boston. I kept pushing myself to try to move forward, but I still had so much work to do processing my grief. Then one day while I was working with my tarot cards, I drew the Five of Cups and something became clear to me. The Five of Cups is a card of nostalgia. The past is gone, and you can look back either with fondness or with longing. What this card told me is that it was okay to look backwards and grieve as long as I needed to, but I couldn’t move forward until I was ready to let go of that past.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I left denial and anger behind a long time ago, but I’ve clung to depression and sadness because acceptance is too frightening. To accept is to open myself to the possibility that I was too hasty to do so, and then get hurt again. In this particular situation, I know this is a PTSD trust issue. And I’m tired of myself at this point. I’m tired of clinging out of fear. I’m finally in a place where I can say enough is enough, I’m okay, I can let go. (A thing, I admit, that is far easier to say than do.)

I’ve started looking forward to 2019. I like to make goals, but my goals over the last few years have been plenty-yet-aimless. Each goal may have an individual aim, but my goals in general have not been leading me anywhere. This is because I personally have felt anchorless. I’ve had no direction, no purpose, no interests, no identity, and no desires beyond survival. I let go of nearly everything I cared about in Boston, and the things I kept have mostly been kept out of habit. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of these years filling my time with Other Stuff, not necessarily things that make up who I am. I’ve not done a good job re-finding my self and my center. It’s time for that to change now.

I remember a time when I was absolutely the person I was, if that makes sense. I had definite interests, opinions, and a way of life. I was very sure about my place in the world and where I wanted to go, even if I didn’t always stay on the path as often as one might have hoped. Nearly all of that is gone, however. Dreams, hopes, plans – the path in general is just gone. Today, there’s next to nothing left of the person that existed five years ago, and this new person is a framework waiting for input. This particular fact has daunted me, angered me, and distressed me over the last few years, but I’ve begun to see it as exciting. I now have the power to shape the person I’m going to be.

Which brings me back to my aim in 2019. I want to have purpose again. I want to have dreams that are more than just copies of old dreams, or wishing to be back where I was. I want to sort out my desires in life and for my future, discover interests, find hobbies and passions, and discard the things that are no longer serving me. This is what I’ve been exploring over the last month: accepting the past and moving forward, and deciding who I want to be in the future. To look at it the way I look at an overblown, wordy first novel draft: It’s time to edit, to cut out all the filler and pare down to essentials, to remove the padding and add purpose/direction to each line in order to allow the true, full story to come through. Back in 2010, I wrote this on  my blog and I think the metaphor works just as well for my current situation:

A story will grow on its own as you write, but if you don’t have a skeleton, you’ll be throwing words on without a backbone to structure them and they’ll end up oozing all over the place.

Goals and direction will provide the skeleton. It’s up to me to clean up the oozing mess of the last few years and then rebuild until I am a whole, complete person again. Some things are pretty obvious: I want to be healthy, fit, strong, and athletic, and I want my external self to reflect my internal self so that I’m comfortable in my own skin. I want to be financially secure and stable, and eventually comfortable. I want to feel safe and loved in my own home. I want to feel capable of success and of getting things done. Less obvious: I need to find out if my lifelong identity as a writer still holds true today. I also need to decide what I want to do with my future in a few years when my kids are all away at college and it’s time to move into the next phase of my life. That’s all pretty vague for now, but it’s the baseline for planning and a new start that I can look forward to instead of dread.

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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5 Responses to Wellness Wednesday – Grief and Identity

  1. Kristen M. says:

    The countdown to the empty nest is a catalyst for so many thoughts and self-evaluations for me too. It’s strange to have “what do I want to be” musings and know that in just a few years I’ll be pretty free to answer that with whatever my heart leads me to!


    • Amanda says:

      I have to admit that I’m really looking forward to those years. I never had a chance when I was younger to really enjoy time alone. I had Morrigan right in the beginning of my senior year of college, and was married a year before that. I never had time to do those things most people do in their early 20s, since I had my third right after I turned 25. I’m looking forward to my 40s tremendously, both in finding what I’d like to do in life-after-kids and the freedom that will come with it!


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