A survivor persona won’t help you cope with bereavement, writes Niamh Ennis, who learned that she had to face her grief and actively deal with it.
As a very young girl I believed I could do anything.
I knew I could have anything and be anyone. I saw my life spread out in front of me and I really believed it was mine to create, in whatever direction I wanted it to go. That sense of self belief and confidence didn’t last for so long though. Well at least not on the inside.
Events and life experiences began to impact on my blind faith of feeling worthy of having incredible things, and slowly, what had started as solid faith in myself, became a hard fought battle to prove everyone around me wrong.
I was going to do it in spite of everyone NOT thanks to everyone.
Even writing that sentence makes me feel a little wobbly because I know that it’s true. From the outside, it looked like I had a relatively charmed life. It was unquestionably a life of privilege and that I won’t ever deny.
But the chasm between how it looked from the outside to how it felt inside was increasing almost daily. I had planted the seed in my mind that if I looked like I was succeeding at life, to everyone around me, then that was success!
I unconsciously made the decision to forego what I wanted, how I felt, how I was prepared to show up, in favour of being accepted, admired and needed. How misguided that was but then it felt right.
I disconnected from my real self and from my authentic self. I lived solely in my head and rarely engaged my heart or my soul in any decisions or guidance simply because I didn’t feel I could trust that what it would tell me would be palatable to everybody else.
I allowed my life be led by what I felt others wanted me to say, how they wanted me to be, to think and even to feel.
Then loss arrived at my door.
In a relatively short space of time, I lost my fiancé, my parents, my family, my unit, my base. All suddenly and without warning.
I didn’t know back then that it would be my greatest teacher and that it would awaken those parts of me I had long since forgotten. In a relatively short space of time, I lost my fiancé, my parents, my family, my unit, my base. All suddenly and without warning.
With each loss, I was plunged into a deeper questioning of ‘why me, why was I the one that was losing everyone close to me?’.
As many bereaved people will tell you, one of the hardest parts of grief is lamenting not just the memories, but the sadness you feel over what could have been your future, the future that will now never be revealed to you!
I appeared resilient and I kept going but each loss took away another piece of me until eventually, and finally, it broke me. I remember that time in 2014 when I was forced to accept that I could no longer keep going as I was and that realisation was tough!
When you have created a persona around yourself that is built on presenting yourself as a ‘survivor’, admitting that in truth you are not coping so well is a very difficult thing to do. I had been told my whole life that ‘nobody wants to see a long face’ and I truly believed that.
In order not to push anyone away, instead I chose to mask the sadness and the grief which of course only compounded it all even more.
There was no big drama that day, no breakdown, no kicking and screaming — just an inner acceptance of ‘I can’t keep doing this’.
The irony of course, is that it was only when the day came, that I was unable to pretend any more, when I hit my very own personal rock bottom, that I actually gave myself permission to crumble. There was no big drama that day, no breakdown, no kicking and screaming — just an inner acceptance of ‘I can’t keep doing this’.
That was also the day everything changed. It marked the beginning of a time when I started to really understand why I had experienced all the grief and loss, and more importantly, what I needed to do to turn things around, for me.
I knew I had a choice.
I could continue to be the girl who had lost those around her or I could become the girl who used her life’s experiences to find a new direction and help others along the way.
Without ruining the ending for you, I’m glad to say that I chose to do the latter. I chose to create my own ending and not let loss and death define me, and in doing so, I also decided to reconnect with my heart and my soul.
I reconnected with that young girl who believed she could have everything and do anything.
Because now I simply know that I can.
I know if I listen to what’s in my heart, if I follow the guidance that feels right for me, then I absolutely can create the future I want. I’m doing it now.
I now know that I don’t need to be someone else to be accepted. I can express my opinions, exercise my choices and just be who I really am without fear of judgment. I embody the belief that those who matter will love me and that’s more than enough for me.
The changes I’ve made in my last decade have been huge. They weren’t all by choice, admittedly, but what’s happened has left me feeling stronger, more connected and definitely free to just be me, regardless of what anyone else might have to say.
It really is such a great place to be.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading change & transformation specialist and founder of the RESET for Change 3 month 1:1 private coaching programme.
Niamh works with women who simply feel stuck, who want to commit to doing things differently and connects them with the person they were put here to be.
Feature image: Pexels