Life after loss: “I declared openly which of the seven stages of grief I was experiencing. Only I lied. Inside, I was in fact falling apart.”
When it became far more important for me to maintain the façade than to begin to deal with pain, I knew I was in trouble, writes Niamh Ennis.
There was a time in my life when I felt that the world was conspiring against me. In my defence, I had more than enough evidence to back that up. I’d lost my fiancé and my parents, separately and suddenly and all in a relatively short space of time, leaving me alone in the world. The very detailed future that I had meticulously and carefully mapped out for myself was taken from me in what felt like the blink of an eye.
The journey back was not an easy one.
I stumbled an awful lot along the way. I felt extremely lost at times and yet was totally unable to stop and ask anyone for directions. It felt like I needed to get through this all on my own and so I did.
Putting up a front
On the outside, I’m pretty sure I looked as sad as you’d expect from someone learning to live with more than one loss. Inside I was also very focused on portraying the appearance of someone who was managing the fallout from these deaths in a pretty steady and practical manner.
I declared openly, to whoever would listen, which of the seven stages of grief I was experiencing at that time. Only I lied.
Inside, I was in fact falling apart. I was broken. I recognised that it was quite a lot to dump on anyone else and I felt if anyone was to know the real truth, that they would run a mile in the opposite direction. I simply couldn’t risk that happening. What motivated me to continue down this path was the belief that I needed those that were in my life far more than they needed me.
This quickly became my obsession. The realisation that I was now alone while everyone around me had families felt incredibly isolating. I couldn’t risk losing anyone else or giving cause for them not to want me in their company. I needed them all to recognise the strong, resilient woman that I had always been known as before everyone died.
It became far more important therefore for me to maintain the façade than to begin to deal with the pain. It was a little easier to keep this up at work as here I was I able to maintain a professional appearance in order to distract myself. Outside of work, it was definitely much more challenging.
Finding a crutch
To help me push through this – wine became my friend. It allowed me to escape from the current reality but when we merged I’d also find it impossible to keep up the pretence and the wobbly lip and ugly cry would follow which was no doubt was quite unfortunate for whoever happened to be sitting in front of me.
The inevitable, yet all too regular morning-after regrets, together with the promises never to drink again ensued and lasted until… the next time. The escapism became intoxicating in every way as I reminded myself yet again that I had nothing left to lose.
It’s interesting therefore that when I finally felt ready to ask for help it coincided with the decision to refrain from using wine as a way out. I see now that the connection between these two decisions was much more than coincidence and that they were in fact intrinsically linked.
When it felt like there was nowhere left to fall, when it felt like I had nothing left to lose, that was when I found my true strength.
The glasses of wine had not allowed me to escape my grief, they only helped me to avoid it. When I stopped avoiding the pain and confronted it, rather than feel more helpless I actually felt a little more in control.
That’s the thing about grief: it’s not linear.
There is no clear path or template from which we can, or indeed, should take our lead. It is entirely different for every single one of us. However, avoiding dealing with how we are really feeling can create a common ground that is neither healthy nor helpful.
Let yourself feel how you feel, use your own timetable and ask for help only when you feel absolutely ready to receive it.
The most confused we ever get is when we try to convince our heads of something our hearts know is an absolute lie.
When I eventually felt ready and sought help from an incredible bereavement counsellor the light slowly reappeared. I won’t pretend it happened overnight but slowly, month by month, and year by year I grew stronger. And yes I’ll admit that I did lose some friends along the way but those that mattered stayed and I realised that I didn’t need to be anyone other than who I was.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Change & Transformation Specialist. If you feel drained and empty after this past year then Niamh is hosting a deeply nourishing online workshop RELEASE & RECEIVE for just €11 on 11.1.21. This unique event will assist you in letting go of all that didn’t serve you in 2020 so that you can welcome in all that inspires you for your new year. Click here to secure your space.
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