lamenting

The Healing Power of Tears

 

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

 

Tears have a complicated place in our society. Have you ever had a good cry, and felt (strangely) a little bit better afterwards?  Well, there is a scientific reason why that is the case.

In 2010, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher worked on an amazing photography project called Topography of Tears. In this multi-year long project, she collected and examined more than 100 human tears under a microscope.  Among others, she studied tears shed while laughing, grieving, and responding to change, as well as basal tears (those meant to keep the eye lubricated) and reflex tears (those that respond to an irritant in the eye).

Fascinatingly, Fisher found that the appearance of tears is different based on what elicits them; and not only is their appearance different, but the physical composition also varies – most notably, emotional tears contain the neurotransmitter leucine encephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress to help improve one’s mood.

 

Our physical bodies are so intricately connected to our emotions that a chemical is released to help heal us emotionally when we cry!

 

So this remarkable discovery makes me wonder – when we view crying as weakness, what are we really doing? Why do we have a tendency in our culture, as well as other cultures, to view crying as something to be squelched, and prohibit our bodies from naturally responding to distress? What kind of healing are we missing out on?  It seems that we are rejecting the very thing that can actually physically aid in our healing!  If this is you, what does it look like to let those tears flow? What do you need or to believe in order to do that?

{A Smithsonian article describing Fisher’s project in more detail can be found here – I encourage you to read the whole thing!}

 

Is Grief Good?

Is Grief Good?

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

shutterstock_174741554To allow yourself to experience grief, and to choose to engage in the on-going act of grieving, is difficult and takes courage. I believe it is something we must actually choose to learn how to incorporate into our lives. According to Brene’ Brown, who has studied emotion and vulnerability for 15 years, we fear the emotion of grief the most. I agree.

As humans, we tend to run from what we fear. So if we fear the emotion of grief, then it makes good sense to say we will likely run from feeling and experiencing it in our lives to the best of our ability.

Why do we fear grief so much? As I asked myself this question, I realized I believed lies about grief and grieving.

Here are some lies I have either believed myself or have heard from others –

~”If I let myself feel sadness or pain, it will only make it worse.”
~”If I let myself acknowledge my grief, I will never be able to function again. It will engulf me.”
~”I don’t have time to be sad.”
~”I need to think positively and not dwell on the bad (on the pain).”
~”The pain from my grief will be so painful, I will not sustain under it.”
~”If I let myself grieve, I am just having a pity party for myself.”
~”Grief only comes when someone dies, and no one has died, therefore I shouldn’t be in pain.”
~”Something is wrong with me because its been “this much time” and I am still sad about ____.”

There are some deep-rooted misbeliefs exposed in the comments above. The assumptions exposed are that grief is bad, weak, wrong, only “okay” when someone dies, and that it exists on some sort of definable timetable.

I started learning a lot about grief and grieving 5 years ago when the landscape of my life radically changed through my divorce. Wrestling with betrayal, and the loss of our intact family, is something I am still grieving. My days are no longer shadowed by grief, but it still pops up from time to time. Some days it may pop up for a moment, some days it may take up residence for a few hours. It has taken me awhile to learn that I will be “okay” in living a life now sprinkled with grief on a daily basis.

I didn’t start out okay with my grief. For the better part of a year after my life had radically changed, I was angry at the pain of my grief. I tried to numb it, run from it, and mask it into something it wasn’t. I fought it, and I suffered for it.

I had to learn how to not fear grief, but rather how to embrace its presence. I had to learn grief is not containable, it cannot be managed, and it lacks predictability. It can last a moment or remain for the better part of a day. It does not ask for my permission to overshadow a day. I also had to learn that when grief rears its head, it doesn’t mean I am weak.

My journey to no longer fear grief is much like my process of no longer fearing thunderstorms. As a kid, I feared thunderstorms (and if i’m being honest here…my fear lasted into my early adult years). It didn’t matter if a storm came in the day or night. To me, the loud bangs of thunder and sudden flashes of light freaked me out! Now as I sit with my youngest son during a storm to calm his fears, I wonder, “What was I so afraid of? It’s just a thunderstorm!” I believed unfounded lies about storms: “something bad is going to happen,” “what if it never stops,” “I am not okay and I won’t be okay until the storm goes away…” and on and on my thoughts would go. Do you see the similarity between storms and grief? With both, I feared what I didn’t understand.

Allowing ourselves to feel grief, is as important as allowing ourselves to feel joy. When we try to numb only the emotions we dislike, feeling we set in motion the beginnings of living an emotionally handicap life. Over time, we will not only numb the emotions we don’t like, but the emotions we like become numb as well.

Accepting Depression

Accepting Depression? “Are you kidding!? Why would anyone want to accept it!?”

slide2Depression can be brutal. You have no energy, no passion. You feel like crap pretty much all the time. It’s the hardest work of the day to find the juice to get out of bed, but you spend so much time in bed, you hate being there. You’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.

But wait there’s more! In addition to having zero energy to do 40% of the necessary things in life (like “eating”, or “bathing”, or “walking”), there’s all the guilt that comes from not having the energy to do them. You feel like you’re dropping the ball, doing life wrong. The voice in the back of your head keeps saying, “You should be able to handle this, but you can’t. If you were a stronger person, you’d be able to get past this more easily. Don’t be such a complainer!” It seems like the very fact that you’re depressed means that you’ve screwed something up.

This is the double-whammy of depression. Not only is the experience awful, but the fact that you’re having it in the first place means you failed somehow.

I have just emerged from a 3-month-long tunnel of depression. One might think that Mental Health Professionals should have their shit together well enough to not get depressed, or at least to know how to handle it when they do. I know I kept coming back to that particular refrain. Therapists make lousy patients I guess, because that philosophy is a load of crap.

The hard work of “handling” depression is learning that there is no such thing as “handling” depression. It exists, it’s real, and it’s not something anyone in their right mind would choose. It happens. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that depression is a state that 10 out of 10 people will experience in their lifetime, whether they would call it “depression” or not. It is something that is utterly common to humans.

Therefore, the internal accusation that “I’m doing it wrong” is utterly false. It is work to grasp this when you’re in the thick of it. It’s hard to believe that being depressed is not wrong because it sucks so much. Being depressed is a normal human experience.

We spend vast resources on not being depressed. What if we could accept that depression is a common thing for humans, and that even when we’re depressed, we’re OK? Don’t get me wrong, depression sucks, and it is perfectly appropriate to hate both depression and being depressed; but don’t hate yourself at the same time.

Of course, circumstantial depression and clinical depression are different animals. I do not suggest that anti-depressants are bad, or that there is no need for them. If your depression lasts longer than a couple of months, it’s time to think about getting medical help. There are real biological causes and effects of depression that Pharmaceuticals can alleviate.

I do believe that we can learn to live with and accept Depression as a common experience. I do believe that especially circumstantial depression can be prolonged and deepened by the self-attack trap that we commonly fall into when we’re depressed. We don’t necessarily need “fixing”. It doesn’t make us feel better, but accepting depression can help us not feel any worse than we already do. And for anyone who is depressed, the freedom to be depressed without the extra guilt or shame might just feel …”better”. – by Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

Good Tears?

Good Tears? Is there such a thing?

 

I went for probably 20 years without shedding a single tear. It’s not that I never had reason to do so. I had plenty of sad or powerful things happen in my world in those times, and I even felt as though there were moments when I could have cried, but the tears would not come.
That has changed. My tears have been unleashed. It’s starting to worry me.
There have been many things recently that have moved me deeply, and my tears have fallen. It was as I drove through the smoky mountains with my family recently and found myself once again moved to tears that I realized several things all at once.

  1. I have driven here before, many years ago, and I was not moved to tears.
  2. I was in as much wonder and awe then as I am now.
  3. I’m crying a lot lately. It’s starting to feel like I’m crying “too much”.
  4. I’m not crying because I‘m sad.
  5. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is perfectly appropriate.
  6. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is richer than not crying.

Somewhere in the back of my head and deep in the recesses of my heart there is still a voice that says tears are risky and vulnerable, that crying means I’m a “wuss” or a “pansy” (these are old words, and I know they are not appropriate in common usage, but they are the words that are there).

There is a lot in culture that reinforces this. My tween-aged son talked about “man-screaming” on a roller coaster recently. He demonstrated gripping the safety bar and clenching his face and teeth without making a sound. He was proud of the fact that he resisted the urge to scream, but it kept him from “cutting loose”. Crying is often seen as weakness. Even the picture above shows a very stoic kind of tears. Sometimes mine look like this.

Crying a lot feels defective.

But these are good tears. These are tears of delight and wonder, of the overwhelming perception of beauty, of physically seeing and experiencing a fabulous reality that boggles the mind, of realizing that what I am in the midst of feels like a fantasy painting but it actually exists and I am here in it.

 

I spent 20 years not crying because I had refused to become vulnerable. I had been trained by many people that to become vulnerable in this way would mean physical and emotional punishment. I had buried other pains and refused to weep over them. I would not be touched or moved beyond my own control.

 

My inability to weep over pain robbed me of the experience of weeping in joy and wonder. We as humans are wired for emotional experience, and we are wired to weep. We cannot turn off one kind of tears without turning them all off. I could not weep at beauty because I could not weep at my pain.

I have been tackling my pain with the help of friends, colleagues, and of course with the help of my own therapist. The releasing of those tears of pain has released many other tears. Good tears. Tears that I relish and love for their potency and magnitude.

These tears of wonder and beauty often surprise me. They catch me up and sweep me away. I could stop them up, but I have learned not to. Let them come. They are good and beautiful… and vulnerable, uncontrolled. In the back of my head, sometimes I think, “Really?! I’m going to cry about this?”

Yes, I suppose I am. And I am thankful.

By Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

Some Thoughts About Grief

After several years of learning about grief, and being reminded of its power recently through a painful experiences, I thought I would share some thoughts about grief with you that I have had.

Avenues Counseling

 

Here are some things I have learned about grief –

1.  It is powerful.  More powerful then you so don’t fight it.

2.  It must run its course.  You can’t make the pain stop and you can’t circumvent it.  You must go through it.

3.  The duration of grief is undefinable.  At first it will remain present for days or a week – a non-stop presence.  But then it may get a bit tricky because it will come and go as it pleases.

4.  It is exhausting.  You will likely have a headache, your chest will ache from the crying, your body will feel like you just ran a marathon.  You will walk slower, talk slower, think slower, BE slower because you are so tired from the grief.

5.  You won’t think clearly.  Your brain will feel foggy.  You may catch yourself staring at a wall for an unknown amount of time.  Its okay.  You’re okay.  Grieving won’t last forever even though it feels like it will when you’re in the midst of it.

6.  Your motivation will diminish.  Since you are so tired and worn out from your grief, doing normal mundane tasks will likely feel like someone just told you to go climb mount everest.  The laundry will stack-up, the dishes will sit in the sink, showering may happen less often.

7.  Reengaging in “normal” life will take time.

Be nice to yourself and don’t pressure yourself by saying silly things like, “I should be done grieving now.  I should really be over this loss by now.  I have got to stop being sad.”

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

 

What’s so great about grief?

by: Andy Gear, PLPC
                  

I remember those first moments after the accident as if everything was happening in slow motion. They are frozen in my memory with terrible vividness. After recovering my breath, I turned to survey the damage. The scene was chaotic. I remember the look of terror on the faces of my children and the feeling of horror that swept over me when I saw the unconscious and broken bodies of Lynda, my four-year-old daughter Diane Jane, and my mother. I remember getting Catherine (then eight), David (seven), and John (two) out of the van through my door, the only one that would open. I remember taking pulses, doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, trying to save the dying and calm the living. I remember the feeling of panic that struck my soul as I watched Lynda, my mother, and Diana Jane all die before my eyes. I remember the pandemonium that followed—people gawking, lights flashing from emergency vehicles, a helicopter whirring overhead, cars lining up, medical experts doing what they could to help. And I remember the realization sweeping over me that I would soon plunge into a darkness from which I might never again emerge as a sane, normal, believing man.

–Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

I remember a time when I experienced loss. As I walked home that evening, I remember telling myself this isn’t going to ruin me. I made a vow that I wouldn’t let it affect me. I wouldn’t be weak. I wouldn’t feel. I would forget; pretend it never happened. And then it wouldn’t hurt me. Then it wouldn’t touch me. I would ignore the wound; pretend it wasn’t there. Then it would go away.

But it didn’t go away. Neither did my memories. I started watching more TV to try to divert my attention. I had trouble concentrating on work, my mind wandering back to that event. To that pain. I had to distract myself, numb myself. I mustn’t think about it ever again. It was too painful. If I thought about it, something bad would happen . . . I had to avoid it at all costs.
None of us want to suffer. But none of us can truly avoid it.

We all have reason to grieve at some point in our life: loss, mistreatment, rejection. In the end it affects us all. But how we approach it influences how it forms us. As I see it, there are two basic options: we can ignore it or we can grieve it. And the path we choose determines how we come out on the other end.

On the surface, ignoring it sounds like the safer option. Just ignore it, don’t let it affect you. But it doesn’t work that way. When we ignore it, it continues to grow inside us. We waste away from the inside out.

It affects the way we approach life; we shut down parts of our selves. We shut down part of our mind. We shut down part of our heart. We become less than a whole person. Our relationships become shallow and stilted. There are parts of us that are shut away, irretrievable, unreachable to the closest people in our lives. We find ways to distract ourselves: TV, hobbies, work, porn, busyness. They may seem harmless enough. But they begin to own us. We live with eyes half open. We live with our heart half closed.

But we choose to ignore it because we feel overwhelmed and powerless. We want some sort of relief, any relief to get us through the days and nights. We keep ourselves busy to avoid our tortured thoughts. We numb ourselves to avoid the unbearable pain.

When we notice the pain less, we think we are out of the woods. We have survived the grief unscathed. But we have merely pushed it below the surface. And it will pop up again: in anger, in addictions, in unhealthy relationships. We have not saved ourselves pain; we have merely stretched it out, separated it from its source, and allowed it to dictate who we become. The irony is that in trying to escape the pain, we have given it the keys to our heart and allowed it to blindly drive us—as we simply pretend it isn’t there.

So what about the second option? The scarier option: facing our pain head on. Admitting the hurt. Acknowledging the loss. Processing the damage. Mourning what once was and will never be again.

This is the way of healing. We can choose to face it squarely. To meet it head on. To enter it honestly with our eyes wide open. It is a long and painful journey, but it can be a journey of growth not destruction.

But this requires facing reality for what it is. We cannot ignore it and hope that it goes away. A wound will not heal with lack of care; a bone will not mend without being set. We cannot heal by denying that something has been broken. We are made to share our stories, to experience our pain, to feel deeply, to mourn fully.

We must allow ourselves to grieve. This is not something that happens overnight; it takes time and community. It is not easy. It takes sharing our hurt, expressing our pain, acknowledging the damage done. Grieving does not make us weak; it makes us courageous. It is facing life as it is, not as you wish it were. There is hope in authentic suffering, but only false-hope in denial and distraction. Loss does not have to ruin us. In fact, if we face it honestly, it can grow us. 

Getting Pruned

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I have a Dieffenbachia.  It’s a tropical houseplant I’ve been growing for a few years now.  When I got it, it only had 4 leaves and stood maybe a foot high.  I stopped counting the leaves a long time ago.  It now stands three to four feet high.  Maybe I should say “stood”.  I have recently learned a great deal about the plant’s nature and needs, which resulted in my cutting it almost in half.  Let me explain.

The Dieffenbachia is also known as “Dumb Cane”, apparently because of it’s poisonous sap, which will cause throat constriction and even death if ingested.  “You’re dumb if you eat this cane”, I think is what the name means.  I, personally, call it “dumb” because it will grow itself into oblivion.  If you let it go, it becomes too tall for the root system to hold upright and it falls over, uprooting itself.  In order to properly care for the plant, one must cut off a fairly significant amount of growth.  New, healthier, growth sprouts from below the cut, and the plant is sturdier and more balanced.

I must confess, pruning seems counter-intuitive.  It feels destructive to me to chop off parts of the plant that are doing well, from which new growth is continually sprouting.  It seems wasteful to simply drop those leaves and stems into the trash.  (I actually planted the severed portion to see if it will take root and propagate.  I’ll let you know what happens, maybe.)  Yet the overall health and continued success of the plant depends on this process of cutting back.

Why the horticulture lesson?  Because this seems to be a beautiful, if unsettling, analogy for the human condition.  We are all about growth.  We love to get stronger, taller, to spread more leaves and challenge new heights.  Growth is good.

We don’t seem to like the idea of pruning much, though.  First, it means experiencing pain, and nobody likes pain.  I’m sure my plant was terrified as I approached with my knife.  Second, it means understanding that not all growth is necessarily good.  There is a kind of growth inherent in humanity that turns into pride, an appearance of strength that leads to catastrophe.  I love to see new sprouts on my plant, but I was utterly dismayed when I returned home one day to find that the plant had toppled over onto its neighbor, damaging both plants in the process.

There is a kind of pain that originates in our own actions and attitudes.  I am not speaking of the pain that comes from death, natural disaster, or the predation of others upon us.  I am speaking of the kind of pain that we experience as a natural overflow or consequence of our own actions and words. These actions and words grow from attitudes and a sense of entitlement that feels like strength; in other words, from pride.

The moment we believe we have overcome a temptation, that we have succeeded in surpassing the weakness that used to trip us up, we have entered a kind of denial that we often label as growth.  “I’m better now.  I wouldn’t do that! It’s no longer a problem for me.”  Pride is the language of “I’m better than that”.

I celebrate when I see anyone overcome a temptation or weakness, but I also cringe just a little, because I fear that in the certainty of having surpassed the actual behavior or attitude, they may come to deny that the core weakness to it still exists.  It is the core weakness that will topple us, for in the moment we believe we are proof against it because we have “come so far”, we let down our guard and open ourselves up to it all over again.  None of us is as strong as we think we are.

Wise is the one who will open him- or herself to pruning when it comes, who will humbly acknowledge the truth that their heart whispers to them and reveal it to a trustworthy helper.  It hurts, it’s scary, it changes things irrevocably… and it spurs new, real, balanced growth.  Those who resist pruning head for a far more painful tumble when the overwhelming weight of “growth” tumbles them from their pot.  The damage is greater, the recovery longer, the hurt done to self and others deeper.  The very hurt we fear from the pruning is intensified and broadened.

Not all growth is real or healthy.  Often it becomes an illusion of strength or competence, while on the inside we deny the toppling sensation we feel deep down.  Better to bring it out voluntarily and deal with it sooner -to submit to the pruning knife –  than to let it continue until we fall.

A Prayer in Pain: Lamenting in Sadness, Depression, Grief, Disappointment, Sorrow…..

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I don’t think it a coincendence that many of our posts on this blog have talked about the lost and silent feeling that often accompanies pain, sadness, loss, grief, suffering, sorrow, depression, darkness, etc., like here and here and hereto just name a few. In these dark places in our lives and hearts, we are often at a loss for words or just don’t know where to start. In the Bible, godly people would cry out to God in prayer from those places, and it is called a Lament. I’m sure you can see that this is the root word for “lamenting.” There are many Laments in the Psalms and the book of Job, which God has given us. You can also write your own. A great book on this is A Sacred Sorrow, by Michael Card. Here is a a prayer of pain modeled after the way God has shown us in the Bible.

I jumped into the deep end, or I was pushed, I’m not quite sure.
The water is dark and icy, torrent like a storm.
I can’t even recall what the sunshine feels like on my face.
My tears well up in my heart, and overflow onto my cheeks,
Though they are veiled by the rain.
Do you see my tears?
Struggling to swim, gasping for breath,
My arms grow tired.
Do see my hands reaching for the sky? Do you even see me?
There are weights on my ankles,
And the more I fight, the heavier they become.
I wish I could say my voice is hoarse from calling out your name,
I wish I could say my eyes have never left the horizon, searching for your face.
I’m afraid I have drifted too far out to sea.
If you’re there, I cannot see you.
If you’re there, I cannot hear your voice.
Have you left me to struggle alone?
Do you see me at all, or have I wandered too far?
I told you I was prone to wander,
You knew it was true.
Where was your hand in mine?
Did you forget me too?
I just can’t do it anymore; I’m just not going to make it.
My Shepherd, you have never failed me, you have never let me drown.
I cannot save myself. I cannot protect myself, try as I might.
I must hide in the shadow of your mighty wing.
You see every tear I cry and hold it in your hand, my Comforter.
I long for the day when you will wipe away all my tears.
Keep me firm in your embrace until that day. Hold me fast.
I beg you not to let me drown.
Please do not forget me.