The Key to processing Grief: Vulnerability

The Key to processing Grief: Vulnerability

by | Mar 26, 2018 | Grief

The V word, I joke when I present vulnerability, my nemesis. Like in a lot of jokes, there is something true about it. It is so easy to fall back into old habits. Sometimes, when someone asks, “How are you?” Fine wants to slip out. It would be so much easier to say fine than share what might be going on with me. This fall I fought the word “fine” every day. I wasn’t fine; I was in – for lack of a better word – hell.

From the day I took off my bandage from my fourth breast surgery on Labour Day weekend until Christmas, I was struggling. Struggling to get out of bed some mornings, to get through the day without crying, to connect with people around me, to force myself to be social when all I wanted to do was lock myself up in my bedroom. I had so many things in my head about me; about how I looked, how I acted. The reality was I was different, yet again – and this time it wasn’t just all the hard work I’ve done on myself – it was the grief I was carrying. I sort of knew it at the time, but hindsight is 20/20.

Grief is no stranger to me; she (yes, I believe grief is a woman) has been with me all my life. I walk with grief. I have made peace with her. I have accepted that she is a part of me and my life. We are frenemies. With that said, even though I know her well, having the courage to talk about all of the things she brings up is a totally different story.

It really struck me when I saw my amazing doctor at the beginning of December. There I was with a boob that I was not happy with, and I was having issues with it – it’s literally falling. And I had a come-to-Jesus moment at my doctor’s office. (I know it was in my head).

I needed to have the courage to speak up about how I felt about my breast or just put up with it. In other words, I had to be vulnerable enough to say, “I am not happy with how my boob looks.” I know when I say this out loud it sounds kind of weird, it’s my body and of course I could say how I feel, but it wasn’t that cut and dry at the time. Being vulnerable never is and I was having a hard time with the idea of having this conversation. I was four surgeries in and speaking up would mean five. Also, this amazing woman had taken such good care of me and I was going to say I didn’t like what she had done – have I mentioned grief doesn’t always make sense?

The moment I opened my mouth to speak, I cried. It wasn’t only tears; it was the ugly type of crying, which I must admit I don’t like when it happens. I got it all out in between sobs – yes it was messy. Of course, at the time I didn’t realize grief was such a big part of it until my doctor said, “You need to be happy with your breast, and you need to grieve it.” A choir chorus went off in my head. Grief – you bitch, you have been messing with me all fall, I knew it, yet I had no clue how much.

Why didn’t I know? I wasn’t vulnerable.

I wasn’t vulnerable enough to say, “I am not ok; I am not fine; I am in a hellish place, and I need some support.” Why? Because after four surgeries in 18 months, I was tired of talking about it and I assumed my support team was tired of hearing about it (again I underlined I was assuming even though I know better). I was licking my wounds from all the loses and trying to cope with a new normal. I ignored the grief, so she poked back at me in a huge way. I was dealing with hearing over and over again, “You are lucky your cancer is gone.” Yes, I was lucky, but I was still dealing with all the other stuff, which I will talk more about in a future post.

The first step to heal: be vulnerable

Vulnerability is the beginning. It is the first step to allow yourself to have the conversations about grief. It means actually putting words to the feelings or thoughts that go on inside you. And I mean speaking them out loud, not just having the conversation in your head. (I must have had that conversation with my doctor 1000 times in my head.)

How to start with vulnerability

  1. Talk to someone who will listen. Find your go-to-person who just listens, who does not try to fix you, tries to solve the problem or adds their two cents worth.
  2. Take a deep breath, open your mouth, and start talking. The fear is always worse in your head than in reality. Whatever story you have made up in your head, it will go away when you start talking.
  3. Practice it. Vulnerability does not come easy, it takes courage to put yourself out there, but I promise you, once you start doing it, it will become more natural. Full disclosure, I am not sure if it ever becomes easy.
  4. Speak your truth. This is yours and only yours. It doesn’t matter if others don’t get it, it’s all about you when you’re vulnerable.

Once you step up and let yourself be seen, vulnerability will start a ripple effect in your life. You will start doing it more. Vulnerability starts with the first step. And you know what? Fuck fine. Yes, it’s easier to say, “I’m fine,” than to really say how you are, but that’s not what having a fabulous life is about.

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