I have always heard it said, "If you are telling a story verbally, you need to speak to the eyes of the audience listening."
THE HURT POCKET.
When I am leading a new group of grievers, I always begin childhood hurts. I refer to this era as the hurt pocket. This is where we all begin to learn about hurt feelings, and loss. I usually ask my group to close their eyes and simply follow along in their minds with me as I tell them a story with words, about a little girl, named Sally.
Sally is about seven years old and she is having a really bad week. On Monday, she was carrying her lunch tray to the table and slipped and fell. All the contents of her lunch went flying, and the entire cafeteria erupted with laughter. Sally began to cry due to the embarrassment of the whole ordeal, as the other children began chanting, "Cry Baby, Cry!"
Sally did not say anything to her mother about what happened at school. She was too ashamed and so, she simply tucked away in her tiny little hurt pocket.
Sally went to school on Tuesday and during recess, one little girl had remembered the lunchroom incident from the previous day and began to point and shout, "Look! There's Sloppy Sally, the cry baby!" A few of the other girls, including Sally's best-friend gathered around and joined in on the chant. Sally began to stand her ground and fought back. Only to be seen by a teacher, and taken to the office for fighting on the playground. Sally felt helpless as she pleaded with her teacher how they were being mean and calling her bad names. But her words fell on deaf ears, as the teacher continued to pull her towards to Principles Office for fighting. One more loss of helplessness, and inability to trust someone in authority, goes right into her hurt pocket.
The middle of the week had arrived, and Sally felt some relief that her week was nearly done now. Only two more days and this week would be over. She found herself back in the lunchroom, carrying her lunch tray to her normal table, only to be told, "No! You can't sit with us." She saw her best friend, Becky, and the look of rejection she received told her everything. Sadly, Sally walked away and found an empty spot at the other end of the table, and ate her lunch in silence. She could see the other girls pointing their fingers and laughing at her. Sally felt the humiliation deeply at this point. The hurt pocket now had that emotion we can all relate to, called rejection.
Thursday has now come and Sally is not feeling good. "My tummy hurts, mommy. I don't feel good." So like all good mommy's, Sally's mom felt her forehead and said, "Honey, you don't have a fever, so you'll have to at least try to make the day. Now, get up and get dressed. I'll make you some breakfast." Sally flung the covers back and did as her mother told her, and got ready for school. She recalled the events of the week as she brushed her teeth.
All the name calling when she dropped her lunch tray; the trip to the Principle's Office for fighting; and how her best friend, Becky, had treated her. She walked towards her goldfish bowl and sprinkled a small pinch of fish food and told her fish, in great detail, how she dreaded the day. She even thanked him for listening and went to the kitchen to eat her breakfast. Oh how she wished her mom would just listen to her about how much her tummy hurt and let her stay home. Her thoughts raced as she now had that all familiar tape playing inside of her head of the week's events. UGH!
Sally soon realized that Thursday was no different as the days prior. She tried to speak to her best friend, Becky only to be ignored. Becky was now best friends with Monica. Sally tried desperately to find a new friend to call her best friend, but none of the other girls would give her a chance. Sally's tummy was really beginning to hurt, and she truly felt sick at her stomach. The teacher sent her to the nurse who, like her mother earlier, said, "You don't have a fever and you haven't thrown up. Did you eat breakfast this morning? Why don't you eat some lunch, you'll feel better after you've eaten." Sally manages to get through the day. She was glad she only had one day left and this week would be over with! Sally's hurt pocket added the feelings of not being heard or believed.
Friday comes along and Sally does her normal routine. Get up, get dressed, breakfast, brush teeth, feed the goldfish and head out to school. All was going rather well until she realized her goldfish, was not swimming up to eat. She tapped the bowl several times, and her fish just floated. She yelled for her mommy! When her mother came up and saw that Sally's fish had died, she was at a loss of words. She assured Sally that she would take care of it while she was at school. Sally had never seen anything dead before, so she had no idea what her mother meant.
Sally made it through the day and was still not friends with Becky, and some of the other girls still called her a cry baby. Sally still had a tummy ache as she thought about her goldfish. Friday was always a spelling test day, and Sally didn't pass her test. So, as you may have guessed, on top of Sloppy Sally, the Cry Baby, now she carried the name of Stupid Sally!
At the end of the day, she saw Becky, walking towards her. She felt a bit of excitement to think that she and Becky would be best friends again. Becky told her that this was going to be her last day at school. Becky and her family were moving to another city and she would not be back. Sally felt as if her whole life just fell apart. Becky, her best friend, whom she had many sleep overs with, played dress up, baby dolls, watched cartoons, and shared all of her secrets with, was moving away, forever. Sally wanted to cry, but held back the tears. Another loss added to her hurt pocket.
Once Sally got home, she immediately ran up to talk to her goldfish about Becky. Sally got to her room only to find the bowl, empty. No water, no goldfish, no gravel, just empty and dry. She ran to her mother and by now, the week full of emotion was spilling down her cheeks. Sally told her mother about dropping the tray at lunch, and how all the other kids laughed at her and called her names. Then, on the playground the next day, all the other girls were being mean to her, including Becky. She said the Principle told her she couldn't use her fists, but to use her words when she needed to defend herself. She told her mother that Becky was moving away to another city and she wouldn't see Becky, EVER! UGH! Her goldfish came to mind. Little Sally burst into tears as she recalled the empty fish bowl.
"Where is my goldish?" Sally's mom began to explain that her goldfish just didn't wake up. "But we can get you another goldfish. You can get a new best friend, because there are plenty of other girls you can be friends with." The tears could not stop flowing down Sally's cheeks as hard as her mother tried, Sally just couldn't get herself to stop crying. The dam of emotions she had tucked away had burst, and the uncontrolled emotions burst forth with much fury. "Don't cry Sally, please stop." her mother pleaded. But, nothing her mother said could stop the continuous flow of tears.
Her mother turned away from Sally and walked over to the kitchen counter. She had baked a cake because she knew Sally would be upset about her goldfish. So as a last resort, her mother walked back over to where Sally was and said, "Here you go honey. I baked a cake this afternoon while you were at school. Now go up to your room, eat your cake, give it time, and you'll feel better."
Now, stop and think for a moment about what all just took place in Sally's mind. This was the hardest week of her seven year old life. She had lost such an array of things like:
Her self esteem when she dropped her lunch and failed her spelling test.
Her best friend moved away.
Her goldfish died.
Her ability to trust when she felt unheard by the Principle.
Her mother, like any good mother, tried to make Sally feel better. She listened to her, but handed down what she had been taught. Let's look at what her mother, like most mother's, said to her:
Replace the losses.
Eat something, you'll feel better.
Go to your room (a.k.a. Isolate)
Give it time.
So Sally, like many of us, took these myths she had been handed, and grew up doing what her mother had taught her. She soon unknowingly, traded her hurt pocket, for a backpack.
Sally grew from that seven year old and now she had traded out several backpacks. She was now in her late thirties. She had been married, with children of her own, and divorced. She remembered what her mother had always told her, "There are plenty of fish in the sea, take your pick." Sally was now divorced three times. She had lost an array of jobs, friendships, and not to mention, what each loss had also contributed.
Loss of trust, loss of self-esteem, loss of direction in life and the list goes on. She had traded that piece of cake for alcohol, shopping, working out, food was still her go-to at times. She felt depressed at times, even when life was going well. Her sleep patterns would change, as some nights she slept soundly and other nights sleep just didn't come to her. Her sex life was about the same, and she thought she was going crazy. She found herself on a hamsters wheel just wanting to run away, with nowhere to run.
Sally just continued to do what she had always done. She convinced herself there were plenty of fish in the sea, and she could replace the loss. When she felt those array of emotions that she couldn't seem to identify, she would isolate and cry. She pleaded with herself that time would heal all wounds, but time didn't seem to be on her side. She continued to look for things that would make her feel better, if only for a moment. She ate, she drank, she read books to distract herself. She ran, she drove around, she would delve into projects at work, and boy, did she shop! We call that "retail therapy."
Still, nothing changed. Her emotional state was like a roller coaster by now. Relationships had come and gone throughout her life, and still, that cake never seemed to change things like her mother had told her it would. Neither did time, tears or isolating through it. She sank deeper into sadness and one day, after the news that her mother had died, it all snapped.
Her mother's funeral was lovely, she thought. All the cards and flowers were so comforting. The songs played brought her much comfort, if only for the moment. Sally took in the words that were meant to comfort her, "She lived a long life." "I'm sorry for your loss." and, "Call me if you need anything." The weeks and months that followed began to play over in her mind like an old video tape on replay. All the memories came at her like a flood and each wave that hit, seemed to knock her flat on her back. She soon began to realize that her mother, her three failed marriages, the children she had raised, now grown, had left her with an empty nest. She soon realized she felt empty and lost inside. The stomach ache she had as a child had now been diagnosed as ulcers. The headaches, the body pains she just brushed off as a part of aging soon found her in the hospital. All tests came back normal. Sally was baffled.
Those old and all too familiar patterns had all returned. Sleeplessness, cravings for cake, and alcohol, shopping, trying to stay busy, and the list grew. Sally felt as if her whole world had ended. Her mother was gone, her children grown, and her relationships that had all ended the same way her marriages did, like her best friend Becky, all moved away from her life. What was happening?
Sally had traded that hurt pocket, backpack and was now finding herself looking at the inside of a U-Haul trailer of hurts, fears, regrets, unforgiveness, and unspoken words. Not to mention the feelings of guilt, shame, rejection, regrets, which had created a new recipe of not being able to trust people.
What do you do with all of that?
Now, by this time, my group is doing their own recollecting from what they were taught about loss, and what they have all tried to avoid that kind of pain. We talk about an array of ways they have handled life up until now. They are in front of someone that sees grief daily, and when I see their eyes, filled with tears, just like Sally that day; I don't offer them cake. I reveal the truth and give them their options. Time is not going to heal your broken heart - what has it done for you so far?
Eating our way through our grief and loss only creates health problems down the road.
Isolating leads to deep depression.
Replacing the loss prior to healing from the last breakup or loss only repeats patterns you were taught.
Staying busy leads to exhaustion.
Giving it time only allows the patterns to continue.
So, who's ready to push your sleeves up, pull out all those boxes, and allow yourself to sort through all of it. I know it can be overwhelming, because I've done it. I have the tools to help you, and I have plenty of kleenex for the tears that will certainly flow, as each box that is opened will bring forth a loss that has never been truly healed.
Please do not think that by opening the boxes, that the pain you feel is not real. It is very real, and the reason it still hurts is because you believed the lie that time would heal. Now you realize that time did nothing but tick by and those boxes still set there. I know it feels defeating right now, but as we walk this journey of healing together, you will soon have the tools to finish unloading this U-Haul.
You will never need to resort back to a hurt pocket again, as you already know that life will always bring forth loss, grief and uncertainty. It's part of life. I have worked with so many that are in other forms of recovery like Over-Eaters Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc. Recovery has steps we all need to take. Grief is one that now offers steps so you don't end up like that hamster on the wheel, running as fast you can, getting nowhere.
Recovery programs work extremely well even if you are in more than one. I have talked to so many people, who like you and me, have come to the end of themselves and sought out help. That's a very courageous thing to do by the way, is to stop denying there is a problem, and ask for help. We all are amazed at the fact, that comes down to loss, and not knowing how to let go, say goodbye to all that pain, led so many of us into some form of addiction. We just wanted the pain to go away, if only for a little while.
I have come to realize that it is so much better to simply do the hard work, work the recovery program, and let go of ideas that we were taught to heal. What a revelation. Now you know how you got here. My question is to you now is how long are you going to continue to keep throwing boxes of hurt into that U-Haul?
From my heart to yours,
Kim - a.k.a. The Grief Lady.