Grief Is Like Herpes
Ah yes, the viral infection of human emotions.
Does anybody else feel this way? I swear to God- I get to this place where I finally feel like- I'm over the hump of something, only to have these uncomfortable feelings return. Tingling, burning and aching: blisters into any given stage of grief at any given moment. Even worse is when you don't know what brought the flare-up on.
As strange as this will likely sound, seeing it this way suddenly brought me relief that was just out of my reach. This thought dawned on me when after ten years, I had my first cold sore again. TEN YEARS! Since it had been so long, I googled it to be sure it was a cold sore. I couldn't figure out what the hell brought it on. Reviewing the list of triggers: nothing seemed to resonate- other than- stress. I was coming out of an intractable migraine- it lasted 110 hours and was so severe that I started to go into shock.
You're probably thinking, "duh!" right about now, eh? Here's the thing- this wasn't the most stressful event I've experienced in the past few years. Not even close. With all of the somatic work, meditating, journaling, and talk therapy I've been doing, it seemed so unlikely that stress would be the culprit. I haven't been feeling stressed the way I was so accustomed. I read that sunlight is a common trigger for cold sores (!?!) and- I had spent more time outside. How bizarre, I thought to myself. Sunlight! And there it was, my lightbulb moment and connection of grief to herpes.
Grief is like an incurable viral infection. Once infected with it, you will spend your life living through flare-ups. It's also contagious in a way- isn't it? For those of us who are sensitive/empathetic, it's easy to "catch" someone else's grief and pain. And, if not tended to, it can wreak just as much havoc on you as them. This brings me to my point above as well. I think grief can lay dormant in us for extended periods. It's easy to garner a false sense of being over or above these emotions. We have a proclivity as a society to coach people into suppressing and repressing their emotions. This too is mistaken as "being over it."
Where does the relief come in, Sarah? My approach went from trying to cure my grief to finding ways of managing it successfully. I've heard "get over it" so many goddamn times that I added this unnecessary pressure on myself. I adopted a belief that this is something to cure. The self-help spaces are often divided on this topic as well. But when I listened to the people who insist you grow around your grief, that it doesn't go away, the pressure I had applied to myself to "get better" lightened. In turn, the grief that I now experience is different. I hadn't realized how much I was adding to my suffering by being frustrated with myself that I wasn't getting over it. The periods of peace, where I am untouched by the pain and sadness, are the moments the blisters clear up. They're not gone gone- they're just gone for now. And that's ok.
The degree to which I was experiencing grief in my life was so different than before. It was gargantuan. I wasn't a stranger to loss and pain. Not at all. Unbeknownst to me, though, I was good at suppressing and repressing my feelings. By the time my dad got sick and died, I was allowing myself to feel more than I ever had. I'm also aware that the complexities of our relationship intensified my grief. That experience was so brutally painful. And I was conscious of when telling myself it was too much and nipping it in the bud. I did what was necessary to survive that whole ordeal.
I feel that the grief I've been experiencing is an entire lifetime's worth. It's every single thing that I didn't want or allow myself to process. I had become a pressure cooker without a release valve. It was a- take the lid off immediately to release some of that pressure and get a face full of steam- or let the whole fucking thing explode. I chose the former. Yes, I got burned, but I'm not full of shrapnel, so there's that.
I don't know why exactly- this train of thought brought the relief it did. I think of grief as something that simply exists within me, as much as my spleen or liver does. Maybe it's radical acceptance? It's there. It will be there. It is what it is.