I hope this blog post helps someone out there challenged with the overwhelming struggles of grief. Anxiety, panic attacks, numbness, and the intensity of sadness enveloping you where you cannot climb out of the darkness with the overall hopelessness that takes over, making you think you’ll never find joy again.
I’ve been there. I’ve experienced all of the above after my husband died. The waves smashed into me so hard that I felt I might drown in grief and never be able to put one foot in front of the other to move ahead.
Gratefully, I did move ahead, and I did get out of bed, and I’m still working at it and facing all the challenges that come from losing one’s love.
The first year after my husband died was a blur, as my brain was constantly in a stage of fog. I purposely kept myself busy to the point of exhaustion so I wouldn’t have to feel the unbearable heartache and pain.
By the second year, reality hit me. Hard. I knew I couldn’t keep up the manic busy phase as a distraction. I also knew that once I slowed down I would self-sabotage by thinking; “I can’t do this.” “How am I going to do this?” “How can I handle all this?”
I recognized that this type of self-talk would hinder my healing process, and worsen my anxiety and grief-induced depression.
I knew that I had to somehow employ the same self-talk that I had after my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From the moment we were delivered the devastating news, we decided that we would not only do everything we could to keep him strong, healthy, and alive, but we would shut out all the negative thinking that comes with cancer topics.
It was a struggle witnessing my once viral, strong husband get weaker and weaker. For his sake, I had to keep hoping and keep pushing the negativity out of my mind so that it would not penetrate him. Ever.
In the winter during his illness, when I had to handle things on my own (because winter makes things so much more challenging), I kept saying to myself repeatedly; “I can do this. I can handle all of it. I’m not the one enduring the pain, chemo, and all that cancer entails. If he can do it with a smile and no complaints, I can do everything else.”
This self-talk was my salvation. It truly helped. It got me through handling everything and being an efficient and strong caregiver.
All through his cancer treatments, and right up until the end, I had hope. Hope he would be cured. Hope that we’d continue our beautiful marriage and love story for many years to come. Some may think I was in denial. Maybe I was, but it got me through the hardest challenge of my life. My husband was given three months to live after diagnosis. He lived 14 months. Hope didn’t let us down. Hope gave us time. That’s how I chose to think about it.
That hope I had hung onto for so long during his illness had vanished after he died. I had given up hope.
I recognized that I had to change things, and then I thought, I need to learn how to employ the same strategy that I had during his illness to my grief.
I went to grief counseling. It helped me because it gave me a safe place to vent and talk about my grief without judgment or platitudes. However, I knew I needed more to yank me out of this dark place and get back on track.
My doctor suggested hypnotherapy. I was skeptical. The word hypnosis didn’t sit well with me. I need to be in control.
She explained that Hypnotherapy will help me get my mind into a state of deep relaxation, aiding in teaching my brain to focus on the positive love and life we shared, rather than on the sadness and heartbreak of my grief.
That convinced me that hypnotherapy may be something that will get back to positive self-talk, so I made the appointment with a verified, highly recommended hypnotherapist.
After my initial consultation, my initial skepticism was laid to rest as she assured me that she wasn’t going to hypnotize me to do anything I didn’t want to do (it isn’t a Vegas act, after all) and that I would always be in complete control through each session.
I learned how to reprogram how I think and handle anxiety, panic attacks, and the intense emotional waves through hypnosis.
She helped me embed images of my husband back to a time when he was viral, healthy, laughing (he always smiled), and how he handled his life and death with dignity, grace and love.
I learned how to hang on to the euphoria I always felt in his arms, the years of a strong marriage through the ups and downs, and the joy at remembering his smiles, winks, and teasing, especially on the days I slip into sadness.
Our subconscious is loaded with so much pain when grieving, and she taught me how to clear it so that I can accept more empowering thoughts.
The therapist taught me how to plant memory anchors. These anchors help bring the good memories I’ve been blessed with to the forefront of my mind for when I get anxious or sad. I breathe through each memory until the anxiety diminishes.
I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of work, and you have to devote time each day to this process. But, still, I can tell you that by doing this daily, I was eventually able to plant the feel-good-emotions and memories into my subconscious, and it has helped me get through each day, each wave, and when I slip into a dark place, I can yank myself out a lot quicker.
Having said all this, the other day, as I was showering and I had the music on, I was singing and feeling better than I have been in a long time. Then I stopped and cried, as a feeling of guilt swept into me, as I thought, “I can’t be this joyful, it’s wrong, I miss him, I need to be sad again.”
I’ve struggled this past week since the release of my new published book. It’s bittersweet, as I know how much he’d be celebrating with me. I worried about slipping again, so I pulled out my anchors, took time to shed tears (because, let’s face it, nothing will stop those), and then shook it off, lived in the moment, and celebrated with him in spirit, by flipping through photographs and talking about him with my family. It helped.
During one of my sessions, the therapist asked me this:
“Selena, what do want to let go of?”
I said, “I want to let go of feeling guilty for feeling joy and for taking a break from grieving.”
She then asked me to turn it around, “If your husband was the one left behind, what would you tell him? What would you want him to do?”
I said, “I would tell him that there’s still a lot of life to live. He has a lot of love to give to himself. I would tell him to live his best life because he would not lay on his death bed wishing he’d been sad every day, wishing he was grieving me every second. I would tell him not to replace joy and happiness with guilt. I would tell him that he deserves to live his best life and be happy.”
She said, “Take in everything you just said because it was so powerful, and turn it around and say it to yourself. Let that be your mantra.”
So, I did, and while doing this, I touched the back of my neck, a spot where my husband used to kiss me from behind and planted this anchor. So in the future, when I touch the back of my neck when I’m sinking or feeling overwhelmed, I repeat this mantra:
“There’s still a lot of life I have to live, lots of love to give to myself. I will live my best life because I will not lay on my death bed wishing I’d been sad every day or wishing I was grieving more. I will work hard at accepting joy and not feel guilty. I deserve to live my best life in my beloved’s honor.”
I take time out for myself daily to find moments of peace and work at taking a break from grieving. At first, these moments were short, and it was a challenge to accept peace, but as time went on, the moments became longer.
I remember how I drew strength from somewhere (probably from my husband and his fantastic attitude from the moment of his diagnosis) through his treatments and his time in Hospice until the very end, how he channeled positivity and made the most of every single day, not wasting time feeling sorry for himself. He gifted me with that strength and hope.
I think about how we made the most of our time together. Even during chemo treatments, I would pack games, snacks, bring pictures, and paraphernalia to help make the hours of chemo more bearable and fun—yes, as odd as it sounds, we had fun during those times.
I hang on to the memory of his last kiss in Hospice. In the last week of his life, he could not speak, but we communicated by him squeezing my hand when I asked him questions.
A few hours before he died, he bobbed his head up and down. I didn’t know what he wanted. I jokingly asked, “Do you want to make out?”
He squeezed my hand once to indicate yes, then he forced his head up, and I kissed him. It was the sweetest moment that I treasure daily.
His room in Hospice was bright and always filled with laughter and jokes. I hang on to those memories, which helps drown out the memory of holding him in my arms until his last breath. That one still pains me.
It will be four years in July, and I still cry. I still have anxious moments, and of course, I know that I can pull out my anchors and happy memories and keep retraining my brain into positive thinking, but the heartache and missing him will never go away, but taking an active role in my healing, makes life without him more bearable.
I also accepted it’s okay to keep laughing, accepting joyous moments, and embracing happiness whenever I can, even if I smile and laugh through some tears.
I’m a work in progress, and I know I’ll never be 100% of who I once was, but I also know I can do this. I can get through each day. I can face my challenges head-on and figure them out.
Self-talk is important. Realizing how we can sabotage ourselves is the first step, and only WE have the power to change all that.
I had 12 sessions with the hypnotherapist, and it was 12 sessions that have helped me so much, and that’s why I’m sharing them with you, that even if you don’t go to hypnotherapy, you can still apply some of the things I’ve learned to your day and night when you are struggling.
Try not to self-sabotage yourself. Instead, work hard at retraining your thinking and self-talk.
Keep saying to yourself:
“I can do this. I can get through today. I can be happy. I can smile. I can fix…this…or I can handle that.” Daily. Keep saying this as often as you can every single day.
One step at a time.
One thought at a time.