Following the losses I experienced, I felt it necessary for me to be a Tough Guy, or girl, in my case… for some reason, I felt I could not let people see the darkness that was taking over me. I was submerged and drowning in feelings of weakness and vulnerability; I was mentally confined in an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, anxiety, and desperation of finding something, ANYTHING that could even remotely resemble the life I had before I experienced loss.
I tried to approach life with a Business as Usual mentality. I found myself working all the time and scheduling events within 15 minutes of each other, just so I could avoid being alone. I laughed as often as I could and I made the best of the moments I had. Or, so I thought. I was so busy trying to live in the moment and be tough, that I did not allow myself to really feel. I did not honor my body or mind in its desperate need to be sad. And, because of that, I did not process the extreme feelings I was obligated to feel in the early stages of my grief journey.
When asked, “How are you doing?”, I could reply with blanket responses like: “I’m fine” OR “This has been a tremendous learning experience for me”. I was able to effectively push the people I increasingly needed away with those words, a reassuring look and a smile. As the conversation moved away from questioning my mental status, or as it ended and they walked away, I’d think to myself: “Whew! They bought it!”. Little did I know, and maybe still lack to see at times, people see right through that Tough Guy act, and I wasn’t fooling many people. But, generally, human nature will suggest not to push, so I was able to go on with the Business as Usual approach a little longer.
I began grieving in, what I now know to be, unhealthy ways. I effectively numbed my feelings with alcohol and counterfeit connections. I stayed so busy, I never had to face myself… The relationships I had with close friends changed. The other tough guys I knew were soon repelling from me as like ends of a magnet do. We found ourselves growing more distant from each other, and the friendships we once had were nearly destroyed because we were each too stubborn to let people see how void of tough we actually were.
The reason I am sharing this with you is because the relationships you have may change and evolve, or they may completely dissolve. Either is OK. This is a time to focus on yourself. Figure out what you need to process the experience you have had and what you are going through. You need the support of people that can listen to you with no judgement, and appreciate that this is your journey. A journey only you can take. Unhealthy grief will only increase the time it takes for you to learn about yourself, and may inhibit you from effectively moving forward in your life.
People may surprise you in their supportive strength, so do not be afraid to reach out to someone who has offered to be there for you. While I would not suggest running up to everyone that has offered and breaking down at their feet, I would suggest having a safe person, or group of people, that you know have your best interests in mind to go to. These people have to be able to help you through some of the weakest moments you will experience. So, be selective and choose wisely.
You don’t have to be a Tough Guy. In fact, showing your weaknesses and making yourself more vulnerable will give you the character you need to be a true Tough Guy. Your sadness, anger, frustration (whatever it is you are feeling) is yours and you ARE allowed to scream and cry; do whatever you need to do to release those painful feelings. Honor yourself; honor your body and your mind. Let it pass through you as it should. You need this time of weakness and vulnerability to be both physically and mentally healthy. Love yourself the way you deserve to be loved. Love yourself the way THEY loved you.