Wishing You A Peaceful Holiday

Wishing You A Peaceful Holiday

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why We Neglect Ourselves After Suicide Loss

by Catherine Greenleaf

After losing someone we love to suicide, it is common for us to neglect ourselves. We do this by not eating, not getting enough sleep, repeatedly feeding ourselves negative messages, and not allowing ourselves to feel our feelings.

Why do we torture ourselves in this way? Because, for some reason, we feel guilt and shame around the suicide loss. We cycle endlessly through the same questions: what did I do wrong? what could I have done differently? what was it I said that made him/her do this? what was it I didn't say that made him/her do this?

Because suicide is so sudden and so devastating, if we can't find the answer to why they did it, then we think we must be to blame. This is called "the logic of absurdity." That phrase was coined by Alice Miller, the author of the wonderful book "The Drama of the Gifted Child." In the midst of emotional trauma, we are often given to blaming ourselves for situations we had no control over. As we recover from the trauma, we realize we are not to blame. We realize we don't have, and have never had, enough power to make someone take their own lives. And as far as saving them just in the nick of time? We also realize we are not omniscient and not omnipotent. The qualities of omniscience and omnipotence are godlike qualities. And we are not God, we are merely human.

The other factor that contributes to our urge to neglect ourselves is the stigma society attaches to suicide. What we encounter the most from people in the community is referred to as "The Wall of Silence," according to suicide loss researchers. What we often extrapolate from this silence from others is unspoken condemnation -- that somehow we are flawed and our family is abnormal. Our self-esteem ends up so severely damaged, we sometimes end up believing these thoughts and willingly punish ourselves. None of it, of course, is true. Suicide can happen in any family and the loss  does not make us abnormal. 

What is clear is that the Wall of Silence stems from people's fears of saying the wrong thing and upsetting us. So they say nothing. We are not being condemned. But we are being thrown under the bus, so to speak, by people's lack of education around suicide loss. What we need is a Wall of Support surrounding us.

So, that means we can drop the guilt. We can drop the shame. And we can start nourishing ourselves. What a wonderful journey to be on! We give ourselves everything we need -- rest, nutritious food, sleep, calming music, invigorating exercise. We can go on vacations. We can go to a spa and get a massage! We can help our grief process by attending suicide loss survivor support group meetings. We can make new friends. And we can start sending ourselves positive messages of self-love. It feels good to finally be on our way -- back to ourselves!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Are You In There? The Frustrations of Preoccupation

by Catherine Greenleaf

There are many downsides to preoccupation, which is a symptom of PTSD. When we are in a state of preoccupation, we are constantly distracted from what is going on in the present. This robs us of the opportunity for all the gifts of living in the moment -- joy, love, closeness, and especially the intimacy that grows between two people who care about one another.

Preoccupation prevents us from experiencing spontaneity, which is a big part of the enjoyment of life. Instead we are locked into a goose-step of just getting through the next day, looking for something to do that will interrupt the emotional pain we are feeling around the suicide loss. Please keep in mind this is not your typical multi-tasking. It's the mind's attempt to create a distraction from the trauma of devastating loss (such as suicide) and to numb out the pain by overloading the brain's circuits with an overabundance of conflicting activities.

"Conflicting" is the operative word, because the two activities a preoccupied person chooses are often totally disparate and make no sense, such as watching T.V. while on the phone, reading a book while attending a conference, talking to someone while trying to dial out on a cell phone. What occurs inbetween these two disparate activities is an inability to comprehend or focus on anything. In this inbetween state, the person instead enjoys a numbed-out and pain-free period.

It is easy to see when someone is experiencing preoccupation:

1. They have a glazed or dulled look to their eyes or face.
2. They are standing right in front of you but seem to be a million miles away. (This is also referred to as being emotionally unavailable, which can destroy friendships and love relationships).
3. You're never sure they just heard all of what you said to them. You may find yourself saying: "Yoo-hoo. Earth to Mary. Did you hear what I just said?"
4. They are usually fidgeting for something to do, and will often attempt to read a newspaper or use their cell phone while talking to you.
5. They tend to walk into walls, doors and furniture because they don't have their full attention to keep them on guard.
6. They routinely walk into a room looking for something but can't remember what it was they wanted.
7. You will see their mouth moving as they walk around. They are talking to themselves.

Preoccupation can be dangerous. A person with preoccupation has a delayed response to stimuli, and so will be slower to react while driving on the highway or crossing a busy street.

But the biggest loss is the inability to stay present for the people you love. This can have damaging and longlasting consequences for all of your personal relationships.

If you feel you are caught in preoccupation mode, reaching out to qualified professionals can help you regain control over your emotions and your life.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Preoccupation -- Dealing With An Annoying Symptom of PTSD

by Catherine Greenleaf

Preoccupation -- we all know what it's like to have our mind in one place and our body in another. Have you ever said to someone: "Huh? What did you just say?" This can happen when you're in a roomful of people and in the middle of conversation and for some reason you just drift off in your own mind. It's as if you're a million miles away from everyone else in the room. Some people call it daydreaming, and it is human nature to think and dwell upon possibilities in life. That is part of how we plan to attain our goals. However, when your preoccupation is due to trauma like suicide loss, the effect can be quite the opposite and can impact the quality of your life.

Veterans of war call it being "shell-shocked." When World War I, II, and Viet Nam veterans returned from battle, they often presented with the symptom of appearing to be in a daze. This preoccupation, or splitting of the mind and body is a very normal and natural reaction to trauma. The brain is attempting to heal itself from devastating loss and grief. What the brain does is fixate on two things at once, such as vaccuming the rug while talking on the phone, watching TV while reading a magazine, eating a sandwich while getting dressed. This is not what we think of as modern-day multi-tasking. Dwelling in this inbetween state of doing one thing and thinking of something completely different is very effective at stopping painful emotions and memories from coming to the surface.

In some ways, preoccupation is very similar to OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Any compulsive activity prevents a person from feeling emotions. This is why after a suicide loss, surviving friends and family talk about mopping the kitchen floor at 2 a.m. or cleaning out all the closets in the house again and again. They are seeking solace from the overwhelming pain this type of sudden loss can bring.

Preoccupation can prevent you from living life in the moment. It can rob you of your spontaneity and enjoyment of life's many joys. If you feel you are suffering from preoccupation that just doesn't seem to be lifting, you can seek assistance from a qualified sudden death bereavement therapist. There are several modalities that can be quite useful in treating this symptom of PTSD, like EMDR and other types of neuro-linguistic programming, as well as amino acid therapy.

The bottom line is this: you are not alone in your grief. There are many people who have experienced the disorientation of preoccupation after a tragic loss and found ways to combat this annoying and perturbing symptom. The key is asking for help and putting yourself in the hands of a qualified professional so you can get some relief.

Read more about preoccupation and the other symptoms of PTSD in my book: Healing The Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations For People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide at www.healingthehurtspirit.com.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Are Daily Positive Affirmations So Important?

by Catherine Greenleaf

What's the big deal about positive affirmations, really? Actually, it is a really BIG deal. The way you think, about yourself, and about your life, determines what kind of experiences you will have. We manifest our fate every step of the way, through our dreams, imaginings, projections, and expectations. But most especially it's how and what we think about ourselves that determines how happy we will be.

Researchers have conclusively shown that when we think positive thoughts, we enjoy enormous short-term and long-term benefits. So, if faced with a choice of positive or negative thoughts, why not go with positive and see what happens? It's like seeing your glass half full instead of half empty. The glass has the same amount of water in it either way. So why not see the glass as half full?

Positive affirmations are thoughts and sayings you can repeat to yourself out loud or silently in your head. Positive affirmations are designed to help uplift your mind, body and soul. Instead of putting yourself down every time you make a mistake, imagine telling yourself nice things, like: "It's okay to make mistakes," or, "Who I am is good and I'm good enough."

Unfortunately, as suicide loss survivors, we can end up flooded with negative messages. Usually these are messages we send ourselves, about not being good enough, not being a good parent, spouse, child, etc. Then if we do get criticism from family or relatives, we internalize it with more negative statements about ourselves. The damage this negativity does to our self-esteem and self-worth is incalculable. But with practice, we can control our thoughts and improve our sense of well-being.

I was mired in negativity after the suicide death of my loved one. I couldn't even drop a fork on the floor at dinnertime without calling myself "stupid." I was miserable and knew I needed a radical shift in my life. That was when I was introduced to the power of positive affirmations.

How to get started: Start listening to the "committee" in your head. Are you constantly criticizing yourself, calling yourself names, putting yourself down? If that is the case, you don't need anyone to degrade or humiliate you -- you are already doing it to yourself!

The key with positive affirmations is repetition. The more your subconscious mind hears positive words, the more these thoughts will manifest in your life. It is always exciting to start noticing for the first time when your positive thoughts start to outweigh your negative thoughts. Although this may take a while, and require persistence and commitment, the pay-off is well worth all the work!

Try this: for the first several weeks that you try out affirmations, call yourself "Sweetie." When you drop something on the floor, say, "It's okay, Sweetie." When you forget something and have to come all the way back home, say to yourself, "It's okay, Sweetie." If you do this long enough, the positive in your subconscious will start to outweigh the negative and you will start to feel better about yourself and the world around you.

You will start to notice your relationships getting better -- much better! Healthier and more encouraging people will literally start to show up, and more importantly, you will start to notice them! When we were once mired in negatitivy we didn't even notice when someone nice was around because we were too busy being cynical and pessimistic about our chances of finding someone nice. But the affirmation: "I deserve unconditional love at all times," will get you to a new and wonderful relationship very quickly.

Besides love relationships, positive affirmations create improvement in dealing with family members, bosses and co-workers on the job, friendships, dealings with neighbors, as well as any dreams you have for yourself in the future. Positive affirmations help us get through disappointment, rejection, and deep grief and keep us looking forward to living life in the moment.

Please remember, after a suicide loss the last thing we need to do is beat up on ourselves. This is a healing time for you, a time to nourish yourself and treat yourself well as you recover from your grief.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Journaling Can Help You Heal From Suicide Grief

By Catherine Greenleaf

Journaling is a very powerful method of healing. The visceral act of writing words down on paper can assist you in releasing pent-up sadness, anger and grief. After my loss, I had so many conflicting emotions. I wasn't sure what to do with them all. My suicide bereavement therapist suggested I go down to the local pharmacy and buy myself a spiral-bound notebook. She said, "Write down how you feel." I started quite simply by writing one or two lines a day, stating what I was doing that day and how I was feeling. My journal turned out to be my best buddy. I poured all my anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred, confusion and despair into the pages of my journal. I ended up with thirteen journals!!!!! But I had released so many negative emotions, and in the process, I felt lighter and freer and more willing to start moving on in my life again.

In my journal, I wrote many "anger letters" to my loved one. These letters asked him: why did you leave me? why did you choose such a method to die? did you ever stop and think how I would be affected by your leaving not to mention the method? I got all the anger and rage out of my system by writing these letters to him. With every letter I wrote him, I felt more and more peace of mind. My rage transitioned to anger and then the anger transitioned to a resigned acceptance. The best part is the high-voltage emotional charge was gone. I had successfully exorcised the demons of my grief. I believe writing -- journaling, poetry, music -- all of it is cathartic and can help us release stored-up toxic emotions.

What I discovered as I wrote was that the worst part of my grief was the feeling of abandonment. We had done everything together. We were inseparable. We approached all our challenges together and dealt with them as a team. Once he left, I felt terribly abandoned and betrayed. But as I continued to write about my life I realized I had always had abandonment issues. With that realization I could no longer blame him for something that was part of my past. That understanding brought great freedom and relief.

It's important to remember that this is YOUR journal. You don't have to share it with anyone (although I have read a few "breakthrough" passages to my therapist over the years.) Keep your journal in a private, secret place that no one can find. Your writing is sacred and no one has the right to violate your privacy and read your words unless you give permission. 

Today, my journal is part of my morning ritual. Each morning, I sit down with my hot cup of green tea and my journal. With my little dog lying at my feet, I write down how I am feeling AND I TELL THE TRUTH. When someone on the street stops and asks, "How are you?" it's always very tempting to just say: "Oh, I'm fine," and walk away. But with a journal I can be completely honest. After such a devastating loss, I found I was hungry for honesty -- from myself and from others in my life. My journal keeps me honest -- and free of pent-up emotions.

Interestingly enough, those 13 journals ended up turning into my book, Healing The Hurt Spirit!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Creating Your Comfort Zone

by Catherine Greenleaf

One way to help yourself through the grief process is to give yourself the gift of a "comfort zone." This is a corner of your house or apartment where you feel safe and comfortable. It is an area where you know that when you close the door, you have privacy and quiet.

1) Figure out where your safe corner is. Put your favorite comfy chair in this corner, preferably by a window so you can enjoy the antics of the birds outside and feel the breeze through the screen window during the warmer months.

2) Surround your favorite chair with treasured mementos -- photos of pleasurable trips, colorful pillows, crystals, and lush, green plants. You can even put a comfy crocheted afghan nearby to cover your legs when you're chilly.

3) Things to avoid. You'll want to avoid the TV, telephone, radio and computer during this time. All of these serve to distract you with busy work, interrupt you with other people's concerns, or upset you with violent news. 

4) Spend at least 15 minutes each morning in your comfort zone. Even this small amount of time can carry you psychologically through the entire day. Make yourself a hot mug of cocoa or a cup of green tea. Invite your pet dog or cat to come sit with you while you relax.

5) Put on some music. Classical music is often soothing. So is New Age music. Experiment with different composers and sounds until you find the music that brings you serenity.

6) Create a ritual during your 15 minutes. Sip on your tea. Read your favorite positive affirmation lists or spiritual books. Start a journal. Write down all your deepest thoughts. Write a gratitude list.

Make this "comfort zone" a place you can come to any time you are feeling overwhelmed and in need of a time-out to think. If you can create this zone and use it regularly you will boost your self-esteem, because you will be doing something nourishing for you -- for your peace of mind and for the fulfillment of your soul. You will gain clarity around your challenges and the answers will come easier and faster. This will be your opportunity to listen to, and develop trust in, that still small voice inside of you -- the voice that will always tell you the truth -- no matter what is going on.

You are worth taking care of! You deserve to heal!