I don’t “suffer” from the optimism bias that most non-depressed people enjoy. This means I don’t tend to look the bright side or attend to the positives in tragedy. I spend a good deal of time on this blog making space for my efforts to find that for which I’m grateful; for me, it has to be an intentional and deliberate process or it won’t happen. I firmly believe, though, that finding reasons for joy and laughter need to exist alongside, not in replacement, of the ability to feel sadness as it happens.
My grief at this moment is a witnessed grief more than a personal one; I am not in mourning for the ways in which I’ve been personally impacted by the pandemic, but more for the global losses that have happened and the havoc it is beginning to cause in the lives of people for whom I care. What I lack in “be hopeful” I replace with “be prepared;” I tend to lean too heavily into the idea that, as long as all contingencies are measured and mitigated, true tragedy can be averted.
I’m living in a moment, however, where this can-do attitude is failing as my national leaders prioritize the wealthiest among us over the rest. Horrible, unfathomable and potentially preventable things are starting to happen to good people on a scale I didn’t know could occur, coupled with with no one in leadership providing comfort and guidance. This is both the oldest story of my life and also the one that feels freshly terrifying; I knew this could happen to me (childhood trauma), but I didn’t know it could happen to everyone (save the moneyed).
All I know to do when loss occurs is to make space for it, to honor what is being missed and to mourn with those from whom treasures of love are being pilfered. Grief, in my mind’s eye, is a well of cold water, into which that which we deem precious can sink but from which no reflection gleams. I know that, in due time, some will find renewal there as they reconstruct their lives. Maybe bearing witness to grief is nothing more than keeping a fire going by the depths, allowing for the awareness that rage and fear and all the strong feelings that make us want to flee that place of loss are allowed here and matter here. What are you grieving today? What is fanning the flames of your emotions? What is slipping into the bleakness?
Autumn is a season of contraction in my mind; a pulling inward of impulse and energy in order to prepare for the bitterness of winter. I tend to find my emotions trending more negatively and my outlook on life a bit dimmer as the sunlight arrives earlier every evening. Autumn is casting off, letting go and a hiding of secret treasures.
I released my given name a few months ago, replacing it with a chosen name of my own. Many days since have involved calling and emailing and mailing all manner of companies, telling them who I am now. I’m excited for the eventual newness, but am more in a place of reminding and replacing each piece of my life right now.
For my daily work of art, I collected a leaf that had been dropped by a tree. It was a strange find in that it was still green and soft, whereas most leaves at this point in the season are brittle, brown and fading. It felt like my previous name in a way, not retired because I died, but ensconced into my history as a memento to who I was while some of the life was still in it.
I am still who I was, but there will likely be a richness and fullness of presence I’ve only been able to achieve by transitioning to a new name that represents myself past, present and future more robustly. It’s bittersweet, in the way I’m sad to see the trees become barren, but yet I hold a tiny flame burning in anticipation of the explosion of green the spring will bring. What is autumn to you? What are you letting go of or secreting away, knowing it is necessary for growth?
Today’s In an Open Hand card draw was the Dampen card. This card centers on releasing anger and noticing where it might be transforming into grief. Specifically, the card invites a consideration of accepting disappointments.
My experience of anger in relation to issues that affect people other than solely myself tends to be in reaction to injustice, for example, in considering issues that relate to a societal level of unfairness and inequality. I often cycle in and out of rage, uncertain as to whether my energy is best spent fighting to right a wrong or in uplifting those who are working to create equity. There is likely a place for both experiences that I hope to reach.
My personal rage is of the same thread, but is harder for me to channel into a productive series of actions. When someone harms or disappoints me, I notice my contribution to the issue and then feel stuck as to whether or not it is fair to blame the other person for their role in the situation. I tend to withdraw from the person who let me down as a way to manage my emotions, because my experiences of directly confronting those who have hurt me very rarely leads to genuine contrition and a sense of my needs being cared about. There is no forgiveness possible when the other person refuses to own their actions. My anger, then, seems futile, and my disappointment invalid.
One query the Dampen card poses is about what needs to burn out on its own. This is the only path through my personal anger that I’ve found–to simply allow time to pass and my attention to drift so that, eventually, the slights I’ve endured feel less intense. New growth will replace the old, charred heartwood of connection that was destroyed through hurtful actions. The ashes, though, feel like they accumulate in the low-lying areas, creating a landscape with divots of barren in my heart. Each flame-up of anger takes more than it leaves and each re-growth is more sparse than the one that preceded it. It is the area in which I feel most helpless and hopeless as a trauma survivor. “Try again!” is weak courage when I know how high the risk of conflagration runs. How do you handle your anger and disappointment? What keeps you seeking connection even after the failure and ruin of a close relationship?