My Lessons in Loss: How Grief Taught Me Grace

The following article is a guest post from Victoria St. Fleur.

About three years ago, I was asked to share on how loss had affected me in my life. Had I responded at that time, I would have had a wildly different perspective. At that time, I was transitioning out of a toxic relationship, my best friend had just died from an overdose, and I was an active addict losing more and more of myself by the day. Loss was defining me, and it was molding me in a way that felt as if it was beyond my control.

There are schools of thought that lend the idea that loss can be a gateway into a personal revolution, a spiritual awakening, or a complete reframing of one’s purpose. My experience has been that this all proved true on my path to follow. Three years later, I am in a healthy and communicative relationship, I have lost my other best friend a year ago, and I am about twenty months sober from all mind- and mood-altering substances.

Three years ago, when these losses were taking place and in full swing, I came across a passage in the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It was required reading for a yoga training that was taking place in Bali which would have been the start of my inner exploration. The passage was titled “The Peace That Passes All Understanding.” In short, it spoke about the ego’s attachment to that which we lose and the ego’s dis-identification from form, which essentially can be a catalyst in the awakening experience. Furthermore, he states we have two choices: Either we resist, or we yield. In resistance we experience anger, resentment, self-pity. We become the perpetual victim. When we yield, we have an inner acceptance of what is and an openness to life and what is to come. The statement that stood out the most said, “If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in.” That struck me. I wanted sunlight, but I couldn’t find it.

Initially, I wanted to make a conscious effort to yield and to surrender, but I had no idea what that entailed or required. The following year took me to the darkest time of my life. My anxiety and depression were paralyzing. I had panic attacks that effected my ability to function on an almost daily basis. My addiction ran rampant and demanded a debt of me that I could never repay. I experienced that resistance and the inner turmoil as a result of my inability to cope with the losses. It was the most consuming and overwhelming persistent sensation. I felt powerless and nothing in my life was manageable. I had to stop working because I was unemployable, I lost friendships because my projection and anger were unrelenting, and I lost the respect of my family and the people that cared most for me because I could not show up with one ounce of integrity. My finances were an absolute mess and there was not an ounce of willpower in me that could stop the hurricane. As a mentor of mine has said, “My standards dropped faster than the bottom could reach me.”

My life became nothing, but loss and perpetual pain. I felt like an exposed nerve ending and the only thing that I could feel was lack and less and loss. Fast forward two years and my life looks nothing like that. Loss is defined as the fact or process of losing something or someone. The word that stands out for me there is process. Process is defined as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. Understanding these definitions sheds light on a perspective that is necessary in how I reframe loss today. I had to go through the process of loss and take the necessary actions to achieve the freedom and perspective I have today. Today, I can yield. Today, my identity is not tied to people, places and, things. Loss has defined me by breaking me to the truth of my dependence on the world around me, but my identity is independent from it. Loss can be an incredible teacher if you allow it to be. The losses I have experienced have taught me many lessons, but the top five I would like to share may be of use to someone who is hurting:

1. The origin of disturbance is always inside of me. If I resist anything in life, there is a part of me that has attached my value, or identity, to it; and when I resist, I feel threatened by the possibility of it changing or leaving. It always has and always will be within my power to make intentional and deliberate choices to seek and heal those disturbances so that I can walk through an experience as a witness and not a participant of the chaos that can come with loss.

2. Not everything you lose is a loss. As I got deeper into getting to know myself and seeking my truth, I realized I resisted some losses because of my fear surrounding my feelings of inadequacy and seeking validation from things outside of myself. After all, IN-security needs to be secured from inside of me. There have been many things I lost that never served me. Many experiences I perceived as losses have been in turn some of my biggest wins.

3. Nothing lasts forever. There is a Sanskrit word Aparigraha. It means non-grasping, non-greedy, non-possessiveness. It is the last of the eight limbs of yoga. It speaks to how we should interact with ourselves, others, and the world around us. The Buddha speaks about the root of all suffering being related to our attachment to things that are impermanent. I introduce these two concepts as an invitation to consider that our attachment to people, places, and things inevitably create immense suffering and pain if and when they are lost or left. Perhaps if we lived more in the moment and actively practiced gratitude we would have more peace and less pain.

4. Vulnerability now saves us pain later. In an interview with Oprah, author Brene Brown made two remarkably poignant statements that have stuck with me in this process: “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding” and “we dress rehearse tragedy to beat vulnerability to the punch.” These were WOW statements for me simply because they were so relatable. The first statement suggests that when we cannot be vulnerable in the moment with someone or something, the thought of joy immediately triggers this reflex of “oh my goodness what if something terrible happens and I lose this joy.” When we relax into vulnerability, we can fully experience joy in a fully expressed way and there is no impending doom around the things that make us happy. The second statement suggests that we are so fearful of expressing vulnerability that we mentally develop a script for the performance we will put on when tragedy strikes so that we control the degree of vulnerability that we show. We live in a society that has left us in fear that we will be seen being vulnerable without our permission and it terrifies us.

5. You’re not a victim, you are a volunteer. Loss happens. It doesn’t happen to us. We recreate and carry out the narrative of loss in a way that feeds the ego into a perpetual state of misery and self-pity. I once had someone tell me, “I’ve never met someone who has experienced as much loss as you, yet you don’t seem affected by it.” Well that’s just it. It was an experience. It happened and then time continued and so did my life. If I choose to dwell on this loss as if it was a personal occurrence orchestrated by the cosmos to cause me pain, then that will be the narrative that I continue to abide by. I become the volunteer, the martyr, the receiving end of unfortunate and tragic events. This also is how I continue to manifest, attract, and recreate these circumstances in my life.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention that the cure to the pain that comes with loss is deliberate, permissive, and unrestricted active grieving. I have experienced stages of grief, but I don’t believe they all come in a one size fits all way. Grief is a deeply personal and exposing experience that should be met with grace and deep reverence. Personally, grief is the most vulnerable and unpleasant emotion I’ve experienced, which immediately leads me to believe that through grief and through loss I can have the most growth emotionally and spiritually.

The way in which I have grieved the losses I have experienced were the defining moments in how this loss would change me. Would I be softer? Would I be kinder? Would I be more grateful? Would I be bitter? Would I be guarded? Would I be angry? I do not extend grief to every loss I experience, but I sit with every loss that happens. Pain at times is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Grief is a decision. When I do not choose to grieve, there are only two reasons. One is avoidance and the other is a recognition of the universe clearing my path for me. When I am avoiding grief, I am actively avoiding growth. When I recognize my path is being cleared, I express gratitude.

Loss, overall, I believe is an experiential process: An opportunity to come home to yourself and extend compassion and comfort to be ok with not being ok, to give permission for the process to unfold, to surrender repeatedly. Loss can be deeply healing. We can expose ourselves in moments of vulnerability when our hearts are open, and we can reach old wounds and help them heal while we heal over and over and over again. Loss is an everlasting reminder of the impermanence and the fragility of life. Loss is a bookmark in the book of life to remind us where there had been immense grace and immense mercy if we are willing to find the blessings in the bad things. Loss delivers the promise of peace when we yield. Loss is a doorway to awakening. Loss is a test of willingness. Loss is the opportunity for the death of the ego. A quote from Toby Mac states, “Rock bottoms will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will.” Loss has been my rock bottom that laid the foundation from which I’ve built my life. Loss has been my greatest pain and immeasurably my greatest blessing.

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