By Eugenie G. Wheeler

Your world has fallen apart…but your life goes on. You wonder how you will ever get through the succession of joyless days you see lining the path ahead of you. You wonder how you will get through the next moment, your distress is so great. Is there any way to bypass grief and sorrow?

Working your way through.
No, there is no way to bypass grief and sorrow when tragedy strikes your life. You can gradually recover from this devastation, however, and even grow stronger in the process.

Following are some suggestions drawn from people who have survived trauma and loss, along with guidelines developed by professionals who have worked with survivors. What they have learned may help to facilitate your own healing process.

Allow yourself to grieve.
It is a myth that grieving feeds pain. You must fully experience your grief if you are to be fully healed. The purpose of grieving is to help you get to the point where you can remember without the pain.

Grieving means letting yourself feel the an­guish—not suppressing it. It means sharing it, talking about it, crying about it, and allowing yourself to go through the various stages that grief encompasses—which may include shock, de­nial, guilt, anger, depression, and finally acceptance of the situation and moving on to the next phase of life.

If you refuse to acknowledge the extent of the disruption in your life and the resulting losses and pain, you are in a stage of denial. Observe your own patterns of denial, of escape, and also of coping. Do you lose yourself in sleep, drugs, alcohol, food, general busyness, superficial platitudes, exercise, espousing good causes, helping other people? Which are healthy coping strategies, and which do you want to let go of? Unexpressed sorrow may come out in physical symptoms, depression, or in the inhibition of other emotions such as love and joy. You cannot choose to shut down a particular segment on the continuum of your emotions without risking shutting down a much larger portion of your personality. So allow yourself to feel and to express your feelings. Painful though that may be, even­tually you will come through the experience more alive, without deadening your capacity to feel.

Seek help from a friend.
A friend is a present you give yourself—and you need gifts when you are suffering. You need someone who will listen nonjudgmentally to your negative as well as positive feelings, someone who will patiently hear you repeat what you need to say over and over again.

Consult experts to help you care for yourself.
Take care of yourself—physically, emotionally, spiritually. Seek help from your clergy ­person and your faith community for a spiritual crisis or simply for emotional support. Because traumatic periods in life can be extremely physically stressful, you need to pay special attention to your health, and may want to see your doctor for a checkup.

You might also want to consider psychological counseling. In a relationship with a professional counselor, the focus is on you. Because the counselor is not emotionally involved, he or she can manage the counseling process in your best interest. Sessions can help you to cope better with your problem and to set goals for personal growth.

Cultivate hope.
Now is the time to rekindle your will and purpose by reviewing what you have in your life that has, or could have, meaning. Do you have people whom you care about deeply? Can you motivate yourself to take better care of yourself? Are you willing to examine your inner dialogue and work on turning any negative messages into more positive ones? Develop an awareness of what is healing for you. Treat yourself to walks in the woods or by the sea. Immersing yourself in the natural world can restore a sense of the beauty and power and order of creation and your unique place in it.

You will find that adversity is a gentle teacher, guiding you to a greater perspective on life and illuminating lasting values. You will learn what’s really important and will be more prone to concentrate on the spiritual and intellectual than on the passing and the petty.

God’s love can be a powerful force in your healing, guiding your response to crisis from despair to hope. Where human efforts fall short, God will take up with you and accompany you faithfully on your journey from darkness to light.

Let go of the past.
There is a time to grieve and a time to let go. Appreciating what you have in the present depends on your ability, at some point, to relinquish the pain of the past. When re­viewing your losses is no longer helpful, you need to take control of your response to the crisis.

Often survivors can identify a turning point—a revelation that they can still find joy in daily life, or appreciate beauty, or be of help to others. Taking action may precipitate such a pivotal point: when you force yourself to read an article or book, go to a counselor, unburden yourself to a friend, write a thank-you note, or become assertive with your insurance company. Staying passive fuels depression, while taking action raises your self-esteem and generates feelings of power and hope.

Learn what you can from your adversity, then move on to find new purpose.

Take heart.
Be encouraged, for you can take control of your response to trag­edy. Not all at once and not without relapses, but in time you can view crisis as an oppor­tunity for learning and growth. You will rekindle hope and faith and move confidently into a new chapter of your life.

Excerpt from “Finding Strength to Survive a Crisis or Tragedy” by CareNotes.

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