When I was studying Psychology as an undergraduate and graduate student, I learned about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A person moves through these phases in random order, and at the end of a grieving period comes acceptance. What I didn’t learn in college, though, is the truly unpredictable nature of grieving, the mood swings, how it causes you to behave in ways that are not typical to you, and also how it makes you question everything and everyone in your life, including yourself. It is a process unlike any other, and if you fully address the grieving process, your life will never be the same.
I was pretty shocked when I began a deep grieving in 2015. I found myself over about a weeks time become moody, angry, and to behave in ways that I had never done so before. I became jealous easily and had obsessive thinking about traumas from the past. My grief, though, was not simply from trauma in my life. I now know that it also came from losses that I had never fully worked through or grieved. Some of these losses had occurred 25 or 30 years before this time.
Initially, I was able to explain to my boyfriend not to take my mood swings and my tendency to pick fights with him when I got angry personally. I let him know that this was happening because I was working through trauma and due to my PTSD reactions. Still, though, for at least a few years I had a hard time accepting that I was grieving and healing through trauma, and a lot of this was due to my experiences in AA. As I became more entrenched in grief, I became confused as to what was going on in my life.
I was extremely hard on myself for acting in ways that I didn’t think were acceptable. I was in AA when this started, and at first, even though I knew about grieving and was showing signs of it, I told myself at times that certain symptoms like my anger were due to my alcoholism. This produced confusion because part of me also knew that this was due to healing from trauma. In AA, we are told that many things arise out of the disease of alcoholism itself, including anger and resentments. So despite my education, when I got angry, at times I tied it back to what I had learned in AA. This only resulted in me being harder on myself and also resulted in confusion, as I vacillated between attributing my symptoms to trauma and to alcoholism. The result was high levels of cognitive dissonance, and due to my discomfort, I tried to rush through the process as best as I could.
I also feared relapse and was afraid that I was “not working the program” because I was so angry. I thought that I was showing “alcoholic behaviors”, which only caused more dissonance because I had never before acted or felt this way, even during my drinking. This was compounded by many scapegoating statements by others in the program. A lot of people acted like I was doing something wrong due to my strong emotions. Because of this, it took me years to fully accept that I was grieving at all.
For about the first few years of my grieving, I felt like I was going around in circles. I read about grief and understood on some level that it was occurring, but also just couldn’t accept what was happening to me. A lot of this, though, was that I had not been able to accept my trauma. Situations in my life worsened my situation including drama with in-laws, continued exposure to my abusive family, and my continuation in AA. Finally, I began to accept some of the problems in AA with the help of my counselor, my own research into grieving and working through trauma, and online support groups. I had actually begun to notice these problems right away in 2015 when I began grieving, but it took me a long time to accept them.
Once I accepted the problems in AA, and that AA ideas had caused me harm and continued to, I was able to leave AA. My grieving process helped immensely with this. What I found is that grieving began to open my eyes to situations and other people in my life. This led me to see and understand things that I hadn’t before. The mood swings, the mixed emotions, and my unpredictable behavior, I feel, left me no other choice but to try to open my eyes and discover what had led me to where I was in life. Contrary to what I was taught in AA, it turned out that other people’s treatment of me, as well as unforeseen circumstances like loss and health problems, had caused most of my suffering in life. I did not have a part in any of it, nor had my actions put me in a situation to be hurt. People had hurt me, and horrible things had happened in my life, to no fault of my own. I couldn’t have stopped these things, changed them, or prevented them from happening in any way. I started to notice that parts of the program didn’t make sense, and at the same time began to see that many people in my life currently did not treat me well.
After I left AA I was able to think a bit clearer as I wasn’t as overwhelmed with negativity from others and the ideas in the program that were triggering me or disrupting my healing. I soon began to distance myself from my family and in-laws. I feel like this is when my healing really began, and I began to approach the acceptance stages of grief. The beginning of this stage really started to occur about two years ago while I was in AA, but I had to leave and remove unhealthy people in my life before I made much headway into acceptance.
Grief led to more grief. When I grieved, I began exploring what had happened in my life. I began to fully realize that I wasn’t working and was disabled, and began to experience my emotions and grief around this issue. I began to question my purpose in life and if I’d ever would be able to find one. I also questioned whether I was a good cat mom (I’d left the cats alone many times with men who I knew were abusive) if I’d really been a good Aunty (I watched them go through abuse but didn’t intervene), and other things that I had always believed to be true about myself and others. As I began to accept what had happened in my life,I began feeling intense feelings of guilt and shame.
In February of 2018, our cat Marmalade was diagnosed with cancer. He began chemotherapy shortly after. It worked for a while, but eventually, he grew sicker. We had to put him down in June of this last year. I noticed that when he had cancer that I seemed to be growing depressed due to everything that I had discovered about myself and my life during my grieving. My motivation to do activities that I usually did began to diminish, and my fatigue grew. I found myself sitting and watching tv a lot of the time.
My moodiness and unpredictable behavior began to increase as Marmalade’s condition grew worse. Then, about three weeks after he passed away, everything hit the fan. All of the unresolved losses that I had never worked through came to the forefront: my Uncles murder at the age of 5, another Uncle’s suicide at the age of 7, and more. This happened in addition to the trauma and grief that I already felt and wasn’t fully able to accept, and resulted in many more questions. I started to process what suicide really was and also began to have questions about my Uncle’s death.
The person who hit my Uncle over the head had never been caught. My family told me that they thought that it was his girlfriend, and blamed him for his death because he hung out with a “bad group of people.” I wondered, though, what really happened. Multiple men in my family were known to fly into rages, throw things at other people, and to become physically violent with others. I realized that there was a chance that a family member had done this, and this sent me into a panic of one that I had never felt before.
All of this resulted in me coming in and out of dissociative fugue states for the first time in my life. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder so was prone to dissociation. I began to get colds and flues and was extremely sick. I stopped eating and was barely sleeping. Due to all of this, I ended up in a psychiatric institution for about two and a half weeks in November.
Many questions began running through my mind after Marmalade passed away. I began to wonder about all things spiritual and about what really was out there in the Universe. I had always been monotheistic but began to examine the possibilities of things like polytheism, past lives, and other things that part of me had always believed in. My spiritual views began to change.
I did not have a good experience at Compass Health, the institution that I went to in November. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder because the staff there did not seem to understand or know how to deal with Dissociative Disorders, ADHD, and autism, as well as my cold and flu symptoms. Due to their negligence of treatment, I became very ill there and ended up in the ER one night. They assumed that I hadn’t been taking my medications even though I had, and messed up my medications so that I had to stay longer. They also didn’t even look at my chart for the first week and a half that I was there. I found, though, that I had to do what they told me to do just to be able to leave, and since I was very sick and knew that being there had only made me sicker, I went along with everything they needed to do and was not always honest about how I was feeling. I hated doing this but knew that I had to if I ever wanted to get out of that place.
During my time at the hospital, I was put on medications that dampened my emotions. This did slow me down for a while but I found that my physical health was not improving. I found a new psychiatrist and began to get off the bipolar medication and onto ADHD medications (I had been diagnosed in September, but the provider that I had failed to do anything about it). I was also diagnosed with an active Epstein Barr infection, which had probably come at Compass Health, and was diagnosed with Chronic Epstein Barr. This is a rare and progressive disease where Epstein Barr reactivates when a person is sick or stressed.
After I got on Ritalin, I finally began to feel safe again after my horrendous hospital visit. I was able to begin to deal with my feelings about my current home situation. In September, our cat Patrick got diagnosed with intestinal cancer and is now going through chemotherapy. Our other cat Lucifer also had a cancerous region of his large intestine removed in August and is in remission from intestinal cancer. Their symptoms, however, had evened out, and this has given me time to grieve Marmalade’s death. It has taken me months to get here as I had so much other grief and loss to deal with, along with caring for Patrick and Lucy and surviving that hospital visit.
Despite my earlier fugue state, before my hospital visit, I was making some strides towards accepting the trauma that I had been through and towards some of the losses in my life. I slipped back into denial, though, during and for some time after my hospital visit. While I did talk about my trauma there, I was too afraid to deal with it. Once I got home I wanted to be on my best behavior because I didn’t want to go back to the hospital.
As I mentioned earlier, though, my symptoms of grief have returned. I’m continuing to ask the big questions in life like “Will I ever work again?” and “What will my life be like if I can’t work?” and “What will happen to Patrick after he passes away?”. I am working on Animal Communication so that I can better understand my cats and help fulfill their needs, whether they are emotional or not.
I still have turbulent emotions and moods due to the grieving process, but they are getting much better. Being on Ritalin has actually helped me to process that I am grieving, and to process my life and what has happened in the last few years. I am able to be more gentle with myself and am realizing how necessary this is in terms of both my mental and physical health. I even started writing this blog in order to help myself and others.
My grieving process has been long and difficult, and as you’ve read, I’ve had to do many things to reach the acceptance stage. I know that my life is changed permanently due to my grieving. New avenues of spirituality have opened up to me, and I am pondering career paths that I never would have considered had not my life been shaken up like this. My overall emotions are more genuine, and I am able to stay calmer during stressful situations. I practice Yoga and sometimes meditate. I still do not know if I will be able to work again due to Chronic Epstein Barr and my other health problems, though, but today I am able to come to terms with that and with what that means in my life.
Overall, I have learned that true grieving is a process not just of emotions, but of discovery: the discovery of who you really are, of what you really care for, and of what you truly believe. While the period of grief is dark, it can result in newfound opportunities and learning that one would never have happened upon if not faced with such a difficult process. If you have grieved before, or are currently grieving, know that the confusion of it could lead you to become a seeker, as it has done for me.
Thanks for reading, and I hope that you have found something useful for you in my words.