The End of My Grief Counseling Had an Unexpected Lesson

Vanessa Torre

Surprisingly, it wasn’t about death or moving on after loss.

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I’m an emotional one. I have all of the feelings. They come early and often. What this means for me is that processing all these emotions is exhausting and often a struggle. I have no idea what I’m doing and can easily spin off the face of the earth.

Like most people, I’ve had a screwed up definition of grief my whole life. I thought grief was what we felt when someone died. That’s it. That’s the list.

Having had very few people in my life die during my first 45 years, I figured I had avoided that emotion pretty well. Then my therapist dropped a bomb in my lap after I expressed frustration with my woeful lack of ability to get over anything.

When I say anything, I mean everything. When something would go south in my life, especially when I didn’t see it coming, I became a mess. The most recent event was the one-two punch of being dumped and then having a good friend die two weeks later. Super fun.

When I started grief counseling at my therapist’s suggestion, the recovery program we followed gave us a definition of grief that opened a door for me that I had no idea existed.

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” — John James and Russell Friedman, The Grief Recovery Handbook.

Well. Dang. That’s a whole thing. When I heard this, I wrote it down and stared at it for a long time. Every moment when I felt like a mess after something, anything, came to an end made sense. I felt normal.

My job I loved. My marriage. The involuntary parting of ways with a lifelong group of friends. All losses. All needed to be grieved. None were.

Eight weeks. For eight weeks I sat with two other women, who also had a small Uhaul of crap to unpack, and went through a very set plan to resolve one loss. Just one. Whatever one we wanted.

It was terrifying. On the last day, we had a little potluck and talked about how we felt now versus the first day we started this process. We all had the same response. Strong. We felt strong.

This was when I realized that I had gained something through this process I never expected. I expected to be able to say goodbye to people who left me but I never expected I would learn a skill that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

I’m no longer afraid of loss.

Working through that one loss allowed me to know I can get through others. The ones that are outstanding to be dealt with don’t seem insurmountable.

I have learned what I now refer to as Loss Acceptance Muscle Memory. It’s like any other muscle. Once you do the movement once, doing it again isn’t that hard.

Understanding our capacity to heal and knowing we have the ability to move through pain changes how we approach life.

I feel more open to challenges and opportunities now. After deciding that absolving to not date is nothing more than another mechanism I can use to run from my issues, I met two men within 24 hours last month. I had several dates with both men. The entire experience of dating feels completely different.

One of the men is a great person. Our last date included a couple of red flags waving over in the corner of the room, though. In the past, I would have tried to keep the man in place despite the flags because it would have been more important to stave off the loss than anything else.

This irrational thought process does not exist for me anymore. It’s incredibly liberating. It’s freed me.

The last text I sent him was well over a week ago and it got no response. Do you know what else got no response? His lack of response. A sudden loss of contact after three or four dates does not trigger a crisis. It is what it is — a sign the red flags were right.

The other man is feisty, sensitive, kind, and self-aware. When I first met him, I told my friend Brandy that he was fun. Not my person, but we could hang out for a while. Oddly, he's still here. Kind of.

He works as a traveling health care professional and while he was planning on staying in the town where I live indefinitely, he took a 13-week contract a state away.

I swore I would never again do a long-distance relationship. Ever. For the love of God, I have trust issues! They are horrible and justifiable. Now, here I am. Making a conscious decision to stay in a casual relationship with someone 16 hours away by car. Why? Because I care about the right things.

I care about this man. I care about my happiness. He’s fun and we can hang out for a while, remember?

The list of things I don’t care about? Losing him. If he takes this contract and I never see him again, I will be incredibly sad. But, that will go away. It just takes time.

So, taking a lesson from Brene Brown, I refuse to forbode joy because I fear loss. Hell no. I’m going to wake up each day and hope the day finds another goofy panda bear meme from a feisty dude a state away.

I’ve put my name in for a job at my company because I have nothing to lose. That’s what you get when you rid yourself of the fear of loss. I have an attitude that tells me that the worst thing anyone can tell me is no. If that happens, okay. Next challenge. Next opportunity.

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Flaming pinball, nerd, music lover, wine snob, horrible violin player. No, she won’t stop taking pictures of her drinks. vanessaltorre@gmail.com IG: vanessaltorre Twitter: @vanessaltorre

Phoenix, AZ
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