Prisoner Self-Help

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Archive for the category “Self-help”

My Journey of Change

By Trevor Tacey www.realchangesforlife.co.uk 

One of the main memories that I remember really well is lying in bed, and I might hear the pigeons cooing and even feel some sun on my face… I would stretch and slowly open my eyes and BANG! I suddenly realised where I was and this was the first day of another sentence and everything that went with along with that.

In my earlier sentences it didn’t cause me as much grief because I was just an angry junkie with a chip on my shoulder the size of a house who just saw prison as an occupational hazard! That’s just the way I felt about myself. It was a “dog eat dog” environment, and self-preservation was the order of the day. So all I had to do was get through the day, and that’s all that mattered. I had cut off any connection to Trevor pic with a falcon portrait.JPGmy outside world other than the odd mate that would come and visit me or my brother. So my self-preservation was not only the external environment of the prison but my internal environment. I had an ex-wife and two children and it had been an extremely painful split, so I refused to see them.

I could put on a front and behave as if nothing bothered me, but every night anger, guilt and shame would do a dance together until I could finally escape into sleep.

I didn’t think much about how what I was doing affected my family. I just thought “What I do only affects me, so what is the problem?”  That all came crashing down on that first sentence when my Dad died, and the priest came into my cell one night to tell me. After he left I just smashed the cell to bits I didn’t know what else to do with all these feelings that I had tried so hard to stuff down for so long! I was 22 years old and it was the first of many sentences.

The latter ones were more difficult because by then I had remarried and with three lovely children and here I was some thirty years later after the first sentence in the same place! Only now I had all the feelings when my young son or daughters would ask me on a visit “When are you coming home Daddy?” It was like a cut to my heart and I would also wonder if my wife would wait for me this time?

I could go on and on but the point is that not only did I not have any tools to help with these feelings, but because of that I would be acting out on that anger, sadness and frustration. So I would find myself in front of the Governor or down the block and losing remission.

If I had been able to find some help to calm these negative thoughts and emotions, like some of the self-help techniques on this website, it would have been a godsend to me in at those times. I would have tried anything for a little peace and some hope for the future. I thought my life would always be that way but it was a lie. Eventually, I learned about techniques like these, especially EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) in 2004. It is 2019 now and I have been in recovery for 22 years and not seen the inside of a cell for over 30 years.

I now work with other people drug and alcohol problems. I still have my wife and children around me and much more.

All you need to realise is that your thoughts and feelings will dictate your reactions and outcomes, so if you can learn to calm them in any way your life will become easier.

Trevor pic in the garden.JPGTrevor’s struggle with drugs started when he was 16 and lasted over 30 years, during which time he was in and out of prison. In 2004 he came across EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) which really helped his recovery and healing, and soon after that he trained in this therapeutic approach and started supporting other people struggling with addictions, which he continues doing to this day. Trevor’s website is www.realchangesforlife.co.uk

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Fear of Emotions

by Masha Bennett http://www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

Most of us are scared of our emotions. Some of them may seem unacceptable, wrong, even dangerous. We spend a lot of time and energy on suppressing these emotions, hiding them even from ourselves and definitely from other people.

It is not surprising that our emotional world can seem confusing, challenging, and sometimes threatening. Our parents could only teach us what they knew themselves – and many of our parents and grandparents had also learnt to be scared and ashamed of their feelings. Knowingly, and most often unknowingly, they pass this learning onto us. They cannot give what they have not got. And we will pass this fear and shame around emotions to our children, unless we heal, unless we learn otherwise.

The truth is that every emotion has a function, a useful purpose in our mind/body system. Emotions give us vital information on what is happening in our world, and how we need to act in response to it. It is just a signal from our body, from our nervous system. For example, running a high temperature means that there is inflammation in the body, and you need more rest to allow the immune system to fight it. When you are thirsty, your body is letting you know that you are getting de-hydrated. When you feel your bladder is full, it is a clear sign that it needs to be relieved. These are common and understandable signals from your body, that demand certain action.

When emotions arise, they also carry information, just like the physiological signals above. When we feel scared, it is a signal of a real or possible danger, which helps us to keep ourselves safe. The difficult bit is that often the danger can reside not in the present, but in the past – in our memories, flashbacks, dreams of the traumatic or frightening things, maybe from a long time ago. And sometimes the fear can be in the future – in our worries and thoughts about the things that could go wrong. In both cases, our nervous system may respond with fear and anxiety, as if the danger is current and real – even if it is long gone, or is just an idea of something that could happen in the future.

Oil painting - Crying for Mother Earth

When we feel sad, it usually indicates a loss of some kind. If the loss is significant (for example, loss of a person close to you, your home, your liberty), the body will actually need to adjust its physiology to adapt to the new situation or environment without that person, or a job. This can result in slowing down, loss of appetite, apathy, disturbed sleep, and other symptoms that are associated with grief and depression.

Anger is one of the most misunderstood and maligned emotions. In itself, there is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It is a signal to let you know that someone or something has crossed an important boundary, or that a value you hold dear has been infringed upon. Sometimes feeling the anger may feel overwhelming and frightening. Sometimes the way we act upon our anger can cause terrible consequences, where we may harm others or ourselves. However, the response to the emotion is not the emotion itself, and we can learn to understand and manage our anger in a way that is healing, protective and creative. After all, many projects and charities that have been set up to fight injustice, discrimination, cruelty, indifference, are likely to have started off as someone’s anger, as rightful indignation about some wrong in the world.Oil Painting - Oya Goddess of the Storm

When we cannot fully feel, understand and accept our emotions, they tend to come out anyway, often in unexpected and damaging ways, no matter how much we learn to suppress them. These emotions may come out as explosive outbursts, or as panic attacks. They may show themselves as physical symptoms, or depressed mood. We may feel unbearable shame about having those “unacceptable” feelings, and shame itself acts as a “wet blanket” and stops us from feeling, connecting with people, and taking the right actions.

This short video explain how to notice and name the emotion you are experiencing, and how it may be helpful.

To conclude, here is a poem from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi, The Guest House.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Translated by Coleman Barks)

The two paintings are by Masha Bennett – Crying for Mother Earth, and Oya, Goddess of the Storm

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Your Mental Health in Prison

The Mental Health Foundation have published a helpful free guide to looking after your mental health in prison,

It offers some tips on self-care and basic information on how you can improve your wellbeing even in the difficult circumstances of being in jail.

The guide can be downloaded from the following page on the MHF website: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-look-after-your-mental-health-prison

 

Self Holding Exercises

By Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk 

These simple techniques can help with calming, relaxation, managing anxiety, and reducing overwhelm, interrupting the Fight-Flight-Freeze response. Most of these exercises have been developed by Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing, which is a type of body psychotherapy. These are usually done whilst sitting, but you can also try them lying down or even standing up.

Version 1.

Put your right hand under the armpit of your left arm, and the left hand over the right upper arm. Hold your hands there gently, for a couple of minutes. Be aware of the sense of touch, the warmth (or coolness) and the weight of your hands. You may notice some relaxation and calming, or sometimes you might not – both are ok.

Version 2.

Put one hand on your chest/heart area, and one hand on your forehead. Hold your hands there gently, without putting pressure on, for a couple of minutes. Then, move the hand that is on your forehead to your stomach, with the other hand remaining on your heart area. Hold your hands there gently, without putting pressure on, for a couple of minutes. Just be aware of the warmth (or coolness) and the weight of your hands.

Version 3.

Put both of your hands over the centre of your chest. Hold your hands there gently for a couple of minutes. Just be aware of the warmth (or coolness) and the weight of your hands.

Version 4.

Put one hand on your forehead, and one on the back of your head, with your thumb resting at the base of your skull. Hold your hands there gently, without putting pressure on, for a couple of minutes. Just be aware of the sensation of your hands, the temperature and the weight of them. It can be a bit tiring to hold your arms up to do this exercise for more than a minute or so, and some people prefer to do this whilst lying down. If you have a friend whom you trust, you can ask them to hold your forehead and back of your head like this for a couple of minutes, which can be very relaxing.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

The Butterfly Hug

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) is a complex and powerful therapy that is used to treat Post Traumatic Stress, anxiety and some other mental health issues. Unfortunately it can only be safely used by specially trained mental health professionals and at the moment is rarely available in prisons. However, the so-called Butterfly Hug is one small tool in EMDR toolbox that can safely be used by anyone (even children) for self-help. You can try the Butterfly Hug to soothe yourself when you feel anxious, uncertain or fearful. Similarly to the full EMDR procedure, this tool employs bi-lateral stimulation, i.e. stimulation of the two sides of our brain, which is thought to help process trauma and calm anxious feelings.

This is how to do the Butterfly Hug. Whilst sitting up with your back straight, cross your arms across your chest, as if you are giving yourself a hug, with your right hand resting on your left upper arm, and your left hand on your right upper arm. (It doesn’t matter which arm is on top.) Observe any feelings of anxiety, fear or upset in yourself, and tap your hands on your arms alternately – left, right, left, right – at whatever speed is comfortable for you.

After tapping for a minute or two, stop and take a deep breath. Notice how you are feeling – are you a little calmer, somewhat relaxed, a bit more comfortable? Just notice whatever feelings or sensations you are experiencing, and continue tapping until you feel as calm as you would like to be.

Picture for Facebook Blue Butterfly

Butterfly is an ancient symbol of transformation

If you don’t notice any change, try tapping for a little bit longer and you may feel it then. You can do the Butterfly Hug for as long as you like, and as many times a day as you like. You can do it on your own, together with a friend or with a group of people.

This method was created by EMDR therapists who worked with children in the aftermath a natural disaster in Mexico City in 1998.

The Butterfly Hug is a useful tool but it will not work for everyone every time. If for any reason you begin to feel worse, please stop tapping and try calming yourself down by using any other methods that are available to you.

Another simple way to do bi-lateral stimulation (which should have a similar effect to the Butterfly Hug) is to pass a small ball or even a pebble from one hand to another repeatedly – it appears that almost any type of repeated left-right stimulation of our body is likely to have a balancing and soothing effect.

Here is a short video demonstrating the Butterfly Hug.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Useful links and references

EMDR Association UK & Ireland

EMDR Europe

EMDR International Association

Nancy Napier’s website

Stepping Back from Negative Thoughts

by Andy Hunt www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

We do lots of thinking every day. Our thoughts come and go constantly from the moment we awake until the moment we fall asleep.

Depressed

Each of these thoughts has an effect on us. Many thoughts trigger emotional states in us for good or ill

Thoughts like this probably make us feel good:

  • “I think this is a great song”
  • “That chocolate cake looks good”
  • “I love you too sweetie”
  • “I’ve done well at…”

Thoughts like these probably make us feel bad:

  • “She makes me so angry”
  • “How could I be so stupid”
  • “I am so fat!”
  • “I am a failure”

Sometimes we are stuck to our ideas of ourselves and what is going on. If these ideas or thoughts are unhelpful this identification with them can be very stressful because we believe that what we are thinking is true. The thought triggers an emotional response whether it is appropriate or not. Our mistake is that we forget that the thought is just a thought about something, not the something itself. It’s as if we see a sign saying “Beware of the bull” and become afraid even though the field is quite empty.

A common response to having negative thoughts can be to try to add positive thoughts to the mix as an attempt to counteract or attack those negative thoughts.

This is like putting another gladiator in the ring and expecting the fighting to stop.

What we don’t do, or can’t do, is step out of the mental arena and let the thoughts go.

Fortunately, there are ways to ease the power of these thoughts by stepping away from them. One way of doing just that can be found in the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It is one of several, simple techniques that you can use to step out of unhelpful thinking patterns.

The process is simplicity itself. Let’s imagine that you have the thought “I’m no good” going around in your head. When you have this thought it provokes a very stressful and debilitating reaction.

First I would ask you to think the thought: “I am no good” then notice what effect that has on you.

Second I would ask you to think the thought: “I am having the thought that I am no good” then notice what happens when you do that.

Third I would ask you to think the thought: “I am noticing that I am having the thought that I am no good”, then notice what happens when you do that.

When they do this, people usually report that this technique puts the original thought “at a distance” to them, and that they are less troubled by it.

Instructions

1. Choose a thought that stresses you.

2. Think that thought and notice what it does to you

3. Then think “I am having the thought [insert the thought here]

4. Then think “I am noticing that I am having the thought [insert the thought here]”

This is a really simple process for taking the charge out of negative thinking.

The only challenge is remembering to use it. Here are two approaches that might help:

1. When ever you have an unhelpful thought make a note of it in a journal or piece of paper. At some convenient time of the day, review your notes using the technique for each thought that causes you trouble.

2. When ever you are in difficult or stressful situations ask yourself the question “What am I thinking now?” and make a note of your answers, treating each one with the process.

Image courtesy of Sander van der Wel

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

How to Hug a Tree

by Masha Bennett http://www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When I include this exercise in my courses and personal development sessions, many people are reluctant to try it. But virtually everyone later reports that that it was a profound and healing experience..

If you have access to a real tree, that’s great. If you don’t, you can still do the exercise in your imagination. Think of a tree that you know – or you can make one up in your mind. Then go through the following steps, slowly, with no hurry, trying to maintain an attitude of curious openness…

1. Approach the tree slowly.

2. From some distance, notice the shape of the crown, the way the branches reach out to the sky.

3. Take in the colours, different shades of green, the texture of the foliage, how the leaves are intricately positioned, to allow in as much sunlight as possible.

4. Notice – what do you like most about the tree? And is there anything you don’t like – are there any flaws, perhaps some damage to the branches, gaps in foliage, anything that is not pleasing to your eye?

5. Come closer, touch the tree trunk, feel the bark gently underneath your palm, your fingers. Is it rough, or smooth? Warm, cool?

6. Lean on the tree trunk, allow it to support your body.

7. Optional (I really like this bit):  put your cheek on the bark, really allow that sensitive part of your to feel the tree’s outer skin.

ash_tree

8. Put your arms around the tree – depending on the size of the tree, your hands may or may not meet on the other side of the trunk.

9. Close your eyes and focus on your physical sensations and your emotions. Feel the energy of the tree (it is a very large energy field of a very large organism!)

10. Spend a few minutes just quietly noticing whatever you are experiencing, without trying to analyse or judge it

11. You may like to ask the tree a question – out loud, or in your mind perhaps. Wait for the answer. This may come as thoughts, images, physical sensations, an awareness, insight.

12. Let go of the tree trunk slowly. Thank the tree.

You may now feel energized, or perhaps a little emotional, or possibly calm and peaceful. Whatever it is, it’s the right thing for now. You can now take your new insights, the new energy, the new connections with you.

Try this with different trees – and if you can, try it both with a real tree and a tree in your imagination – the experience will vary but will always be healing and enlightening.

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist in private practice, specialising in psychological trauma and addictions. She has worked for a number of years within the UK criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and offered psychotherapy to staff and patients in the National Health Service. Masha teaches trauma awareness, therapeutic and self-help tools to professionals and general public and has delivered training across Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

Are You Hanging Onto Old Wounds?

by Andy Hunt www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

A man walks into a bar with an arrow sticking out of his chest.

He walks up to the astonished barman and asks for a beer.

The barman stares in disbelief at the arrow poking out through an old check shirt encrusted with dried blood.

He asks: “What the hell happened to you?!”

The man, rolling his eyes, says ” What does it look like? I was shot in the chest with an arrow!”

“Does it hurt?”, says the barman, staring at the arrow while pouring the beer.

“What do you think?”

“Why don’t you go to hospital and have it taken out and get yourself patched up?”

“No! I’m not letting any doctor take this arrow out! That the job of the evil S.O.B who shot me. He’s the only one who can take the arrow and the pain away!”

“That’s stupid!”, says the barman, “You should have someone remove that arrow and patch you up. I’ll phone a paramedic, you could be free of that problem in half an hour”.

“No! You don’t get it! Only the man who shot me can make this right, I’m waiting for him to come to me on bended knee and apologise for what he’s done, he can take out the arrow and then we’re done. He did the damage, he can make it better”

The barman studies the arrow noticing how old and tattered it looks, some of the feathers are missing, the wood is stained and splintered. He also notices that the mans shirt is old, ragged and dirty.

“When did you get shot?”

“20 years ago! … one of the worst days of my life!”

“What!!! You’ve been walking around with an arrow in your chest for 20 years! Are you nuts!”

Indignant the man says: “No, I’m in pain, can’t you respect my suffering?”

“Yeah, but 20 years!”, pointing at the arrow, “Doesn’t that cause you problems?”

“You bet. It hurts like hell, I have to avoid revolving doors, and can’t do press-ups, it’s a real nuisance”

“And you’re waiting for this guy to come and take the arrow out?”

“Yeah”

“Isn’t that unlikely, I mean he did shoot you in the first place. Why would he want to help you?”

“He should do it! It’s only right that he should make amends for what he did”

“Do you know where is he?”

“Yeah. In the cemetery. He’s been dead for seven years”

“What! How can he take the arrow out if he’s dead? You need to get someone else to take out the arrow”

“No way, that’s his job! I’d rather go to my grave suffering than let him get away with what he did by having someone else take this arrow!”

“You’re crazy! You’re holding onto this pain waiting for someone who will never come to make it all better”

“You don’t understand”, says the man finishing his beer, “Nobody ever does … “, putting down his empty glass he leaves the bar (being very careful of the swing doors).

Andy Hunt is a therapist, advanced practitioner and trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and master practitioner and trainer of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). His website is www.practicalwellbeing.co.uk

Grounding Techniques

by Masha Bennett www.practicalhappiness.co.uk

When we suffer with anxiety, have been shocked or traumatised, it is not uncommon for us to feel disconnected from our body or from reality (psychiatrists may call these states “depersonalisation” and “derealisation”).  We may feel numb, spaced out, distracted and generally “not with it”. It is a way our mind protects us from difficult feelings. However this disconnection or dissociation from our bodies can cause problems, as it numbs positive emotions as well as negative ones, and can also prevent any healing or therapy you undertake from working effectively. When we are ungrounded we are also more likely to suffer flashbacks to traumatic experiences.

The so-called grounding can be very important especially during stressful times, and helps us to reconnect our body and mind. It involves some very simple techniques that can help us feel calmer and safer. Grounding is also very useful to do in preparation for learning and practice of any form of relaxation, meditation or self-hypnosis. (If we are ungrounded when we attempt to relax, it is possible that the relaxation process itself may, paradoxically, provoke anxiety.)

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by gubgib atwww.freedigitalphotos.net

To put it simply, grounding refers to our sense of connection with the ground (the earth or the floor) – with our physical environment.

The basic principles of grounding are straightforward – it is about paying attention to the sensations of your body being physically connected to the ground, floor, chair or any other surface you are in contact with. For example:

  • Feeling your feet standing firmly on the floor
  • Feeling the weight of your body in the seat
  • Feeling your back against the chair
  • Feeling your elbows on the armrest.

That’s it! When practising grounding, you will probably notice that your attention drifts from the physical sensations of your feet on the floor and your body in the chair to something else – e.g. everyday thoughts or worries, and that’s completely normal. When you notice that just gently bring your attention to the physical sensations of connecting with your environment again.

Touching and holding objects with your hands also has a gentle grounding effect – hugging a pillow or a soft toy, touching wood or metal and noticing their temperature and texture, focusing on the feel of fabric of your clothes or bedding – all can help to practise being in the “here and now”.

If you get a chance to try grounding outdoors, that is even better – when we can feel the ground or the grass with our bare feet, we re-connect with the Earth naturally. Hold a handful of soil, touch (or even hug) a tree, feel a leaf or a twig with your fingers.

Some people like to enhance the pleasant feeling of relaxation that is often associated with grounding through visualisation techniques (making pictures in your mind)– for example, imagining that there are “roots” growing from the soles of their feet, reaching deep into the ground, anchoring them firmly to the Earth, supporting them and holding them. The well-known holistic teacher and author Dr William Bloom suggests a range of grounding visualisation techniques in his book The Endorphin Effect, including imagining and sensing  that you are:

  • a tree with a strong trunk and deep roots
  • a mountain rising out of the earth
  • the big fat smiling Buddha sitting firmly on the ground
  • the wide-hipped “Earth Goddess”

tree

You can also ground yourself whilst walking – just pay attention to the sensations in your legs when you move them and the feeling in your feet as they connect with the floor.

If you are beginning to feel anxious and it seems like a part of you is disconnecting from your body, or when you are getting a flashback to a traumatic experience, you can bring yourself back to “hear and now” by stamping your feet hard on the ground or floor a few times (if there are people around you, it may be helpful to explain what you are doing, so that they don’t think you are having a tantrum!) Any other strong sensory input can be helpful – for example, holding an ice cube or putting your hands in cold water (or splashing it into your face. Strong smells can also be useful for grounding too – if you can get hold of spices or herbal teabags, you can use them to help yourself ground.

Eating food also has a grounding effect (meat, root vegetables and starchy foods especially so) so try to make sure that you don’t miss your meals, and pay conscious attention to the food whilst eating it. This may be one of the reasons that some people who have experienced trauma develop eating disorders – with the numbness and painful emptiness inside being temporarily soothed with food.

If you enjoy listening to or making music, deep low notes also tend to have a grounding effect – if you have enough privacy to do this comfortably you could hum or sing to yourself at the lower range of your voice and notice the effect it has on your mind and body.

Regular grounding practice is especially important for people who experienced trauma, suffer with anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm and addictions, and should become an integral part of your healing process.

References and further information

Bloom, William (2011) The Endorphin Effect. Piatkus.

Behaviour Health Resources www.bcbhr.org/Articles.aspx?7

Mosaic Minds www.mosaicminds.org

Masha Bennett is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and a trainer of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). She has worked for a number of years within the criminal justice system, including running a drug rehabilitation programme in a women’s prison, and currently combines work in the UK National Health Service with her private therapy and training practice. Masha teaches EFT, trauma awareness and self-help tools to professionals and general public across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Middle East. Her website is  www.practicalhappiness.co.uk.

How to Get Over Grief

by Pete Michaud www.petermichaud.com

I was 21 years old when my dad killed himself.

Dad had left after a big fight with my mom. I had been talking to my mom for the whole week he’d been missing, and that morning was no different. I had to hang up with her to go to class, and I called her back afterward to keep her mind busy while we figured out where dad was driving to.

A man picked up the phone and asked who I was. The detective passed the phone to Mom when I told him I was her son, and that’s when she told me they’d found Dad at a reststop a few miles outside of town. His body baked for 2 or 3 days in the back of his Denali before someone found him. His toxicology report told me what I already could’ve guessed: cocaine, narcotic pain medication, and a bottle of red wine.

My family had been normal. In his youth my dad had been wild, but he was sober since before I was born, he was a middle manager at a major corporation. He was a good dad, always joking, everyone liked him.

Pete MichaudWhen we lived in Mexico, he decided to have a taste of the old times while he could, and he got just a little coke. Five years later, his body rotted in the back of an SUV at a rural Ohio reststop.

The news literally knocked the wind out of me and knocked me off balance for a moment. That’s why people need to sit after news like this. I remember the exact view I had when I fell into my office chair, looking at my wife at the time, who immediately understood what I’d heard on the phone. Grief instantly struck her face as she fell back onto the couch. She, like everyone else, loved my dad.

A couple of numb hours later, I picked up a video game controller and pretty much didn’t put it down for the next three days. When I stopped playing, I’d start crying.

Reimagine

Grief is the process of reimagining what your life will be like now that something or someone you expected to be part of it, no longer will be.

You had one idea before your dad died, or before your husband left you, and now that idea doesn’t make sense anymore because those people aren’t in the picture anymore. They aren’t there, and the needs that were being met by their presence will no longer be met by them. Your subconscious goes into overdrive, deep down into the recesses of your brain, and has to tear that whole future narrative out from the root.

That whole process hurts like hell, and we call it grief.

I flew to my parents’ house to help with the funeral, and I was busy for about a week. I felt nothing really, I was just doing things like writing the eulogy, and arranging flowers and that sort of thing.

Someone had picked up a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD to play at the funeral, as that was some of my dad’s favorite music. I popped it in to figure out what song to play. I was sitting on my mom’s couch when “Life Without You” came on, and I lost my shit. I bawled like a heart broken toddler.

Distracting myself felt better than sitting and dwelling on my dad, that’s for sure. But remember what all that pain is for: it’s rebuilding the mental image of your life.

It’s identifying needs that used to be filled by someone, going through the pain and fear of feeling that those needs will no longer be met, then connecting with new resources to get those needs met in lieu of the departed.

So all those video games, busy work, alcohol, long work hours, only serve to slow down and stop the process of grief. You’re trying to make it go away, but the way you’re doing it is just making it stay longer.

Take breaks from the pain if you must, but let the tears, rage, and desperation flow through you until it’s said its piece. Then you’ll be free.

Pete Michaud is a catalyst. He accelerates change by pulling you toward the ingredients necessary to transform, and pushing you away from anything that keeps you static. Pete’s website is www.petermichaud.com

Sources of information and support

Cruse Bereavement Care is a UK charity offering information, counselling, practical advice and support with bereavement and grief. In Northern Ireland Cruse provides specialist Prison Support Services as well as services in the community.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide provides emotional and practical support to those bereaved by suicide of a close relative or friend.

The Compassionate Friends offers support for parents, grandparents and siblings after death of a child or children.

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