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Releasing chains of grief & survivor's guilt

Do the words "grief" or "guilt" hit home for you? Triggering flashbacks of a major loss in your life? Me, too. If you carry these chains, this one's for you!

A few posts ago, I wrote about the unexpected death of my father. But by that point, I was already numb to the experience of loss and grief.

You might have noticed in the "My Story" section of my website that my daughter, Jaelyn, brought meaning to my life after experiencing a series of tragedies of a teen. Now, 13 years later, I'm ready to tell those stories.

Let's start with one at a time, shall we? The one that cuts the deepest. Not only did I lose someone I love, but nearly lost my own life, and the guilt of surviving has followed me like a dark shadow since.

In March 2007, I was two months away from graduating high school. Barely keeping it together after an earlier tragedy (I said one at a time, here!), I was scraping rock-bottom of the lowest point of my life. Ridden with extreme anxiety and depression, I had transformed from a successful and motivated high school student to a rebellious and carelessly lost teenager.

I'm not sure who I was at that time, but there was one person who always saw the light within me. His name was Cody.

Cody and I met in 2001, beginning an unusual history. Fast forward 6 years to our "forbidden" reunion (again, let's save the juicy details for later!). After hiding our relationship for months, we were finally "free" to be together.

Well, not for long. On March 22nd, we were in a single-vehicle car accident with two other friends. From the rear window, Cody and I were ejected in opposite directions.

We both were airlifted to the nearest hospital with severe injuries. While I had internal lacerations and micro spinal fractures, Cody suffered extreme brain trauma. He was pronounced dead shortly upon arrival.

Cody Southwell (12/30/1988 - 03/22/2007)

I'll never forget the moment I was delivered the news. My world stopped, frozen in time. It couldn't be real.

The earth-shattering shock that shoots you right out of your body, like an attempt to wake up from the nightmare of reality, was sickeningly familiar to me already. But this time, I think I heard my heart actually fall out and thump onto the cold, hard floor.

My spirit felt as numb as my heavily-medicated body when my hospital bed was wheeled in next to his to say good-bye. His peaceful face, still lukewarm hand, and my wish to see his piercing blue eyes one more time still haunt my memory like it were yesterday.

I've spent the majority of these years neglecting my pain and guilt. Stuff it down."Forget" about it. Just "get over it." Time heals all pain. Ignore it and it will go away. Right?

Well, getting pregnant a few months later certainly redirected my attention. Figuring out how to be a mom while attending college and working, I took on every challenge I could. I set on a mission to perfection, as if I used up all my available f***-ups in this lifetime in that one accident. As if I could redeem myself if I never made a mistake again.

Well, I may have miraculously survived that accident, but I am still a very average human. And this human still makes mistakes.

So how has that worked? Oh, it hasn't. I've lived a life of constant self-punishment and refusal to let the human in me face the pain that bound me.

I've seen many others go through their own tragedies, and I feel extreme empathy for them. My heart breaks for each one as I pray for their comfort and relief.

But as much compassion as I have for others, I continued to whip myself for my own experience, as if mine wasn't forgivable.

I recently realized I'm not the only one living like this. That many of those I've felt compassion for are also wearing the heavy chains of guilt. That also have thoughts full of "what if?" and "why didn't I do/say something?" or "why not me instead?"

I wonder how many others obsess over the potential scenarios that "could have" saved their loved one. Or experience spontaneous flashbacks, often in the least appropriate places. Who else wakes up in a sweat after dreaming about their past loved ones?

The chains of grief can often feel unbearably heavy. But would our loved ones want us to be miserable? Of course not!

Everything does happen for a reason. We survived for a reason. If it were meant to be us, it would have been us. We deserve to accept and trust our journey, and remember we still have our loved ones by our side to guide us along our path.

We may not be able to instantly set down our guilt and carry on our merry ways, but we can create more good days and less bad days.

And on the bad days, I rely on self-care.

Yoga and conscious breathing. Being in nature. Sense-stimulating aromatherapy, baths, and relaxing music. Speaking with a counselor or friend. Journaling. Healing acupuncture, massage, and Reiki. Mood supporting foods and supplements.

Original artwork by my daughter, JaeRae!

Though I've done many of these activities over my lifetime, I've never truly opened my heart to receive their healing until now. I didn't believe I deserved it. It took half my life to realize it, but there's no better time than now to begin loving, forgiving, and taking care of ourselves and heal the pain that binds us.

That's why I've dedicated 2020 to self-care. To exploring holistic healing methods and discovering what feels best for my body, mind, and spirit. To not only heal myself, but to help others heal themselves, too.

As I continue this journey, I'll share my experiences. The good, the bad, the weird, the surprisingly helpful. Because I know there are others out there in need of healing from their past, just like me.

Maybe you're one of them. Maybe you can benefit from reading my fails and successes. Maybe they'll help you shape your own self-care routine. Maybe they'll just reassure you that you're not alone.

If you're ready to break the chains of your past, I've got your back!

No matter what self-care looks like for you, I'm here to support and remind you that you ARE worthy of healing and feeling the best you possibly can.

Contact me anytime to connect.



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