9. Grief and releasing the ties on and two
RELEASING THE TIES THAT BIND
My brother succumbed to Parkinson’s disease three days ago. Living across the world from him renders me unable to attend his funeral. Albeit intellectually anticipated his death leaves me emotionally unable to even respond to any acts of support around my grief. I have repeated of being unwilling to talk about it as “that drawer is closed.” “That drawer” personally means the grief certainly exists and is closed for now due to my personal inability to express its magnitude for now. It plain hurts. Hurts to the deep core of my being. God has endless compassion for the hurt! I felt deeply in gratitude to the one Pastor who simply remained with me and listened.
Yesterday, a week after the loss of my brother I sat with a single mother who lost her son to a drug overdose (incidentally the same day when my brother died). Her open grief as the gasket was wheeled away was heart-wrenching to observe and experience. My grief over my brother was lost in her overwhelm and reflected in my emotional response later in the privacy of my home. She needed support. In stunned silence I further realized how easily and unexpectedly life-altering events transpire.
If you are the observer of grief, please simply listen and hear the perspective of the person in pain! “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Have you ever been to the place of hurt I wrote? “Denial” of the hurt I felt is simply delaying the inevitable. Denying the reality may be waiting until the right person, situation and frame of mind exists to grieve. My own words regarding the passing of my brother attempted to push others away. Yet there was a part that of me that needed to be listened to; carefully and with much patience. “Anger” of the deaths’ inevitable pain and loss is an inevitable reality for us all. Initially I was upset my brother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I felt upset for not being let know sooner. There was the utter feeling of helplessness, for there truly was nothing I could do to stop the process. Due to his combination and complex diagnosis, the speed in which he deteriorated forced us all to realize the inevitability of death. I tried to “bargain” with his wife about his treatment; whether there was anything anyone could do to no avail. The time to replay events had passed without any personal say so. Replaying is crucial and is a stage of grief which needs to be lived through and processed to allow healing to occur.
Perhaps you are or have been there. It plain hurts. The Lord is indeed the Lord of the storms you face. Perhaps you keep trying to find better ways, avenues, medication or money. Maybe it isn’t about death for you, perhaps it is about ending something crucially important for you. Was it a relationship, a marriage, engagement, separation/divorce or perhaps a loss of a job, a career or a dream? A loss of a pet can push you in a place of grief. Most importantly and crucially: Grief can last a life-time when there is no resolution. It’s a circular road without an exit.
A stage of “depression” is the next stage. You can surpass a stage, go backward, forward or sideways -any which way you want as there is no linear path to follow in grief. Depression is the stage of being ready to grieve for the loss. Depression is akin to going to a deep, dark tunnel of emptiness and nothingness (as my clients have described it). Validating the experience is crucial for the person in pain.
The last stage is that of “acceptance.” I just looked at the last photos I took of him (my brother) last year and burst out in tears. As I stared at his obviously pain-riddled existence I can now see the path we followed much more clearly. You see, the path we followed was the one we all had to choose. Death or an ending hurts. Joshua 1:9 states “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged for the Lord will be with you wherever you go.” It is difficult.
It is difficult to accept the inevitability of a loss. Letting the grieving person take the lead or allowing yourself to remember, talk about and memorize past rituals allows to commemorate the past in an honorable fashion. Grief itself can allow growth in you. What this means in this stage was that it was the hardest issue you have faced. You somehow survived, continue to hold onto life and have become a stronger person in the process. Bless your perseverance! God remains the Lord of the storm. Lean on Him with all your might and you will survive and conquer it!
RELEASING THE TIES THAT BIND
WHAT ABOUT YOUR PAST?
Are you one of the people who do not like to talk about your past? It’s over with (!) you exclaim when someone brings theirs up. Yet there are parts deep inside of you that are surprising to you; points of your reactive anger and rudeness stem up too easily when someone acts or looks like something that happened to you personally long time ago. Familiar? Do you react with anger and rudeness, get surprised by your own reaction and make excuses for it? Or cover it up, pretending your rude actions didn’t manifest? Is there fear or uncertainty? Do you feel you don’t understand or are you unwilling to discover it? What about nightmares, are they occasionally present, frightening and bothersome? Is it time to discover the reason you react the way you do? Do you feel resentment for even reading this?
Think about it this way; imagine staring at a majestic and wonderful tree. It is tall, very present and its branches provide shelter for birds and other creatures. It is strong and can handle the wind and the rough seasons presented. Or it may be weak in some aspects when the roots were damaged. Often it’s invisible to the eye. Have you thought of the reason why? What is not present before you are the deep roots underground that provide the strength and the resilience of the tree. The years the tree grew and the roots deepened. Roots deepened when there were no obstructions presented. Obstructions occur so often without our understanding or foreknowledge. It could been something insignificant to us and yet deadly to the trees growth. Let’s look at it in a different way.
The tall tree is a description of you. Your childhood provided the roots which allowed you to handle the challenges presented today. What if obstructions were in the way?
What if neglect, abuse or alcoholism through parents or caregivers occurred in your past? Were you exposed to alcoholism or drug abuse as a child? What about (1) Childhood abuse; anger, aggression, (2) physical abuse, (3) emotional abuse, (4) sexual abuse or incest, (5) neglect, (6) physical or emotional neglect, (7) dysfunctional home (8) domestic violence and, (9) discord, separation or a divorce? Perhaps they were part of your history. That kind of abuse will profoundly affect your brain’s development. If there was (10) criminal behavior in your home and you were exposed to it at a young age, your brain’s growth would be affected. These are all signs that influence child’s neuro-development.
Those early childhood experiences can change how you grow up to become an adult. Influences from early hurts can shape how your brain grows and matures. It’s those early memories for many of us that profoundly affect us. It shapes us to make certain choices or react in a certain way to our environment.
Please re-read the list and find out how many examples affected you. If you had four or more of these markers of childhood experiences your risk of developing social, cognitive or emotional impairments, adopting health-risk behaviors, developing diseases, disabilities or having social problems becomes multi-fold. Their risk of mortality; early death by 20 years is present.
Now I have your attention. You can go onward to the second part of talking about your past and how it affects your life today. Furthermore, awareness and willingness brings forth healing. It also bring forth recovery as you willingly take steps forward to heal your past.
RELEASING THE TIES THAT BIND, 2
Now, as we have established how much your early adversity affected your health, you have a choice to make. The choice to make is how you would like to deal with your past in order to have a healthy future. It may not look like much, yet it can and will affect the rest of your life. If you have markers just like presented in the section 1, and want to live a long and healthy life, please read on.
In the section 1 you learned about Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACEs. They most certainly are real and will affect you. Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris provided a lecture of ACEs. These are some of her comments in one of her lectures. Please listen or read carefully as these are only a few of them described - with life-lasting implications.
Early adversity affects the developing mind of children. It affects the pleasure center of the brain; implicated in substance dependence, it inhibits the pre-frontal cortex which is necessary for impulse-control and executive functioning; a critical area of learning. The fear-response in amygdala (seen through an MRI scan) is altered. There are neurological reasons why folks who are exposed to high doses of adversity are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior.
What this means for you is awareness of the reasons you may be more inclined to drink, become addicted and attempt high-risk behaviors. It may also be harder for you to control your impulses. Sadly, it also may give you challenges to learn and continue studying at school. You also may be more attracted to try high-risk behavior. With awareness of it, you have a choice to make.
Further words of wisdom from Dr. Nadine from her lecture: Children are especially sensitive to aggressive behavior; whether in words of actions because their brain and bodies are just developing. Implications of these words for you can be life-altering. Yet you have choices to make for your future.
High doses of adversity affect the developing immune system and hormonal system.
What this means is that your immune system and hormonal system are affected by the adverse situations in your personal life; past or present.
EARLY ADVERSITY DRAMATICALLY AFFECTS HEALTH ACROSS A LIFE-TIME. Once again, these words from Dr. Nadine give a choice to make towards your future health, studies and well-being.
There is yet another concern; when you are continually stressed out at home and are growing up in that stressful environment, your response system leads to a very high abnormal cortisol levels in your brain. High cortisol levels mean 1. Low immune response – you can get sick easier 2. You can have a higher blood sugar – can have tremendous long-term implications. 3. Cortisol inhibits growth of bones which can lead to osteoporosis 4. Belly fat grows as your body is in constant fight or flight mode.
Cortisol also plays a role in “stress responses, immune system, nervous system, skeletal system, the breakdown of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.” When things are out of balance, brain simply cannot grow the same way. How can you stop this cycle from happening? More on this on the third part.
HOW CAN YOU STOP THIS PROCESS? YOU HAVE CHOICES TO MAKE!
The reality of ACEs is that they have a profound affect you for life. You just learned that. To simplify, the adverse issues in your life affect the pleasure center of your brain. That’s the reason many grave for any dependence-causing substance. You might grave for alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sex. There are, in fact, neurological reasons why youth who are exposed to high doses of adversity engage in high-risk behavior. It’s cause-effect.
Children (that includes you in the past, way past, or at present) are especially sensitive to aggressive behavior; whether in words or actions because their brain and bodies are just developing.
High doses of adversity affect the developing immune system, hormonal system. You can get colds easier and get sick easier when your immune system is low.
Kids who have experienced high doses of adversity react with behavior and their learning is inhibited. Are you part of this equation? What about the bully in your life?
It’s time to understand the huge cause-effect in your life. Now you can make the choice to deal with it if you are willing to alter your own future by dealing with your past. It’s the choice you need to make in order to heal. “Psychological approaches are more effective than medication for psychotic people who suffered childhood trauma. …Simply making a connection between their life history and their previously incomprehensible symptoms may have a significant therapeutic effect.” What this then means for you is further encouragement to speak out, find support and heal. It will have life-long affects for you
To clarify; what is needed to reduce the risk of adversity?
You and I need to treat what’s going on in our lives, understand the reason ACEs occurred and stop the occurrence of abuse. Easier said than done. The word abuse can mean emotional, physical or mental abuse. Effective intervention is to immediately create boundaries. What are boundaries? The word “boundaries” means “limits, borders, restrictions, confines” (computer Thesaurus). What this means is establishing defining lines or limits. Simply when to say yes and when to say no defines it.
Physical boundaries are the first ones to tackle in terms of what is appropriate and what is not. Learning to define limits for these boundaries occurs when you set, decide, speak out and follow your own choices. Self-confidence will increase as a result. For example, being able to define what is inappropriate during encounters with the opposite sex and what is not enables you to define limits in a healthy way.
Mental boundaries are about setting limits as to what is recognized, regarded and tolerated as abusive words, tone, behavior or actions. Emotional boundaries are about acceptance of yourself; recognizing and honoring your own feelings instead of disregarding them.
When you have created boundaries or limits to your own comfort they allow you to increase your confidence and move forward in your daily life. More on the section on boundaries on the next page.
 Psalm 34:18, NKJV
 Humphrey Geraldine M., Zimpfer, David G., Counselling for Grief and Bereavement, SAGE Publications Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, 2008, p.5
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 YouTube, Vince Felitti, Academy of Violence and Abuse
 Burke-Harris Dr. Nadine, How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime, The Struggle of mental health: TED MED, YouTube
 McCollum Dr. Davie, Lecture on Child Maltreatment and Brain Consequences, Child Maltreatment and Brain Consequences, Academy of Violence and Abuse, April 6, 2007, YouTube