Yesterday morning I woke up in a panic.
This is not unusual. Most days of my life my panic attacks wake me up. This has nothing to do with my brothers death, however it has gotten worse in the last 372 days.
This felt different though.
I fell apart a week ago today. Maybe I needed to fall apart. Maybe I've been forcing myself to hold it together for way too long. I have not stopped doing all.the.things. and in fact? I keep adding new things. Anything to avoid feeling my feelings.
HUGE SPOILER AHEAD:
This doesn't work.
It...just doesn't work.
What happens instead is I spend all week doing all.the.things and by Sunday I am basically comatose. Saturday night to Sunday morning is typically the only time I get uninterrupted sleep. Monday thru Saturday I am up with the sun and doing all the things. I often teach two fitness classes (and twice a week ALSO weight train) before sitting down at my desk to start my workday. I smile and laugh my way through. All my work is "social". Peopley. I am friendly and fun and I smile and then at the end of the workday (which is sometimes really late depending on my workload for my full-time job and if I'm teaching an evening class) I lay down in my bed, turn on YouTube, and stop thinking. Stare at the wall. Get up and take the dog out. Lay back down and stop thinking again.
There is no joy in anything. I am doing the things. I smile and laugh and go through every motion of everything I need to do, but there is no joy.
I am familiar with this. I lost 200 pounds and maintenance is a slog. An absolute SLOG. I have been working really hard for over a year to build muscle and it's just...hard. I pick up the heavy weights and put them back down. Over and over. Week after week. Does my body significantly change each week? Absolutely not. In fact, I struggle sometimes to see the changes even after over a year of doing this again and again. Every workout is not Instagram worthy. MOST workouts are not Instagram worthy.
How do you stay motivated? People ask me this all the time and the answer is, honestly, I don't. I am not motivated every day to do this. I want to lay in my bed sometimes. I want to cry sometimes. I want to just sleep sometimes.
I am not always motivated.
I am dedicated.
That's why I keep doing it.
I know I need to do these things. All.the.things. The work, the workouts, the teaching. I slap a smile on my face and have conversations with people who genuinely love and care about me, even though I feel entirely unlovable and awful most of the time. I am cultivating what comes next. I am making connections for the future, some distant time when this isn't all so horrible and awful. I can't push everyone away, even though that is always my first instinct. Everyone I meet is for a reason and I genuinely, 100% believe this.
I keep believing. It's all so hard, but I keep believing.
I woke up different yesterday morning. My heart was racing, as always, but yesterday? The voice in my heart and my head was booming.
Your grief is a gift.
Which is ridiculous, right? Because of course it's ridiculous. This grief has weighed me down heavier than a million pounds of stones on my back. I have cried oceans of tears. The enormity of this loss is breathtaking. This grief, this traumatic grief, is the absolute worst thing I have ever experienced.
Still. The pounding. The booming of this statement in my brain.
THIS GRIEF IS A GIFT.
On the day my brother died my manager called me and I started talking. I still have no idea what I said. I wept. I spewed. All the pain and agony just came out. All the effort and energy I exerted for years, trying to deal quietly with what had clearly become an a huge issue, pushed through the floodgates. It was coming out. For so long I tried to hide the awful reality of what was happening with him and suddenly, violently, and tragically every bit of this pain was laid bare for the world to see.
I wasn't ready.You can never be ready.
This unburdening continued for weeks. I said everything. I cried. I was honest. I fell apart.
When I came up for air? I was horrified.
What had I done? This was my boss. This was someone who seemed to like me, but he didn't need to know me in this painfully intimate way. I was so ashamed of myself for being so open. I was so humiliated that I was so...human.
You know what happened?
He has become a close friend. I have been able to support him through tough things. We have continued to have a fantastic working relationship. He's been extremely encouraging and supportive of me in my career goals and is helping me make them happen. He's looked out for me in ways that a brother would, and it's lovely. It's really, really lovely.
Your grief is a gift. Your vulnerability is a GIFT.
I decided to be myself with another co-worker. One who I have known for a while but haven't felt fully comfortable being myself around. One day I decided I was going for it. He would either love me or be completely horrified at my behavior, but either way I would know. We immediately clicked. We rapid-fire memes back and forth all day long. We text all weekend. I feel comfortable with him. He makes me laugh.
My brother used to rapid-fire memes back and forth with me all day. My friend is funny like Chris was and he makes me laugh like Chris did. Another person stepping in to fill that role. A blessing.
Neither of these men are my brother. There is no replacement for him. Both stand in the gap in ways that are beautiful. Completely different, but beautiful.
This is a gift.
I have met so many people, by chance and by introduction, who have losses as great as mine. I have held hands, hugged, and offered tissues to dry tears. I have shared my experience and listened as they shared theirs. I have felt their pain and they have felt mine.
It's hard. It's so, so hard to be so vulnerable with people.
It's a gift. Our stories are a gift. Our shared experiences are our connection. It's beautiful. Horrible, painful and completely beautiful.
I don't love many people. Loving is a risk that I am not always willing to take. Too many times I've loved and given my heart so freely, only to have it absolutely stomped upon by the people who are supposed to love me. I'm cautious and I probably always will be. I think that's fair. I think that's actually smart. I don't trust and even though I'm pretty quick to forgive, I honestly struggle to move past. Fool me once and all that.
My brother was an addict and a lot of people think he was a piece of shit because of that and that makes me alternately really sad and really angry.
He was so much more than his addiction. Addiction is horrible. It's a beast. He was not a perfect person. He hurt many people, including me. I'm never, ever going to say anything otherwise. I loved him, and part of that love was an acceptance of sorts. This was the brother I had, good and bad.
He deserved dignity and respect. He deserved love and kindness. He was not just an addict. He was not JUST an anything.
No one else is either.
The last few years, people have been increasingly difficult. Lots of hatefulness, lots of rhetoric that is unhelpful and (mostly) untrue. This loss, this grief, has taught me that people are more than their worst moments. They are more than the hateful things they say. People are scared and vulnerable. Everyone is doing what they think is best. I believe this. I don't always understand it, and Lord knows people probably don't understand what I think is best sometimes either, but in my soul I believe that people really think they are doing the right thing.
If I judged anyone I am no better than the people who think my brother didn't deserve to live because he was an addict.
I am no better than the people who couldn't see, or didn't want to see, all the really beautiful things about Chris, because all they saw was his addiction.
If I only look at these tiny pieces of people, I am not seeing the wholeness of who they are as human beings. No one is JUST an anything. Chris wasn't. I'm not. No one is.
Recognizing this is a gift.
The process is not easy.
This will never be easy.
I would always and forever rather have my brother here with me. I can't. He's gone to me as long as I walk this Earth. I am accepting this. I hate it, but I'm accepting it.
I want to have joy in my life. I want to honor my brother and his memory. I want to be the Aunt that all the kids love. I want to be a bright light for others. I want to recognize and hold this grief, not because it's fun or easy, but because all of this is a gift to me to force me out of where I was.
There is nothing beautiful about suicide. There is nothing beautiful about the fact that a beautiful human had a blindingly short life. There is nothing beautiful about the pain I feel, and will continue to feel, in losing this person that meant so much to me.
What is beautiful is turning these wounds into wisdom. Asking for the support you need. Being unafraid in the face of the demons that haunt you.
Finding joy again.
Not today, but someday.
Today I'll recognize the gift.
I'll appreciate the gift.
I'll accept the gift.
When I'm ready, the joy will come back.
I will let it come with a grateful heart.
I am thankful for these gifts. This pain. These lessons.