Grief, Healing & Connection

fallapartSometimes we grip and cling and refuse to accept reality as it is. We reject the truth. The more we contract against our experience, the more we suffer. It’s just that sometimes, reality really hurts, and our mind isn’t ready to integrate and accept it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say our minds and our hearts aren’t ready.

We can do this in big ways and small. Maybe we’re dealing with the pain of rejection, and keep writing a script in our heads about what’s really happening, and how we’re going to get our happy ending down the line. Or maybe we’ve lost someone we don’t know how to live without, and it’s happened so suddenly, we’re in a state of shock. The limbs work, we can put one foot in front of the other, we seem okay to those around us, but inside we’re bargaining with the universe. We’re coming up with some way we might get back the person we’ve lost, as if that might be possible.

Some things are so painful, we look for another way, a different route, a formula that creates a livable outcome. We might do this by retracing our steps. If only we’d done or said “this”, maybe these other events wouldn’t have transpired, and life would still make sense. If only we could go back in time and redo one decision, perhaps that would have all kinds of implications that would save us from the current pain, and here’s the thing. When you’re dealing with those big losses, the loss of an entire person, for example, it’s a process, like anything else. It’s not something you can rush, and there isn’t any “how-to” book. You just have to move through your pain in whatever way you can, and hope that the people in your life show up for you, feed you, make sure you get a little sun on your face. Sometimes we go through experiences that make us feel we’re in a bubble, like there’s an impenetrable film between us, and everyone in the “living world”. Regina Brett has a quote, “You have to give time, time.” Time doesn’t heal every wound, but it helps lessen the crushing, incomprehensible nature of sudden grief. That waking up, and having to “re-remember” what’s happened goes away over time, because eventually you will integrate it, you will know it in your bones. You won’t wake up in the middle of the night, disoriented, panicked, feeling as though you’ve forgotten something urgent.

We deal with all kinds of losses in life. The loss of our innocence, whenever that comes. The loss of our trust when someone betrays us for the first time. The loss of the idea that we’re invincible. Sometimes we deal with the loss of our faith in ourselves, or the world at large. Losing your keys is just a moment you get to practice not panicking. Dealing with a car that won’t start is a chance to realize the things you take for granted won’t always work the way you want them to, or think they should. The more we accept that life is really another word for energy, and that energy is always in motion, the less we’ll expect things to be stable and predictable and safe. We all know we’re going to die, but that isn’t a comfortable thought, so we don’t always live like we know that. It’s as if we know, but we somehow don’t really believe it. That won’t really happen to us, or to those we love. Sometimes we live as though we have all the time in the world. We “waste” time, or “kill” time as if it isn’t precious. Death puts things in perspective. It shocks us into awareness, but grief is so overwhelming, and we don’t create a safe space for people to move through it. We’ve become so attached to positivity and light, it’s as if we’re supposed to feel ashamed when we feel dark and hopeless, like we should stay home until we’re ready to smile again. People who are grieving and need support more than ever, are often left to manage on their own, because grief reminds people of their own mortality.

None of us is going to live forever in the bodies we have right now, that much we know for sure, and we can allow ourselves to be crushed and devastated and paralyzed by that, or we can allow that to inspire us to really be living and loving and giving and seeing and listening and tasting and hugging and crying and laughing and grieving and cherishing the whole experience, every facet of it. If we’re grieving, it’s because we loved deeply, and there’s beauty in that. Some people will never allow themselves to be vulnerable that way, they’ll never really open, or let themselves be seen and understood. I don’t believe you have to feel grateful about everything that’s ever happened to you, but I do think every experience is a chance to grow and learn and soften. I think we can become more empathetic, understanding and compassionate. If we’re going to suffer from time to time, let’s at least put that suffering to good use. Let’s help each other. We don’t do that by rejecting the uncomfortable feelings. We don’t do it when we reject them internally, and we don’t do it when we refuse to meet people where they are. Most of the time, a person dealing with loss will appreciate your kindness, your presence, your thoughtfulness. These aren’t huge things to give, and at some point, we’ll all need to lean on each other.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Stop the Cycle

oprahSometimes we get into a pattern with someone that just isn’t serving our highest good, or theirs. This happens a lot with toxic relationships. Usually, something in the dynamic is harkening back to old wounds for both parties. We’re driven to heal, but we often go about it in all the wrong ways.

Unacknowledged pain swims below the surface of everything we do, and until we bring this stuff into the light, we’ll keep calling it into our lives in unconscious ways. You know when you feel very triggered by someone? There’s an excellent chance they’re hitting a painful nerve. The thing is, when we attract people into our spheres so we can play out an ancient drama, we also attract people who are going to be very unlikely to help us rewrite the script.

If your dad left when you were four and you have abandonment issues you haven’t dealt with, it’s likely you’re going to be attracted to men or women who can’t commit. That way, your fear of being left is now in play, and you can go about the business of trying to claim your prize and procure your happy ending by getting your partner to be “yours”, but a person who has trouble committing is going to run like hell from that scenario. It could be they grew up feeling smothered by one parent or the other, so they’re both attracted and repelled by your neediness. We want to overcome those feelings and situations we couldn’t master as children, and our attachment styles play a big role in how we go about trying to do that.

Anyway, the point is, you won’t heal this way, you’ll just relive that old pain, and throw salt in a wound you’ve never addressed. You’ll take your partner’s inability to commit to you (or whatever issue it is you keep replaying), as a sign that you are in fact, unlovable, or easy to leave, or invisible, or whatever it is you fear the most, when the truth is, they have their own story and their own wounds. A person with fear of commitment fears all commitment. It’s what you represent, it isn’t you they’re rejecting, but that doesn’t matter, because if your heart is broken, it’s broken.

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache if you simply face your pain. If you notice you keep repeating patterns in your life with family members, friends, partners, colleagues and strangers, it’s time to get some help. Identifying your issues is half the battle; you don’t want to stop there. You want to be able to rewire the system, and put a time-stamp on those things from your past that are still haunting you today. If you had a parent who overpowered you or made love a conditional thing, you don’t have to be afraid of intimacy for the rest of your life. You can work with your fear. You can meet it head on. You can be aware of it without acting on it, but it takes work, and you’ll almost definitely need support.

I highly recommend the combination of yoga and therapy. Therapy to me is the “top-down” part. You identify your issues and get really clear about your tendencies, weak spots, and potential pitfalls. Yoga is the “bottom-up” part. You get in your body and you breathe. Whatever your tendencies are, believe me they’ll follow you onto your mat. Yoga is confrontational by nature. You’ll get to deal with your habitual responses to challenge, frustration, and intense, uncomfortable sensation. Intense emotions create intense sensations—deal with this in on your mat, and you’ll be able to deal with it in your life. Over time, when you feel triggered, you’ll be able to breathe through those feelings without acting on them—running out the door, or lashing out, or saying or doing things you’ll later regret. Now you’re not stuck in the identification phase, you’re actually taking ownership of your issues, and refusing to let your past ruin your present and future. If you have a loud inner critic, you’ll become aware of that, and in so doing, you’ll give yourself the power to starve it. You’ll get to rewire your system from the ground up. Does it take dedication and determination? Yes. Is it easy? No. But you know what’s a lot harder? Not doing it and replaying your pain like you’re in a real-life version of “Groundhog’s Day.” Great movie, but no way to move through life.

Break the cycle and create something new for yourself that feels good. I’d trade short-term pain and discomfort for a lifetime of suffering any day of the week. I’d love to meet you in your living room and see if I can help you with this.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton

Give it Time

stripyourgearsSometimes our expectations of ourselves are so unrealistic. We have ideas about how we should feel, or where we should be at any given point in time, and if we aren’t meeting those markers, we feel disappointed in ourselves, or frustrated, or we wonder what’s wrong with us. This comes up a lot around grieving, mourning, and recovering from heartbreak of any kind. There’s no timer for this stuff; there’s no formula. It’s different for everyone, and dependent upon so many factors. But the last thing you need when you’re suffering, is to feel badly about yourself because you aren’t done suffering quickly enough.

Obviously it’s no fun to be pining or longing or missing people we cherish. Death is the most extreme version of this, of course. Grieving has no time limit. As Earl Grollman says, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.” No matter how much we understand we’ll all die eventually, it’s still almost incomprehensible when someone we love is ripped from us. It’s natural to want to hug the people we love, to hear their voices, their laughter, to hold their hands. The loss of a person is like the loss of a whole, beautiful world. There’s a shock to it, it seems impossible that the earth could keep spinning, and depending upon who’s been lost to you, and in what way they were taken, and at what point in your life and theirs, the impact may bring you to your knees. The only thing at a time like that, is to ask for help. Hopefully, you don’t even have to do that. Hopefully the people in your life know how to show up for you, at least some of them, so that you know you aren’t alone.

For many people, grief is difficult to witness, because it reminds them of their own mortality, the fragility of life, and the potential that they, too, could have to hold a sorrow so great. The people who are the most uncomfortable holding a space for your pain, are likely the same people who will tell you you “should be feeling better by now.” What they’re really saying is, “I’m having a hard time being around you when you’re in pain, and I’d like you to make it easier for me.” The thing is, when you’re mourning, your only job is to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel, for as long as you need to feel it. Anyone who can’t honor that or understand it is probably not going to be one of your cronies when you’re ninety-five, sipping lemonade in your rocker, but you don’t need tons of close friends. You just need a few.

The same goes for the loss of any relationship. You have to factor in all kinds of things. How much time and energy you invested, how many memories, shared experiences, heartaches and growing pains you went through. If you had a family with this person, it gets exponentially more complicated, but even if we’re talking about someone you dated for a few months, having a broken heart never feels good. You just have to give yourself time. Examine what happened, especially if you’re disappointed with the way you showed up, but try not to obsess. Glean the information from the experience that’s going to help you grow, and make different choices the next time. If you’re recovering from a toxic relationship, understand your oldest, deepest wounds were probably in play, and that it’s very likely you could use some support. It might be a great time to find a good therapist, and do some deep and needed work toward healing, but don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t over your ex. Some days will be better than others, and these are just natural feelings. Don’t stalk their social media making yourself sick, and try not to invest too much of your time or energy wondering what they’re doing. Focus on your own healing. As Regina Brett says, you have to “give time, time.” You know that anything you resist, persists. Of course we don’t want to marinate in pain, but denying it or running from it or numbing it out just prolongs the inevitable. Eventually you have to face it, and the more you’re willing to acknowledge and work with your pain, the faster you’ll move through it.

Be kind to yourself. Gravitate toward people who don’t try to fix things or tell you how to feel, but are simply able to listen and to be there. Nurture yourself, and spend time doing those things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Volunteer if you have it in you. Try to move your body and sweat and breathe once a day. Weep. Feed yourself well, and I don’t just mean food—pay attention to what you’re watching, reading, telling yourself, and try to have patience. One day, you’ll wake up, and the weight and heaviness of your grief won’t come crashing down upon you as you blink your eyes open and remember where you are. In the meantime, have some compassion for yourself. Life is a constant lesson in impermanence and loss. There’s also incredible beauty and joy and love, but it isn’t easy.

Sending you a huge hug,

Ally Hamilton

Don’t Force It

pemaWhenever you find yourself forcing anything—a yoga pose, a relationship, a way of being—it’s really an invitation to perk up and pay attention. When we force a pose in yoga, for example, going for a “full bind” at the expense of a long spine and/or our ability to breathe deeply and easily, we’ve also started to practice aggression on our yoga mats. When we force in life, it’s also aggressive, because it almost always involves the betrayal of self.

There’s a huge difference between working your a$$ off in pursuit of your dreams, and clinging to a picture in your head, even when nothing is flowing toward that picture. Sometimes we fall in love with someone, or we fall in love with an idea of who someone could be, and we chase, cajole, or manipulate so we don’t have to face the pain of unrequited love, or so we don’t have to open our hands, our hearts and our minds, and let them go. That’s a betrayal of self. That’s forcing.

Sometimes we’ve chosen a path that felt right at one time, but doesn’t anymore, like the guy who completed eight years of med school, only to come to the realization that somewhere along the way, he lost his zeal for the medical profession. It’s so hard to forge another path when we’ve invested time, energy and hard work, but we’re always shifting. Ultimately, you have this one life in the body you’re in, and I think your job is to live in alignment with what’s true for you; to uncover your gifts, your joy, your passion, and to spread them, to live life in a way that feels good to you. I’d be very surprised if that didn’t include connection; reaching out to people, offering your hand, your heart, you ear, whatever you’ve got.

It’s just that sometimes we get stuck. Maybe we want to make a change, but fear grips us and tells us why we can’t, at 3 o’clock in the morning, when we’re longing for sleep. The mind can be loud with shoulds and can’ts. It can shame us or berate us until we feel paralyzed. If a job doesn’t feel right, it’s time to look for something that’s going to inspire you. If a relationship doesn’t feel right, it’s time for honest communication, so you can see if it’s salvageable. If you’ve been playing certain roles for so long, you don’t know how to break the mold, now is the time to get some support.

If you get to the place in life where it’s hard to breathe, where you feel constricted and desperate, you’ve just stepped off your path. You’ve taken a wrong turn or two along the way, and you’ll have to tune into your GPS, your intuition, and circle back and try something else. You are not here to shrink yourself to make other people feel better. You are not here to fulfill anyone’s unrealistic expectations of you. You are not here to repress your truth because you’re afraid of hurting other people. You really have to be you. It’s the only way life feels good.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Get Hungry for the Truth

gloriaSometimes we know something but we don’t want to accept what we know. Maybe we’re attached to a certain picture in our heads of how things should or could be. Maybe we’re in love with someone’s potential and think if we just hold on and wait, eventually this painful situation will grow into something else, something beautiful. There are all kinds of reasons we might reject the truth of how things are. The thing is, it always leads to suffering.

We are energetic creatures, and we all have instincts. That’s one of our main modes of survival. What you feel in your gut can be trusted, but our hearts and our minds are also in the mix, and this is where things get complicated. When we’re attached to people, or ideas about how things could be, it makes it so hard to walk away. It’s brutal. When the mind gets involved with all its shoulds and coulds and questions and rationalizations, it gets even harder to act on what we know. We can stay and suffer for days, weeks, months, years, all the while allowing our light to be dimmed. It feels terrible to ignore, repress or deny what you know to be true. It’s like trying to lift the ocean; it’s futile, but sometimes we’re just not strong enough yet. We’re not ready to let go, to accept, to surrender, to swim.

Those are the times when it’s the least comfortable to be human. When we just suffer and feel a little sick and tired all the time. When we spend our energy developing constructs that support the version of reality we pretend to be living in. The truth is a relief. It hurts like hell sometimes, but it’s so much easier. All the white noise drops away. We can breathe again. Maybe we’re heartbroken, but we can breathe. There is no one way. There is no one person, except yourself. There is no one path. Life is not obligated to give you what you want, and neither is anyone else. Sometimes the healthiest and scariest thing you can do is trust that something else is coming. Something that looks totally different than the picture you’re grasping, or the person you’re grasping, or the identity you’re holding onto like a cat sliding off a roof.

Most people will tell you that their lives did not unfold the way they thought they would. We all have our ideas and our longings, but sometimes our attachment to them really blocks our ability to let life flow. If someone doesn’t want to be with you all the way, release them and release yourself. If someone doesn’t know how to love you the way you long to be loved, accept the way they can love you, or don’t, but love yourself in the ways that are missing. Just don’t lie to yourself. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t numb out so your reality feels less harsh. Let the harshness push you up against the wall until you can’t take it anymore and you have to try something else, because life is short and time is precious, and so are you. You don’t have time to be in denial. I mean, you can do that if you want to, but there are so many better uses of your time and energy. Being with what is, leaning into all the beauty and all the pain, is incredibly liberating.

I understand the desire to be happy. Everyone wants that, but get hungry for the truth instead. Not everything is happy. It’s not realistic to expect we’re going to be joyful in every moment. Sometimes I see quotes that say things like, “We can choose happiness in every moment.” No, we can’t. Tell that to a grieving mother. Sometimes we compound our pain by feeling guilty about not being happy. I think we set ourselves up to fail and we alienate people who are suffering huge losses when we say things like that. It’s okay to be heartbroken or enraged or in despair. It’s okay to grieve until you think you can’t possibly have any tears left. In fact, I’d recommend that a lot more than trying to force yourself to choose happiness when everything in you is looking for a way to keep breathing. Just be where you are. Lean into it, breathe into it. It will change and it will pass, and it will do those things a lot sooner if you accept where you are rather than deny it.

I know sometimes it’s painful. That’s part of the path. Pain opens us and strengthens us and teaches us about ourselves. It shows us where we still have healing to do. It softens us so we understand empathy and compassion. It gives us a sharp taste of the opposite of joy, so that when joy comes, we get to appreciate and experience that fully, as well. Spirituality is not about being positive and light in every moment, it’s about being your authentic self. It’s about honoring what’s true for you. That’s a gift you give to yourself, and also to everyone you encounter. Don’t deny yourself that gift.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

Love vs. Control

michaeljfoxOne of the key components to a lasting, healthy and happy relationship of any kind, is a foundation of trust and acceptance. This applies to our familial, romantic and personal relationships. The people with whom we feel closest are also the people with whom we feel we can be completely ourselves. This seems so obvious, and yet, we screw it up all the time. We start putting our shoulds on other people. For so many people there’s confusion between control and love, and if you’re dealing with someone who has a harsh inner critic, you can bet that voice is going to reach out and give you a lashing on a pretty frequent basis, too. What we have within us is what we spread around us.

Love requires our vulnerability. It’s a paradox. If you want to love, you have to be soft. You have to be willing to expose the parts of you that aren’t so pretty, that are still raw, and in order to be soft like that, you have to be really brave. Most controlling people did not become that way in a vacuum. A person who longs to control circumstances and other people has been hurt. It’s natural to want to protect your heart after you’ve been disappointed, but you can’t defend and open your heart simultaneously.

Most people believe in their own stories about themselves and other people, and controlling people do this to an even greater degree. In order to justify the need to tell you what you should or should not be doing, they have to build a construct that supports the idea that they know more about what you need to be happy than you do. For many people, “I love you” means, “I love you when you do what I want you to do”; it’s conditional. If love can be withdrawn that way, it isn’t love.

When we go and sit by the ocean, we don’t think, “Wow, the ocean would be so much more majestic if it were just a little bigger or bluer. If those waves were crashing just a little differently.” We don’t look up at the sun and think, “That’s great, but too bad the sun doesn’t shine with a little more pink or gold or orange.” We just take these miracles as they are. People are no different. We all long to be seen and heard and understood as we are. We long to be accepted and known. That doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, or areas that might need a little more of our kind attention. It just means we long to be embraced with all our beauty and all our flaws. When someone who purports to love us can only seem to find our faults, it’s very defeating.

Fear and love do not play well together. When we’re trying to control someone else, even if we’re doing that because we think it’s in their best interest, we’ve really become confused. We humans are solitary creatures in many ways. We have interior worlds that other people can know only if we let them. I will never know what the right thing is for someone else. Obviously I can recognize if someone I love is putting himself or herself in harm’s way, and I can try to hold up a mirror with concern and compassion. If someone I care for is struggling, or feeding destructive habits, I can try to get them support and help, and offer my shoulder, my ear and my heart, but short of those situations, we each have to find our way.

Sometimes we need the struggle to break free of an old pattern, just like the butterfly needs to struggle to get out of the cocoon. The struggle strengthens the wings. Without that effort, it would never fly. When we try to jump in and tell someone we love that they’re crazy or they’re making a mistake, or they’re screwing up their lives, when we try to save someone from misery or pain, we may be robbing them of an experience they needed in order to grow and open. When we try to manage another person’s path, that’s a marker for us to step back on our own.

The same applies when we chase people down for their love, time, affection or reassurance. If a person is telling you they need space, you really have to respect that. If a person is telling you they are not where you want them to be, you really want to be able to take that in, for your sake and for theirs. It’s not loving or accepting to refuse to embrace the reality of someone we say we love. People are where they are. They want what they want. They have the tools they have. The more we open to reality as it is, the less we suffer and the less we cause those around us to suffer. Reality is not always going to meet your expectations or longings. Things are not always going to unfold like the picture in your head. In fact, most of the time they won’t.

Whenever possible, accept where you are on your journey, and accept where other people are on theirs. Work when you need to work. Give those raw places within you your kind attention. Learn to listen to yourself with an objective ear, instead of pushing away thoughts that frighten or disgust you. You are not your thoughts. You don’t have to believe everything you think, as the saying goes. You don’t have to act on every feeling you have, but you do wan’t to know yourself. You really can’t be at peace if you’re rejecting essential components of who you are, and you can’t love other people well if you’re unable to embrace them and meet them where they are.

Wishing you strength, bravery, clear-seeing, and a lot of love,

Ally Hamilton

A Bridge Takes Two

lonelywallsIf you have a long history with someone, and you have healing to do around your relationship, or events of the past, understand you can never do one hundred percent of the work. I’m talking about important long-term relationships in your life, with family members, or spouses, or your best friend for years and years. Life is not easy. It’s amazing and interesting. It’s filled with incredible beauty, the potential for love so intense you feel your heart might burst, and pain that can bring you to your knees. It’s always changing, so it’s certainly an adventure, but there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and not everyone is able to handle that easily. Sometimes people cling to their pain or their anger because that feels safer than letting go, and the reality is, the people in the most pain are also the people who create the most pain. It’s not usually intentional. What we have within us is what we spread around us.

If you’ve been disappointed, neglected, abused or abandoned, those are all experiences which might have hardened you, or broken your trust in people. I understand that, but I think it’s important to believe in the goodness of people, and to understand when you’ve been betrayed or abandoned by someone, it’s not a reflection of you, or your worthiness or ability to receive love, it’s a reflection of where the other party is on his or her own path. That doesn’t mean it’s okay if someone abuses you or mistreats you, it just makes it easier not to take those things personally. I think the key is to be discerning, and to understand that it takes a long time to know a person. We all want love and connection, but your heart is precious and it’s important not to be reckless with it. There’s a big difference between living in fear, which is not really living, and taking your time.

The thing is, human beings are complicated. We all have our histories, our pain, our various upbringings, ways we were nurtured, loved, supported, or not so much, so when you bring any two people together, it’s exponentially more complex. And when you increase that number to three or four or five (as in, a family), you can bet the chances for different dynamics to arise just multiplies. I get emails from so many people in pain over their strained or nonexistent relationships with their mothers or fathers, sons or daughters, sisters or brothers, friends from childhood. Things happen in life. Sometimes a person is moving through pain and they lash out, or there’s a family system in place and roles are being played and maybe it’s not a healthy situation, and then one day, one of the players doesn’t like his or her role anymore, and everyone panics as the system collapses. Maybe the whole family is held hostage by one member’s addiction, depression, or mental illness. There’s no shortage of different scenarios. People fight over money (it isn’t usually really the money they’re fighting about), or something someone said at a wedding when they were drunk and full of salmon.

If you have healing to do with someone, understand you need some kind of bridge. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to mend a bridge that’s collapsed. I don’t think a person has to meet you halfway; it’s ideal, but not everyone will be up to that. A person has to step onto the bridge. If you feel motivated to walk the rest of the way, that’s enough, but if a person won’t even take that first step, you’ll be dealing with a chasm and it will be up to you how you want to manage that. Sometimes we can’t have a person in our lives, and sometimes we have to accept that a relationship will never be quite what we want it to be. Not everyone is capable of fearless and honest communication and acceptance. Not everyone can open his or her mind to a different point of view. You can’t force someone to be somewhere they aren’t.

Sometimes we have to choose between two painful options–not having someone in our lives, or having them in our lives in a way that falls incredibly short of what we know is possible. That’s a choice only you can make. You can keep your hands open. You can offer the chance for healing, but you can’t make someone take you up on it, and I know that can hurt. I think closing yourself down and shutting yourself off hurts more, though.

Sending you love, and wishing you peace,

Ally Hamilton