“To hurry pain is to leave a classroom still in session. To prolong pain is to remain seated in a vacated classroom and miss the next lesson.” -Yahia Lababidi, writer (b. 1973)
How long should grieving last? When will I feel better?
These are tough questions because the pain is very real. Working through and recovering from loss is a very important process. On the other hand, relieving symptoms quickly and moving on has a lot of value too. When I’m in emotional pain I want to know: How long do I have to go through this? Are we there yet?
Sometimes the pain seems too much to bear. I may need a break before facing difficult times. A little instant relief has tremendous appeal. This is why substance use remains such a time honored tradition in the human condition… it works! Be it booze, drugs, food, work or gambling. It doesn’t matter what vehicle I choose. What matters is understanding this: When I anesthetize difficult feelings I don’t heal them, I merely put them on hold.
So, if my break lasts for days or weeks, this may be very helpful in arresting the pain. But if my break lasts for years and my use turns to abuse, then the only thing I’m arresting is my own development.
Think of it like this: Moving through a difficult loss or adjustment is more than a healing process, it is also a growth process. Healing is about feeling better but growth is about being better. Ultimately we seek both, as completely as possible.
How fast can I heal? It depends on my health, outlook and the quality of my support system.
How fast can I grow? It depends on my personality and life timing.
So how do I measure my grief process progress? Unfortunately it’s very hard to say, but one thing is clear: To move forward I must earnestly engage the growth process, which means engaging my feelings (not avoiding them) and facing the fundamental truth of grieving:
The only way out… is through.