Wearing Grief Armor and Lost at Sea

1-IMG-1260When we lose our someone that we love, respect, or even admire from afar we are thrust into grief and our autonomic grief (stress) response is activated. Our force field goes up to protect ourselves from further injury so that we can survive the current trauma. No different than a porcupine when threatened who raises his/her quills to be less vulnerable to attack. When scared, startled, sad, happy or horny the quills come out without any conscious thought or direction; its instantaneous protection. We humans we have the same horripilificational response on our skin sans the quills, we call it goosebumps. A simple autonomic reaction from our sympathetic nervous system to a threatening stimulus real or imagined. Thoughts are very real to our bodies e.g. as in viewing a horror movie and our bodies react despite being armed with the knowledge it is not real. Our hackles are up so to speak, it’s in our nature.

Death and its trauma will come to our door despite valiant attempts to keep it at bay. Death has no natural enemy. There is no wall, bunker, fortification or legion of warriors that can defeat death’s intrusion into our unfolding karma. Like gravity, we cannot explain it, but we know it sucks. Death is not the creepy dark Grim Reaper from folklore who is collecting souls for some erroneous payment due. He/she is merely an agent of God simply releasing them from physical bondage and more aptly is called the angel of death. Our spirits are born wanting to return to our source as surely as the salmon wants/needs to make the journey home from whence it came, our spirit knows that as well.

When death does happen to a loved one in our lives’ we know in our hearts that it is the natural circle of life, that death will surely visit us all. Unfortunately, intellectual assertions of truth and fact does not negate the pain of separation or wrongdoing. We despise the interloper that removed the physical presence of our loved one from our lives, be it disease, madness, mayhem, medical mistake, mother earth, or the mother fucker that caused our loved one’s death. Death becomes the whipping boy for things beyond our control; the thief in the night, the gondolier of death and nemesis to life. He/she becomes the grim reaper and the defiler of our life and promulgator of our pain, but remember death is only the doorman; death merely opens the door. Understand it’s an angel’s job to do so with no other motive than to receive a traumatized spirit transitioning from physical back to ethereal. He/she will pay us a visit us as well when our heart stops one day, and the door opens to our own unfoldment. I no longer fear death as a thief in the night but as a loving midwife for my soul.

Death allows for the full separation of spirit from a vehicle that has shut down and is only a momentarily visitor in our life. Grief is the negotiator for our survival that may travel with us a lifetime. The pain of separation can be debilitating and enduring. When our loved one dies, we find ourselves alone standing on the bow of a warship seemingly bound for nowhere, praying fervently we find a friendly shore. The whole world feels like the aggressor and our antagonist; we don our armor, quills up and sail into the uncharted waters of grief and loss.

In grief we are vulnerable to attack, so we wear emotional armor to survive. It becomes our operating system for such a long time that we tend to forget we put the armor on at all. It becomes a routine. New neural brain patterning over time creates new synaptic footprints of behavior and response. New pattern/routines of the griever become habitual and it normalizes the grief response as its new M.O. (modus operandi). Not unlike installing a device upgrade or a new app; it becomes the new search engine of our survival. The armor of biochemical defense is meant for momentary fight or flight response but not for our daily status quo and it can eat us up physically and emotionally.

Grief is biochemical warfare on our emotions, if we wear our armor too long it can become toxic. We may be lost at sea for a long time, so it is important at times to remove the armor to better navigate the changing seas. There will be sirens of hope bringing us to safe harbor, and there also will be sirens of guilt and regret that will draw us upon the rocks. There will be tempests that daunt our spirit, maelstroms that suck us under, and calm windless seas that may drive us mad, but at some point, there will be safe harbor, a shore of refuge.  Stand on the bow like a leaf on a stream to see where it takes you or head back to the stern, look to the stars and navigate by your gut. Be adrift at sea or become the protagonist of your survival, both valid choices. Recognizing that you have a choice creates hope; making a choice creates faith. Hope without faith is merely a wish.

True hopelessness is not being able to take your armor off.  When we doff our armor, we rediscover our vulnerability and may notice that we not only feel lighter but stronger than before. Carrying the huge weight of the armor for so long we change…the change within the change of the changing medium, in Latin, known as mobilis in mobili.

Carrying a heavy weight with you every day builds up muscles. We become stronger despite ourselves. It is only when we take the risk to remove the armor can we feel that strength we have gained. One cannot dance in armor, nor swim or bathe and why we cry in the shower; we become vulnerable. Vulnerability is an emotional asset and not a weakness; take the risk to be vulnerable, open the wound to your own wisdom, debride your soul of unrealistic expectations and set very real intentions for legacy building and experiences of joy. Barring another loss, what can hurt us more than we hurt already? We take baby steps in integrating our loss and slowly we take more emotional risks to doff the armor and dance to music that is placed before us.

Capitalizing on the power of our own vulnerability through proactive grieving we strengthen our resiliency body, mind, soul, and spirit to be able to conquer the many peaks, valleys and black holes of the grief journey. Don your armor when you need to, doff it went you don’t.  You are the protagonist and the director in this theater which is your life. Be your protagonist, write your story; take risks; use your mulligan; stir your inner child to create innocent joy once again; expect grace; enunciate gratitude, nurture innate skills, shine your inner light for others and set intentions that nourish and develop a legacy of love that honors our loved one and that provides a benefit for others in their name.  Be the change you want see in the world.

Peace love n light

Mitch Carmody

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