On Loss, Pain and Lostness

Loss is the state of being deprived of, or of being without something that we once had. It’s a natural part of the cycle of change. Loss is integral to growth. Loss is also the sense of something we haven’t had in our life, where our needs haven’t been met. Where we are growing, but with the sense of absence.

There is also a kind of natural loss where we lose interest, that which was so meaningful loses it’s value. We can’t maintain the keeping. We cannot keep a growing stack of treasures; collect more and more. That which is at the bottom of the stack eventually becomes disregarded, less significant. We cannot keep hold of everything that we have. Sometimes we don’t want to lose heart, conviction, faith or trust but we do. We will have to make painful choices where we have to leave things behind. This can leave a vacuum until we find the next thing we feel deeply connected to, care about. Draw meaning from. We resist letting go in the face of change and it’s sometimes an intense personal challenge to accept loss.

Loss is the result of having something we care about and the ending. It’s also evidence of our lack of control. To accept our loss of control is to accept loss. We cannot escape the pain of life fundamentally expressed through the ultimate loss; death. We will have things taken away against our will. We lose love, family, relationships, friendships, pets, jobs and mentors. We all lose loved ones, through sickness, through endings, through disagreement. We will be at different stages of our lives where naturally we lose parents or friends through age. We will also experience unexpected loss that doesn’t fit the natural rhythm of a life played out.

Grief is the mental distress and suffering over loss. We grieve for the absence, we feel the pain, the sorrow and we grieve for the time ahead; the life without. We even grieve for the loss of potential; something we didn’t have but thought we would have; a future that wasn’t but was only a thought. In other words there is loss, and there is our response or processing of that loss. We embody our loss, our emotion, within us like the strata within a rock; it becomes part of our structure. The external becomes internalised. The feeling of loss itself becomes the pain, rather than the absence of the person, relationship or thing that we lost. We also think our loss. Our thoughts, projections and memories create the grief. One loss; many ripples of implications.

I, like many, have experienced loss and grief in my life. I would identify it as an area of life that I’m not good with, even when it’s a small loss, because every loss triggers the feelings of every other loss and so one experience becomes the compounding of what feels like a theme in my life. In other words a small loss becomes more significant because it brings back trauma from previous losses. My cat died earlier this year and my emotional response was not just to the death of my cat but a point at which I couldn’t process another experience of loss in my life. It profoundly destabilised me. It was just one more loss in my life that left me feeling bereft of everything, not just the cat. It compiled every sadness into a vacuum where little in life had the same meaning. It was a tipping point. A breaking point in my resilience.

This is what happens when we still hold and carry strong emotions around previous experiences. We store or hold the experience of the affliction within our body. We can also become sensitive or fearful of experiences that may potentially lead to loss and may try to avoid attachment or being close or wanting too much in case it is taken away from us or it doesn’t last. In other words we become anxious about endings. Our past affects our present and our future where we try to guard, control and defend ourselves from potential pain. And yet we cannot avoid the pain of everyday life and the endless endings held within it. To close down our life from emotional risk; from experience, in such a way is to close down our self.

So an experience we had in the past can affect our way of being in the world and our relationship with ourself in the present. Loss will taint our aliveness and our living at some point. It not only rocks our world it can rock our relationship with ourself; it rocks our internal life. With loss comes a sense of lostness. We are connected beings. We are who we are though relationship. But when we lose relationship with others or things external to us, we need to maintain our relationship with ourself.

I meet clients who are destabilised by a form of loss in their life that has had an affect on how they see themselves. This is our fragility. When we feel pain we find it difficult to accept and this often results in us seeing and creating pain in every encounter and in particular our relationship with ourself. If we are not careful we can become engulfed, distant, withdrawn, angry and defensive. These are mechanisms to manage pain but also to protect ourselves from further pain. We can become afraid of the uncertain, temporal and fragile nature of the world. Because we don’t want, can’t cope with, more sadness, more hurt, more emotion. We doubt ourselves.

We all have times when one thing will break us. Stop us. A loss of relationship with self. I see clients rebuilding their lives through finding themselves again after periods of stress or illness. Stressful times during which we can lose our sense of ease with ourselves, with our lives and the point at which after long periods of resistance, the body finally makes us break down. Stop. Until we have no choice but to feel the strata of stored emotion within us, become aware of our thoughts and find our self again, beyond our experience.

A wide range of factors, experiences, personality and upbringing affect our reactions and response to loss. In other words who we are. And this also affects how we hold onto who we are through loss. Nothing to do with strength or weakness, but our capacity at a point in time to be resilient or to be overwhelmed, to accept a lack of control but to refuse to be a victim. We all process experience differently and need different lengths of time to heal.

But to hold trust in our self is to hold our relationship with ourself strong while the world rocks.