The Exquisite (Excruciating) Void
Anyone who has experienced a major loss recognizes the period we are currently navigating–it’s the exquisite (excruciating) void. We are in between two worlds. The one we knew is gone and the new one has yet to form.
This is a bit of a no man’s land. Anything goes. There are very few rules. Our old routines don’t quite fit and we haven’t yet developed new ones because the sand hasn’t stop shifting yet. The world hasn’t settled into its next form.
We are unmoored and drifting through time.
It is imperative we allow ourselves to just be however we are right now. We are all moving through the stages of grief at this loss in our own way and at our own pace.
And for most, the grief and uncertainty has activated old, buried trauma and that trauma is bubbling up to be dealt with whether we want to or not and whether it is a good time or the worst time ever. Before we can deal with what’s next, we are being forced to finish what we ran from long ago.
I believe our job is to hold space for each other’s experience. If we can’t do that, if we are having our own experience that limits our ability to access compassion and kindness, maybe the best we can do is walk away for now.
Holding Space for someone is walking alongside them and allowing them their feelings. Allowing them to express what they feel without judgment. Without trying to fix it. Without trying to change it or insist they get through it already. Instead, witness them in their feelings, help them feel heard and safe until they can move to another place on their journey.
Here are some of the different coping strategies people are moving through right now. Understanding helps us find our compassion even with behavior that feels so foreign or confusing to us.
Some people are experiencing profound anger and distrust of authority. Others cry at the drop of a hat. Fear is natural when faced with the loss of control that comes from an unprecedented amount of upheaval this year has bestowed.
Anger can also come when we try to hold onto the old world. When we haven’t realized or haven’t accepted that the old world is gone. Be kind and gentle if you are close to people experiencing this stage of grief. No one can speed this process along for someone else. We can merely witness them and hold space for their rage, while trying not to become the target of it.
Other people are composed on the outside but feeling rather dead on the inside. Some part of them is unable to fully process all that is happening, so they placed the processing part of the brain on hold and they are going through the motions to be sure they meet their obligations, but there is no extra juice.
They are tired, either insomniacs or sleeping all the time. They feel overwhelmed with all the information that has been coming their way and their way of coping right now is to numb those feelings with their substances of choice…alcohol, tv, food, etc. I would say these folks aren’t overindulging per se but they are not living a completely sober life. They use their substance of choice to take the edge of their feelings. They are waiting for the dust to settle to process their feelings when they feel safer.
The Energizer Bunny
These folks are full of energy and creative genius. Their energy is pumping all kinds of projects out of them. They wake up with a drive to get their work out into the world.
The most common reason underlying this type of expression is nervous energy–keep moving and grooving so their isn’t too much time left to think or feel. Energizer Bunnies have often experienced major loss before and their action-packed strategy is an unconscious move to outrun the grief and/or fear.
These folks seem the most “normal” to us as they embody our culture’s “manifest destiny” ways. But beware, they may shift to a different coping strategy at any moment, and without warning as the adrenaline finally wears off.
Navigating the Now
The best strategy each of us can use right now is to just be gentle on ourselves and others. And stay in the now, it is the only real thing. Leaning into the flow of change, knowing that we are too far away from the new normal to see how it will come together. The new world will emerge in time but we still have a ways to go into the exquisite (excruciating) void.
The time is pregnant with possibility. And yes, that can be anxiety producing for some and let’s face it, patience isn’t our strong suit.
So be where you are and honor your current feelings and behaviors knowing they will likely morph into a different strategy in time. This is not a time to force yourself into a different coping strategy, one that feels more aligned with your values.
Drop the shame and judgment of yourself or others. Remember, we are navigating a global pandemic, not to mention late stage capitalism, and a global climate crisis. The results have been tragic on many fronts and will continue for some time to come.
However, we are still here. It is helpful to focus on what we have control over–ourselves–and find our footing, ground into the Now and occasionally dream…dream of what could come next for you and this world. And please, dream big, imagine miracles, let new ideas and goals begin to brew, and then put one foot in front of the other and do the work that lies before you right here, right now.
We are all in the process of becoming the next version of ourselves, and sometimes it will be messy. Be kind and patient.