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Work It Out

What is the healthiest way to handle your grief? Some of us keep a stiff upper lip, carrying on like nothing happened because WE'RE FINE. Some of us fall to pieces, collapsing from the weight of it all. Some of us go to counseling, and some of us talk to friends and family. Some of us stay as busy as possible so we don't spiral downward. When grief hits, the most important thing is not to go down with it.

I once worked for a man who'd lost a sister when he was a child. Adored by her four older siblings, she was eight when she passed. The family was hurting badly. He said no one went to counseling back then, so his dad announced a new project. They dug a huge basement beneath their house - by hand. I have no idea how long it took, all five of them down there with shovels, tears indistinguishable from sweat as they dug. When the man spoke about it, there was such pride in his voice. His family banded together to accomplish something for which they could be so proud. As teenagers, they hung out down there with their friends. There was large living area and a bedroom and bathroom for guests, and many people had been shown hospitality in that space.

I've carried a lot of grief over the last several years over cancer diagnoses, the sickness of a dear friend, and the things I cannot change that seem so wrong. I've prayed until I don't know what words there are left to say, but I keep praying anyway. One of the best ways I've found to deal with the grief so it doesn't overwhelm me is by picking up a heavy gym ball, lifting that thing up over my head, and slamming it into the floor as hard as I can - repeatedly. I can't seem to do it without yelling, so I try to do it when no one's around. Something about the physicality and whole-body action of that exercise releases something pent up within me in a way I haven't found to do otherwise.

If you're facing grief today, it may be tempting to keep it locked away. You hate to cry. But pent up grief turns into anger that can eat away at your body and mind in insidious ways. Find a way to work it out. I'm not sure how many times you can visit a rage room before it becomes cost-prohibitive, so maybe pick up a shovel and dig a big old hole in the backyard for an underground storage unit or a lair for your kids. Join a boxing gym and hit something hard. Join a marshal arts class and learn how to break boards with your bare feet.

When my son with Down syndrome was very little, he'd lash out sometimes and try to bite us or bang his head on the floor. His physical therapist told us he was "sensory seeking." His body knew he should be trying to walk at his age, falling down, banging into things. His muscles weren't strong enough to do that, but his body craved the sensory experience of learning to walk. We learned to stop treating him like he was made of glass. We bounced him hard on our laps, sat him on a blanket and pulled him around the house at a dead run, and so forth. He eventually started weekly horse-riding classes (called hippotherapy) which also provided a lot of sensory input. When he had that, he stopped biting and head-banging.

What a lesson in the need of our bodies to MOVE and receive "input" from the things we slam into. We shouldn't treat ourselves like we're made of glass! We need the sensory feedback of hard work to function properly. The ways Americans these days try to self-medicate our negative feelings with alcohol, drugs, excessive food, entertainment, and whatever else we might us to numb ourselves into a state of oblivion isn't working! We're depressed, anxious, exhausted, and mentally ill. We need to get back to the basics.

Work it out. Let your tears mingle with your sweat. Let the aching of your body mirror the aching of your heart. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a heavy ball to go slam into the floor.

I suppose this concept could probably be applied to mental/emotional slamming, too. What do you think? Is it actually good for us to deal with hard, jarring things across the board? Do our minds and emotions crave negative feedback?

boxing gloves
work it out


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