Like most people grieving, when everything was first going down and confusion was my default state of mind, I turned to the external world for coping. Food, music, exercise, hobbies, etc. And they weren't necessarily bad things... in fact, most of them (aside from junk food) could probably be seen as very good and healthy means of coping. I wasn't deep-diving into porn, drugs, alcohol, gambling, video game binges, extramarital affairs, or just completely abandoning my family. And trust me, if you're in the position where you're dabbling in that stuff to cope, I totally get it. It's just not really my flavor of coping, in general. And there's definitely ways to cope that aren't as destructive to yourself or your loved ones long term.
I wish I had known before my grieving to choose “disposable” coping methods.
What do I mean by "disposable" coping?
It means choosing healthy coping methods while avoiding anything that you value and want to preserve.
For me, I really liked running, exercising with a group of guys early in the morning (F3), movies, and some really specific types of music. I also had a faith framework and regularly attended church. And I enjoyed all those things. They brought me comfort. So I went full-bore into them when I didn't know what else to do in the midst of my grief.
What I didn't realize is that as I engaged the things I loved during my grieving, my brain started to re-wire the emotional associations with all those things. What was formerly associated with joy, confidence, pride, and strength started to unintentionally pair itself with my overall sense of defeat, sadness, purposelessness, frustration, and weakness.
And I honestly didn't even recognize it at first.
It was several months after my son Ezekiel died, and I was moving into a season where I felt like I could breathe again for a few days at a time without being overwhelmed. But as I went to embrace all the healthy things I used to enjoy, I'd find myself immediately back in that emotional place of defeat that I'd felt in the early months of grieving. It was confusing. And VERY discouraging. I didn't realize that my grief had re-colored and re-purposed all those mental associations as I embraced the things I loved while trying to cope.
I'm no neuro-scientist, but I think of it like a big bowl of soup. The general emotional condition of my mind is the bowl of soup, and all the things I was doing to cope were like pieces of bread. I was dipping the bread into the bowl of soup hoping that the soup would change flavor, or at least that it would make the soup more palatable. But what was really happening is that the bread was saturating up the soup, and the bread itself was changing flavor, NOT the soup.
So here's my suggestions on how to cope in a healthy way:
You're going to cope. That's expected. But if you want to preserve some of the things you loved before your season of grieving so that they carry the same meaning once you're a little further "along the trail", try coping with some disposable methods. Because it can really suck to come out of deep grieving only to find that the things you loved are now "gone" too.
Keep pressing on.