Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Denial and the Stages of Grief

My brain has been playing weird tricks on me lately.

Tonight as the usual highlight (and lowlight) reel of everything that transpired ran through my head, it almost felt like I was watching a movie. "Lifetime Movies presents: the tragic story of the girl who lost her boyfriend to heroin when she had no idea he was using." As the flashbacks continued, I experienced the usual feelings of horror, shock, and sadness. But strangely, it was like I was feeling these feelings out of sympathy for someone else. How awful for that girl. What a tragic experience for her to go through. Thank God that's not me. Not my life.

As the story continued to play out in my mind, I tried to get myself to connect to it. I couldn't. These were my memories, my life, my trauma, why did I feel so detached from it all? 

Was this all just a dream? Was Blake just that handsome older guy I barely knew from high school? Did everything between us even happen? 

It's terrifying how my mind seemed to be distorting my reality. Why?

I've read all about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I initially thought that the way they are listed is the usual order they occur. Based on that assumption, I thought that I must have skipped the "denial" stage. From the horrific moment the office manager pulled me out from lunch so my best friend could deliver the news about Blake's death, I knew he was gone and never coming back. I felt a million different things, but I never refused to admit to myself that the overdose happened. 

But I'm beginning to realize that denial comes in all different forms at unexpected times. This "trick" my brain has started playing on me, I think, is actually a form of denial. The underlying motivation of denial is that maybe if I don't acknowledge this is my pain, I can pretend I'm ok. My brain seemed to be trying to protect me through disassociation. 

Being the obsessive investigator that I've always been, I started researching online again about the stages of grief and loss. Is what I'm going through normal? What I found out was that this 5 stages of grief model is actually seen as outdated and not true for most people. Grief is typically a back-and-fourth between the five listed stages as well as several other phases.

This diagram makes so much more sense to me. I appreciate how it acknowledges that grief isn't chronologically linear. There are more than just five stages and they can occur concurrently or in no particular order. The beginning spiral section recognizes that at any point, these feelings can be revisited (and sometimes again and again). It's not like I went through the anger stage and got to wipe my hands of it afterward: "Ok, I was mad at Blake for a day for lying to me and doing drugs, but now I've accepted it. Anger: check!" Just because I had an angry moment and it passed doesn't mean I won't re-experience that anger later. The same thing goes for depression and now denial too. 

Like I've come to realize in the past couple weeks, everything is coming in waves. There are times when my heart is filled with hope, days that my body gives up, minutes that feel like hours of panic, bouts of anger, quiet thoughts of guilt, moments of peace etc. etc. etc. There is no finish line with a banner that reads "Acceptance! You've made it!" Grieving is a process, and one that it's not neatly confined into five orderly steps. 


  1. I found your comments on grieving insightful. thank you for sharing

    1. I'm so glad they spoke to you! Are you grieving as well?

  2. Hi Briana, The second diagram is so great. Did you find that somewhere or did you create it? I'd love to share it and want to give credit to its maker. Thanks!