On the Road with Grief

The other day, I felt the whispers of adventure tickle my spirit, and decided to go for a long drive. It had been a long week, in a long month, in a year that seemed to have passed rather quickly, if not for the eternal grief that served as the hands of my internal clock. Still, I answered adventure’s call, eager to go forth and meet the stranger I had once known very well.

The drive started off as most of my days do- a well-intentioned to do list coupled with indecision and multiple course corrections.  I wanted to get some Chipotle, I needed to make a Sally’s run, and at some point I would need to get some water and eventually find a suitable restroom to use.  Ideally the route would also provide me a scenic, two hour drive and the chance to unwind and listen to one of my audio books.

I headed off towards town and immediately knocked a couple things off my list- Sally’s run check, bottle of water check, and continued driving south towards the desert plains. To my right, Colorado’s majestic mountains peaked over the horizon.  They called to me, nagging and taunting at me as I drove further away from them. An hour later I arrived in town, unsure if I should continue onward, stop and get some food or change my plans all together.

PuebloCliffs
Photo Credit: Regina Dawn Akers

I wasn’t quite hungry enough for food, and the route I was taking was mostly lackluster highway views mixed with powerlines and interstate signs.  This was not an adventure- this was a drive.  After two miles and another 10 minutes of indecision, I turned my car around and started driving again, this time towards the mountains. Twice I stopped and thought about grabbing some Chipotle for the road, but I knew I would need a bathroom in another hour or so, and I didn’t want to stop twice. Plus it was exactly noon on a sunny Saturday and there were bound to be a million people standing in line.

I drove past Chipotle, made another u turn and started back the way I came. Just as I suspected, I had to use the bathroom about an hour later. I could have just gone back home, but I still thirsted for adventure. Plus I know how vital it is that I get out and about and immerse myself in the contaminated world.  I suppose it also helped that I was getting hungry. So I settled for a small restaurant I was familiar with in a quiet city, just 10 minutes from home.

The food wasn’t particularly good, but the bathroom was clean enough. Not exactly what I wanted, but I have learned to be content with less. In my eyes getting through an okay meal without being triggered was just as good, if not better than eating an amazing meal while battling obsessions. OCD if anything, had taught me the subtle art of settling for less. Still, I had wasted a ¼ tank of gas and a good 2 hours of daylight. When I hit the road again and headed towards the mountains, I felt slightly irritated, but two steps ahead of defeat. As the city gave way to winding roads, the irritation gave way to a dull apathy, and then quiet contentment. The drive was beautiful, more so than I expected.

turkey pic
Photo Credit: John Hafner, RealTree.com

At first I am winding through dark canyons with red rocks jutting through the shadows of the foothills, and then I am immersed in evergreen trees. I feel the free floating anxiety that follows my shadow slink away as I drive deeper into the foothills. A group of wild turkeys gawks in a clearing to my right and there are deer tucked between small shrubs and rock ledges. My sense of adventure kicks in just as I turn right onto a route I’d never traveled.

After an hour or so, the winding canyons gave way to a wide open plain. Cows munch on dried grass and roaming buffalo stood strong in the afternoon Sun. Snowcapped mountains sat on the horizon like a tiara. The site of them, just floating at the end of the road, momentarily overwhelmed me. I felt grounded, then humbled, then fragile. I started to think about this long week, and this long month in this whirlwind of a year. Grief overcame me.

mountain pic 2

At first it was a jolt of grief, enough that I felt my throat tighten as I reflected on the narrow world my life has become. Having OCD just sucks the joy and life from every nook and cranny and fiber of my being. It’s paralyzing and agonizing doubting your thoughts and fears and future. I’ve lost more than my gumption for life, I’ve lost my mojo, my sense of adventure, my thirst for new experiences. I am exhausted with the never-ending cycle of routines. Shopping, showering, brushing my teeth, eating, drinking, running errands, and meeting friends have all become emotionally taxing. I feel stuck. My self esteem deteriorates daily. When I watch movies, or look at jobs or think about moving into a tiny home, I am plagued with anxious thoughts. So I don’t make plans unless I absolutely have to, and instead of dreaming, I play make-believe.

Usually when these thoughts come up, there is anger and a sense of betrayal. But today there were only tears and a profound type of misery, that was bleak but oddly beautiful.  I have carried this heavy burden of OCD and depression with me for the past 2 years. And despite the marked improvement I have felt from an intense vitamin regime, I have still yet to grieve for the beautiful, bold and carefree creature I once was.

I read somewhere that you shouldn’t hold onto emotions for longer than 90 seconds because they can become trapped into your energetic field and eventually manifest as illness and disease in your body.  I wonder if that’s why I eventually came down with an autoimmune disorder and strange food allergies. Either way, it makes sense to me intuitively. The thoughts are almost always the same, as are the sensations in my fleshy being.

I feel the knot in my throat that comes when I think about all that I have lost. I feel the tension in my shoulders and neck when I think about how it has impacted my family, friends and those I care about most. Finally, I feel the rot in the space where my rambunctious spirit once lived. My chest quakes and I heave. The grief rolls out me of me like hot air from a fire breathing dragon. It does not belong inside of me. It wants to be felt, witnessed and freed.

By now the tears are flowing and I am sobbing. Tiny wails escape my lips as my shoulders fall and relax. It comes and goes like a riptide, only I don’t fight it, I let it carry me out to the big wide ocean where I can be purged from the shame of it. Eventually the tension gives way to surrender and my body relaxes into the weight of the car seat.  My breathing returns to normal and the muscles in my face relax as the last of the tears falls from my cheeks.

I go through this grieving process three or four times in the course of my 2 and a half hour drive. Each time grieving for a bite-size portion of my quiet misery. I go from the general to the specific, thinking about the last couple years of my life, to the most impactful moments- giving up my dog, going to bed hungry because I didn’t want to wash my hands, watching my relationships crumble. And each time, I sing to the grief and call to it with sweet, deliberate intention. I do not judge it or fight it, but invite it to flow out of me into every corner of the universe until it’s essence dissipates across the vastness of space and time.

Eventually, the moments between heaves and tears becomes further and farther between. Just as I sense I have done enough grieving, I come to a literal fork in the road. I decide to turn my car around and head back home-racing against the setting sun.

buffaloranch2
Photo Credit: Steve Garufi

On the way back home, I let my mind wander.  As I watch the cows, and the buffalo and the wild turkeys and several groups of deer, I  am still the same person, plagued with the same afflictions, but I am somehow lighter and freer. I see them deeper and truer than I previously did. I see myself deeper and truer than I previously did and so I am grateful. As I drive further into the canyons, away from the mountains, I feel the anxious energy of the rolling plains and lowlands greet me. I resist the urge to tense, and instead let it rest alongside the spoils of today’s adventure.

Grief is a dark and heavy blanket. It covers me in heavy shrouds of sorrow, offering shelter and protection from the world of woes. When I am blinded by the light of eternal optimists, I find shade and refuge in it’s dark crevices. When I am tired from the muck of the day, I disappear into the folds of its curved hammock. When I am too ashamed to enter the home of my heart, it is the mat where I rest my head and cry my worries to sleep.

florence pic