What do holidays and journal writing have in common? They show how you feel. And that is perhaps the toughest and roughest part of living life as a man — that homegrown instinct to bottle up the negativity in order to always show strength. It means that feelings and emotions get trapped deep inside. It is at the very heart of why men’s grief is so desperately personal, especially at the holiday and family celebration times.
I believe that our minds are like garages. We store everything up there. Ideas, beliefs and values…many of which have all been shifted and moved about since the loss. For some of us, the overworked mind begins to shut down and we become isolated and withdrawn. For others, we get into overworked mode and do all sorts of things to avoid that quiet time, when these powerful thoughts can become loud, unavoidable and hard to deal with.
The build-up of grief for men is a desperately personal one because of these trapped feelings. They become the enemy to fight. And because you are waging war with yourself, you can’t call your buddies to bring backup. The fear that these emotions will come pouring out like a fire hose makes us work harder and harder using more and more strength to fight back.
The result is that the male grief journey gets pushed off. Very often, men will break down from this mental battle years or even decades after loss, after having lived a quietly stressed and sometimes reckless life of battle.
But there are ways to start letting some of that emotional pressure out without it being a major outburst. One way that I most recommend is daily writing or journaling.
OK — hold on. I’m not suggesting creating the next best-selling novel. It is more about the process of emptying out your mind’s garage one sentence at a time. When you write, you can see what you’ve been thinking. It is a completely private, safe, and effective way to take the pressure off without bursting at the seams.
It starts by making an agreement with yourself to write at least one sentence a day for the next seven days. The words do not have to be about anything in particular. In this case, the act of writing is the goal. Getting used to seeing your thoughts on paper is the gateway to helping your mind learn how to empty out. Could be something as simple as, “I will write more tomorrow.”
One sentence is just long enough to stop the busyness of the day for the moment; one sentence is just long enough of an activity to make you do something new for the day. So it helps both sides of grief in men — the loner and the over-doer. The goal is to make writing a permanent part of your journey.
As I said, this isn’t a novel for publication and it’s not going to be given to your high school English teacher either. It is not meant for anyone else to see, except you. So — short hand, long hand, hidden codes are all ok. So is complaining, accusing, arguing. And so is showing sadness, remorse, and pain. Once you begin to recognize these emotions, you will become familiar with expressing them and see that they are not your enemy at all. Just a natural part of who you are.
As you become familiar with the thoughts you have on the inside, then you will become more comfortable to begin talking with someone else and start gathering the right type of people who are going to help you along in your grief journey. It might be your spouse, another family member, or professional counselor. Each can help you to quiet down the battle in your mind and start you on a new path toward peace.