Throughout our lives, it is inevitable that will have moments where we are found dealing with loss. This can be from losing a loved one to being unable to find a pen. One might occur more often and our attachment is not the same, but it still is a loss. And it can seriously affect our lives. How we deal with these moments is crucial to how we go through life.
“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.”Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, on Providence, 2
I am not going to make you read about how I dealt with losing a pen, but we will look at the more serious side of the matter. The bigger losses; like losing a loved one, having a relationship end, or seeing friends leave. These examples are related to the people around us. But we can have similar feelings towards the loss of animals or our possessions. What we can see is a correlation between our attachments and our sense of loss.
Before dealing with loss
The first step, when we are still enjoying their presence very much, is to realize that loss is a possibility. You might think that it is bad to have such thoughts, but the Stoics recommended something we refer to as negative visualization. It makes you appreciate what you have now even more.
“What harm is there while you are kissing your child to say softly, ‘Tomorrow you will die’.”Epictetus – the Discourses, book 3, chapter 24.84
This reminded me of an example from William Irvine’s book: A Guide To The Good Life. Here he reflects, in chapter four: Negative Visualizations, on how two fathers see the mortality of their children. One uses Epictetus his view to kiss a loved one good night with the knowledge that they might not wake up. This parent will be more appreciative of the time they have together and will rejoice when he sees his child again the next day.
The other father assumes that she will outlive him and be there forever. For him, there is no need to be attentive to every minute they have together because there will be unlimited moments. This one will be as good as the next and if I’m busy now I can skip this time. But when that final moment comes, all the time lost will be a great cause for regret and sadness.
Rules on dealing with Loss
After learning about Stoicism, I realized that I had the tendency to visualize the worst-case scenario to prepare myself. This is one of the reasons why Stoicism appeals to me so much. It doesn’t mean you are a negative person, it makes you appreciate what you have so much more. And it makes you mentally stronger and ready for things to happen.
Whenever I deal with some kind of loss, my initial reaction is one of pragmatism. I start to list all the things that I can and need to take care of. While this helps me soften the first blow, it also means that I am hiding away from dealing with the loss head-on. There are some rules I put in place to make sure that I can face these events without causing a lot of destruction to myself and others. I wish to take you through them as an inspiration to use them and make your own.
Rule 1: No alcohol, drugs, or excessive indulgences.
This first rule I put in place after I was dealing with a break-up. Immediately after this happened I went to a party, drank too much, and woke up the next day feeling horrible. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally even worse. I wanted to lock myself up and not face anyone. After two days my body had recovered, but my emotional side was still bad. That’s when I told myself I would not do this again. I had to be strong and deal with it. No escaping or numbing it with some kind of substance. Be sober and examine your emotions. Alcohol only makes things worse.
Rule 2: Take care of yourself
These first two rules are very practical, but take a lot of willpower to stick to. Exercising and watching your diet are tangible ways of feeling better about yourself. You will have more energy and the endorphins provide you with a healthy dose of positivity. Then there is also your appearance. If you look good, you’ll feel good. Make sure you take care of your hygiene and dress up nicely. Lastly, create some good habits. Simple ones, like making up your bed, and doing the dishes before you go to sleep. These little things can have a big influence on your mental health when dealing with loss.
Rule 3: Deal with the loss
Don’t avoid the pain by breaking into rule number one, jumping into work, or whatever other obsessive behavior. It won’t go away until you learn to understand it and give it a place. This will take time and a lot of effort and is not easy. Find some people close to you who are willing to listen and give you support. The benefit of this process is that it will teach you a great deal about yourself.
Rule 4: Don’t play the blame game
This occurs more in break-ups, but can also happen when we lose someone. Blaming the other person is moving your sight away from what you can control and should address. If you feel that someone could be blamed, then there is a high probability that you also did something wrong. Look at yourself first and then learn from the situation. Keeping your focus on someone else will not do you any good and it will only prolong the process. If you assume the victim role, you can’t grow.
Rule 5: Do something creative
Read, write, paint, make music. Find a creative outlet where your emotions can express themselves. When dealing with loss, we tend to have a lot of emotions going on. It is not always easy to control them, so the best way is to find a positive way of letting them blow off some steam. This process can also be fun as it will allow you to try new things. Experiment with new activities and find out what you like. This process brought me to writing, which proved to be something I enjoy. How you perceive the result I can’t tell. But if you are still reading, then maybe it’s not too bad.
Rule 6: Push yourself to get out there
Somewhat connected to rule five, this rule prevents you from becoming too isolated. Although some alone time is great, it is also important to be in the world. There you will meet new people and new things. You’ll see that life goes on with or without you. And you can remain in the loss or enjoy the time you have. Ask yourself what the person you lost would want you to do.
Rule 7: Talk to friends
This works in conjunction with rule three where it is important to have some people to talk to. If you find it difficult to talk to friends about this, you can find a professional to help you deal with the loss. When you do ask your friends for support, make sure not to only talk about your issues. Although you would like to, it is also good to see that they might also need your support. Everyone is dealing with something and friends are there to help each other. Make sure you do have one or two available for those difficult moments when you need to vent and complain for a while.
Rule 8: Be tough on yourself.
The rules before this one, require you to pick yourself up and sometimes drag yourself out of the house to do things. Don’t be too easy on yourself. Get a little angry and remind yourself that you are better than this and can deal with it. Even if you don’t believe it, repeating these things will make you start to see it that way. There are times to be sad, but there are also times to keep going. You can get through this.
Rule 9: You’ll be ok. Dealing with loss takes time.
Something you can keep telling yourself all the time. The same as with rule 8, if you repeat it enough, you’ll end up believing it. And it is true. Think back to other losses or adversities you have overcome. While you were in the midst of it it probably didn’t feel like you would be able to deal with it, but you did. And the same can will happen this time. Give it time.
Rule 10: Make new plans and set new goals to work towards.
Your life has changed and some of your plans or goals might have disappeared as well. Now it is time to look at yourself and ask what you want to do with your life. This is a moment to appreciate that you are here and have the option to make the best of it. These plans will give you something to focus on during difficult moments. They will motivate you to keep going.
Dealing with loss is hard, but you can do it
These ten rules are some that I fall back on and even if I am doing fine I remind myself of them. They keep me going and consistent on how I want to live my life. You might want to adjust some of them or add others that feel good to you. This is your exploration of yourself and what you think is important. Use this time to grow and become a better person. Believe in yourself and take responsibility for your own life. Dealing with loss is hard, but you can do it.
Read more about dealing with grief and loss here. An article by @BlackstudentsMH that gives you an overview of the different stages and some more tips.