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One of the first things they teach you in trauma recovery counseling is the principle of positive distraction.

When hard thoughts from the past rear their ugly heads, and threaten to pull you in and overwhelm you, the idea is that you replace those thoughts with other thoughts as quickly as you are able.

One of the most helpful coping techniques is called 3-2-1.

It helps to center you in the present moment directing you to pay attention to your immediate surroundings and your sensations in the present moment.

But sometimes the technique does not work when waves of grief come crashing.

I do the 3-2-1 exercise like this:  I first stop for a second, get quiet, focus on my breathing, and count to ten.

Then I name three things in my immediate surroundings that I can SEE.    Right now, I see the orange scissors in the pen and pencil cup.   I see the empty bottle of vanilla pear seltzer on the floor.  I see the foil fringe on the silver balloon weight fluttering in front of the fan.

Then I name three things I can FEEL:  I feel my leg against the side of the leg of the computer table.  I feel the tag on my dress scratching the back of my neck (and remember that I meant to cut it off).  I feel the carpet under my bare feet.

Then I name three ambient things I can HEAR:    I hear a car going by on the wet street.  I hear the whirr of the fan and can tell it is on the low setting (and it is so hot here today I should get up and put it on medium at least).  And now the phone is ringing, but I am not going to answer the phone until I get this diary published.

That's the THREE level of the exercise.

Then I move on to level TWO.  I name two things I can see, two things I can feel and two things I can hear.  No repeats.

Then I name one of each.

Then I sit quietly and take some more deep breaths and see if the intensity of the trigger that caused me to stop and do the exercise has lessened.

If not, I go through the whole sequence again.

I know it sounds weird, but it is one of the most helpful things I ever learned from years and years of various counselors.

Sometimes it works to short circuit a vicious circle of repetitive obsessive thoughts.  Sometimes it works to jolt me back to the present when a flashback of being stuck in a painful past situation seems very real.  Sometimes it works to take my mind off food cravings.

But grief is more than just a thought to be interrupted.  It is more complicated than that.   It can cast a very real shadow over the present moment.  Sometimes everything I can see is a reminder of absent loved ones.  It is also a physical sensation.  Sometimes all I can feel is the knot in my gut from the tension and stress I drag along behind me as I move through the day.  Sometimes all I can hear is the sound of my own tiny whimpers and moans as I try to hold back tears until a more appropriate time and place.

One, one one...  right now I am looking at my computer screen, but I can still see my mother struggling to smile when she sees me walk into the room, even though she is weak and in a lot of pain.  I have the TV on, but I can still hear my mommy's voice saying "my baby's home".  And in my body in this present moment I feel the ache of regret of things I did not do or say or record or preserve.

And I wonder how long it is going to be this hard.

Welcome, fellow travelers on the grief journey
and a special welcome to anyone new to The Grieving Room.
We meet every Monday evening.
Whether your loss is recent, or many years ago;
whether you've lost a person, or a pet;
or even if the person you're "mourning" is still alive,
("pre-grief" can be a very lonely and confusing time),
you can come to this diary and say whatever you need to say.
We can't solve each other's problems,
but we can be a sounding board and a place of connection.

Unlike a private journal
here, you know: your words are read by people who
have been through their own hell.

There's no need to pretty it up or tone it down..

It just is.

Originally posted to The Grieving Room on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 06:21 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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