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Finding Forgiveness: The 6th Stage of Grief Kubler-Ross Forgot

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Boy am I glad 2012 is over … it was full of such highs and lows, I am dizzy from the bipolar coaster of a ride the year was. Especially, the last quarter of it … because I spent it grieving. And anyone who had to deal with me moping around the past few months can attest that I was diligent about actually grieving, because it was the first time I’d actually ever done it. I didn’t run to the emergency room of emotional pain looking for a quick fix. Though, I did run out and adopt a dog and impulsively got a tattoo, I didn’t sedate myself from my pain; I forced myself to actually feel it. Because you can’t put a band-aid on a broken bone, now can you? Well, as hard as we try, that doesn’t work for a broken heart either. Just like a torn muscle needs physical therapy, a broken heart needs to be rehabilitated so it can heal properly too. And with every injury life gives us, it hurts before it feels better. Because you’ve got to fall to your knees before you can get up. So, I put my big girl panties and game face on, and faced my pain head on, forcing myself to go through the stages of grief. And boy did it suck. I even broke out my old psychology textbook from college covering the Kubler-Ross Model that I knew I was hoarding for a reason.

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I was stupid through the (1) Denial Stage, which lasts for about a week. Then I was irrational and slightly bitchy and psychotic through the (2) Anger Stage — the absolute worst stage of them all. So I rushed through it quickly and went from pissed to pathetic in the (3) Bargaining Stage. Then, I fell hard into the next phase, (4) Depression.I lost 12 pounds from not having an appetite, and would randomly, without warning, break out into tears … and then try to be inconspicuous about it, but my mascara would get messed up so it would be obvious, and then I’d have to make up some stupid excuse as to why I was crying. Once I even blamed the Spice Girls for splitting up. And then … (5) Acceptance. That’s supposed to be the final stage and the death of the grief. But truth is, I accepted the reality of my grief as soon as the denial wore off. I accepted it, but that doesn’t mean I liked it. But through my faith in God’s plan, I learned to.

But, I think there is one more step Kubler-Ross left off her list … (6) FORGIVENESS! The unofficial 6th stage in the grieving process,  that my Psychology professors failed to mention.

Because you see, when you go through something, and don’t go through the process of healing from it — and just put a band-aid on and play through the pain pretending you’re not hurt, you’re just worsening the injury. Just like ignored back pain can end up a herniated disc, a broken heart that is never cared for can harden. And the next thing you know, you’re 30 years old dealing with the issues of having your virginity stolen from you when you were 13, or whatever childhood trauma you suppressed by just pretending like it didn’t happen. You can lie to yourself all you want, do things to distract yourself from mourning and put on a happy face as easily as putting on make-up, but you can not hide from your subconscious. Suppressing emotional pain is like building a bomb inside your soul … and it will eventually explode! It’s not just about accepting your situation as a reality and dealing with it, but it’s finding forgiveness that will cut the wire to deactivate said bomb.

This I learned while I was working as Tucker Max’s book tour manager. The weeks upon weeks we spent traveling all over the US left us nothing to do but get to know each other. And the author saw right past my cover and read me like he was Sigmund Freud. And to him it was pretty obvious, sighting my clinched jaw and anxiety induced when things didn’t go according to plan, that I had some open wounds on my heart so deep, I was programmed in a constant state of fight or flight. We were in the car and an Eminem song came on the radio and I told him how the video looked like a scene from my past. He then reached over and turned the radio all the way down and shouted, “You relate to Eminem songs…GO TO THERAPY! That is an order!” He was my boss at the time, after all. And I had a lot of work to do.

I can’t go back and re-write my past, editing what I’ve done and what’s been done to me, but I can certainly stop trying to. You see, you can use your painful experiences to strengthen you, or you can allow them to limit you — that’s up to you. Stop re-reading your mistakes and change the way you view the pain, and you can start a brand new chapter with a fresh perspective. And all that takes is the offering and acceptance of forgiveness. That’s the miracle drug for emotional ailments, as an apology is both a confession of guilt, and the releasing of it. And accepting one is to stop suffering blame for something you’re not guilty of.

And if I’ve been extended the grace of forgiveness from God, the least I could do is extend that courtesy to others … starting with myself.

So in this 6th and final stage of grieving, I had to escape to get a fresh perspective. I took some vacation days and fled the country and went to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Turkey. Because that makes sense, right?

I got off the plane in Antalya, Turkey and my friend Selda I was visiting wrapped me up in a scarf and said I needed to cover up because I was a Christian in a Muslim country. I respected the culture and cluelessly obliged … and went with it for a good 24 hours until I realized I was in a secular country and was getting punk’ed. After laughing harder than I had in months, I carried on with my cultural exploration.

I stood there on ruins built in 133 B.C. (and we thought the Biltmore was old), looking out at the Mediterranean Sea, I watched the crystal clear water cascade over sanded down stones lining the mountainous shores, the waves always changing and never staying. It occurred to me that no matter how far away you go, you can never escape your problems if you don’t stop and solve them. Because it’ll always be the same tide, different ocean. And sometimes love will come and go like the tide, and change hits us like a tidal wave. But when you ask God for a life vest, drowning in your sorrows is optional.

I packed light on my international flight, but I had more emotional baggage than I could carry … so I threw all that into the waves and watched the tide cast it away as I accepted apologies I never got and found peace in the fact I’d said all the “sorrys” I needed to.

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You see, the trick to actually forgiving, is to focus not on what man’s done to you, but on what God’s done for you. And stop worrying about all the things you did wrong, and have confidence that you now know how to do life right, or at least how not to do it. Be grateful for the lesson rather than stress over the test.  In therapy, I do believe they call this the break through.

And I just came to terms with the fact that people will take my kindness for granted, but that doesn’t mean I should question the point of being kind. And people will judge me, but they don’t have the final verdict over me. And my heart will break again, but now I know how to repair it.

On my 24 hour trip back to the states, I pulled up the Elevation Church Network that streams sermons 24/7, and just as my borrowed internet started working, I heard Pastor Steven Furtick say, “Forgiveness is not only a defense mechanism, it’s an offensive strategy to win the war of bitterness in our hearts.” …Coincidence? I think not. I know that was God winking at me, letting me know that war’s been won, He helped me tackle that bitterness like an Offensive lineman and in turn my heart’s been renewed.

Since then I’ve been Baptized, went home for Christmas and restored my relationship with my entire family, and when a national television show called me up wanting me to talk about a blog I wrote back in 2009 when I pulled a literally Taylor Swift, I could say with confidence, I’m so over that – my forgiveness has been archived now.

And plus now I know that if I ever find myself in a bad mood, I probably just need to take a nap.