“Progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.”Barack Obama
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.JRR Tolkein
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
A couple of weeks ago, one of my (and many people’s) worst political fears came to pass. The supreme court voted to overturn Roe V. Wade and thereby eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion. The ruling communicates to women, girls, and anyone who can get pregnant that their rights to their body do not exist in the eyes of the government. It has guaranteed that many people will die as a result of pregnancy, lack of access to resources, and at-home abortion techniques. This decision will disproportionately affect marginalized and underprivileged groups and people of color.
Furthermore, this decision kicked open a door that threatens other contraception choices, the right to marry whomever ones chooses, and trans and LGBTQ rights. Soon after we learned of Roe v Wade being overturned, there was another shooting. With some people I love affected by the shooting, it all has felt like a huge weight to bear.
Many of us are experiencing trauma, anxiety and depression as a result of the political landscape in our country. And for marginalized groups, that trauma has been complex and practically inescapable. How do we come to terms with a country that has left many of us feeling so unsafe, helpless, alone, uncared for and hopeless? How do we maintain positive attitudes when there is so much pain and suffering going on around us?
These are the questions I have been grappling with myself over the last couple weeks and have been speaking about with clients in sessions. If you have been having similar thoughts and feelings, I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you want to talk to someone about these feelings, therapy can be a helpful outlet. Please call or reach out for a consultation to see if counseling is right for you.
Here are some tips for how we can think about this decision and begin processing our grief:
- Let yourself grieve. You are not bad, lazy, or failing at your life because you are grieving in this moment. Adding on to the pain of feeling sad, we often blame ourselves for feeling depressed or tell ourselves that we aren’t entitled to our pain because so many other people ‘have it worse.’ Why are we feeling this way when we have a good life, when we have access to abortion, or maybe, when we aren’t a part of a marginalized group? A wise therapist once told me, “Pain is pain.” It’s all suffering, and it all deserves our attention. Furthermore, we cannot force ourselves out of grief, just like we cannot force ourselves to heal from trauma. Healing never comes from force or beating ourselves up. Healing only comes from tending to ourselves with gentleness and compassion—just like we cannot heal from sickness by forcing our bodies to work harder, we cannot heal from emotional pain by forcing ourselves to ‘suck it up’ or ‘push forward.’ Your feelings are welcome, beautiful and healthy. Allow them to be there just as you would allow a child’s feelings to be there. Let the vulnerable parts of you know that you care about them and that they don’t need to go anywhere.
- Allow yourself to retreat, if you need. Escape, watch a lot of tv, eat things that give you joy, snuggle up on your animals or people you love if that feels good. Thank your body for giving you a respite, and let go of any guilt you may feel for being less present. Really feel how retreating may be protecting you from feeling overwhelmed by grief, and let yourself dissociate for a time. Be gentle with yourself and don’t force yourself to get as much done at work or at home. Lower your expectations for yourself—you are grieving, after all, and you won’t be able to accomplish all the things you can accomplish when you aren’t grieving.
- Come back to the present moment and remind yourself that you are safe. All anxiety is the result of being caught up in the past or the future. If you are reading this article right now, you hopefully have your basic needs met and are safe, clothed, and fed. We don’t know what the future will hold, and often our brains find worst case scenario situations and focus on negative outcomes rather than possible positive ones that might be harder to see. Some of the darkest moments in life and in this country’s history have led to beautiful things down the road. As Obama says, progress is not a straight line. The Vietnam war led to people coming together and protesting, writing music and making art, and starting a political movement that would influence people positively up until the present day. No situation is without some kind of light or goodness, even if it seems impossibly grim. Some of the darkest things in life—a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a loss of a loved one—can lead to new relationships, a new sense of gratitude, or spiritual awakenings.
- Allow for the possibility of gratitude (but don’t force it or beat yourself up for not feeling grateful). We naturally focus on the negative (see my previous post about the negativity bias), and we have to first identify our bias in order to begin to see the larger picture. When we allow ourselves to feel pain and sadness but don’t get attached to our negative stories, we make room for the possibility that there is also goodness in our world. As we allow feelings to move through us without judging them, we may be overwhelmed by how much we have to be grateful for. We make space for remembering the people who loved us into being who we are, the wildlife present in our time, a body that is breathing and taking it all in, the way the seasons move and change and allow for life on this planet to exist, the purring of a cat, the way motes of dust float in a sun beam. Our world is touched by tragedy, but it is also a beautiful place, and we get to be alive and experience the mystery of this world every day. Every day we get to live is a miracle—one that is touched with pain, suffering, joy and tender care for others.
- Remember what you can control. You are a human, living a fleeting life full of sorrows and joys, uncertainty and ambiguity. Many humans throughout history have lived through something challenging, and we look at the people who endured the painful political moments with admiration. Though we cannot control the time we live in, we can control how we make meaning during our time. Think about your future self, down the road in 10, 20, 30 years. Looking back on this time, what would she want you to know and how would she want you to have shown up for yourself? Every moment is here to teach us something. Can you imagine how this moment might be an opportunity for your own growth and awakening? How have other hard moments in life contributed to your growth and your relationship with yourself? Begin to listen to what feels in line with who you want to be and with taking care of yourself. See where your body and mind want you to grow next, and don’t judge what this looks like or rush it. Joan Baez said that the best antidote to despair is action—what action might you be called to next?
- Do the things that give you energy and connect you to others. Get outside, play, create, be with the people you love, and talk about how you are feeling. One of our most painful experiences is feeling disconnected from others. This decision, coupled with Covid and constantly being on electronics, has left many of us feeling disconnected. You are a vital part of this complex, ever-changing world, and you are not alone.
As you move through this grief, I hope you can remember the truth of who you are, your inherent goodness, and your capacity to hold pain. You have experienced things falling apart before (and you will again), but all of it has led to you being where you are right now. Pema Chodron writes, “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.” Our country may be covered over with clouds right now. Your blue sky is always underneath.
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach focuses on helping creative and perfectionist women practice self compassion. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.