Happy place coping strategies: Dealing with the past


This is a big topic for me.  One of the things that has hurt so much during grieving is by how much of it is tangled up in how I have (or have not) dealt with my past.  When I finally sought help for dealing with my complicated grief a significant proportion of that time was spent unpicking what seemed to be unrelated issues.

It isn’t just that past that I needed to unpick but my own relatively recent past experience of losing my sons that colours how I view pregnancy and loss.

See the story for what it is

The different cards cross over each other but at the core the lesson is that the past is exactly that.  It is the past, I cannot change what happened, I cannot change the actions I did or did not take nor the action (or inaction) of others.  Like most people I have a desire to see patterns in events to build a story and find a common thread between different events in my life.  That makes for good story telling but hasn’t offered the comfort or solace I might have hoped it would bring.  Part of it is trying to see events as what they are, recognising that there may be some parallels between different experiences that could offer lessons on how to better handle the horrors I face but ultimately echoes of the past are exactly that.  The danger in pattern spotting and story telling is that I mistake the echo for the event itself.

There were certainly parallels between my experiences of hospitals in the case of stillbirth and miscarriage but they were different events, at different times with different people.  I made the mistake of thinking that my experiences of stillbirth would be in any way a grounding in handling miscarriage.

What is it about a troubling behaviour that reminds you of the past?

To do this takes me conscious effort to recognise when I’m falling into the trap of confusing the past with present (and even future) by thinking about what is it specifically that calls it to mind.  This way I can try and avoid falling into an (un)easy script or taking unhelpful mental shortcuts.  I am not the same person I was in the past nor should I be.

Don’t hold the present accountable for others past

This follows on from the previous card.  Once I recognise the parallel the next step is to try and understand that the past and present are not the same and I shouldn’t seek to right past wrongs on someone else.  The person who makes a callous comment that sounds like something my father would have (or had) said is not my father and it does no good to try and resolve the unsolvable on a third party.

When you recognise a pattern smile at it and dismiss it by practicing a new response

This sounds goofy but there is a truth to it for me.  Much of my reaction to the past is automatic, based on mental shortcuts and well rehearsed speeches and stories.  Over time I forget that to get to that point I needed to think about what I was saying before saying it, refining the story with each retelling to shape a particular perspective I had at the time.  By smiling (metaphorically, let’s not get too wild) at the pattern I can take the opportunity to review that perspective and see if it still holds and is something that helps or hinders me.  It’s then I can start to practice a new telling of that story rather than falling into self-fulfilling prophecy or downward spiral.

This refining process in turn allows me to reshape the stories I tell of my sons.  Not just sad stories told sadly but the full wealth of experience we had with them.  Writing Oh… illustrated this all too well.  In telling the story of the end so much I had forgotten the beginning and middle of their story.  That is a shame as that approach has not served me well for subsequent pregnancies no matter their outcome.  It makes sense to be cautious but I allowed myself to suck the fun and joy out of it focusing on the terrible and ignoring the wondrous and in doing so diminished my wife’s joy at the same time.

I’m a great believer in the power of stories to change the world so it’s time I put that into practice to change mine.

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