As family members, we all have a calendar of very personal dates that impact us, sometimes with dread, anxious anticipation or tainted with melancholy. They trigger us, these dates of injury or death, birthdays and anniversaries, the first of something or the very last time. On top of all those days are holidays throughout the year. We don’t always feel much like celebrating. Valentine’s Day is one of those days.
Most people actively seek companionship and love. We have a need to belong, feel accepted and understood. Intimacy is a shared connection that is created when people are able to feel safe and can show vulnerability to one another. It can manifest in many ways. Physical intimacy is learned in infancy and we continue to need this bodily closeness with affectionate touch as well as sexually. A room or a place can be described as intimate, providing a feeling of comfort and warmth. It can take the form of an intellectual relationship such as a group that meets to exchange ideas and learn more on a particular topic. We all have different degrees of emotional intimacy with our family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
However, when your world is turned upside down through a traumatic loss, every aspect of your life is impacted. The dynamics of your relationships with others, your sense of security and trust in the world, your concept of who you are plus the roller coaster of emotions – sorrow, anger, guilt, grief, anxiety, fear of abandonment – it all leaves you feeling very unsure and helpless. When your sense of self is lost, it can be natural to be apprehensive of being further hurt emotionally. If you have been physically injured then you have a very real fear of additional physical pain. Those feelings of being numb and empty can lead to isolation as others avoid you not understanding or knowing how to connect with you. All of your sources of much needed intimacy are affected creating an emptiness.
It would be so much easier to turn to unhealthy coping like taking on many projects in order to be busy, turning to alcohol, drugs, food or risky behaviour to fill the void. Re-learning and recreating intimacy in our lives is not easy. It can become complicated by the guilt of being happy or laughing, guilt at sharing intimacy with someone new. Grief work is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. And ultimately, we grieve because we love.
If you are struggling with any of the intimate relationships in your life here are some things to consider:
- Give yourself permission to take the time you need to heal. Remember that everyone is different in their experience.
- Communicate with those in your life about what you are going through and how you are feeling. They can’t read your mind.
- Solitude can be healing as you navigate your new normal. You are no longer the same person you were and the future has been radically changed.
- Trust your instincts that you know what and when will be best for you. Sometimes you need to go with your gut and not your head or what someone else thinks.
- Show yourself the same compassion that you would to others. You deserve that.
- Try something new – join a book club, get a massage, take a pottery class. And try again if the first thing didn’t feel right.
- Don’t worry if you really didn’t feel like celebrating Valentine’s Day. However, do keep in mind that dark chocolate in moderation is good for you!