The American poet, Mary Oliver wrote of her experience of death in the poem “The Uses of Sorrow”: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
I must use this quote at least once a week in therapy with clients, especially those who are navigating the painful paths initiated by the actions of a loved one, a spouse who walks out, a broken friendship, the death of someone special. In our moments of shock and grief, it is indeed like we have been given a box of darkness to unpack and cope with. So painful and debilitating, action seems pointless and enormously necessary at the same time.
Divorce, loss of significant relationships, death of a loved one, can swallow you up emotionally.
The most surprizing thing for many going through those situations is the amount of other psychological struggles that can be brought up as a consequence of a single life event. Significant life events such as those mentioned have a tendency to unleash other problems and insecurities of the past. It is possible to ignore your co-dependencies, or low self-esteem, or perfectionist ideologies when the sun is shining, but once you are caught in the grasp of shock and sorrow, other pains and self-doubts find their way out of the shadows. Such is the box of darkness.
The lovely poem highlights the opportunity for hope that exists in turmoil. When all these problems overwhelm you, it is time to reach out for help. Good friends, a therapist, even writing a journal can help you navigate this abyss.
As many of you know I run a therapeutic divorce groups for women going through divorce. I see repeatedly, how the shocking end of a marriage can throw capable, loving women into cascades of self-doubt, self-loathing, deep worry and ruminations of revenge. As the group work their way through sharing experiences and psychological elements each one starts to move forward, slowly but surely, and quite quickly in the case of some. I know its hard, and I encourage these women to explore all aspects of themselves during divorce. Explore your relationships to your spouse, your family of origin, to money, to things, to status. These boxes of darkness, eventually produce stronger, more human, more authentic, kinder women. Forged from painful flames to be sure, but remarkable and resilient.
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