Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thoughts on Loss & Moving On

Whenever I hear the word grief or loss, my first thought is -- understandably -- related to the death of a loved one. Yet so often throughout life we lose things, significant things, and don't take the time or mental energy to grieve them.

If you know me in real life, you know how much emotions make me squirm. I'd much prefer everyone check their hearts at the door and move through public spaces making logical choices rather than those based on impulse or emotion. Most of the time this is a good guideline to follow, but I've noticed more and more lately that it can't and shouldn't always be applied to personal life choices.

I internally process everything, but I also have a perhaps too real sense of the ever flowing nature of life, and so while I often overanalyze single events to the point of personal paralysis, I also accept and move on from the fact that life moves on and situations change. Last year I had too much time on my hands in the midst of job-searching and I burnt myself out trying to analyze what I wanted, what I was suited for, what I needed to say and do to get ahead, what I should do in the meantime, and what the process meant. And so, though moving to D.C. was a big life change with adjustments in every single aspect of life, I didn't really think through it as it was happening. In my head, reality switched instantly from jobless and living with my parents in Raleigh to having a fulltime job and living on my own in a city three hundred miles away. The hard rebalancing in how I lived life as an independent adult didn't enter my thoughts; it just happened and I did what I needed to do and I didn't really process anything that was happening. 

I've talked about moving and adjusting several times before so I won't dive into it all again (scroll through my Washington D.C. tag if you want to find more posts about it), but lately I've found myself continually feeling stuck and frustrated and dissatisfied with everything for no apparent reason. I couldn't pinpoint anything that was making me feel this way; everything seemed to contribute, and I continued to grow frustrated with myself for not being able to do anything to change it. Circular thoughts kept running through my head: I like my job but it's not what I want to do forever, I like where I live but I want to move to Arlington but I can't afford it, I like my current apartment but all of the furniture is my roommate's and the apartment doesn't look anything like how I would decorate a space I inhabit. And then I would get frustrated and angry with myself for feeling so discontent, because I knew God had led to me this place and blessed me in so many ways in all of my circumstances, and all I could do was keep complaining about how my life isn't moving fast enough for me to do the things I want.

I would pray for a sense of peace and contentment, but all this did was mask the problem rather than address it. God wasn't going to solve something that I was meant to work through, but I didn't know what it was and why it was making me act the way it did. And then one afternoon, whilst chatting with church friends over Sweetgreen salads, it hit me like an electric jolt (if electric jolts were made of emotions): I had unresolved, stifled grief over the loss of things in my life that I hadn't come to terms with. 

I have had, by most standards, a good and easy life. Aside from the death of a grandparent several years ago, I haven't faced much personal loss of life, and I've never faced an unbearably rough financial situation or lost a job or gone through a destructive natural disaster or suffered abuse or any of the other myriad of ways people are broken through life. But I have been through several friendships that painfully fell apart, a nearly year-long personal health crisis in high school that put me on an extreme form of medication and left me with scars still visible today, long periods of loneliness, a year of unemployment aside from a couple internships post-grad, and most recently, a change in career trajectories that put me in the general field I wanted but not in the job type with responsibilities I was looking for. Some of these things I have worked through and have moved on from them. But others, like the broken friendships, I've long harbored bitterness over.

As I was talking to my friends about the importance of addressing grief and maintaining healthy emotions, it hit me that after I moved to D.C. I just dove into my new life without ever considering the effect that losing my previous life was having on me. It was easy for me to say homesickness is for saps without considering that, even though homesickness is not something I feel frequently, there is something to be said about the loss that comes from moving away from the area you've lived your whole life. Not only did I leave the place of with lifelong memories, but I left a geography I could map in my sleep, a loose network of connections I knew (everything from my dentist to the baristas at coffeeshops and the cashiers at Target), nearby vacation places, family events, and weekly dinners with the second family. Raleigh is extraordinarily comfortable and easy to me; whenever I'm there I feel myself relax in a way that I don't anywhere else in the world.

Not only did I leave a sense of familiarity behind, but I also left a certain type of business knowledge and job skill behind. All of my professional experience up until my current job was primarily online communications based, and I loved it. I dove into social media trends  for nonprofits, engaging online audiences, creating and writing segmented newsletters, designing infographics and volunteer forms, and incorporating what I was learning about the target populations into what I was doing. And while I now also work for a nonprofit, it's more focused on resource building for service providers, which I still enjoy but it's not what I did before.

None of this to say I regret coming to D.C. or that I hate my life currently or that I wish I could return to the days past, and I also realize these may seem like small things to focus on. But -- I've reached the point where I can no longer go forward until I go back. I can't fully accept a sense of contentment from God until I surrender all that is making me discontent. I can't grow into what He's prepared for me if I'm still focused on what came before. He can't transform what I'm tightly holding onto. It's become increasingly clear to me lately that though He makes all things new, that doesn't mean that past actions and situations don't still have consequences on our present and future.

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