Grief Process

When I walked into the boxing gym on Friday, I knew something wasn’t quite right.

You know those days when you wake up and you just feel…off…somehow?

You feel a little more raw inside and you can just tell where it’s a day when your fuse is a little bit shorter and your tolerance for the world as it currently stands is that much less. At least, that’s pretty much how I felt.

I don’t remember who it was who told me that the reason why I shouldn’t be afraid of boxing is that it affords me a chance to “empty out the attic,” as it were, of all the negative, painful things cluttering my mind. And while I know this may make me seem like just another knuckle-draggin’ Cro-Magnon, alpha male wannabe, I have to admit that in my life, I really haven’t ever found a more helpful outlet that comes anywhere close to standing in front of a heavy bag, or now a speed bag, and just letting my hands go, as the boxing cliche goes.

The greater majority of the time, I go through my usual paces and by the time I take a break, my hands are pretty much spent. Friday was different though.

Every time I felt close to being done, with my arms and lungs on fire, my knees sore, my back cramping up, sweat pouring into my eyes so I couldn’t see, I’d walk away from the bag only to have something go off in my mind. An emotional cocktail comprised of one part white-hot anger, one part pure adrenaline and one part of the worst sadness I’ve ever felt.

Shake well and chug away.

The best way I can describe it is in that moment, nothing hurts anymore, even though everything hurts. And as intense as that emotional state is, it’s also quite scary. The whole point of learning a martial art, even boxing, is centered around building self-discipline. So when you suddenly find yourself tapping into something in your being so ferocious that discipline essentially goes out the window…?

I suppose that’s not too much different than jumping out of a plane and realizing a thousand feet into the adrenaline rush that you forgot to strap a parachute to your back.

By the time I was done, I felt like my arms were going to fall off and I was going to pass out. In hindsight, I’m genuinely surprised I didn’t break a hand or tear something, considering how many times I got a hit of that cocktail in the hour or so I was at the gym.

I guess what scares me more was the thought that I could keep going, even though I’d managed to drain myself of pretty much all the energy I had.

So, the question becomes what brought that on? Why was that occasion different than pretty much any other of the past 140+ days I’ve been at this exercise routine?

The answer is that it had been three days since disconnecting from my friend and both the withdrawals and the grief that came with that decision had become too much to ignore.

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve heard the insane double-standard of how men are somehow not supposed to do anything but internalize their emotions, especially when it comes to loss of any sort. It’s like it’s somehow assumed that guys are preternaturally disposed, from the time we’re born, of being able to not outwardly express themselves unless it’s to the betterment of someone who wishes to be the recipient of it.

I can’t say I’m angry, because that a stigma and taboo about how men are always angry and hostile because every guy is inherently a misogynist, even if the source of said anger originates from something done to me by a person of the female persuasion.

I can’t say I’m sad, because that’s another stigma and taboo about how men don’t cry. We don’t show sadness. We’re all about the stiff upper lip, the cold shoulder, the turned other cheek, the dignified soldier quietly soldiering on.

I can’t say I miss someone or I want things to be better with that someone because that’s yet another set of stigmas and taboos dictating that I’m supposed to just suck it up, Snowflake. Move on. Get over it already.

And I absolutely can’t say that I ever loved someone because that puts me in range for the stigma and taboo of being a nice guy, a needy guy, a toxic attachment and thereby must be avoided like the plague.

In the Internet and social media age, it is easier to slap stigmas, taboos, labels, -isms, and every other contrived definition on each other than at any time in human history.

Editorial Note: No joke. I googled ‘Guys you shouldn’t date‘ and was inundated with article after article that created archetype upon archetype for women to steer clear of. BTW, Gents: if you like video games, you are most definitely confined to the strata of total losers according to self-declared dating gurus online, so keep that in mind before telling admitting to a potential significant other you occasionally indulge in a little Skyrim or whatever when you need to blow of a little steam or not be bored.

I’ve had a long time to figure out who I am, both the good things and bad things. I’ve also had a long time to get a pretty good idea of what people think I am.

What bothers me the most about walking away is that I know that a huge part of why this relationship fell apart is because of things I couldn’t control bleeding into the things I could control.

I know that, if circumstances had been different six years ago, then there’s a very real chance that I wouldn’t be writing this now. That maybe we’d at the very least still be able to carry on the relationship as friends which we’d managed to have up to that point.

I’ve had friends tell me a lot that that there’s no point in beating myself up over it now and while I see their concern and I understand why they want me not to do that, they also don’t have to live with it like I do.

So I grieve this loss of someone who I loved. And I did genuinely love her. Very much.

I didn’t plan it. I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t the result of my doing anything extreme or untoward. Hell, up until the moment when I was finally honest with myself about it, I fought it with every fiber of my being.

It happened and I grieve it as much because it’s the product of both my actions back then as much as her inactions now.

I grieve because I know that for the rest of my life, I know I will inevitably catch myself thinking about her whenever I hear or see something that accesses one of the happier memories of our time together that I dearly hope I’ll never forget.

I grieve because it leaves me angry with myself that I couldn’t salvage the bridge between us after years and years of trying. I look at myself and wonder what I could’ve done. What I should’ve done. What I should’ve said or not said when I had the chance six months ago.

I grieve because unlike every other time in my life I’ve had my heart broken, deep down I know this was the last time I’m going to leave myself that open and vulnerable to someone. When I was younger and my emotional armor was thicker, I was able to heal up, shake it off and try again when whoever I thought might be the right person came along. If there’s one thing I’ve had to begrudgingly accept in all this, it’s that I don’t have any armor left.

I grieve because right now, all that separates us is maybe 20 miles of city sprawl and a whole lot of history and uncertainty that I hoped we could somehow shed, so long as we could meet somewhere in the middle, both emotionally and spatially. If, somehow, we ever manage to get back in touch with each other again in this life, I’m pretty sure we’ll be separated by thousands of miles and even more uncertainty.

Going forward, I know there’s going to be a lot of rough days ahead. Days where I will want, more than anything, to toss a message in a bottle out into the great social media sea with the fleeting hope that it might come back with a response. Days where I’ll be on the subway or walking around town and there she’ll be.

And I know there’s going to be days where I’m going to be standing in front of that hundred-pound of bag of sand and I’m not going to feel better until I’ve channeled all the rage and pain the last six years have brought me into it.

Ask any psychologist and they’ll tell you that grief is a process. Like it or not, I guess this is going to have to be mine.

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