19 Jan Running on Fumes
For those who haven’t met me, my friends and clients know me as the calm, quiet one—the one who listens deeply, speaks thoughtfully and rarely, if ever, loses her cool.
I have devoted the last 15 years of my life to teaching Compassionate Communication and the TRE (Tension Releasing Exercise) system, and have spent my life determined to replace old family patterns of shutting down, blowing up, and all manner of eye rolling outbursts.
And with all that said—even the queen of calm, cool and collected can lose it when stress and grief collide.
I had just returned from visiting my family in Minnesota. My father had had a stroke, and it was uncertain if or how he would recover. He couldn’t talk or eat food at that point. It was the first time I’d ever seen both my 81-year-old father and my 54-year-old brother cry, grappling with the uncertainty of the situation.
While Dad did his best to recover in the following weeks, my mother simultaneously began deteriorating rapidly in ways nobody seemed to be able to make sense of. Barely 2 months later she was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer and died 10 days after the diagnosis.
We were all in shock. We went through the motions of putting together the funeral, calling loved ones, having conversations with those that came to the memorial—it felt like a strange dream from which I couldn’t wake up.
I had no idea how the loss of my mother would unplug me so deeply, so unpredictably and in ways for which I had no words or point of reference. Even though I was taking steps to take care of myself, I still felt numb and lost in this odd ocean of grief.
I carried on, as we all do, pretending to be “back to normal” even though I clearly wasn’t back at all.
One day, I was teaching a close friend TRE. We had done it once before and apparently, I thought she should have a perfect memory, because when she didn’t remember the exercises, I got uncharacteristically short fused and snapped, ”God, do you have amnesia or what?!!” Yikes!
She recoiled. I recoiled! I knew almost immediately my outburst had nothing to do with her and everything to do with how powerless I felt in the face of my mother’s death and my father’s fragile health and uncertain future.
Fear, overwhelming stress and powerlessness make for a serious landmine explosion waiting to happen. Kaboom! So much for calm, cool and collected.
How ironic that I should snap while I was teaching TRE—a modality that is all about unloading stress so you won’t snap! Seriously humbling! I apologized to my friend and told her I realized it had nothing to do with her and everything to do with my grief and overwhelm. She understood.
That moment was a wake up call for me. I realized: When you’re running on fumes, it’s just a matter of time before you… fume! And judging myself for not being able to handle everything under that kind of emotional pressure did not make it any better—it’s kind of like getting angry at your car for not going 80 miles an hour when there’s no gas in the tank.
In the months that followed I learned a lot about caring for my heart and body in a whole new way and, of course, this naturally deepened my awareness and understanding for anyone going through loss in his/her life.
I signed up for grief counseling, sought out more empathy from professional colleagues, got more acupuncture, bodywork and still… I’ve come to learn that grief and being human is a work in process- it’s not neat, tidy or easily packaged in 10 sessions.
Luckily my friend forgave me and we continue to help each other keep our emotional bank accounts more well-funded with regular empathy exchanges, laughing our heads off playing ping pong, and breathing in the beauty of Wright’s beach at sunset.
Here’s the bottom line: my experience tells me we need way more empathy and time to heal than our culture supports; way more than we are shown a template for. So if you find yourself running on fumes, don’t wait until you bite your best friend’s head off—slow down, tend to your inner landmines, and allow yourself to refuel with emotional support and a lot more patience for the journey.
Kristi Dee Doden
Communications Coach and TRE Provider