I don't do drugs of any kind.
I rarely drink. Wine gives me headaches and makes me fall asleep, I think beer tastes like gasoline (not that I've ever consumed gasoline, but if I did, I know it would taste like beer), and I'm way too wimpy for hard liquor type-stuff.
So, two and a half years ago, when life pushed me at 100 mph onto this freight train called grief, it was never even a thought in my brain to use alcohol or drugs as part of my coping mechanisms. This is not a judgement on anyone who has - it is just a statement of fact.
I did, however, find other ways to cope. I latched on to other addictions, and used them as my crutches to hold me up when I couldn't walk. And in the beginning of this nightmare, walking felt like something I had never done before. My legs were jello and they felt shaky and foreign, like they belonged to someone else.
In the beginning, and today, there were 3 things that became and remain my ways of coping. Three things, more or less, that I hold onto and use as the tools inside my toolbox, to help me get through each day:
1. WRITING - Two nights after my husband's sudden death, late, somewhere around 4am, I was furiously typing away at the computer at my parent's house. I was staying with them for the night in Massachusetts, and we had to be up in 3 hours to drive back from there to New Jersey, where my husband and I had lived for 7 years, for his funeral services. I remember my dad coming into the room saying: "Are you sure you want to do this? You don't have to, you know." I was writing his Eulogy, which I would deliver the next morning to that huge crowd of family, friends, and loved ones. And yes, I didhave to.
And from that day on, writing was never a choice. It was never something that I logically decided to do. It just came to me. It fell out of me. It let my soul free itself, and I could say whatever the hell I wanted. It felt awful and wonderful and scary and intoxicating. I started writing down everything. First on Facebook, then in my personal blog (www.ripthelifeiknew.com), then in the form of a one-woman play about his death, then in Widow's Voice, then in Modern Widow's Club, then - and now - in the form of my book, which has a tentative goal release date for late spring 2014. It started out as being a way to cope, to get things out of me that needed to come out. It became so much more, when other people starting reading my words and responding to them, and thanking me for simply writing the brutal truths about death and grief. Writing gave me a reason to breathe again, and everytime some new person tells me that something I wrote helped them or moved them in some way, it makes me want to take just a few more breaths, and then maybe a couple more.
2. HUMOR - Whenever someone implies or asks the question of: "How can you laugh at something so serious and sad and horrible like death?", my response is usually: "How can you not?" I have always had a pretty twisted sense of humor. My husband had a very sick sense of humor. He was hilarious. He found humor in both silly things and dark things. He served in the Air Force, in Desert Storm. He was also a paramedic the entire time I knew him. He witnessed and experienced a lot of trauma in his short 46 years of life. Him and his EMS partners would cope with things like pulling little kids out of a car wreck,or watching a person die right in front of them - with humor. Everyone he worked with had that same sense of humor. Honest. Brutal. Funny. Him and I used to laugh probably more than we did just about anything else. So when he died so abruptly and unfairly, my humor kicked in right away, and I could literally hear him laughing his huge laugh, at how ridiculous this all is. Taking my pain and making it funny became a way of life. First I brought it to the stage, with my stand-up comedy. Then I brought that stand-up comedy to Camp Widow, where I presented my comedy workshop, and will again in 2014. I am always finding ways to make the pain funny, and when I do, I can feel him laughing with me. If I didn't laugh, I would probably die.
3. SUPPORT - Before losing my husband, I didnt really have much experience with death. Sure, like most people, I had lost grandparents and a few other significant people in my life. But nothing that was even in the same universe as the magnitude of this. So I didn't know much about grief. Even so, some sort of weird inner-instinct kicked in when it happened, and I immediately knew that I was going to need help. A lot of help. I knew that I would need to reach out, and find support in any way that I could. Family. Friends. Grief-counseling. Widowed Support Groups. Social Groups. Facebook Widowed Online Groups. Connecting with widowed people from all over the world. Attending Camp Widow. Saying yes to everything that was offered to me. Searching for more, and taking it all in. Because even with all that support, you can and you DO still feel alone. So alone. But sometimes if you are feeling very, very alone - and you can go to a place like Facebook and say it out loud and then have other people tell you: "Yes. I get it. I feel that way too" - sometimes, that can save your life. At least for today.
So what is in your survival toolbox?
(Pictured: me and my husband Don, acting incredibly silly together.)