In this think piece, Alledria details the phases of grief and how they relate to a change in self-identity, in this case her move away from a Christian church-led belief system and into a new phase on her spiritual journey. At Cosmic Corner, we believe the right spiritual path is the path which brings you inner peace, whatever that path may be. What happens when you realize your current path isn’t bringing you inner peace? - Carmen Loup, owner
For many of us, we are leaving established religion in one way or another to follow a path that feels more authentic and more human than the one we left behind.
If that is true, why do we feel the way we do? I, like many, was raised in organized religion, specifically Protestant Christianity. Therefore, I have a distance to go to come to where I feel like I belong. So, why do I sometimes find myself longing for a world where I was not necessarily loved or even tolerated? That's something we have to deal with as we step out of who we used to be and into who we truly feel we are.
It is said there are five stages of grief: denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I look at my journey away from the life I used to lead as a grieving happening for my old self.
I'll use myself as an example because that is the life with which I am most familiar.
I have left the church on multiple occasions. I have to say that because it helps to understand the stages of my grieving process for my old self. When I first left the church, the first time, I simply isolated myself from others, both those of my old life and those of the new life I was trying to build. I didn't think anyone could understand what I was going through, so I simply decided I would talk to no one. I don't know how many of us have gone through this exact scenario, but understand there is a thriving community outside of organized religion which one can be a part of.
After that isolation came the denial, the going back, the trying to recover who I used to be by throwing myself back into the life I used to live. I swung the pendulum as hard as I could in the direction of my old life, hoping against hope I was wrong about myself and I could return to who I used to be if I just tried hard enough. Because I'm writing this blog, I guess you can see how that turned out.
When it didn't work, and of course it didn't, I got angry both at the worlds I wanted to be part if (old and new) and at myself for being unable to seemingly make up my mind about where I wanted to be. Did I want to be part of the Protestantism or did I want to seek other sources for my connection to the divine? What did I really want? The anger was very real and it felt as if it would never end. However, truthfully, it doesn't. It eventually burns itself out and then comes as an insidious part of grieving: bargaining.
Bargaining is a simple idea in which one tries to bargain with themselves to get where they think they want to go. Except in this case, I started bargaining with the idea of God which I had held for so long. I said if I could just make up my mind, if he would just give me some direction, if things would just change so that I could feel whole again, then I would be a perfect person. That is not how it works, though. It simply isn't. Like me, you may want to bargain with the Universe for clarity, but what you (and I) need is to recognize where we are and work our way out of that part of things as fast as possible. It's dangerous to be in the bargaining phase for too long, because you may be working your way backwards instead of forward.
It's hard to believe that depression (a deep and abiding sadness in this case) is a step forward. It feels like something that will last forever, and this is the part of grieving I think everyone is familiar with. The urge to cry at the drop of a hat. The memories making you want to pull back and disappear. The joy seeming to have been drained away. All of that feels as if it will never end. The truth is: it will not last forever. The sadness you feel is a loss of a self, but you're building a new self; therefore, you feel soldiering forward. You are almost there.
Acceptance, the final stage of grief, is when you can look backward without losing yourself in pain or forward without denying who you truly want to be.
Now this is not to say you won't still feel pangs of pain for your previous self or go fearlessly forward into the new you. There may be five major stages of grief, but in truth, it never truly ends. As someone who has lost someone will tell you, you are never really over it. There will always be things that make you feel as if there are things you miss from your pervious life. You will pine occasionally. It's okay. It just means you're healing.
All together, the five stages of grief are a necessary part of moving from your old identity to your new one. Be prepared for them as best you can and you'll come out of it on top.
Alledria Hurt is an author and relative newcomer to the world of paganism, but a quick study. She is also the owner of Sista Ghoul Booktique, a small bookshop currently located in the back of Cosmic Corner.