I Think I’m Done With Keeping It All Together
I Think I’m Done With Keeping It All Together

I Think I’m Done With Keeping It All Together

There is something SO powerful in choosing your own path and deciding for yourself what matters – and I hope you can hear that power in my voice, so that you start to notice it in your own voice, too. Because today we are going to unravel part of our understanding of what it means to heal. There is one common thread to all the complaints and hesitations I hear from grievers about doing their grief work, and that thread is held in place by fear. That thread is the belief that we can or must “keep it all together.” But instead of just dismissing the idea as nonsense, we’re going to bravely unwind this concept and see what opportunity for healing remains.

This false presentation of self that says we are not struggling in our grief because we are “holding ourselves together” is unhelpful. I hear it daily, that if we just keep it all together, we can survive our grief and our life and things will be okay. I want to acknowledge that holding ourselves together is a form of grieving, but it’s one that leaves us drained. When all of our energy is put toward appearing fine and staying busy, there is no energy left for the meaningful grief work. So what does keeping it all together even mean and how can we learn more about it for our benefit instead of using it as a place to hide?

Remember that when we are faced with something that feels uncomfortable or disquieting, it is our job as grievers to become curious. Curiosity allows us to ask what underlying belief is propping up this ideal of “keeping it all together?” When we notice that we are keeping a stiff upper lip or even tell someone we are just keeping it all together, that is our moment to notice what we are doing and get curious about what we actually want.

In my experience, keeping it all together is a way of believing we can maintain the standards of living we enjoyed pre-grief. We have a high expectation of self-control that allows us to move through life unbothered and unrestricted. Keeping it all together means we continue to function at high rates of productivity, too, letting that remain as the measuring stick we use to evaluate our worth.

What resonates with you? Is the value of productivity more important than the value of authenticity? How about emotional stoicism as a value? Is it more important than vulnerability? Be honest with yourself. When we are connecting with other people, we want to seem like we have everything handled for lots of reasons. Having needs makes us a burden. Being emotional makes us too much. Being honest makes us weak. To be clear, I don’t actually believe any of those statements.

All of these statements are beliefs designed to prevent us from experiencing more losses. We don’t want our support circle to abandon us for being too hard to handle. We pre-judge ourselves and limit our expressions of grief so that we can continue to fit into the mold we think we need to survive. But pretending to fine and holding it all together is an underlying red flag belief about grief that will leave us feeling just as empty as if everyone we know has already walked away from us.

So if you resonate with the need to keep it all together, let’s ask a few questions and then see if we can create an opportunity for balance instead of self-betrayal. Because keeping it all together is ultimately a betrayal of your hurting parts. Pretending things are fine when you are in crisis is denying that you have needs and are inherently worthy of having those needs met. Will expressing your needs cost you something? Absolutely. Everything in life costs us something. These questions will help you determine if the cost is worthwhile.

Think back to one of your core values of this current season of life. Instead of saying to self, “I need to keep it all together,” try asking this: “Do my actions and feelings align with my core value right now?” If the answer is yes, or mostly, then take a moment to celebrate! Your intentional grief work is making an impact in your life! If your answer is maybe, not really, I don’t know, or I’m not sure about my core values, then here are a few more questions you can ask.

Does this core value change my desire to keep it all together? What does keeping it all together really mean to me? What does it mean when I consider it through the lens of this core value? What could be possible if I decided not to hold things together and instead, start allowing things that no longer serve me to fall away?

I think what matters here is not that you have a particular core value to process these questions through, but that you allow your values to be the track your decisions run down. Keeping it together is a belief propped up by fear, as I mentioned earlier. We fear being seen and judged as lacking. If they really knew what we thought, they would leave us. If they really saw what a sobbing mess I am all the time, they would fire me and I would lose everything. I know those fear statements are real because I’ve thought them myself and to be fair, in some instances, they’ve been true. But does the chance of failure or loss justify my living in aversion to loss for the rest of my days?

Living in fear is imbalanced. Living in fear eliminates the opportunity we need to trust the uncertainty of a situation and learn to heal through whatever comes. The lack of certainty in life is guaranteed and challenging to overcome, and when we face grief for the first time, often it feels insurmountable. But this is where we get to redefine what it means to keep it all together and see what remains.

So as grievers, this is a big ask. I am fully aware I am asking you to take the fear that guides some of your thinking and invite it to take several seats. You can tell it what to do – get bossy with fear and try to muscle it out of the way. But remember, it’s here for a reason. Fear of judgement or fear of rejection has kept us safe for a long time. It’s a coping mechanism we’ve used for connection and that’s okay. It’s just that now, it no longer serves us. Keeping it together out of fear is no longer the goal. Healing and learning to show up in a balanced and honest way is the target we’re trying to hit.

Especially being that this is the holiday season, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the busy celebratory energy and feel a little overlooked as we try to balance joy and sorrow. We’re grieving; even if others expect us to perk up and smile through the season, we know that expectation is impossible and unrealistic. But instead of relying on the fear narrative to “keep it together” and protect the facade of peace around us, we’re going to use a new strategy.

This is a trick I use to include my whole self and experience without minimizing my own story or making others “feel heavy” with me. When I fear rejection, I choose to be honest with people instead.

I know, not a trick…but it’s much harder than we think because it’s not just about blurting out what we want to say in the moment. Being honest means expressing ourselves after first assessing ourselves. It means we have checked in with our values and found ourselves out of alignment with whatever demand we’re facing. Maybe imagine that you’re at a holiday gathering and you’re not really in the mood for bright lights and laughter. Instead of painting a smile, what might be different if you took a few minutes before the party to be introspective and curious? It would sound something like this: “Self, how are you doing? There is a lot of external pressure to be holly and jolly and full of charm tonight.”

Part of you might want to feel that way and express your holiday spirit. But another part of you might suspect that is a forced expression, one of expectation and performance. Let both parts (and any others that have something to share) be present. As we ask ourselves these questions, we do so remembering that all parts are welcome; all parts belong.

And as you invite each part of you to have a voice, the true self within you gets to decide how to be honest with your host or friends, which might sound something like this:

“Hi! Yes, I’m here and I’m glad to be with you. I’m feeling a mixture of melancholy and anticipation tonight, so while I might seem more reserved, I’m really grateful to be included. Thank you for letting me be exactly where I am and still be present.”

Imagine for a moment that a friend said this same thing to you. What trust! What invitation. What softness might arise within you toward your tender and hurting friend? Assuming you are able to ignore the impulse to be the comforter for them, what a gift for you to be the recipient of such a vulnerable expression. You don’t need to pry or ask for more details. You just need to honor their honesty and thank them for sharing. To me, that moment is like standing on holy ground.

Recently, I polled my Instagram followers for what they think makes the holiday gatherings the toughest to navigate, and the resounding answer was the constant queries of “Are you okay?” 

It’s like, “Girl, no. I’m not okay. But also, I’m okay. I just can’t spend the next three hours of this White Elephant game trying to fight off tears because you want my ‘truth and honesty’ while I just want to sip spiced cider and hope I can lock up that new pair of Bomba socks someone brought to the gift exchange. So I’ll be honest when I can, and quiet when I can’t, and honor this space and be grateful I’m here.”

Grief is odd, isn’t it? It’s such a paradox. I can think of days when all I want is to be ignored and others when I feel desperate to be seen. I think that’s why the myth of keeping it all together is such a powerful thought to unravel. It allows us to check in and see where we’re really at before we dive into the same old self-protection patterns. Assessing our state ahead of time lets us take control of what we want to share, and allows us to tell others our honest truth about our state without making the entire conversational arc of the evening about our grief.

It’s with us, but it’s not front and center.

We are with us, front and center. Embodied, present, honest, and authentic. And in that, able to join the celebration with all the complexity we feel. No more “holding it all together.” Just holding ourselves gently instead.

Thank you for listening to episode 114 of Restorative Grief. I hope you can soften a bit toward the part of you who has fought to keep it together for so long. What a protector. What a gift of a strong back and sturdy hands to carry so much, for so long. This invitation to release those expectations and the fear of rejection is no small one to accept, and so as you go about the rest of your day, go with the honor of being with yourself through the thick and thin of all that you face. May your “all together” be as gentle and merciful as possible through the holidays.

If this is your first time listening to Restorative Grief, I’m grateful you’ve chosen such a challenging narrative to start! All the Restorative Grief offerings are available at MandyCapehart.com where you’ll find episode transcripts, links to our Patreon, online coaching information, and the Restorative Grief Project. Remember to subscribe and if you like what you heard, leave a five star review to help other grievers find this work as well. Check out the show notes for other resources from this episode and come find me on social media @ MandyCapehart – I love connecting with listeners and learning more about your stories, too.

And as always, one last thing. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.

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