The first seeds of the Phoenix Center for Grief and Trauma were likely planted in June 2001, when my dad died by suicide.
However, these seeds sat dormant for about six years, until January 2007, when my then-boyfriend died suddenly of a heroin overdose. My world, as I had known it, ended on January 10, 2007 with his death.
We had been on and off for eight years, and were technically off when he died. But he was much more than a boyfriend; he was my best friend, and by far the closest person in the world to me at that time.
It was during the tumultuous year following his death when I first realized the extreme sense of loneliness, isolation, and shame that experiencing grief or any big, uncomfortable emotion can bring. At the same time, I had a sense that my grief was not shameful or wrong, and I didn’t understand why I was getting the message that it was.
In the first month, my grief mostly took shape in the form of heartbreak and loneliness – his death was on my mind constantly, and all I wanted to do was talk about him. But by the time a month or so had passed since his death, no one talked about him to me anymore. I felt societal pressure to return to my “normal” functioning, yet I couldn’t even remember what roads to take to get home from work. I couldn’t find someone who was specifically a grief therapist, and from most of the therapists I did try seeing, I felt like, to them, my grief was a problem to be fixed.
But it couldn’t be fixed.
I remember thinking, even at the time, that the grief-fearing world I felt like I was in seemed crazy, and there had to be a better way to support people in their grief. I also noticed that I was starting to feel the pain from my dad’s suicide that I thought I had buried.
I decided then that I would go to graduate school to become a therapist specializing in grief and loss.
Fast forward five years, to finishing my graduate program in Marriage Family Therapy. I spent my early career as a therapist working with families who were involved in Child Protective Services, and with incarcerated adults with a severe substance abuse history.
Working with these populations was truly eye-opening and inspiring, and validated my own thoughts and experiences about the strange way our society handles difficult emotions. Through my work with my clients, I saw everywhere a general inability and lack of knowledge surrounding how to cope with negative emotions in a healthy manner, a societal lack of compassion towards those who were suffering, and the underlying message of discomfort around discussing traumatic events.
While there were many different factors between my story and the stories of my clients, I saw similar underlying themes of loneliness, shame, and an existence in a society that is obsessed with “good vibes only” and doesn’t teach or support people in how to deal with difficult emotions or situations.
I don’t think our society deals well with death or trauma. Death is often talked about as if it is a possibility, but not necessarily a guarantee. Trauma is often referenced as if it is something we can just get over, and all we need to do is to decide to “let it go”.
People who are grieving often have trouble finding support – they are expected to go back to work after what has been decided the “appropriate” amount of time needed to feel sad that your child, or your parent, or the love of your life has died. People who are grieving for “too long” are medicated and told to get over it. People who are grieving are told things like “God needed an angel”, “he’s in a better place”, or “at least you have two other children”.
These statements are often well-intended by a society who doesn’t know how to talk about death and grief, but they can be extremely hurtful to the person who is grieving, because it can make that person feel as if all of their (completely normal) reactions to losing a loved one are unjustified and crazy.
I believe avoidance limits and experience expands. I am a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist specializing in working with survivors of loss and trauma. I am trying to change the way that we look at, talk about, and deal with grief and trauma.