“I feel so overwhelmed!” may have been on repeat during the best part of the last few months in 2019. I’m sure my husband, actually, I know my husband was quite sick of hearing it and yet would always express his concerns and listen empathically despite his annoyance. I just had too many irons in the fire, I confessed. I knew I shouldn’t have started all these things at once, I would admit but I just couldn’t let any of them go.
When I was a Professional Organizer (one of the many random jobs I have held over the last decade), we had a saying to describe certain rooms in a home that contained only clutter and boxes: the step and toss room. These rooms functioned as “storage” spaces that primarily helped our clients quickly “clean up” when guests (or a professional organizer) were coming to visit. The benefit of these rooms was that you could simply take any unwanted or homeless item and simply step, toss, and close the door. Voila! It’s gone! The disadvantage of this behavior is that you end up with a full room that is largely inaccessible and dormant. In my experience, no one can just step, toss and close the door on their clutter because it either starts to overflow into the rest of the house or subconsciously taunts them and tears away their peace of mind.
I have to confess that I have one of these rooms but it is not in my house, though I wish it was! I’d rather be unpacking actual boxes than having to unpack the stored up, unprocessed grief from this last year. Unbeknownst to me, my “step and toss” room of grief was filled up and overflowing into the rest of my life. It was this room that made everything else feel so overwhelming. My ability to handle normal levels of stress was tucked back in the corner of some unmarked box, even more, my awareness of this room was crammed into another box. By the time the holiday’s rolled around, the door was no longer shutting.
Is Christmas Over Yet?
When we purchased our (second) Christmas tree (the first one died in five days) I felt resistant to decorating it. In fact, I actually felt hostile towards our poor little 4 ft Christmas tree, I just didn’t like it taking up so much space. I could feel myself on edge and overly emotional all Christmas season long. I was surprised to find myself not just wanting to buy and send gifts but angry that I had to. Decorating the house and Christmas cookies felt like I was moving through thick sludge. I remember looking over at my husband one night and thinking (and later said through tears), “It’s just us again this year.” I friggin’ cried through our ENTIRE Christmas Eve service at church. I was a mess and frankly, I just wanted the holidays to be over. Even then it still didn’t hit me that my soul was crammed full of the stored up grief that needed to be processed.
Once the holidays were over (Thank you, Jesus!) I got together with a couple of my move a body friends (Brene Brown quote) to decompress from our last couple weeks. My long time friend Debbie listened intently as I talked about my Christmas and kindly pointed out that I needed to start unpacking some of the boxes. I knew she was right. It hadn’t occurred to me that my grief was spilling out all over the place. Much like many past organizing clients, we can become so blind to our own brokenness that we simply learn to adjust our lives so that we can continue to live with it. Both clutter and grief can become a part of us and our way of living just like a couch or an end table. We try our best to shove it here and there, deceiving ourselves that it’s dealt with but really, it is spilling out all over our life.
The fall of 2019 began with me walking away from not only a J.O.B. but from our church community of almost 7 years. November is the anniversary of my sister’s death. Thanksgiving felt divorced from family and December was essentially our one year anniversary of our second failed IVF treatment. The loss of family, literally and figuratively, this season was more than I could bear. So I packed that ugly shit up and shoved it in a dark room near the back of my heart. The strangest thing is that I didn’t mean to pack it away. It’s not that I consciously told myself “Well, I won’t think about that anymore!”. Instead, my packing looked a lot like making myself busy, getting a puppy, shopping, dieting, focusing on school and work. Then little by little, item by item, the room begins to fill. That’s how it happens and it’s only at the moment of the most pain and frustration is when you finally decide it’s time to deal with it. It has become my time for those damn boxes to come out and start getting processed one by one.
The Unpacking Begins
Professional Counselors and Professional Organizers have a lot in common. They are both total strangers that you invite to walk around inside your mess and help you clean it up, getting rid of stuff that is no longer serves you and adding things that may. But more than a counselor, I need The Counselor to be invited in to walk around this mess. Much of this unprocessed grief involves so much grief with Him. These are the messier boxes, the ones in which I am angry with God and see Him only as distant and withholding. My theological ideologies had me holding onto facts like God is good and loving, etc, etc but my experience has felt like the Holy Trinity took an extended lunch break and I was left to deal with my loss alone. Even more painful is that I have to unpack the box of expectations I have placed on God through my own ill conceived ideas that I have picked up along that way. Whether it’s been through lenses of privilege or entitlement or just down right wrong interpretations of the Scriptures. I still have to come to terms that the God I serve isn’t some hero that came with strength and power but one who came to us in weakness and allowed Himself to be crucified. I still want macho Jesus to fix all my problems or sweet tender Jesus to give me what I want. I mean, doesn’t the scriptures say he’ll give us anything we ask for in His name? What am I supposed to do with the stones I’m holding when I keep asking for bread?! I haven’t been able to call this grief before but now it makes more sense than anything else. I am not only grieving actual loss but the loss of hoping that God will intervene that way I want Him to.
It takes a full 24 hours (sometimes more) to unpack and declutter a room that is filled with boxes and clutter. I have experienced firsthand how painful it is to go box by box, paper by piece of paper until everything has been touched and processed. You categorize and sort and recycle, and surely enough, you begin to see the floor. Then a little later you can walk around freely and perhaps, are able to use the closet again. The potential for a bed or a desk begins to bring new life and a sense of freedom. Processing grief isn’t that much different. It’s painful and timely but then you begin to see the floor and experience new life. This is the process I am committing to in 2020: unpacking those boxes so that I can once again walk more freely and perhaps, buy a new desk.