Frozen grief can best be described as grief on hold, partial grief, suppressed grief, complicated mourning, survivor guilt, and unfinished business.
Patty was an obese binge eater who came to therapy to resolve her eating disorder. As we discussed what triggered her history of overeating and her life experiences, she mentioned in a most casual way that her father had died when she was four years old.
Her family told her, “Daddy went to Heaven. He is in a better place.” Daddy was never spoken about again.
“Tell me about him,” I asked. “There’s nothing to tell,” Patty replied. And with that, she began to cry as the accumulation of 32 years of stifled tears came surging up in a tidal wave of pain.
“Oh my God. I have never shed tears for my father before,” Patty sobbed.
With each following session, Patty cried deeply about the death of her father. Then one day she exclaimed, “I wonder if after so many years of not allowing myself to mourn my father, my fat has been like frozen grief. I think with all these tears, my grief is becoming liquid!”
Grief—frozen by fat, frozen by the numbing of overeating, drinking, drugging, or other addictions—can be held in the body for years and even decades. Patty’s description of “frozen grief” reminded me of a special moment I spent with my grandmother many years ago. Grandma was 86 at the time and was telling me about her father who had died when she was only five years old. To my astonishment, Grandma began to cry about her father’s death—a memory from 81 years ago! In that moment, I learned that grief has no timetable. Time does not necessarily heal all wounds. Unspoken loss continues to exert its power. There is no expiration date to memories or pain. I came to see how much loss and grief can play a significant part in the behaviors and histories of my clients. And I came to see how therapy for addictions needs to help people mourn the sorrows that have kept them stuck in eating disorders, drugging, drinking, and other addictive behaviors.
I began asking my patients to construct a list of losses they had suffered in their lives. I discovered that these losses did not always have to do with death, but with a myriad of ways that hurt can lodge inside us without resolution.
Unable to dislodge the “knot” in their throat by crying and grieving, many clients turn to addictive substances or behaviors…
Continue reading about how suppressed grief, complicated mourning, and other unfinished business can lead to addiction and recovery problems in the original article Frozen Grief and Addiction Recovery at The Fix.