Growing Through Grief by Kamil Arrington

Growing Through Grief by Kamil Arrington

TW: Suicide 

No one tells you how grief swallows you alive, leaving you fighting like Jonah in the belly of the beast. I've been there, and for the past decade after surviving a fatal car accident, I've clumsily navigated the ups and downs it's lent me. I managed to escape from the proverbial beast, and this is my story.

I was on the way to an early morning hair appointment when I fell asleep at the wheel, my car drifting into a tree. It would be in the hospital, days later and following a major surgery, where I learned of the death of my two sorority sisters. At just twenty years old, their lives had ended, and mine was catapulted into a new arena with no blueprint on what to do next. There's no amount of planning that can prepare you for those once-in-a-lifetime events. Your only choice is to face them head-on or pretend they never happened. I did the latter.

Although it's been over 4,000 days since the time spent in the hospital, it's still particularly vivid. The accident and my subsequent hospital stay ushered in a pang of sadness and helplessness I had never experienced before. I felt like I was on display with a rotation of constant visitors, friends, and strangers alike. I was no longer just Kamil; I was that girl. I was the one who had been so hellbent on following the crowd and achieving her goal that she allowed herself to participate in hazing. I was the one who had lost the vision for myself and adopted the one others had given me. I was a shadow of myself. Even though everything in my world had drastically changed in the blink of an eye, I was desperate to hang onto the person I had been before that one fateful morning. 

As a young adult, no one tells us how hard it is to navigate the loss of friends. For me, no one told me how to navigate the death of my friends when I felt responsible for their sudden world-shaking absence. Instead of taking advantage of therapy or support groups, I buried my pain in the bottom of cheap cups of liquor with diabetic-inducing juice. When I wasn't partying my nights away, I struggled to maintain my regular school load, feeling like I was losing everything I had worked hard to achieve. From the outside, I looked fine, but the inner workings told a different story. I was falling apart, and there was no safety net in sight.

These past ten years have profoundly changed me. We tend to believe grief is only for the physical loss we experience, but this is so far from the truth. Grief haunts us around every corner, ready to rear its ugly face. It's there when we end friendships and romantic relationships. When we transition from jobs we once loved but no longer feel passionate about, it's there. It's there when the life we hoped for is just a distant memory. Grief shows up at every intersection, and if we don't equip ourselves, we'll crash and burn. But sometimes, if we're lucky, it's in the ashes where we're born again. 

One of the hardest narratives I've sought to rewrite is the one telling me - that I don't deserve to be here. Grief and loss made me feel undeserving of a second chance to live a life overflowing with joy and possibility. These were two of the most important things my accident stole away from me,  diminishing my willingness to want more for myself. I've slowly started to dig myself out of this hole, and it's only been as a result of my intimate relationship with grief and loss that pushed me to see just how beautiful life is.

Our lowest moments do not define us. If anything, they are just a contributing factor to who we've grown to be up until this point. Losing my linesisters and what ensued following their deaths molded me into who I am today. I  went from being a carefree college kid not thinking beyond what outfit I'd wear to an anxious, fearful, and cynical human being carrying the guilt and shame I could not release. Instead of admitting how much I was struggling, I hid my feelings. I plastered on a perfectly placed smile and told everyone I was okay. It was only within the comfort of my room, with the curtains drawn when I allowed myself to break apart. It was in these moments of solitude that I cursed God and questioned where I had gone wrong and what was necessary to make me whole again. 

It was on my 31st birthday that I considered suicide. It wasn't that I truly wanted to die, but the magnitude of my loss had prevented me from seeing all I had gained throughout my healing journey. I was empty and in need of a soul level replenishing to feed my broken spirit. It's been over one year since I decided to live, and I've had so many chances to reflect on what I want for myself. It's been in this year alone where I've sat with myself long enough to hold space for my pain. I've acknowledged the infinite amounts of ways I've transformed time and time again and the level of God-given resilience instilled in me to overcome the hurdles placed on my path. All this time, I was looking for the girl I was in 2010, and I should have been focusing on the woman I've become. 

When we peel back the layers of our most difficult chapters, who are we? Losing others and even outdated versions of ourselves forces us to grapple with our identity once the dust clears. When we cement together the fragmented pieces of our lives, we begin to see ourselves as more than flawed individuals. We can see ourselves as people worthy of redemption through our healing, not as people exclusively attached to our trauma.

It's still a struggle, but I'm thankful to be here. I was once convinced that while I was still physically alive, my life had ended the day I awoke in the hospital under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights. Unbeknownst to me, a new chapter built from the ground up was beginning. 

I don't know what the rest of my life holds, and that's the equally scary and exciting aspect of it all. No matter what we've been through and the stories about ourselves we've held close to our hearts, we have the authority to begin rewriting them at any time. What does the path forward look like when we shift our perspective and imagine something different? For me, the course seems vibrant, and I love that.

There were so many moments I believed I wouldn't resurface from the deep waves of grief I swam through. But now, instead of going against the tide, I move with it, giving me free rein to flow with my feelings rather than force what I expect should be there. Instead of hiding from the pain, I've welcomed it. It's expanded my capacity for compassion, empathy, and my ability to understand the fragility of our brief time on earth. It's made me more sensitive to what matters, and that in itself is an invaluable gift.

I don't know what you've been through, but I'm sure you've had your share of challenges and triumphs. We may never understand why certain things happen, and we can drive ourselves mad in the process of trying to assign value to what we've experienced. My piece of advice to you and even to myself is that our stories, no matter how complicated, are our own. 

As you look towards the future, what will your story be? With the pen in your hand, what will you say? Who will you be? How will you write this next chapter? I pray you will write of laughter, abundance, ease, love, forgiveness, peace, joy, and all the things you thought you lost along the way. You deserve that and so much more. 

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