By Christine Shell and Lisa Linger, See the Triumph Guest Bloggers
How is it that grief is universal, yet still so complex and difficult to understand? I mean, we expect there to be grief in instances of death, but are we expectant of grief when we experience other types of loss? I don’t know about you, but I forget to let myself acknowledge and lean into the grief I may feel when I experience things that I’ve let go of, or that have become suddenly absent in my life, or that were never there to begin with.
In a recent film called “Our Shades of Grief”, our dance company Mental Health in Motion utilized movement to explore the nuances of our personal grief stories. While this was a cathartic process for us as dancers, we hope this storytelling through movement allows audiences to see their grief in new ways as well.
Christine Shell, one of our featured company dancers, shares her story below of surviving an abusive relationship and how she learned to lean into her grief to further her growth and resiliency.
“Grief and loss are things that have taken me a while to grasp. It wasn’t until recently when I was able to reflect on my past that I grew to understand how the abuse I endured created different losses in my life.
As a young adult, I thought that I had it all. I bought a house at a young age, got engaged, and thought that everything was working out in my favor. Little did I know, I was being emotionally abused daily.
I thought that I had found my partner for life, someone who wanted the best for me. In reality, he wanted complete control over every decision that I made. I wasn’t allowed to go out with friends or find new opportunities for myself without his permission. These patterns gradually got worse throughout our relationship, but I was terrified to leave due to the manipulation and control that I felt was completely over me.
I always thought that abuse had to be physical and while that did happen a few times, I had never thought of myself as a person who had been abused. It wasn’t until I got into therapy and started having open conversations about what I had been through that I understood that I had been abused.
Since the breakup, I have learned so much. I’ve learned how to cope with the loss of my past self and the loss of the house that I worked really hard to buy. I have also learned that I don’t deserve to be talked to in the ways he talked to me and that I didn’t do anything to deserve that treatment while we were together. I admit I initially tried to jump into a new relationship after the breakup and wanted to feel “wanted” after feeling controlled for years, but eventually I realized that I needed time to heal on my own, I needed to allow friends and family members to be my support, and I needed to build my confidence back up again. One of the ways I chose to do this was through movement and self expression. Not only did this begin to build my confidence back up, but it reminded me of how strong I really am. Lastly, as difficult as it is, I have also learned how to better use positive self-talk, reminding myself often that I do deserve affirmation and that what I went through in the past doesn’t define who I am now.
I eventually met a partner who treats me as an equal and who supports me through whatever goal or dream that I have. As good as it is, it’s not always easy. My partner has had to reassure me about a lot of things, which I’m sure isn’t always pleasant, but he is always patient and willing to give me the words that I need to hear and that I now know I deserve.”
It’s normal for our healing to take time. It’s also normal for that process to be anything but linear. Perhaps, though, as we have more experiences conducive to our wellness and healing, the less dark and cumbersome the shadows of loss will seem. And maybe the grief over certain losses will never fully go away, but that’s part of our journey too. Either way, let’s remember that grief is a normal part of life, and there’s no shame in asking for help or for what we need.
Mental Health in Motion is a dance company out of Roanoke, Virginia whose mission is to provide mental health education, advocacy, and awareness through creative means.
You can watch our recent film, “Our Shades of Grief” and read through the supplemental document for more dancer stories and reflection questions here - https://youtu.be/XAsUp_kZISA
My name is Christine Shell and I currently live in Roanoke, VA. I work full time at Child Health investment partnership as a social worker, part time as an instructor at Pure Barre and part time as a cycle instructor at Hustle/Haven. I grew up dancing competitively in all forms of dance and joined Mental Health in Motion in 2018. I have loved getting to see how beautifully stories have been able to be told through dance pieces and being a part of something that has opened my eyes as to how stories can be told so well through dance without having to say a word.
My name is Lisa Linger and I’m the founder and director of Mental Health in Motion. I worked as a mental health counselor for several years before returning to my love of dance and starting this journey of educating about mental health through visual storytelling. While I maintained my credentials as a Nationally Certified Counselor, I am primarily involved in the mental health world as an advocate and educator. My favorite part of this work is getting to meet with other advocates, learn from them, and translate their story and message into movement for educational and artistic presentations. Continue to follow our work at https://www.mentalhealthinmotion.org, on Instagram at @mentalhealthinmotiondanceco, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/MHIMdanceco .