Distractions Part II

This makes the second time I’ve written about distractions, and how they can play a positive role when we’re grieving or going through any challenging situation.

Since I wrote the first blog, I’ve learned more about the subject.

Are you a creative-type?  Going through grief or loss? In constant physical pain or dealing with a chronic illness?  Distracting yourself intentionally may be exactly what the doctor ordered. (That’s a figure of speech. Please seek professional help if you need it.)

After my son died, I endured extended periods of overwhelming emotional pain, distress so profound I felt like I’d fallen into a black hole of grief.

Those periods of pain paralyzed me.

Although I felt overwhelmed and helpless, I learned eventually I could do something to help myself – often something as simple as taking a shower, going into another room or working on a crossword puzzle.

I saw that I could have a degree of mastery over my emotions without reverting to denial.

My interest in crossword puzzles became intense.  Although I didn’t understand it then, by doing puzzles I learned to flip a switch and get me out of my emotions and into the logical side of my brain.

During the years I’ve been taking as many screenwriting courses as possible, I had the privilege of studying under an excellent teacher, Corey Mandell.  But instead of focusing on writing, he stressed the importance of identifying which side of our brain we normally function from and then strengthening the weaker side.  Those who did this, he taught, had a better chance of success in their writing endeavors.

He talked about the left brain/ right brain syndrome, where one side deals with emotions and intuition and the other with conceptual, logical thought – you know, the side that even enjoys doing math.

Paraphrasing Mandel, he said most people continue functioning from their favored side of the brain while ignoring the other side of the brain and allowing it to constantly get weaker.

Some people take the stance we should live solely from intuition.  But balancing intuition with intellect makes more sense as a pathway to wisdom.

For years I understood that I can’t write a first draft or create and simultaneously edit my work.  I do one, and then later do the other, but it’s impossible to do both at the same time.  The activities are mutually exclusive, because each uses a separate, mutually exclusive side of the brain.

We have the conceptual and the intuitive, the rational and the emotional, the logical and the part that feels like we’ve been sucked into an endless black hole of emotions without a door that says “This Way Out.”

An exit exists, one that allows us to forget momentarily our pain – a road we can carve into the other side of the brain.

A few weeks before writing this,  a woman wrote to tell me that after searching the web, she appreciated finding my blog that discussed the positive side of distractions.

She had worked with a doctor until a chronic illness – and the pain that accompanies it – sent her home. The doctor suggested they write a book together about the importance of diversions and distractions.

While the doctor meant distraction from physical pain, it doesn’t matter which kind we need some distance from. Diversions and distractions work as long as we don’t use them as a path to full-time denial.

Don’t overlook the importance of playing games.

That’s why a team of us created a new section in the websites:  Distractions and Diversions.  Right now it consists of Word Seek puzzles but don’t let the simplicity of most Word Seeks deceive you. These may not be as easy as the ones you’re used to completing in three minutes.

My sister-in-law Pam Lee, created the puzzles basing them on my books.  She would read a book and then spent hours creating a Word Seek game that used words from the book.  The letters leftover at the end, when you’ve circled all the words on the list, create a mystery sentence that sums up the book.

The games will educate about recovery and help ease the pain, even if it’s similar to the relief we get from a Band-Aid. But those moments of not hurting can be worth a million dollars to someone who’s floundered in grief for years after losing a child.

This Diversions and Distractions section is located at the Grief Club site at www.MelodyBeattie.net. Follow the link to the Home Page, and then scroll down the menu on the left side of the page until you find the games.

If you can’t have fun, maybe for a few minutes you can forget how much you hurt.

Word Seek games aren’t the only way to switch sides of the brain.  Sudoku, Crossword Puzzles, Logic Games – even Scrabble or any of the new e-variations of it will get the job done.  The more challenging the game, the greater the chances that the activity will help strengthen the other side of the brain, the one where you don’t normally live.

If you’re someone who finds Sudoku, Word Seek or any logic game easy, than you may not be an emotional side brain dweller.  In that situation you may need help getting in touch with how you feel instead of distracting yourself from your emotions. Watching tear-jerker movies may help you find and flip the brain switch, strengthen the weaker side.

Take the time to carve a pathway to the other side of your brain.  Let yourself feel uncomfortable.   It can do more than give you a respite from  grief.  It can assist you in becoming more successful with your creative ventures and help you find a stronger, more balanced power.

What Popeye the Sailorman said, “I yam what I yam,”  isn’t  true — unless we believe it is.  We don’t need to stay at whatever level we’re at.  We can change and grow.

Even this old dog learns an occasional new trick. While life isn’t all fun and games, some of it is.


Melody Beattie


  1. Liz

    Strangely enough you have answered something I have been pondering and praying about. I am finding distraction works brilliantly as a calming strategy but I then felt guilty about not feeling the discomfort. In a way I guess Jesus was asking the apostles to assist him and act as a distraction because soon he knew he would be experiencing great pain. He was really angry at them for falling asleep and leaving him alone. In a way they did offer Jesus a distraction – as anger can be a distraction too I guess. Sorry about the religious tones as some of our greatest lessons can come from anywhere. When we are distracted, we don’t even know we are learning. It is because we are not ready to learn. The distraction calms us and then when we are ready we see the lesson. I feel like that is exactly what is happening to me now. Great blog just what I needed.

  2. Melody Beattie

    Hi LIz. I often felt (and still do) guilty about distracting myself — or letting myself get “sucked in.” All those years I wanted to be writing screenplays and instead I learned how to be a conservator — do an accounting that would hold up to a district court’s scrutiny — and learned how to build a website. I’d get mad, thinking here I am, using the rational, logical side of my brain. What could that have to do with writing? Nothing, I’d think — only to later learn it had everything in the world to do with it. After my son’s death, it shoved me and locked me up inside the emotional and intuitive side of my brain. All I could do was feel. I learned to intuit and feel my way through life. Now, I was adding numbers, learning from a math graduate how to balance books until my head screwed around like the girl in the Exorcist. Then, I learned that being able to move from one side of the brain to the other, whether by playing Suduko, a puzzle, or whatever does the trick — is exactly what I needed to be doing. Instead of ignoring my weaker spot (like many of us tend to do), I worked at helping it become strong. I was in training for what I wanted to do — I just didn’t know it. Even now, as I research the background for my writing, I have to check myself and remind myself that I’m working — getting important information and learning flexibility between the sides of my brain. When I first began writing, it was the other way around. I lived in my intellect, fought emotions wiht everything in me, if one and one equalled two then the world made sense. It’s rather empowering to know that it doesn’t have to be a big deal anymore, traveling the pathway between both sides of my brain. The thing that gets me is that so often my first response to whatever I’m doing is, “This is wrong” when often it’s exactly what we’re meant to do. And please, you don’t have to apologize about discussing religion or God. My belief is that God is like the moon — no matter what word we use for it — moon, luna, etc., there’s only one we see in the sky each night. It’s funny how people don’t often apologize for swearing anymore, but they will be embarrassed or worry about offending someone if they use the word “God” or “High Power.” This isn’t an AA meeting, so people can feel free to be themselves here. That’s the way I’d like all my sites to be. I’ve been blessed with such a great group of site visitors; they all have good boundaries and are able to be themselves without imposing their beliefs on anyone else. Best, Melody (The only thing I feel a need to apologize for on the sites are these mind-boggling “captchas” we use — but they’re necessary to help filter the spammer out. Sometimes I have to go through three or four before I can find one I dechipher enough to copy so I can post on my own site.)

  3. Mr Mark Jones

    Good Morning Melody , Liz , new Readers & writers , 15 Sept 2012 Yes Distractions , I have found very important in fending off the feeling of the world caving in or maybe just my world caving in ! I can recall 2 major breakups with significant women in my life , 1 I was married to & 1 we were part time lovers for about 18 years , considering part time it made it more like 12 years ! Both heart breaks were treated by the treatment we called a ” distraction ” by going to see a Film at the Theater ! One film was a Bette Midler Film about Entertaining the Troops in Korea during the war & the other was Denzel Washingtons A SOLDIER STORY about Life for a Negro Company during WWII , it was a kind of murder mystery …. One time I went just with my Mom and the other time with my Mom & my brother Damon ….I think the Distractions helped because I could be quite Wildly Emotional in those years , film 1 seen in about 1984 & film 2 around 2000 ? …. Film 2 is a little foggy because we broke up about 25 times before we FINALLY broke up …..My Family helped me Cope by the suggested ” distraction ” and it worked , temporarily ….. So questions , what makes a good match for a friendship – relationship ? How much sacrafice & compromise do we have to expect to GIVE in a relationship – 30% , 50 % , 60 % ? , Are we all really no better than our Parents or can we achieve more or be more fully human because of our parents ? ….When does one consider that a man may really do okay as an Island unto himself , with his Best Friend being God ? Just a little food for thought …… Have a Day the Way You like it ! Best Wishes , Mark # 3

  4. Liz

    Oh if it were only that simple. I think a good relationship – one that is easy and works well is like gold. They are around but they are rare. Some people are gifted in this area -they are easy to be around. Sometimes we ourselves are easy to be around. But if we are in pain or suffering then we can be quite difficult to be around. I know I can be quite difficult to be around when I am stressed and angry and not in a good place. I may take things out in on the ones I love and over react. If we are around someone like that and we become their whipping boy even if there are good times – then that is not good. I think you have to weigh it up and work out what is good for you. I am still working it out but most likely I have had many easy relationships (friendships), that were balanced and I felt truly liked and they knew who I truly was. However, not all of them are meant to last for ever. Also i feel the more ties and responsibilities we have then it seems harder to make friendships. For instance if you are following a calling and are tied to that and that is really important to you, trying to find someone who can fit into that is hard. However you are both on the same path and have similar callings it is easier. I think there is a time for everything and you just have to go with it. Intresting topic though. I think even a relationship can be destracting. For instance a fling can be a destraction from a breakup. I believe that has it’s purpose too. When I was at university we called it a cleansing smut – met someone had some sparks and then moved on. A very nice destraction and then you felt attractive again. Like I said before interesting topic.

    • Melody Beattie

      I agree with you completely LIz. Some people and relationships may last a lifetime — but many don’t. Some people come in for mutual support; others come to teach us lessons. Not all relationships will be equally balanced. The key is trusting ourselves and making the choices that are right for us — and letting ourselves receive when it feels healthy and right — not manipulative. I can’t believe how much I’ve changed regarding setting boundaries. It’s fun now. No more guilt or fear — instead, it feels good and a relief to know I can tell people who I am — what I want, don’t want, and the limits that are right for me, including saying no. Best, Melody

  5. Melody Beattie

    To Mark #3: I believe (and God knows I may be wrong) that the key isn’t in learning to follow someone else’s rules; it’s about learning to rust ourselves. Does a relationship feel right most of the time? Does it drain us? (A sign we’re over-giving and over-caring and not receiving anything in return.) Do we leave interactions feeling cruddy and confused (a clue that we’re being manipulated or lied to). Certain specific feelings accompany certain behaviors. When we can be in touch with who we are, we’ll know what to do. The hardest part is the heart as it doesn’t always want to go along with the program, but I’ve also learned that if I cannot end a relationship it’s bcause it isn’t over yet. Unless there’s abuse (physical or sexual), it’s okay to let endings run their course. The only rules I’ve ever had in my writing for myself and others are: no hurting yourself, no hurting others (and no hurting ourselves includes not letting others hurt us). Other than that, it’s a process and experiment — and part of this great journey of learning who we are, which includes our relationships. Best, Melody

  6. Carol P

    Wonderful post. I have spent years being so “busy” even in my time after work, so I did not have to feel feelings of fear, the “I’m not good enough”, ‘if only”, etc. I operated from the logical left side where I had exceled at math, etc and chose a safe career so I would always have an opportunity for a job. The last year has been unbearably painful. Painful physically and emotionally. I soul sickness. If only ‘I” could try harder, work harder then I might find the thing that God wanted me to do. I was diagnosed with cancer over a month ago and this put everything into perspective. The only thing I wanted to do when I wa a child was to write and maybe one day work in NYC on a magazine – such lofty ideals. I wrote poetry and short stories and every chance I had took classes on creative writing. I am a survivor a an extremely violent crime at 28 and I kept pushing trying to find what my purpose was. It is only with this diagnosis that I have time to journal and write and I’ve had many friends mention my posts on caring bridge as fine writing. I had to totally surrender to my Higher Power and only then did I realize I might be able to use this ‘gift’ to help others heal. I loved your book Making Miracles in 40 Days. Thank you for making my life more serene and as Martha Beck says “Finding my True North Star” Blessings, Carol

    • Melody

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. Am sorry to hear about your illness, but congratulations on your resolve not only to fight it, and fight for your life, but to take advantage of it but pursuing your dream to write. Please let us know how you’re doing. Also, I’ve been looking for someone in your situation to post at the Grief Club site at MelodyBeattie.net. The site covers all kinds of losses, and is a safe place for people to be and express who they are and how they really feel (as opposed to how they’re “supposed” to feel. If you have time to visit that site, I’m sure your contributions would be welcome. Best, Melody Beattie

  7. Mary E. Walton (Liz)

    Dearest Melody, I have been reading your books for about 15 years. They have helped me thru so much. And it is very interesting, that my life follows yours almost to a tea. I also lost my son, 3 years ago at the young age of 21 to mixing drugs. I miss him so much, but also I have chronic back pain, spinal stenousis and osteoarthritus. (That the Lord, you don’t have that). What you write has SAVED my life. I read my “Journey to the Heart” book every single day and have for years. Each year more of your inspirations touch me and deeper each time. As you know, you and me and all the members of The Greif Club know too, losing a child changes you life, forever. But, you have helped me learn to open up and actually “see” so much more of what life really is. I do see more things in nature and people and it is just everywhere. It reallly amazes me how much beauty and reason is really right there with us. That is, if we see it and choose to use it. I am re-reading “The Grief Club” book now and have recommended it to so many people. I actually have given away over 25 copies of your “Journey to the Heart” book, especially to people who have lost someone. People come back and thank me and start to see too. Thank you for this wonderful gift, that already was inside me, that you woke up. You are helping so many people. I plan to give out at least 25 more.Thank yo again. Keep writing, keep being your and keep living and see, every single day people. Listen to Melody. She knows. She has been there. You are so exceptional and special to me. Once again, I personally appreciate having you in my life. Best Regards, God bless and keep moving forward. Liz- Mary E. Walton

  8. Nina Gray

    My nerves/anxiety are out of control lately. No one specific reason. But I think it’s been coming on for a while. Saw my counselor yesterday again about these very painful feelings of anxiety. She talked more about SURRENDERING to the feelings. The “elephant in the room” story. Trying to pretend there is no elephant in the room will not work. I should embrace that this is the way I feel. O.K. I can do that, but how do I know that it won’t get worse?? I can barely handle it now. It’s affecting most of my day. I just keep thinking of God. I say the Serenity Prayer over and over. HOWEVER, how do I know that it’s God’s plan for me to get better??? People die everyday. People get sick every day. Did they not do the right thing(s)….acceptance….that I’m trying to do? How can I be reassured that it’s His plan for me to feel better??? and that it just might be my time to really go thru more suffering? Also, since the feelings seem to be getting worse on somedays I feel like I should call someone….my doctor for my hurting stomach, my psychiatrist for my nerves, my counselor again, an anxiety group…. I cannot focus on who to call? It’s so hard to concentrate at work. It’s difficult just to decide what to wear to work in the morning…and I’m feeling so very tired every day.

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