Our community is hurting right now. The Buffalo Bills lost an epic, heroic game with the Kansas City Chiefs last night. Anyone who has a pulse in this region is aware of the great disturbance in the Force surrounding Western New York. Yes, it’s just a football game and yes, it’s so much more than that. The love of the Bills cuts across age, education, socio-economic status, political inclination, culture, ethnicity, gender… Name all the ways humans are different and Bills fans, the Bills Mafia, are all of them with at least a few things in common: Our humanity, for one, and the unconditional love we have for this sports team.
As humans we are all familiar with disappointment, pain, even trauma. We have that in common, too. What have these last two years been but the absurd challenge of doing the unthinkable during a never before imagined pandemic?
When I woke up this morning, I knew I wanted to write about how to heal after an emotional hurt like Buffalonians were all experiencing. My intention was to provide some help, not just for Bills fans, but also as a way to help anyone going through any emotional difficulty.
The Four Ways To Recover From Disappointment
- Time – Give yourself time to process what just happened. We all need time. Standing open jawed in disbelief in front of your TV is acceptable. Yes, that happened. Take whatever time you need to let it sink-in to a place of acceptance. You have my permission to invite anyone who says “get over it already!” to go take a flying leap into the Niagara Gorge!
- Share – Share your frustration with people you feel safe with. Be a good listener to them. By sharing we express and listen to like-minded loved ones who get how painful this is. Be careful about losing control of the emotions. If they start to rise too high we aren’t communicating anymore. We could become abusive. This is very important because in the moment of extreme disappointment we can go a bit bonkers. Really bad bonkers can mean becoming aggressive in voice, and behavior. When the thing that has disappointed us is out of our reach, we too often turn our anger toward whatever is handy, our pets, our spouses, our kids. Sharing is about providing a safe space for yourself and others to be vulnerable.
- Kindness – Be kind to yourself and those around you. Especially the kids. They will likely remember this, and how the adults around them coped with it, for the rest of their lives. Validate their feelings. Hold them, if they want to be held. Ask to be held. Let them cry. Heck, let yourself cry! Wounds will heal if we tend to them gently and with compassion.
- Process – With time, patience, and kindness we give ourselves the ability to process what happened. Processing is a kind of emotional digestion. Rather than food, our mind, spirit and our bodies break down that huge, overwhelming portion of whatever the hell just hit us, and breaks it down to manageable bits. Once we can think about it without acute pain, we can make good decisions about what to do next. The good stuff is able to rise and we can see the love for community and shared challenges that bring us together.
Because I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling in need of some insight about how to deal with the pain of losing this game, I asked my friends at Explore What’s Next how they were coping and what advice they would give to anyone recovering from this or any disappointment. The response was fantastic!
Emily Becker, LCSW
What a roller coaster!I haven’t watched a Bills game from start to finish in years. I was out of my seat cheering, then watching in disbelief as the win slipped away. Watching Josh Allen last night is a reminder that we can “do everything right” and it’s still not a guarantee of the outcome we want, yet our efforts are not without meaning.
Nikki N. Brown, LCSW
Taking time to process is such an important point. Though our whole family was so disappointed last night, my son was literally speechless after the game. He needed to be close to me for comfort. I think being with friends at school today, sharing their disappointment and perspectives, will help him start to accept things. That and a favorite dinner tonight.
Kate Maleski, LCSW
Even with sadness and disappointment, we can come together to love and support those around us.
Life is filled with ups/downs, catches, and misses. We can make all the choices and still not win. But it’s important that you still know that you are enough, talented, and a hell of a fighter.
Also, there is comfort in knowing we are not alone. Buffalo loves and grieves together.
Steve W. O’Bryan, Director of Business Development & Marketing
A few thoughts…
What always strikes me is the professionalism of the players (no matter what team). To play at such a high level these players all have won important games but they also have lost. They’ve experienced both.
No one likes to lose but they accept that it’s part of the game. Athletes know the outcome of the game requires someone to win and someone to lose. These professionals fight like hell, sacrifice their bodies and minds but when it’s over they often greet each other on the field with respect. I think there’s a lesson there for many of us.
Their athleticism is of course amazing but what about their emotional discipline? How do you keep playing when you make a mistake on the field? How do you shake it off and walk back out? How do you trust yourself, how do you trust your teammate to catch the ball, to protect you from getting hurt?
Finally, now you all know what it’s like to be a Philadelphia Flyers fan!
Kayla Czysz, LMSW
What a comfort to share thoughts and feelings! As a lifelong Bills fan, I am crushed. Sitting with disappointment sometimes means we cannot find a silver lining, and that’s okay.
Getting knocked out of the season in the way it happened was intense and yet so familiar to Bills fans everywhere. We all know winning last night would have brought us to the Super Bowl and potentially winning it! Something the Bills have never achieved before. When you’re in reach of something you’ve never touched before, the loss of it feels extra sharp.
Loss also brings up the “what if’s”. What if Allen had won the coin toss in OT? What if our defense had stopped them with 13 seconds left? What if Tre’Davious White had been playing? You could go on and on! I guess I am sharing more about the disappointment itself rather than positive lessons, but expressing our feelings is a critical step in healing.
There is an opportunity to honor the love and pride we all feel for our team today: the players, the coaches, the staggering athletic prowess, the strong and courageous mentality it asks of them. Watching the Bills over the years offers many perspectives to this moment: we have come so far, and we have built a powerful legacy. That deserves to be celebrated and cherished.
Clara Kuntz, PhD
I love hearing all of your meaningful perspectives. I think the fact that we are having such a supportive peer sharing around this is exactly what it means to be a Buffalonian… a coming together.
Christine Frank, LCSW
I love hearing all your thoughts! My personal perspective…
The Bills games have been a source of joy and connection in our community, especially during the turmoil of the last two years. We have navigated many losses during the pandemic, and I think this loss hits a little harder because of everything we’ve been through recently. In the past, I was never very enthusiastic about football, but I became an avid Bills fan during COVID. I found myself looking forward to the games each week, feeling excited. The Bills are a bright light to focus on amidst a lot of pain and burnout. I need to take some time to feel the disappointment and the sadness from this loss against KC, and honor those emotions. Even with these feelings, I’m proud of our team and proud to be a part of this community…I know we are strong and resilient, Buffalo! We will be back next year to keep fighting.
Stéfie Massara-Polyachenko, LMHC
I, too, am new to football, and to the essence of Buffalo that clearly runs so deeply. That essence of being there for each other, and coming together in moments of hardship.
Yesterday I saw the epitome of that. Walking home after the game, neighbors also returning or already home came, were out together to provide each other comfort. Some of these people we knew, others we hadn’t yet met. Everyone, however, stood outside in 5-degree weather to talk about our joint experience.
To me this is what being a Bills fan, a sports fan, a Buffalonian all have in common. Coming together to take care of one another.
So as we process and go on. I look to Isaiah McKenzie as an example. We saw him sitting quietly, in shock, sadness, and completely disheartened. He will take the time he needs to feel the sting of the loss. But he will get back up once again and they will come together for themselves, their teammates, and all of Buffalo.
Christopher Sova, PhD
As a lifelong Buffalo sports fan, I can say that this game is the biggest heartbreak in my memory. In the hours since the loss, much like the last two minutes of that game, I’ve felt intense sadness, hope, and more anger than I thought I could ever feel toward a football game. This team made Western New York care about them and hope. The cost of that caring is that, for many people, this loss really ****ing hurts! This pain would be easier if they got blown away in a one-sided game or if they did not prove that they were worth believing in.
In the next few months, Bills fans will struggle with how to process this heartbreak. Some may shield themselves from it by pretending not to care or by building an armor of hopelessness, by no longer believing in the team anymore so that if this happens again it will not hurt so much. There is nothing wrong with wanting to cut away this pain, to make disappointment smaller and not let hope climb so high that it feels like this when the Bills fall.
Others will choose to be angry, to scapegoat and blame anything from the Bills players, to the coaches, to referees, to unfair OT rules. The anger can help us bury the sadness of this loss, which is for many people harder to feel. Anger directed externally, to the OT rules and a coin toss, can help maintain faith in the team. Anger directed at the team, to lapses in judgment of our coaches or the defense’s cataclysmic collapse, still shields us from that sadness. When anger is directed internally to the lapses in judgment of our coaches or the defense’s cataclysmic collapse, it still shields us from that sadness and keeps us caring about the Bills.
These also lead to the “What Ifs” that cause us to still re-open our pain for as long as we hold that anger. What If we won the coin toss or if we made a squib kick or didn’t give up the entire middle of the field and play prevent defense in the final thirteen seconds in what must have been the worst possible defensive strategy available against a team with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kielce, Tyreek Hill, and three timeouts!? This anger is justified and it keeps us connected and caring, even though it hurts.
Last, we can nurture hope and choose to see the signs that made us believe in this team in the first place. Josh Allen showed throughout the season that he is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play this game and that he can deliver when the pressure is high. The talent of the teammates surrounding him was good enough to get him there. This side of us can cling to the hope that we will be back and that we will believe again.
As I move through this process, I want to choose to honor all three of these reactions and the inevitable fluctuation of them that will come with believing in this team that has brought people together in an age of division and pessimism. I will do my best to feel this disappointment and remember that it only hurts this much because this team proved to me that they were worth believing in and, for that, I am proud of them (even if right now I’m angry at many of them).
Our little EWN community is a microcosm of an entire region that has outposts all around the world. There are Bills fans in Iceland, Argentina, Kenya, India and beyond! Social media has exploded with compassionate and often humorous memes that bring us together to laugh out loud even as we hurt. They all have this thing in common that my daughter, Sofia, pointed out. She said, “I think Bills fans are strong but feel deeply. And that’s why my initial reaction was like ‘I wanna hug Josh Allen’ because I want to be sure he knows how much the whole city loves him and doesn’t blame him. He played his heart out.”
Then she sent me an Instagram post from Erin, of VintageRemix716, that says it all:
I grappled with this blog post for so many reasons, one being that I was grieving myself. I spoke with my daughter, and fellow Bills fan, Sofia. She suggested I put more of myself into the post and I can see where she was coming from. I hesitated because as a very newly-minted Bill’s fan, I didn’t want to mis-step with the life-long fans. That was why I asked for help from the wonderful therapists at Explore What’s Next.
My own feelings are just as raw and complicated as everyone’s. The moment the Chiefs scored in overtime it would not have surprised me if all the lights in WNY went out and the TV screen went black, like at the end of The Sopranos.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Not being a native Western New Yorker, I used to scratch my head at the ricochet of emotions surrounding the Bills. I understand now. It hurts so much to think that now the Chiefs will play inferior teams and most likely go to the Super Bowl… again.
We all have to face our own version of the Chiefs every day. Mostly they are within my head, mostly of my own making, but strong opponents just the same. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t, but I always rise to don the uniform and hit the arena again, and again and again, day after day. Because there’s glory in meeting the challenge, win or lose; there’s honor in showing up during the hard times.
Because I don’t give up my fight, I pray that our beloved Buffalo Bills don’t either. Is this why we identify with them so much? We are in this together, support each other. We heal and get back in the arena together.
Now I realize that in taking my time on this article I provided myself and my associates a space to deal with the loss and vulnerability we are feeling. Sometimes it’s hard for those of us who are there to help others to say that we, too, are struggling. I hope that in being so candid we might help one of you.