The Five Stages of Grief After Discovering the Truth About Meat and Dairy

What happens to us when we learn that something we have believed to be true all of our lives is not only not true, but we learn the horrifying truth behind what we’ve bought into all of our lives?  I am speaking about the terrible truths behind the meat, dairy, egg, fish, leather, fur (and all animal product) industries.  

On a personal level, when I first began uncovering the truths of the animal agriculture industries, I experienced a whole host of emotions that I can only describe as grief.  I felt grief over what humankind does to billions and billions of innocent animals every year (and still do!)  I felt grief that society betrayed me in perpetuating so many myths about meat and dairy.  I felt grief over not waking up sooner and that I was responsible for animals being slaughtered.  And I could go on and on.

We usually think of grief as it pertains to losing a loved one, but grief is a response to all kinds of losses and situations.  One definition describes grief as the “conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”

Most of us already know the grief that is associated with the death of someone we love, and it can be absolutely debilitating.  But what about other forms of grief?  For the sake of this article, I am speaking of grief associated with the ‘end of a familiar pattern of behavior’.  

Many people have probably heard of ‘The Five Stages of Grief’ outlined in Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book “On Death and Dying”.  She spent her life working closely with terminally ill patients which inspired her book.  It outlines the stages of emotions that a terminally ill patient goes through…. as well as those who are grieving loved ones.

While this is a very heavy topic, it is interesting to note the similarities of emotions one feels when learning a terrible truth about something, and the subsequent shifting of consciousness. I started to connect these five stages of grief to my own feelings of sadness and despair when I confronted the systemic abuse of innocent, vulnerable farm animals worldwide. 

Of course, not everyone experiences all of these stages of emotions or in this exact order, but they are a good guide to help identify what we’re feeling when faced with terrible news or a terrible new truth. 

With that said, below are the five stages of grief.

1 – Denial

So many of us live in denial.  For many, it is far easier to live in denial than to face the truth or reality of something.  When it comes to our ingrained beliefs surrounding a subject, especially something that we’ve been socially conditioned since birth to believe, it is very difficult to open our minds to the truth.  

The idea that some animals are to be loved as pets and other animals (equally as sentient and innocent) are to be bred into a system to be used, abused and slaughtered for our food, clothing and other everyday items is nonsensical.  Most of us have been indoctrinated to believe this lie, and since this has been the established order of what we know, it is very difficult to move out of this denial phase. 

To question what we’ve known all of our lives is a huge undertaking.  And many don’t want to know the truth or reality of the animals, the fact that they are abused and slaughtered in horrifying ways (for us).  Many don’t want to think of them as flesh and blood sentient beings who feel pain and fear, just as we do.  Many prefer to think of farm animals living happy lives and then being humanely slaughtered.  Of course there are some who don’t even see animals as sentient beings at all, rather they see them as mere products, but that’s another topic.  Most people are just numb and clueless to the animal’s terrifying plight and reality.

Denial is a very good coping mechanism.  We try to protect ourselves by refusing to see the truth in a situation.  But once a truth is revealed, we begin to see more clearly.  And we realize life as we know it has forever changed for us.  And once a new truth is accepted, we become mentally stronger.  Denial begins to fade and new feelings begin to arise.

2 – Anger

When we begin to learn the truth of the horrific treatment of countless farm animals, innocent beings who do not deserve the terrible fate they are dealt in life, we become angry.….angry at the world, at the slaughterhouse workers, at big business, at people close to us,.…  We may ask ourselves, “How can such horror exist?”…”How is this even allowed?”  Underneath all this anger is our feelings of helplessness and pain.

We must allow ourselves to feel anger.  Anger is a necessary step in the healing process, in sorting through our feelings.  At this stage, we can feel very frustrated and may feel very isolated, like we’re drifting out to sea all alone.  We feel as though no one can relate to us and understand what we’re going through.  But remember that anger can be an anchor and a strength.  It can give us something to hold onto when the ground beneath us is completely shifting.  And we can eventually use this anger to help inspire us to create change, to become active for the animals.

3 –  Guilt & Bargaining

After anger, guilt typically sets in.  We question why didn’t we wake up sooner to the truths that we’re now learning.  We struggle to find meaning.  We wish we could change the way we did things in the past.  We may feel guilt because we unwittingly violated our own moral code, such as the idea of killing an innocent being.  Even if we didn’t do the killing, someone else did so on our behalf so we could eat our burgers and steak.

We feel guilt, remorse and anxiety over what we could have done differently.  And so we begin to bargain. “What if I devote myself to undoing the wrongs that I committed?”  We struggle to find meaning and want to tell our story.  We try to negotiate our way out of the hurt.  The “if only I did this and not that” sets in, and it can be a vicious cycle.  But like all of the other emotions, this too shall pass.

4 – Sadness / Depression

Feeling sadness is a natural emotion once the anger and guilt dissipate.  We realize that our lives will never be the same.  We feel helpless and overwhelmed by our newfound feelings and knowledge of the world we live in, where billions of innocent animals are slaughtered mercilessly every year for humankind.  We feel an emptiness at the reality we’re now living in and the world may seem too overwhelming for us to face.

At this stage, we may pull inward as our sadness grows.  We may become less sociable, withdraw from life and feel increasingly isolated, feeling no one really understands us anymore.  This depressive stage can feel as though it will last forever.  But feeling sadness is a necessary step towards healing.

During this time, it is so important to take care of oneself.  Eating nutritious plant based foods, getting enough rest, exercising, meditating, yoga – all of these help during times of sadness.  There is also nothing wrong with seeking professional counsel if life becomes too much.

5 – Acceptance

For any ethical vegan, there is never “acceptance” about what’s being done to the innocent animals. Rather, acceptance means understanding the reality of today’s world and no longer participating in eating or wearing animal products.  And awakening to the possibilities of how to help spread awareness of an alternative vegan lifestyle and maybe becoming more active for the animals.  

Life will never be viewed the same.  We are forever changed by our newfound truths.  We learn to adjust by letting go of old habits and establishing new ones.  As we begin to live again and enjoy our lives a little more, we may begin to work towards making a difference, sharing information, and helping change the world for the better.  We dig deep within ourselves to rediscover our own unique place in the world.  And although our worldview will never be the same, we grow and evolve into our new reality.  

Which brings me to a sixth stage –

6 – Finding Hope, Meaning and Purpose

While going through the five stages of grief can be difficult and daunting, we can actually use all of these emotions to our benefit.  When we allow ourselves to really feel and empathize with others, it brings about our desire to help those in need, those without a voice.  

It is at this stage that we begin to realize some of the lessons that came through all the pain and anger and desolation.  We begin to find meaning in our own existence, and we perhaps find purpose.  Whether we decide to become committed vegans, animal rights advocates or activists, or we create an art piece or a business around our newfound passions, we get busy doing what we’re compelled to do.  To make a difference, to better the world we’re in.  We can turn grief into action, and that is powerful!

“True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” ―Helen Keller