Breakups are mine fields; uncomfortable places that can bring up fears and insecurities, undermine our sense of self and self-worth, and send us into a funk where we indulge in all kinds of unhealthy habits. But they can also be these places where we double down for what we really want and powerfully say yes to our biggest yeses. Having just gone through a break up a couple days ago I write this from the midst of my own process. I want to share some of what I’m noticing and doing.
First: I have noticed that there are 2 competing impulses.
- To seek out validation, distraction, and things that “feel good,” i.e. drinking, activity, noise, food, etc.
- To allow myself to be with the experience moment by moment in a gentle way and to make strong, healthy choices that will build me back up.
In the past I chose the first option, which is basically running away. What I’ve learned about that pathway is that it gives power to my worst fears and deepest insecurities. It also often lands me somewhere in the future feeling bad about myself and still not having processed the experience.
Here is what it means to me this time around to pick the second pathway:
- Shifting the internal dialogue requires slowing down enough to catch and correct anything that isn’t loving. It’s my job, especially during the first couple days/weeks/months when I’m (we’re) the most vulnerable, to catch old stories and replace those negative dialogues with positive, compassionate ones. What’s the old story? How is this different? No matter how sad I am if I beat up on myself it will be worse. Feeling sad? Yeah, I lost someone I cared about and all the dreams we had of the future. It’s okay to be sad. Feeling wronged? Yeah, that’s okay. He did his best and the fact that it didn’t feel like enough is evidence that this is the right choice. Feeling insecure? Even though I’m whole and wonderful not everyone is going to love me, and that’s okay. Remember the people who do love me. Remember I’ve done the best I can. Remember to have compassion for my own imperfections. Remember that perfection isn’t possible and love isn’t about being perfect anyway. Since this is a pattern from my history I take extra care to keep an eye on that tendency.
- Allow the experience to be as paradoxical as it is. Breakups can be sad and also the right choice. Infuriating and also liberating. We’re complex, and our relationships are complex. I try to allow the experience to shift from moment to moment without trying to make sense of it. It doesn’t need to make sense that I’m feeling sad remembering all the good times from the beginning of the relationship and that I also feel relieved and at peace with the outcome.
- A balance of indulgence with doing what we know is good for ourselves is how we love ourselves as adults. I often find myself wanting to be “kind” to myself by indulging in food, drink, sleep or skipping exercise. As though discipline, or making choices about what I know is good for me, isn’t kind. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a medicinal glass of whiskey and going to bed early when you’re bone tired from crying or whatever. But marathon watching shows, eating junk food for a week, and complaining about the other person while desperately distracting ourselves from considering our own mistakes is not the pathway of healing. It’s the pathway of bitterness and stagnation.
Examples: I know I feel better when I get a full night of sleep so I’m going to do that. I know I feel bad about myself when I eat an entire pint of ice cream so I’m not going to do that. I know that I need to both talk to friends about what happened and spend time by myself finding my own way towards a deeper peace that doesn’t need to be validated by anyone. I’m going to be careful with my choices and do my best to make healthy ones that affirm the life I want to create.
- Every no is also a yes to something else. Whether I initiated the breakup or not the “no” to this relationship can be my yes to the right relationship in the future; a relationship where both people love each other well and are ready to commit. When we lose an important relationship we need to consider where the energy and time that has been freed wants to be invested. I make my “no” to that relationship a “yes” to my health, whatever dreams I’m working towards, and to my self.
- Don’t play a victim, focus on choices. No matter how sad I am, or how dysfunctional the breakup or relationship, I’m not the victim. I made choices all the way through, and I have choices to make right now. Focusing on my choices keeps me empowered and listening to what the medicine of the moment is. Choices may be hard to identify if you’re used to feeling powerless around relationship- but we always have choice. Always. If you need to just be in the emotions a bit longer and you’re not ready to make choices yet— that’s okay. But do remind yourself that you’re free and have choices available when you’re ready.
Relationships don’t all work out. Sometimes we’re the heartbreaker, sometimes we’re the heartbroken. I find I’m usually sad regardless of whether it was my idea or not. It’s still a loss.
Yet for me- breakups have actually become these moments of renewal. I feel the energy I was investing in the relationship return and I feel a sense of opportunity to better my life. At no point is it more clear to me than during a breakup that I am responsible for creating and living my own dreams.
Today I’m working on my music, for the first time since I moved here in October. I’m eating a yummy salad with sausage and apple on it, I’m going to go workout in a little bit, and tonight I’m having dinner with a new friend. In between all this I notice what a beautiful sunny day it is, that it’s already March and winter is changing to spring. My tulips are coming up everywhere. I feel waves of surprise about the loss, flushes of sadness and disappointment when I remember certain things, and then relief as I remember other things. This discomfort is, after all, something I must be willing to go through if I want to experience love. I’m going slow. I’m feeling grateful to have a heart that can love and hands that can keep building my life.