There are a few things I know to be true:
You can survive this heartbreak, even though it doesn’t feel like it.
You have to honor the process.
Your hurt is valid, no matter how hard, toxic or love filled the relationship was.
When my last relationship ended I felt like nothing and everything all at once. My heart hurt so bad that I would physically grab it as if death gripping my chest could stop it from crumbling into a million pieces.
The happiest part of my day was when I went to sleep because at least then I wouldn’t feel the pain.
This break-up was different from all of the rest. I had learned something that would go on to be the secret to healing. It wasn’t what I wanted to know, and quite frankly I wish that I wouldn’t have learned this, but I did, and I’m going to share it with you too.
They say that when you’re going through heartbreak you should stay busy. Your friends come over to keep you distracted. You call your mom 58397 times a day. You sign up for classes and things just to keep your mind off of your ex even for only 7 seconds.
Your desire to stay distracted is a coping mechanism that your body brings in full force to protect you from pain. Of course you don’t want to experience pain, and your body wants to keep you safe from perceived danger.
The problem in staying busy is that you never heal.
Sure you can zumba class your way into temporary pain relief. You can sleep with 10 new people, cut your hair, and delete every picture of your person in hopes to erase them from your life—but the pain still lives within you.
What if the healing wasn’t in staying busy? What if the healing came in moving towards the pain?
Ugh. I know right? That sounds awful. Why would you willing step into what you know will hurt you?
In Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart, she says “So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn't sit for even one, that's the journey of the warrior. “
I read that sentence probably 100x over. Gross. Gross. Gross. No thank you. I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want to see what I knew made so much sense. I didn’t want to sit with the pain. I didn’t want to honor it, see it, feel it or do anything but hide it.
As hesitant as I was, I did a quick inventory of my past relationships and assessed each of them. I decided that avoiding the pain always resulted in my pain arising in future relationships and other aspects of my life in the messiest of ways. I committed in that moment that no matter how big the pain was that I would sit with it.
I was unclear what sitting with it meant, until my heart shattered into the oblivion and I could feel nothing but pain.
Here’s what sitting with the restlessness looked like:
When I’d think about missing them, my initial reaction would be to call my dad, or hang out with a friend. Instead of doing that as my first response to the pain, I would literally just sit there. I would allow myself to feel the memory, pain, or whatever was arising. Even if it was only for 10 seconds. This allowed me to get familiar with pain, without numbing it right away. I would test myself in the car. Could I make it the whole way home without calling someone to talk about something mindless? Now don’t get this wrong, I did lean on my friends, therapist and family for support and talked about my feelings. But this momentary pause, allowed me to see if my calls were out of numbing or a need to process feelings.
Sitting with the restlessness for me meant not seeking out another relationship or person to sleep with right away. If that’s what you need, I’m not knocking it. But I’m encouraging you to not use someone else's body or emotions as a scratching post for you to numb out on. This was hard for me, I wasn’t use to not being someone's person. As I saw my ex get into a new relationship I remember thinking ‘wow, that was so fast, how could they possibly heal enough to step into a new love?’. Now I don’t know if they healed or not, that’s their own process. What I do know for a fact is that it only benefits you, and your future partners, if you can learn to not hop from person to person without unpacking your pain first.
Sitting with the pain meant making mindful choices about my food, movement, and acts of self care. Instead of choosing things that made me forget, or binging with food, I chose to do things that made me feel. Feel more empowered, more connected to my body, and my mind. This was surprisingly hard.
Sitting with the hot loneliness looked like doing the work. Babe, you can cry your heart out. Within that though, you need to do the work. Whether that’s journaling your feelings, seeing a therapist (my personal fave!)—whatever you need to do shed some of this emotional trauma from your heart so it can become a place of clarity and calm again.
Lastly, the hardest part of this all can be in not judging your emotions. Break ups can be hard because your friends and family don’t want to see you hurt. They unintentionally rush your process because they more than likely don’t know how to support you in your pain. This can lead to a lot of judgement on your end when you have a few normal days, then a day or moment of sadness shortly after. This is your process, which means that there is not right or wrong way to heal. Even now, 7 months post break up, I will have a random moment that reminds me of something and I’ll be sad for a second. That’s normal. You can’t just erase someone from your life. There is history. This was a chapter of your becoming. Of love. Sitting with the pain means sitting with it when it shows up 1 month, 1 year, or 10 years later (which it may), and being okay with it. You’re not doing anything wrong by feeling deeply.
Sitting with pain is hard. So is avoiding the pain and having it smack you in the face months or years later. I guess the question to ask yourself is, are you ready to work through this now so that you can feel whole again? Which will then allow you to love, feel and navigate life with more power? Or will you let it smack you in a few months and deal with the messiness it brings?
Don’t worry, I won’t judge you if you’d rather it distract the pain away. You’re smart, and I know one day you’ll be tired of getting smacked. If you’re willing, even in the slightest bit to sit with the pain today though, I want you to know that I know how bad it hurts. I know 100x over, I know..
You’re not alone. One day, this won’t hurt as bad.