Could you stay the sensation if you knew it was nourishing?
That’s the question my yoga teacher posed in the class I attended yesterday while we were breathing into some “intense” toe stretches. I was uncomfortable as I eased back on my heels, pain threatening to sprint from my pinky toe to my lower calf. His question startled me out of my hazy yoga gaze, and offered me some insight into my personal life.
To be short, my boyfriend (now ex-) broke up with me in late March. The details of the relationship are much less important than the lessons I’ve learned since then, all which hinge on this idea of “staying the sensation.” Since the break-up, I have been weary, enlightened, empowered, but mostly sad. There’s nothing quite so difficult as facing the futility of your sweat, patience, and hard work. The Rolling Stones put it best when they sang, “You can’t always get what you want.” So, in hopes that this reaches someone who needs it, at just the right time, here’s what I’ve come to know as I heal.
1. Self-respect is hard. Like… really fucking hard.
During the past month, every part of me has wanted to a) hide in a corner, b) beg my ex- for any amount of time together, c) stay perpetually drunk, or d) get angry and dismiss my ex- as an immature, selfish asshole. It took every ounce of self-respect I have stored up not to do these things. Having gone through the break-up thing a few times before, I knew none of those are helpful (they’re actually harmful) and the last statement is just not true.
What is true is that there is a set amount of grief that has to happen. Unfortunately, I don’t know what that amount is. But I do know that by leaning into the discomfort that this break-up has caused me, I’ll eventually get to the other side of it. I want to share a relevant quote that I love by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in The Joy of Living:
Ultimately, happiness comes down to choosing between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.
Life is kind of a squirmy thing. It’s just the Universe teaching you lesson after lesson. And lessons are so hard! And it’s so uncomfortable to change!
But — guess what? — you’ll be taught the same lesson until you learn it! So, I’ve just committed to the first kind of discomfort, facing my trip-ups as they come. I believe facing grief, change, loss, sadness, rejection, failure upfront minimizes the length of suffering.
2. If you don’t know your needs, you can’t have them met.
I just went to DC to visit a friend, and something about the space from home gave me the opportunity to realize that I was grateful I had been broken up with. WHAT?!? Who wants to be dumped, particularly by someone they love? The cherry blossom pollen must have gone to my head.
But really, what I realized was that I had disappeared into my relationship. Having always been highly relationship-focused, I struggle with sacrificing everything for the sake of continuing a relationship. Because — to my relationship-valuing brain — there’s nothing worse than losing someone, than being alone. So in trying to reconcile the incompatible (me and my ex-), my needs went out the window. Commitment? Totally negotiable. Want to see me once a week? Chill, I’m super low-maintenance. Aren’t totally sure you want to be in a relationship? I can wait.
I compromised every part of what I wanted, i.e. a committed partnership that is silly, patient, forgiving, kind, and sexy. When you look at what I want and what my ex- wants, they’re different things. Incompatible, really. He wants freedom, independence, no responsibility, and the capacity to be impulsive. And that’s alright. In this break-up, I’ve had to learn that you can love someone who wants something different than you. Eventually it will hurt like hell, because it will end if your fundamental wants are different. Or, worse, if it doesn’t, you’ll wish it was over.
So how do I move forward? How do I make sure I avoid pain? Well, you can’t be sure of anything and we can’t avoid all pain. But I can go back to that self-respect thing. I vet potential partners better. I don’t lie to myself. And I introduce awareness every step of the way. Having been smacked in the face by my needs, I can’t neglect them anymore. As my therapist says, “Once you’re a pickle, you can’t go back to being a cucumber.”
3. Sadness is not a mutually-exclusive emotion.
You can be sad and grateful. Sad and hungry. Sad and happy. Those combinations are all possible. And that’s the only way I’ve gotten through the past month. Learning that my sadness can just lie underneath everything as it needs to has been such a relief.
Allowing my sadness to just be has been a lot about learning to have empathy for myself. I’m so gracious to other people. I understand that angry acts come from suffering, that judgment of others comes from fear, that we are all doing the best we can. But I’ve so rarely (never?) extended that forgiveness to myself. Right now, I’m doing the best I can. And that means crying into my wine. And that means choosing Downton Abbey over the Flying Squirrel bar. And that means obsessively checking my phone, hoping and fearing that my ex- will contact me.
Soon, I will be stronger, but not now. Soon, I will be patient, but not now. So until then, I’ll do my best and forgive myself when I watch four hours of Downton Abbey, wrapped in my down comforter.
4. No feeling is final.
Soon after the break-up, my friend E sent me this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
A few weeks ago, my therapist ended our session with this, “Now, you’re going to go to go home, go for a walk with your dog, and have a good dinner. And that’s as good as today is going to get.” To some, that may seem depressing. But she knows me. I find relief that every moment, good or bad, is temporary. And my life will at least hold that much: a slow day, filled with breath, and life (my dog Emily), and patience, and beauty, and good food. I have a damn good life, alone or not.
So, that’s where I’m at. I hope my words help someone else to stay the uncomfortable sensation of healing in a break-up. I felt silly at the time, but one of my first responses to the break-up was to Google “healthy ways of breaking-up.” And there were some generic self-help articles, but nothing this nuanced. After you read this post, let me know if it has helped or what you’d like to hear more on.