Friday, June 3, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

I haven't written a post in a little while. I've tried, but I've either written diatribes against society or trite Buddhist wisdom.

It feels like I can only write with authenticity about one thing: the breakup of my long-term relationship. I haven't wanted to write about it because a. it is personal and b. I have qualms about talking about certain areas of my life given that clients may read this blog, but perhaps writing about it will help others who are going through something similar.

First, let me say that it sucks. It's just really painful and there does not seem to be any way around it.

And now for a closer analysis of this pain and how I am dealing with it:

Feeling: Self-blame
Every time I feel sad, there is a feeling that if I had done things differently then I would not be feeling sad right now. My general theory is that loss is inevitable, but we humans have an immensely hard time accepting this as part of life so we try to assign blame, hoping to feel more sense of control. 

Some people like to blame others. In keeping with my humble nature, I prefer to blame myself. I think about various points in the relationship where, if I had acted differently, we would still be together. I imagine going back in time and tapping myself on the shoulder and telling this version of me what I know now.  

Action: Stop it!
As much as I can, I try to short circuit this thinking. It is just not helpful and leaves me feeling worse. Also it is unrealistic: a. I can't go back in time. b. Even if I could, would this have saved things? I don't really know. It was a complicated situation and my fantasy of going back in time makes it much simpler than it actually was.

So, I just try to pull my mind out of this loop. Not always successfully. Sometimes I end up wallowing, but I try.

Feeling: Sadness
As I said, the self-blame tends to set in over a feeling of sadness. Sad because I miss her. I just do.

I think about times we had fun together or I think how it would be if she were with me in the moment. It's like I am reaching out with my mind and heart, but she is not there. Even though it hurts, there is something soft about this feeling, something tender.

Action: Feel it! 
When I actually let myself feel sad, and maybe cry it out a little, I usually feel better. This is often easier with another person - my therapist, my friend, my mom - than alone. I don't know why but it feels harder for me to get to a sad place when I am alone. 

For people who tend to spend a ton of time crying and feeling sad, I don't recommend staying in that place indefinitely. If this is you, you might need distraction. But if you are like me and getting to a sad spot can be hard, then I think it is good medicine to stay there for a little and let your heart be sad.

Feeling: Emptiness (depression)
This one sucks. It feels like there was a tube that supplied color to my life and now there is nothing on the end of that tube. My life feels like it is in black and white. 

I don't feel excited about anything, and there is the impulse to zone out, watch tv without really watching, even stare at the wall. My body feels heavy, and without energy.

For me, sadness has a feeling of movement to it, but this emptiness, this lack of feeling, feels heavy and stuck, like a stagnant pool of water.

Action: Keep doing my life!
I assume that time will heal things, and the color will return in time. I also find that when I actually do the things I am not excited about - exercise, hang out with friends, work - that I feel better at least during the activity. So, I continue to exercise, take walks, work, write (a little), meditate and see friends.

Action: Rest!
More than normal, I am allowing myself to spend time in bed, nap, and watch movies on my computer. I think you have to be careful with this one because too much bed time can exacerbate depression, but shit, I am going through something hard, and now and again, I let myself take it easy.

Feeling: Fear of suffocation
Ok, I know this may sound strange, but there have been several times when I have realized that a part of me is afraid I won't be able to breathe. It has happened during meditation and also when I wake up from a dream. It is like there is this fear that I will be stuck somewhere, somewhere I can't get out of, somewhere where I can't breathe but I don't die.

I have noticed that several times when I have woken up from a dream, I am a little afraid to go back to sleep for fear that I will get stuck in the dream world. I don't really know what this has to do with my break-up, but I think somewhere in me is the fear of dying and the sense that my relationship was a buffer against this fear. Like, ok here I am alone in the world and destined to one day die, but at least I have this loving person to hold onto, and now I am all alone.

Action: Be curious!
Even though this fear is terrifying, I am actually really curious about it because I sense there is something big here. So whenever it pops up, usually only briefly and on the edge of awareness, I actually try to feel into it more, so I can better understand what it is.

Action: Take a deep breath

Feeling: Jealousy
"What is she doing right now? Is she with someone else? What is she doing with them?"

This one comes on fast and hard, the images of her with someone else flying through my mind and my stomach tightening into a knot. It's a burning feeling, like I have swallowed a red hot lead ball, and I don't know how to throw it up.

Then my thinking mind kicks in - in a bad way. "What day is it? Tuesday. Shit, she doesn't have her daughter on Tuesday. She could be on a date. With who? There is that guy she mentioned being friends with a few weeks ago..." And so on.

Action: Get to the bottom of it!
Some deep breaths help me calm the crazy-making thoughts and feelings. From this place I ask myself what is beneath this and I find fear first and then loss. 

The fear is like an alarm bell signaling grave danger: "Woman about to go with other man! Woman about to go with other man! Act now to prevent loss of woman!" 

But the truth is we've already broken up. I've already lost her. I do my best to tell the alarm bell to calm down, the thing I am afraid of happening has, in a way, already happened.

I am also afraid that her being with someone else means she doesn't love me anymore. I remind myself that just as I will always have a place in my heart for her, I believe she will always have a place in her heart for me. I find this comforting.

That's when I get to the loss that has already happened. She is gone. 
If, or should I say when she goes with someone else, it will mark another stage in this loss, making it more final. This is inevitable. When I can calm down about it, I realize I am more sad than anything else.(see sadness above).
So what feelings have you dealt with when you broke up with someone, and how did you get through it?


  1. This is a very courageous post. You are feeling quite raw and vulnerable, obviously, and it takes guts and heart to reveal what you are going through. Like you say, breaking up IS hard. Your whole inner life and sense of self is reorganizing.I think it is helpful to be grateful for the opportunity you had to share in the other's life as closely as you did for however long you were permitted. I think it is also helpful to realize that the relationship didn't work. Whatever the reasons were, they were real and undeniable, and probably would have continued to cause pain and difficulty had the relationship continued. Since you mention having a therapist, I presume you worked a lot on this relationship personally and in therapy. You tried. It still didn't work. I also think that in breakups we tend to remember more saliently what was positive about the other person. It helps to consciously and strongly remind yourself what sucked about her.

  2. Thank you anonymous. You are right on with your comments: Regarding the reorganization, I realize how much of an anchor the relationship was and how rudderless I feel. It is hard to trust that everything will shake out in the end, to trust the process.

    Regarding the gratitude part, I sometimes find myself getting stuck in wishing I had been more open, more present, enjoyed her more when we were together. A feeling like I left some of the meal uneaten.

    But this leads to your next points: I tried. Actually we both tried. Hard. And, yes there were good reasons that I wasn't more open or present - we had real problems. And yes, love her as I do, and I write this with a smile, there are some things about her that suck. It is helpful to remember that.

  3. When you are in pain because you have lost something that is terrible to lose, you are doing a good job of being alive. Also, I agree with the other anonymous post, it is brave to share this kind of pain. Rock on, dude.

  4. Uggghhhhhh...Yes...painful and alive. Better than dead and numb I think, well most of the time I think this.

    And yes she is something terrible to lose (k, if you are reading this, that is a compliment).

    Thanks anonymous for your comment and for saying I'm brave. You rock on too with your bad self.

  5. Hey Noah,

    How about this one: my body misses his body. There is a real physical connection that doesn't go away just because we declare the nature of the relationship has changed. Maybe it fades over time? I think it can fade over time. It's closest to the emptiness you talk about, and my coping mechanism has been to numb-up. I hadn't understood that one before, but a recent experience brought that dynamic into focus for me.

    Last week I patched things up to 'cuddly friendship' with my ex-fellah, and good *lord* it was like quenching a thirst, spooning with that man. Now, whoops, my heart has opened right back up to him. I am experimenting with being his friend with my heart wide open, so I wish me luck.

    Pippi (pseudonym)

  6. Pippi,

    I know just what you mean about the real physical connection between bodies. It feels primal.

    I'm glad you got your thirst quenched a bit. That must have felt good. It also must have required some will power on someone's part not to go further.

    Now that your heart is open to him again (did it ever really close?) you are more vulnerable (obviously). Seems like the danger is 1. getting hurt 2. feeling unclear where you stand in the relationship.

    On the plus side, you are not numbing out, and getting your thirst quenched. I am curious to see where your wide open heart friendship goes.

    Remember to be kind to your heart, Pippi (pseudonym)

  7. I found your article on tiny buddha. Scrolled down and saw this post of yours. I am 9 months into my marriage breakup. It has been the most significant event in my life so far. Agony and ecstasy. I have found blogging about it to be therapeutic and also a bit scary! The feeling of grief has been an amazing catalyst to examine my whole internal world with love, compassion, sometimes judgement and new eyes. The love and compassion part I found out were missing after I realized how much I had been living my life abandoning myself in my marriage. The only way I have survived it is to constantly love the grief. A tall order when you can't even muster up energy to do the stack of dishes or laundry. I would not have believed anyone if they told me how hard heartbreak can be. I highly recommend getting split open now however, and have come to the humble conclusion that any disruption we have in our lives is to get us into our loving. Sometimes it takes big personal disasters to get our attention. Wishing you speed through your challenge. Especially nice that you have support. Glad I found your blog!

  8. Thank you for your comment Jessica. Yes, heartache is incredibly hard. It sounds like you are handling yours very courageously. I agree that disruptions can open us up, but they don't always work this way. I am not sure what the variable is that causes some disruptions in some people to be split open to love and other disruptions to simply knock people down. Some of it must be the attitude the person sees the disruption with. Again, your attitude sees very open and brave. I would like to read your blog. What is the address?