Breaking up sucks. Whether it is mutual, one sided, peaceful or traumatic, it doesn't matter -- it just plain sucks.
The pain can be excruciating and debilitating. Our human instinct is to run from it, move on, distract ourselves from feeling the tsunami of emotions that consume our hearts and destroy the landscape of the daily lives we once knew.
How do I know?
I've done it over and over again. Last year, I jumped as fast as I could into another relationship after the ending of my previous one. I couldn't exist in the void; it was too unsettling.
I've been in love with love since I can remember and the idea of not having a (romantic) male presence in my life was unthinkable -- to not have a man to hold me, make love to me, protect me and validate me.
Since I was a teenager, this is how I've fed my worthiness. It's hard to admit this as I also consider myself a strong, independent woman, but it's true.
I am single again but something feels different this time around -- I'm content being alone for the first time in my adult life. I've decided to use this period, unattached to a male counterpart, to break the cycles I've been repeating for years.
What I've done in the past hasn't worked, so why would I continue my patterns as I enter the future?
The word, samskara comes to mind (it's Sanskrit, if you're wondering) -- an ingrained pattern I've been perpetuating due to unawareness and an unwillingness to change. I don't want to be unaware or repetitious with my unhealthy behaviors any longer, because that would make me insane and I'm not.
I think of life as school for the soul. Yet instead of moving forward, I've been held back in the same grade for far too long. It's time to graduate.
My mom said to me the other day. "Rebecca, you're going for your Ph.D. now." I am.
It's challenging to study so intensely. Some of it goes over my head, but I've devoted myself to refining the knowledge I have, so I can retain it for the rest of my life.
What's my degree? I'm a candidate for a Ph.D. in self-acceptance.
Here is a summary of my thesis: How to recover from a breakup, the healthy way.
1. Go home.
Robert Frost said, "Home is the place where when you go there, they have to take you in."
The first step in recovery is to go home. We all have a home, whether in our friendships or in our family. When I'm going through a difficult time, I must be connected and supported by the people I love and trust. I am blessed to have many homes to go to.
I call home when I'm a blubbering mess because those are the moments I need a witness to my grief. That's how I am able to acknowledge it, validate it and say goodbye to it. Home exists for this reason -- when the world is cold and rejecting, home is the warm embrace we can rely on.
Our homes are like health insurance for the spirit. Your friends and family are there to protect you in your darkest times and insure your spirit is safe, sound and healthy. Don't be afraid to knock on the door and when they open it, lean on them and stay until you feel ready to face the outside again. There is no need to be homeless and do it on your own, you can't do it on your own. We all need connection in order to heal because love is the ultimate healer.
2. Date your girlfriends.
While at dinner, my girlfriend blurted out, "Some of my girlfriends are the perfect man. I just wish they'd grow a penis. Let me know when you grow one, OK?"
I feel the same way. My friends fulfill me in ways a man never could. So, during this time of recovery, I'm dating my friends. We do everything and anything together from traveling, to lunch dates, to sitting on the couch and chatting. They lift me up, support me and remind me that I am capable of having deep, soul filling relationships. Friendships (if you are lucky enough to find the right friends) are unconditional, reciprocal and capable of nourishing your heart back to full, if you allow them to.
3. Grief does you, you don't do grief.
Grief is like a squall in the middle of the ocean. It comes without warning and despite how hard you try to avoid it or suppress it, you can't. Let the tears, screams and sobs pour out of you. If you have to cry, you have to cry, just like when you've got to go to bathroom, you've got to go; you don't have a choice, you have to release whatever's in there.
Grief is the same way. Imagine if you held in your bodily functions, trying to keep yourself from sweating, urinating or defecating, you would harm yourself beyond repair. The same applies with holding in your grief--it will only cause you more pain.
The action of not controlling my grief has released it, my tears have dried and the sadness and anger that stormed within me is almost gone now--the clouds are moving on.
4. Make love to a hobby instead of a man, for a while.
Take a break from sex. Buy a good vibrator (I recommend anything from We Vibe) and throw all that passionate energy into something you look forward to doing every day.
Make love to a hobby. Something that you love, that loves you back. We all have something we love doing that sets us free and pleases us beyond measure. Maybe it's yoga, walking, writing, painting, beading, rock climbing--whatever it is, do it a little bit every day, not as a distraction, but as part of your prescription of self love and care.
I started swimming again. I'm a water girl through and through, so anytime I'm immersed in liquid I instantly feel calm, cradled and reborn. My daily discipline of lapping has changed my composition-my body is powerful again and my mind is focused and less reactive. With every stroke, I am reminded -- I can never go back, only forward. I have no choice, I have to move forward in order to make it to the other side of the lane.
Every morning, I feel excitement knowing I have my date in the afternoon with the pool. When our date is over, I feel more of a release than I do with a sexual orgasm, plus I only had to worry about pleasing myself, even better.
5. Don't be an orangutan.
A male friend of mine once described people (hand raised, I've been one of them) who hold onto the branch of one relationship and immediately swing to grab hold of the branch of a new relationship, before letting go of the old one. He calls them Orangutans.
I've done this because I was petrified and uncomfortable being in the void that was left when my relationships ended. In my Ph.D. program, I'm learning that by engaging in branch swinging, I'm doing myself a disservice--neglecting my needs and rejecting myself.
The other day when I was practicing yoga, I thought about breath as a metaphor for relationships. I can't inhale and exhale at the same time. It's physically impossible. Nature dictates, there has to be a space between, a pause between one breath and another.
Why wouldn't the same apply to relationships? It is critical for a healthy recovery especially if I hope to meet a life partner. I must be whole and healed first. I must pause between breaths.
At first, living in the void is scary, but it's necessary. This is where my pain can breath. I have the space and time to look back at the landscape of my relationship and learn from it, so I don't make the same mistakes again. I have time to reflect on my actions, transform and mend the pieces of me that need suturing before I can receive love and give love to another person. The void won't last forever, it can't. Inevitably, an inhale will always follow the exhale.
It is important to remind yourself, by taking time, you are not missing out on the love of your life, you are discovering your love of life again. That's a step that must be taken before that person can enter your life.
I have this quote by Abraham Lincoln written on my board at home, "Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time."
I didn't know what to expect when I let go of the last branch I was holding, but I fell safely to the ground. It's quiet down here and I like it. It's not empty, it's packed full of peace I've never experienced before. I'm not reliant on anyone else to hold me up and that's liberating.
6. Reboot your nervous system.
Humans are creatures of habit.
I am accustomed to my daily routines and the people in them. When the person closest to me was severed from my daily life, it was frightening and disorienting. I didn't know which way was up and felt lost in the cavernous hole of the breakup. The person we choose to be with, becomes ingrained in our nervous system over time. The only way to get them out, is to reboot our systems, just as we do with our computer.
I used my electronics to retrain myself and delete old habits. I reset every password, from my alarm code at home, to my iPhone passcode, to my computer code, to my iTunes password. Every time I went to turn off my system, or unlock my phone or computer I said to myself, "let go, forgive him."
I was shocked by how long it took to enter the correct codes without having to delete or give it a second try. It took discipline and patience to rewire myself, but I did it. Not only do I not have to re-enter my codes a couple times before I'm in, but I noticed the other day, I stopped saying my mantra, because it worked--I unlocked forgiveness, I forgive him and I've let go.
7. Your ex is your professor.
Every relationship teaches us something. If we choose to study the lessons from those relationships, the faster we will graduate and move onto the next program. Even a toxic, abusive relationship has a curriculum we can learn from.
If we accept the lessons from each of our previous relationships, we will graduate summa cum laude and receive our degree in self-acceptance. We will then be prepared for the world and able to meet a partner who will mirror the love we have for ourselves.
I suggest sitting in your favorite spot and write the lessons you've learned and how you will apply them to your life. At the end of your study session, write him a letter (not to be sent, just for you) thanking him for the lessons he taught you.
8. Plan something to look forward to.
Last week, I had dinner with a girlfriend who recently went through a break up too. She said, "You know, I really think the secret to a good life is just having something to look forward to."
Having something on the horizon to plan for, get excited about and anticipate, propels us forward. It is vital to the healing process. Everyone can plan something, whether it's a day trip to a nearby town or a big trip somewhere far away.
My girlfriends and I are going to Costa Rica in a month to do the things we love--swim in the ocean, surf and experience a new country. The loss of my relationship was the catalyst for this trip. Loss has a purpose. It fuels our hearts to have faith in the possibility there is something out there to gain. I didn't realize this when I was in it, in the bowels of grief, but loss was secretly conspiring to help me gain a life wide open to explore and re-discover myself again.
9. Don't settle for anything other than the perfect fit.
Now that I'm a PhD candidate, life is holding me accountable for all of my decisions, because I know better now. I know never to accept anything or anyone into my life, that isn't the perfect fit because I have faith that the right partner will fit like the perfect dress.
Until the day I meet the right partner, I'm going to enjoy this life I've built full of friends, passions, travels and love, because right now, I fit myself perfectly and I'm too busy studying, so I can put on that cap and gown and graduate.
*First published on elephant journal