There are times we get our hearts broken and are able to quickly dust off and start again, and then there are those losses that knock the wind right out of us; deep betrayals that make us wonder who we are and how we could have ended up here, hiding under the covers in the fetal position. In the aftermath of being hurt by someone we love, we begin to question our own ability to make good decisions.
I went through two of these major disasters in a row; jumping into the second one to numb the pain of the first. When the dust settled on the second crash, I barely recognized myself. Before I could even consider trusting another person, I had to rebuild my belief in my own judgement. It's still a daily practice, trusting that I can and will choose wisely.
A few things I've learned on the journey back to trust:
1) There are yeses, and there are YESES. I no longer do anything that isn't a resounding YES. Everything in my life that has ended badly began with either underlying doubt, or a belief that I was "taking a risk" (which turned out to mean "ignoring potentially disastrous consequences for the sake of adventure"). If you trust that it's a big YES and also know that the risk is manageable, move ahead.
2) Fear-based vs. love-based thinking. Why are you making a particular decision? Are you marrying Mr. OK despite red flags because your clock is ticking and you want children? That's fear. Are you moving to a new town and starting a business you've dreamed of all your life? That's love. All of my biggest let-downs have come from fear-based decisions.
3) Are you running from or running toward? If you're running toward something to escape something else: slow down. Wait until what's in front of you pulls at your heart of its own accord.
4) Get quiet and figure out what you really want and need, and why. I spent so many years trying to be the right thing to somebody else that I could no longer hear my own voice. Only when you say a polite no thank you to the expectations, opinions and advice of others can you truly hear yourself.
5) Appoint a B.S. Advisor. This is the one exception to point number 4. My personal B.S. Advisor is my best friend Holly. After 26 years of friendship, she has never got a relationship post-mortem wrong, so now I routinely ask for her no-holds-barred take on things. I know that if I'm about to make a disastrous decision, she'll speak up.
6) Find a spiritual practice that allows you to connect with something bigger than yourself. Meditation has been great for me. I try to spend 10-30 minutes every night in guided meditation (try the Insight Timer app). It reminds me that there is no rush. What is for me will be clear when it needs to be.
7) Listen to your body. It's your best warning system and will tell you everything you need to know. Yoga opens this window of mind-body communication for me. So do long walks, sleep and illness. If you're getting a sore throat or a tight chest whenever you see someone, pay attention. If your heart rests and your shoulders drop, you're in the right place. Being with the right people will feel just like sitting at the beach in the sun. If it feels like a carnival ride, step away.
8) Recognize when what you thought you wanted has changed. Sometimes something doesn't work out because you chased something you used to want but have actually outgrown. Take a break from big decisions to reassess your values and life goals. If you're 40 and still chasing what you thought you wanted at 25, you're unlikely to make choices that will lead to happiness.
9) Accept that you will hurt again at some point. Even with your best self in charge, there will be times when you are blindsided by disappointment. Practice choosing well, and then be ok with the losses. They arrive to redirect you to your true path.
10) Take some time to recover. There's no need to force healing or put yourself back out there until you're really ready. If you need to hide out in PJ's every night for a year, do it. Don't stay there forever, but don't rush. You need time to assess and rebuild. Only then can you go into something with clarity and an open heart, knowing that you will be ok no matter what the outcome.
After every loss, no matter how devastating, eventually there is hope and renewal. The hardest part for me has always been forgiving myself for my missteps. Each time, though, I learn a little more about what I want, who I am and where I want to be. I learn that I am more resilient than I ever thought, and that if I truly listen to my intuition and my heart, I'm not afraid to try again.