Just before Christmas 2014 I got dumped. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. What followed was a period – over Christmas and New Year no less – of mourning and rage, where I finally found myself, after eighteen years of serial monogamy, alone for the holidays.
Ugh, break ups. No one wants to hear about or go through one ever again. We all know what the end of a relationship feels like: shitty.
Yeah, it really sucked. Confined to the prison of my mind, I walked around my house smoking one Marlboro Light after another, shell-shocked. There were periods of catatonia in front of E! TV, hearing Leanne Rimes tell Guiliana Rancic over and over how she’d “never truly taken care of me”. Frequent bursts of scorching anger gave way to primal wailing, when every song on the radio felt searingly pertinent to the break up. My body felt like the flaming earth after a bush fire. The cigarettes weren’t helping, but the weight of the smoke somehow seemed to keep me from taking off like a hot air balloon.
But at thirty-four, this wasn’t my first nasty surprise in life, nor my first go-round on the relationship turnstile. I knew what was in store: months, maybe years of sadness, having to overhaul my psyche, and make a new life. But I also knew, by virtue of age, that life would go on, and over time, the sharp pain of this fresh wound would lessen. The heart heals, every damn time. You know it.
By rallying together all my acquired knowledge I was soon not only back on my feet, but embracing and adoring life. The relationship lasted nearly five years, but the initial devastation of losing it lifted after three weeks. I call that a miracle, and I want to share with you how I did it in the hope that what worked for me may also work for you.
In my opinion, it does help you get a grip if you think of someone who’s way worse off than you. Yes, I know people are quick to discount this by saying it marginalizes one’s feelings, and our experiences are subjective to our circumstances. However, I think it does us all good to take stock of what we do have. At the time of my break up, two million people had been displaced from Syria. They were all traipsing to the border, with nothing. It was hot, dusty, many had lost their families, and chances were, about two thousand of them were going through a break up AS WELL.
It’s a lot to have a roof over your head and a cozy bed to sleep in. Running water from the tap? Pure wealth! Some people are eating millet, or nothing at all. Perspective - If you haven’t got it, you need it, go get it.
It can be hard to get to that place though, no matter how many pep talks your give yourself in the mirror, so I recommend employing a good soundtrack to buoy you through the rougher waters. This brings me to the all-important …
Break Up Playlist
Traditionally, the Break Up Playlist contains tear-jerking music, written by really great songwriters, who bring you to your knees with accompanying thoughts of suicide. Being an adult, I knew that that was not going to help me, so DO NOT listen to music that is complex, deep or genius in any way. You don’t want to amplify your feelings of pain and loss. No Etta James, Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye. Despite the temptation to turn up the radio when Bobby Womack croons “If you think you’re lonely now wait until tonight,” DON’T. Avoid anything that will tip you into hysterics following a split. You might be broken inside, but you have a life to get on with, probably a job to attend to, things that wont wait while you drink cognac, snort coke and howl at the moon. What worked for me was a relentless playlist of hip hop and R&B focusing heavily on rappers who love the crap out of themselves and talk about how they came up out of nothing to make their damn mark, nothing was gonna hold them back, and now look, they’re sippin’ purple syrup and shopping for gold chains.
You do need to let yourself fall apart, but minimizing the damage the break up does to other areas of your life is important too. There are positive ways to deal with those emotions. For example…
Be Manically Creative.
I’ve never considered myself an artist. But as it turns out, I’m actually brilliant, perhaps one of the greatest of our time! I found out – thanks to Yeesus and the aforementioned playlist – that I’m a CHAMPION when I’m letting my soul scream through art.
Surrounded by remnants our life together, I knew that if I cut up the original photo albums and destroyed the things he gave me, I would regret it one day. For a while I felt like I was losing my marbles, so when things got really wild, I made art and posted it on Tumblr. It felt good to tell the world how I felt, to get it out of me.
It’s a ride or die time in life, and like Kanye says, giving up is way harder than trying, so, just go nuts and call it art. Art’s a bunch of crap these days anyway, and you wont get arrested if you direct your emotions into something creative.
Police Your Thoughts
It’s easy to get so deep into sadness that your brain starts malfunctioning, like a record you can’t turn off, just malevolently torturing you about something you can’t do anything about. A way you thought you acted, how guilty you feel, and how reasonable or unreasonable that feeling is. That you’re not good enough, that the world is fucked, that you can’t handle the void alone, that God is dead, etc etc.
Here’s the thing about those stories we tell ourselves: we have to be careful about how many times we tell them. In our brains there are highways called neural pathways. The more you think the same negative or positive thing, the more traffic goes down that pathway, making it a well-worn road. A dirty freeway of the undisciplined mind. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Aurelius’ people had mad respect for him, and if it’s good enough for Rome, it’s good enough for you. Every time you catch yourself yapping negatively, make yourself say out loud “You are rad”. Build some new highways. This break up tip is the most important one in my toolbox, and maybe the toughest one to get your head around.
Upbringing has a lot to do with your ability to love yourself. I was brought up to respect myself, and was honored as an individual. I appreciate that this wasn’t the case for many people, but self-esteem is a skill that can be learnt. I’ve seen it in my friends. So stop resting on the bummer childhood laurel, and seize the day.
Pretty much the last thing you’ll feel like doing after crying all night and getting zero sleep is exercising. Tough shit. Don’t feel like sweating it out at the gym or running on the beach? The Syrian refugees didn’t feel like walking across an arid desert in search of fresh water and somewhere to live, they did it to survive. Your break up is the self-centered western equivalent of this, and could very well swallow you whole if you don’t fight back. The longer you stay stationary, wallowing in your pain, the harder it’s going to be to get any sleep at all. You don’t have to work out until you puke and pass out – please don’t - but you do have to get out of bed and at least take the dog around the block. I surfed alone and walked in nature. I got hard out into yoga. Feeling the life on the planet breathed life back into me.
Eat, Drink & Buy Yourself Stuff
There are going to be moments when you just want to die. Think of what you would do for a friend if they felt that bad. Flowers. Food. Presents. Self-care is where it’s at. When you feel a trickle of energy, use it to go to the health food store and stock up on nourishment. You must feed and water yourself. I found that the only food I was interested was spicy or sugary stuff. It’s not the healthiest, but at least it gave me some pleasure, so I ate it. The shock of strong flavors made me feel again. If you can’t afford a holiday, go to the beach or other natural place. They are good places to break down. Go ahead. Let yourself grieve in nature, and know you are where you need to be. Then see a movie. Then hug a cat. Eat chocolate. Fuck it, eat a whole ton of chocolate. Then have a bath. Think of recovery as a job that involves discipline and indulgence in equal parts.
Did your ex fuck you over? Did they cheat, lie, manipulate? If not, and the split was just one of those mutual things, move on. However, if you were disrespected, you have a case for revenge.
Most people think revenge is a terrible waste of energy and does more harm than good. According to the Hite Report on Women In Love, only a tiny percentage of women seek revenge, but those who do get over the relationship a lot faster. Women especially can be estranged from their anger. Though a desire exists to restore balance to our lives, we are not allowed to seek retribution. We are expected to just suck that gobstopper of cow dung, and swallow it quietly over the course of several years. In my experience, measured, justified revenge speeds up the process of moving. Don’t physically harm anyone obviously - don’t be a criminal (no revenge porn) - just be creative.
My mother was a very creative person. She once went on a camping trip with her then boyfriend and some mates. When she caught him in a tent with one of the other women she drove his truck to the edge of a cliff and threw his keys and wallet into the ocean. Then she called a cab and went home.
I had an elaborate three stage Plan of Retribution, but after executing the first stage, I lost interest, and that’s exactly what you want. The best revenge is living well, but the second best is the funny stuff that helps you even the score. (A caveat: If you are mentally ill just don’t do this. You’ll probably go overboard, and might get sectioned. Pick your battles.)
You walk a fine line with revenge. One person’s heroine is another’s crazy bitch. And like heroin, a little is great, too much will kill you.
But to everything there is a season – sometimes it’s Kali’s turn at the wheel.
Let Divine In
I’m not religious but when my buddy told me she’d prayed for me, I was so touched I prayed back for her, which was weird, because I'd never prayed before. And then something happened. The Divine came into my life and took away some of my suffering. (John Waters movies helped too) Believe it! You don’t need to know WHO God is, or if his son was Jesus, or if the Moonies have the answers or if Charles Manson had a direct line to the Almighty. You are part of the universe, created by the hand of whatever, and the blueprint to salvation is inside of YOU. You don’t need a church or a guru or scripture of any kind to know God. You already know in your heart that you a sacred being.
Having a relationship with God can help you examine your choices and patterns without running yourself down. The months after a break up are an excellent time to reflect on yourself. My grandmother had a picture above her bed that read, “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails.” She lost two children, and those words were often quoted in our home. If my Nanna survived the death of her babies, we can all pull ourselves through a break up. There’s that perspective again.
Obviously, one month is not going to be sufficient time to truly put your life back together after a break up. Love hurts. It has piranha teeth. Once bitten you can either flush out the wound, or you can let things fester and turn into an infected pustule.
Something to bear in mind is that loving someone is not a passport to happiness. Happiness is a daily practice. It’s not something we are necessarily entitled to. You can’t buy it; you can’t expect another person to give it to you. It was this realization that allowed me the freedom to pursue my own happiness autonomously. It took many years to reach that point, but once I was there, it was sublime.
I often hear people saying how upsetting it is to break up as they get older. Certainly it can be confronting, but I believe it’s a privilege to get older, not a curse. There is so much more to living on the Earth than a love relationship. We have to acknowledge that, even when we don’t even want to stop crying, because doing so would prove it.
So, in between loves, clear out those false notions. There is no such thing as winning or losing. . There is only the here and now. Life is a gift and love is dangerous, so live dangerously. You will most likely love again. If not, your life is still golden.