Perhaps the strangest thing about breakups that one is never really prepared for, is how totally and completely the world is turned on its head. All perspective is lost. The beauty of the bahamas trip was how remarkably it allowed me to check back into who I am, where I am and what I want. I cried during the flight there. Everything felt sad and lonely. And even after getting there and sitting with some remarkable people for dinner, I had to excuse myself. The red-eye flight and the build up of tears led me back to my room at 7pm. I cried and felt so powerless. I felt that all I wanted in the world was for Him to call me and promise he’d change, our relationship would change, he’d fight for me, he didn’t want to lose me. I yearned for this. I wanted it deep within my bones.
Despite being so on board with our break-up and weeks before, fighting for all the reasons to throw in the towel, here I was yearning to go back to the relationship that had shrunk me down to a person I barely recognized. This reaction makes sense on a psychological level. Anthropologist Helen Fisher has done some really interesting studies on what happens to the brain when you are in love, and conversely when you are suffering through a break-up. She collected data from several heartbroken souls who were put into an MRI machine and then shown a picture of the person that broke their heart. She found that the same parts of the brain that are associated with physical pain are triggered as well as those parts of the brain that are associated with drug addiction. She believes the origin is in biology. “In a way, nature gave us this response as a protection,” she says. “It helps us keep relationships going under adverse circumstances, which is important for keeping our species going.” In other words, it’s supposed to hurt. And you’re supposed to want to get back together with the person causing the hurt. For more on this check out this article from the Greater Good and a fascinating video here.
That said, I was in The Bahamas and was so wanting to let some of the pain go. It was weighing me down and I needed a break. I wanted inspiration and light.
So I spent my time there going to yoga classes and meditating, laying on the beach and soaking in as much warmth and sunlight as possible. During my first yoga class, while my brain was spinning out of control, reworking conversations I had had, wishing I had said X or Y, and anticipating every type of future interaction, I realized I had almost forgotten I was standing on a platform looking out at the ocean surrounded by swamis. I was brought back when my yoga instructor stated, “Give yourself permission to let go of what is no longer serving you.” And I realized there was great power there. The endless ruminating, though biologically ingrained to propagate my species, was not serving me. At all. So slowly I began letting things go that were not serving me. And amazingly, that created space for some beautiful alternatives.
During my time there I had the pleasure of conversing with Jon, a lovely older gentleman from the UK who had the most amazing warmth. He managed to see right to the depth of my suffering. During our first conversation, right as I had spent the previous night going back and forth about what I was willing to do to make the relationship work (I would learn to ski! I would climb! I would mountaineer! I would eat every 2 hours so that I was never hangry), Jon looked at me and said, “the minute you begin to believe that if you do X or have X you will be enough, is when you have become lost to who you are. Doing X or having X will never make you more loveable, worthy or whole.”
As the week went on, I began sleeping, stopped crying and felt my heart literally crack open. My chest was swollen with love.
The morning that I was leaving I had woken up at 6am to meditate and I could barely sit there. My mind was anxious with returning and what I would confront when I got home. Could I keep my heart open? Could I keep breathing and let go of what was no longer serving me? During my last meal there, Jon sat next to me and commented on my struggling from earlier in the morning. He noticed. I told him about my fears. He looked as though he already knew. He said, “your relationship was perfect for getting you to where you need to be. So much of our suffering is ego and if we can just sit, feel and breathe, without attaching ourselves to the (often bipolar) thoughts, without thinking about how wronged we were, or how righteous we are, we can reduce the suffering.” Finally, he said that when someone comes at you with their finger pointing in your face (either literally or figuratively) and hurls hurtful words at you, ignore them. What they’re saying is “you aren’t loving me in the way that I need and my heart is hurting.”
I packed up his insight, my sandy bathing suit and yoga clothes and boarded the little boat to take me over to the mainland and back home to Sacramento.
I remember when I first read Eat, Pray, Love. Months before, I was speaking about it to some friends who all seemed resigned in their conclusion that the book was fluff, vapid, the stuff of Nicholas Sparks autobiographies. Someone gave it to me. It sat on my shelf until I needed it. Until I broke up with the man I had been dating for 4 years and remembered some criticism of the book having to do with the target audience: 30-somethings who are newly single. Perfect.
I recall the book being entertaining and having some passages that struck a chord but only recently have I come to appreciate it’s true value. Perhaps it’s the relationship I just ended that is so similar to the relationships Elizabeth Gilbert struggles with. An experience that made me feel like she was writing specifically to me. This quote for example.
Had she ended that paragraph with my name, I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have spoken to me more clearly.
Or this one:
Immediately after it became real that we were breaking up, that it wasn’t an empty threat we spat at each other after our more-and-more-frequent fights, I watched Eat, Pray, Love. Then I purchased a ticket to the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in The Bahamas and planned accordingly.
Despite swearing up and down to my neighbor that the woman he was with at the store was a friend who he carpooled to a group camping trip, he couldn’t tell me that. Refused. He made clear that he doesn’t owe me an explanation and anyone who respects him would know he’d never do that. He is also grieving and lonely and sad.
At some point it became clear that I had hurt him in a recent conversation when I was trying to establish boundaries. This incident felt like some cruel retaliation. At the end of the conversation I apologized for hurting him and he said nothing. My mind was blown that after everything I had been through in the past 5 days, I was the one saying sorry. This person who I almost married, with whom I just shared how harrowing the previous days were, could not even express sympathy for my pain, let alone provide an explanation to take some of it away.
I had made a terrible error in making his actions about my worth. The call helped me see how important the trip to the Bahamas is and how much work lay ahead.
This weekend I was on my knees trying to pull myself above the waves of sorrow that threatened to drown me entirely. I’m 33 years old and can say with certainty I have never felt this kind of pain. It was physical. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. The vision I held of the world was through hazy glasses and I had to squint to make out any days that didn’t include this unrelenting sadness.
The worst. Literally the worst possible thing that could have happened in my healing during this break up has happened.
I didn’t include day 4. I didn’t write about it because yesterday I didn’t feel weepy and sad. I didn’t feel so terrified because the night before He and I spent the night together and then held each other and woke up being kind. Last night when He returned home at 10pm, he told me that he had found a place. He’d be moving on Tuesday. It didn’t sink in until today.
Today I went back to work. I held in my tears until lunch, after four excruciatingly long hours. Progress. Today I recognized what I had lost in this relationship- the pride in being me, in being sexy and strong. I am excited to rediscover these things.
The blunt force trauma is over but pain radiates through every cell in my body. I feel like I’ve gone into survival mode and numbness comes and goes in welcomed visits. Today I had a glimmer of how this is for the best, followed immediately by, if he thinks I’m so wonderful why is he just letting me go?
We broke up yesterday. Last night. After 3 years. We talked well into the morning and only when 5:00am rolled around did I find any solace in sleep. I had begun to believe that there was still hope for us, that we might find the hidden door to lead us out of this mess. But he had resigned himself to what is likely for the best, an imminent break up. I cried, so hard my head hurt. Tears nothing more than the liquid manifestation of a deep seated bellowing pain. The fear and confusion turned way to abject sorrow. How is it possible to have a world where two people can love each other, strive to be together, and ultimately fail. My urge is to scream into the deafening wind that “YOU’RE NOT DOING ENOUGH.” But maybe there is truly nothing more to do. And beyond, perhaps it is best not to continue in a relationship when the fundamental reason you’re there is that you’re expecting your partner to become someone else.