When the Past is no Longer an Option

Because there isn’t enough going on in my life right now, my ex just reached out to ask If I want to get a drink.

Obviously.

I didn’t respond immediately. I gave myself permission to think about it. Really weigh what makes most sense for me. This introspection is a new thing. Progress.For the past few days, particularly when I was packing just to come down here for the week and start my new job I was overcome with grief. I think I stayed so busy stressing out about finding a place and starting at a new organization that I put all of the relationship stuff into a dark closet where I could ignore it. But leaving Sacramento means really leaving my memories and this relationship, whatever miniscule shards remain. It’s been almost three months and yet this concept still grips my stomach and brings the tears. I had no idea that I had inadvertently been sitting vigil since November. Months later, moving on was staring me right in the face and still, it brought me to my knees.

The text from my ex was an opportunity for me to really check in. Of course I want to see him. In this tempest of change and fear and novelty, I would give anything to feel the familiar comfort of his arms. The safety and support that had a way of warming my blood, like clothes fresh from the dryer. But if we went out that’s not what I’d get. Not at all. I’d get this new version. Not the person I dated for so long, the person that I knew everything about, whose mannerisms became so familiar to me that in the past three years, despite my annoyance, I’d picked most of them up.  I’d get the version that wants to be good friends, that has settled into being pals (“Super excited for you to be heading to Oakland!” he said in his text) and I’m not there yet. That version doesn’t feel comfortable to me. It just feels vapid and sad. So I said no. I said no and then cried, because after three months, after feeling like I was really moving on because I hadn’t cried in a respectable chunk of time, despite this noncrying likely having to do with being really distracted, It’s still there. There is a deeper place carved out for the sadness though. It’s familiar. “Oh, hello again tears,” I think. I welcome them in for a while, let them do their cleansing and then continue on to the next thing. Because moving forward feels right, despite that sadness, and this enormous fear and the rapidly approaching ledge I am about to sail off of.

There are no lions

In Robert Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, he explains that zebras experience episodic stress when, say, there is a lion afoot. Humans, on the other hand, anticipate the lion, plan for the lion, rehearse what they will do when they see the lion- resulting in chronic stress and often health issues.  It has been determined that anticipatory fear and fear have the same effect on the body. When we spend hours on end preparing for the lion, we’re in the same situation as if we were actually running from one.

Which brings me to today.  Only in retrospect, can I appreciate how anxious I’ve been the past week. I had one week off of work before moving to Oakland and I spent it stressing over whether I would find a place to live. I cavorted with lions. I had a hard time sleeping, I was in a perpetual state of distraction all because I simply did not want to sit with the fear of unknowing. What would happen if I let go? What if I just accepted that I had no control over this and I would have to let come what was going to come? No. Too scary. Instead I busy myself with the task of avoiding being eaten.
When I find myself short of breath or experiencing a rising tightness in my chest, I now remind myself, often out loud, “There are no lions”.  We believe the worry is helping us anticipate, but really, I think it’s just hindering our ability to be open, let things happen. I know objectively that I’ll find a place. I know that my heart won’t always feel broken and somewhere down the road I can imagine a happy life with someone, in a job I love and in a space that isn’t my brother’s guestroom. I know this. But it’s elusive. I guess that’s the work. Recognizing that I could just as easily imagine the lions and my statistically favorable death or beautiful, wide open savannah in the middle of a safe far off world.

Birthday

Today is my 34th birthday. I started the day having woken up from a terror dream that I haven’t had in years but used to have every few months or so. It’s the one where I’m hours away from my wedding and don’t actually want to marry the groom. Needless to say I was thrilled to wake up and get lovely texts from sweet friends and family members.

Then, about two hours into my day I got a phone call from the one apartment in Oakland that I still had hope about. I just felt in my bones that it was mine. When he called I was certain this was it. Except it wasn’t. He rented it to someone else. So then I go to where one never needs to go, particularly on their birthday, the raging pity party.

And then I picked my sorry self off of the couch and put on my 34 year old big girl boots and went out and bought a tea pot. Shit is going to work out. My dear friend reminded me that things don’t always work out the way we expect them to, but they always work out.

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Back in the Water

I have been told, on more than one occasion, that there’s no way I’m going to self-help my way out of this-that the work is done in the water, dragging my feet forward- experiencing progress in what feels like slow motion. Despite weeks of finally feeling like I’m turning a corner with my broken heart I am back in the water. The breakup opened up my world. I obtained a job in the field I want to work, in record speed (three weeks start to finish) and found solace in fleeing this city that holds my past like walking ghosts. But I think with all change, I had a vision of how it would go. I saw my world set up, but lighter and with more activities in the Bay Area. I envisioned a somewhat broken woman completely healed and settled in an apartment in Oakland. I forgot about the work that goes into becoming that woman.

The slow descent back into the water is from my housing hunt. The speed in obtaining the job meant that I had very little time to find a place. And the current housing market in the Bay Area is adding a level of complexity that I hadn’t fathomed. I have such supreme faith it will work out, but lately that faith feels heavy, like a favorite jacket that is now wet and doesn’t serve the same purpose. Carrying it makes you feel slightly sentimental and silly. My job starts in exactly one week. I have found only one apartment that I can see myself in and am waiting to hear back. My stomach is knotted in fear and anxiety has settled in like a devoted friend.

My inclination is to find quotes and read lectures about manifesting or positivity or faith, but I know that peace won’t be gotten there. I recognize that I can’t self-help this away. As with all great change, there are periods of such palpable fear that you can only be awed at the sheer humanity of it. Marvel at it from a distance and try not to get sucked up in its atmosphere. That’s where I am. Standing wide eyes, mouth agape at the spectacular unknown, finding a place for the pit in my stomach.

So I’ll just sit here. Breathe. And know that one day I’ll be grateful I never threw away the jacket.

The strength of the broken hearted

This weekend I went to oregon to be with two of my best friends. One, in particular, is in the depths of sorrow after her husband of 12 years decided to leave their marriage, their 7 month old child, and the life that my friend had believed she would live for the rest of her days. Her world was shattered and we convened in Oregon to sit with her and the mess that surrounds.

Her pain was humbling. So was her strength. She did not pretend to be okay or to be moving on, did not say anything about it being for the best, did not drown her sorrows in platitudes or excessive drinking or exercise; she just showed up. Honest and raw and making her way through the despair. In that, I saw a woman who can move mountains.  I also saw something that gave me peace, even in my own suffering.  She is going to be okay. She is going to be better than okay. I think it feels impossible to imagine that right now. She’s orienting a divorce and learning how to be a (mostly) single parent to an infant child and all the while has her self-worth on the chopping block, imagining that it is a factor in how the man that vowed to be with her forever could so easily leave her behind.  She is in that pool, swimming around with some scary fucking fish. But because I am not in her head, am not in her fear and am not in her pain, I can see what she can’t- that she is going to get through this, that her heart will mend, that she will come to understand that her self worth has nothing to do with the decisions of this man and in knowing her self-worth, know that she deserves so much better . She is still in the middle of the fire, but one day she’ll rise out of it, phoenix-like, and fly right back into the beautiful, hope-filled sky. We all will.

Why it will work out

Oh how many times have we been in this place? This unknowing place. Things are unfolding in this beautiful otherworldly way but still there is this fear that it won’t work out. I’m still white knuckling. I’m slightly mortified that I’m quoting John Mayer, but one of his songs came on the radio tonight and this line struck me “fear is a friend who’s misunderstood.” I drove to Oakland today to scope out where I want to live and found the perfect neighborhood. Despite this discovery, my brain immediately goes to this fear place. The market is so bad, there’s no inventory, rents are astronomical. But I know, deep down, in that knowing place, that it will work out. In retrospect, hasn’t it always?

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Flying through space- Parable of the Trapeze

Today I got a job offer. I have been looking for a job for what feels like a really long time. It is in the Bay Area, away from Sacramento and so many memories that sometimes rush in all at once and make it hard to breathe.

This place in my life reminds me so much of the Parable of the Trapeze. It is a beautiful metaphor. Here it is:

 

The Parable of the Trapeze

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings.  I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment.  It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.  I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers.  But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not so merrily) swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see?  I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me.  It’s empty, and I know, in that place in me that knows that this new trapeze bar has my name on it.  It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness going to get me.  In my heart-of-hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me, I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to grab the new one.  But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.  Each time I am filled with terror.  It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing, I have always made it.  Each time I am afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed in unseen rock in the bottomless chasm between the bars.  But I do it anyway.  Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience.  No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow, to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives.  And so, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of the past that is gone, the future that is not yet here.  It’s called transition.  I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs.  I mean REAL change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a place no-place between places.  Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too.  But the void between?  That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible.  What a waste!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.  Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places.  They should be honored, even savored.  Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out-of-control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

And so transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapeze bars.  Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens.  It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening, in the true sense of the word.

 

Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Parry

 

The Terms of Our Relationship

Remember when we laid in bed, gripped with fear and the bewilderment of children and read that one paragraph of Cheryl strayed’s lovely essay, Tiny Beautiful Things?

This one:
“You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.”

And we agreed that we would both be brave and we would break up and in so doing, break our own hearts. And we were united in our resolve. Laying together and comingling our tears.

It’s always impossible to know what a relationship will return to after your romance is gone. How you turn something as all-encompassing as our coupling to a friendship or something else. Two months out and the terms of our relationship are so hard to stomach that I can barely believe it.

I remember going through this during my last breakup from a man I dated for 4 years. I recall thinking when we had gone our seperate ways, what do I do with those years, with that person who was a part of my family and I his who no longer is in my life? And I am here now, with Him, even deeper in that quandry because I so imagined spending my life with Him. He seems to have taken on an unwarranted resentment towards me (I say this based on the tone of the limited “business texts” we’ve exchanged), which has made me fear getting in touch- not that getting in touch is something that makes sense. It’s just if I wasn’t afraid he’d would be unkind, I’d probably, shamefully, be drunk texting him more often. 

Maybe in a year or so, when we have moved on and our hearts aren’t so fragile and wounded we can come together and ask to change the terms of our relationship again, this time to be friends.

 

The Howling

There are a thousand things I want to say and none at all. Tell you about my broken healing heart and the days when I miss you so much it hurts in my eyebrows and the arches of my feet. I want to tell you about my life and about my fears and how sometimes I am so lonely I’m afraid I’m slowly going insane.  Your flags are still flying in my heart and even when I close the windows I can hear them there, fluttering. I want you to know that I’m moving soon, leaving sacramento and this world that feels so alien and cold to me now.

And I want you to tell me you still love me and miss me and understand, more than anyone else how beautiful our relationship was and the thought of it being over, of walking in opposite directions with the directive not to look back lest we both turn to stone, is the hardest thing you’ve ever done. I want you to see small things and think of me and wonder what I’m doing- because that’s the relationship I know now. Our ties to each other are dissolving one by one. At once it was every single fiber in my being that felt connected to you. My heart orchestrating a seamless attachment.  And a dream of the life we would share and the children that you would love so much it hurt and how they would look like us both and have hearts that convinced us we did something right. And the hurts we caused and the pain we suffered would melt into this world we had created for ourselves. Now it is only your mail that still trickles into my mailbox and a shared pandora account that lets me see the music you’ve been listening to. I find myself  trying as hard as I can to find some message in it. To break it like a code.

This suffering is so raw. It is human and real and makes me want to howl at the bright, round universe- stop using words and still share with the world my pain. Maybe this is so I can unload the heaviest parts of it without having to retell my story -or perhaps it is so you will hear me and howl back.

Be Brave. Experience Everything.

 I was able to maintain my nothing-but-love attitude, with a wide open heart for about 12 hours upon my return to Sacramento. Coming home was like jumping into a pool of memories and pain. It’s hard to enjoy a casual float.

I just got back from Christmas and am in my apartment by myself. I am both happy that it is over, realizing only the day after, how much I had been dreading it. Such a hard holiday to enjoy while carrying the weight of heartbreak. He was such a huge part of my family. His absence was palpable.

Today I had this strange urge to read old email exchanges with ex-boyfriends. It was oddly reassuring. I felt no longing or heartbreak for these men who once controlled my heartstrings like reins on a horse. It reminded me that, painful as it seems, one day I would also look at this relationship in a similar light.
I also had another realization.  My therapist succinctly diagnosed me with the pain of detaching from my primary attachment relationship. This makes sense. At times I swore I felt the ripping, the brute physical pain of it all. And today, after the walk down memory lane with the exes, I sought out some couples photos of me and Him. I looked at them and there was another emotion there. Something so sad but not because it activated the fear, sadness and loneliness trigger, but rather because it didn’t. It was immediately apparent that at least some detaching had taken place. I felt like I was looking at wax figurines. People that existed in some time and place but no longer. Replicas that unknowing observers might confuse as living.
I started out today with yoga. The one thing that has a really high success rate to make me breathe when all I want to do is replay terrible scenarios in my head that I have created. That are fiction. Him with a new woman. Me running into them. Me and him fighting about something. Me not doing this right. Appearing to be cruel or unkind or pitiful. During class, as my mind was spinning off into orbit, the teacher chimed in with this directive, like a sweet gift, “Be brave. Experience everything.”
So that’s where I am. Where once I was so focused on figuring it out. Knowing where I’ll be and when and with who and how I will emerge from this cocoon of pain, I am now trying to remind myself to experience everything. Be here in this moment. All of the suffering is important. The deep dark reds of it and the lighter shades that remind of me of brighter days. Days that come and go with no reliability but bring you back to the person that you were, before your breakup and the shining new you that is waiting a little bit further down the road.

 

Give yourself permission to let go of what is no longer serving you

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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.

Eat, Pray, Love- the breakup guide to looking forward

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.

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Had she ended that paragraph with my name, I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have spoken to me more clearly.

Or this one:

 

Listen-to-me-Someday

 

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.

I called, despite everyone and the internet telling me not to.

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.

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Suffering is a human experience

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.

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