I woke up alone, next to an open bag of Cheeto’s and an awful migraine.
I had watched my boyfriend die in our small New York City apartment just 14 months before from an incurable cancer. I took the self-destructive path of mourning and spent nearly every night for over a year piss drunk.
This was the last night I would let myself go again.
I walked to our bathroom, took a good look in the mirror and asked myself, “What are you doing?”
I don’t completely regret the way I dealt with my loss, because I assumed all of my emotions would end up processing years later if I didn’t allow myself to sulk soon after. Also, I learned quite a lot about love and loss through this process. After all, the heart does swell before it hardens.
I learned that it is okay to not be okay.
After a tremendous loss, most people think they are supposed to “man up” and put on their best poker face. I knew that I was making people uncomfortable by talking about it to whoever would listen, but I was uncomfortable. I was uncomfortably numb, hurt, hollow, lonely and confused. It’s better for those who care about you to know that you are not okay, so they know when to help or when to give you space.
I learned (the hard way) not to rely solely on one person for support.
I made the mistake of usually latching on to one specific person to vomit all of my feelings onto and ask for consistent help. Even if that person is extremely close, it’s still emotionally and mentally taxing for him/her to be the only shoulder for you to cry on. I decided it was best to make a list of separate friends and family members I can call on when necessary. Who could take me to coffee? Who could help me with groceries? Who could help me rearrange the apartment? Who could get rip-roaring drunk with me?
I learned that I needed to find a positive way to deal with pent up aggression.
For whatever reason, I was somehow stuck in the “anger” phase of grief. I remember in the first week, a dear friend of mine and I went to a local pub. I was so drunk, devastated and angry that I proceeded to punch three frat guys in the stomach. That wasn’t a good look. Some months later, I picked up running again. Anytime I had that constant debate between, “Everyone sucks… wait, maybe I suck”, I threw on the shoes and went for it.
I learned that the only way out is up.
There were days on end when I literally refused to get out of bed. I would turn my phone off, and since I now was forced to live alone, I would just hide under the covers until I had to work next. This pushed me into a deep depression. It was so deep in fact, that a friend actually considered taking me to a clinic. I then realized that my only way out of this was to get up. I had to get up and go outside. I had to get up and feed the cat. I had to get up and feed myself. I had to get up out of this mess as best as I could, until the string of days turned more into a scatter plot.
I learned that even if it hurt, I needed to focus on the love.
This sounds cliché, but the tremendous hurt that is felt during this period stems from our own capacity to love. It takes a while to shift focus from pain, anger and sadness. When I finally was able to weed out all of the negative feelings from the past year and look past the dark cloud I carried with me for so long, I began to focus my attention to the “why”. Why was I so mean? Why was I so lost? Why was I so confused? I loved someone so much, that they affected me in even the darkest ways. Love is truly bigger than all of us.
I had to reminded myself that only I could get me through this.
I remember being belligerently drunk and screaming at people, “You don’t understand!” No, they don’t understand. They don’t want to understand. They’ll listen to you, but they won’t let you keep hitting the ground day after day. Whether this means your loved ones literally have to pick you up out of bed and open your curtains, or they have to walk away from you for awhile—only you can truly get through this.
Only you know what is best for you, no matter how attached you were to your significant other. You were you before they came along, so it’s time to find you again.
Seriously, live your life to the fullest.
Staring at mortality straight in the face just proves how incredibly short life is. There are thousands of articles teaching you how to play the game of life one day at a time. However, my new perspective that came after this year was simply, “Don’t wait.” If you love someone, tell him/her now. Don’t wait three days. If you want that job, start today. If you want to eat a pricey meal at Delmonico’s, just do it.
My lover had a short, but well-lived life. In his 29 years, he made lasting friends, built up an entire fashion label, designed enough illustrations to produce a show, and experienced a love so strong that it kept him feeling alive and witty until his very last day.
As much as this first year hurt, I look back and smile at a life so fulfilled—and then I get antsy to begin my own.
Author: Alicia McDaniels
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Courtesy of Author (by Joseph Madeo)