“Acceptance is freedom.” A former acting partner gifted this mantra to me years ago. The moment he uttered this short yet beautiful string of words, my insides lit up. The message vibrated deep within me; I knew I would cling to it for the rest of my life.
As the now-adult child of an addict, I continue to find use for this mantra. It’s less mental commitment than the Serenity Prayer, and universally applicable. I recite it to get through family (dys)functions. I include it as a supplement to my yoga and meditation practice. And I now use it to cope with the aftermath of one of the greatest heartbreaks of my life.
I met her two years ago, while studying away in Italy. (Could one ask for a more romantic setting? I think not.) We clicked immediately and spent virtually every day and night together. We travelled Europe. I told her I was in love with her. She reciprocated the sentiment.
Protected by the anonymity of being in a foreign country, she was all for public affection. Yet when we got back to New York, where we both lived at the time, everything changed.
I was the first woman she had been with intimately, so I tried to be empathetic to her tentativeness. Yet she eventually became unwilling to discuss what had happened between us at all. Each time I tried to bring sensitive material to the surface, she shut down. This frustrated the hell out of me, but I didn’t want to lose her, so I stopped pushing the issue. What else could I do? I had big ol’ love goggles stuck to my face.
Regardless of this strange mix of hidden romance and close friendship, the intensity of our bond was undeniable and unbreakable. It was there in the many hours we spent alone together, sometimes filling the silence with nothing more than smiles and tender gazes. It was there in the moments she furtively placed her hand on my back while I mingled at a party. And it was there on the night I told her I’d be moving to L.A. in November and her eyes welled up and she said “No tears.” And I said with equally watery eyes, “Right. We won’t say ‘goodbye.’ Only ‘Until next time.’ ”
Then came the evening of the mighty September Blood Moon 2015. She and I had a private celebration. We wore flowing skirts and lit candles and played records and reveled in how divinely feminine it all was. As Van Morrison crooned the lyrics to “Sweet Thing” in the background, I looked into her aquamarine eyes and mouthed, “I love you.” She mouthed back “I love you too.” I decided not to question what she meant when she said it back. Our connection ran deep. It didn’t need a name. It was real and glowing and true.
The night before I jetted off to L.A., I handed her a letter. Panic flooded her face; she told me she would read it the next day. She probably knew what was in there: raw, loving confessions and a blunt call for her to acknowledge her participation in this game we had been playing for three years. Alas, she never responded. I haven’t heard from her in months. I can only assume that her silence, her refusal to engage, is a personification of her fear to look within.
This girl and I didn’t have a traditional romance or break-up, but I loved her madly, and it hurt like hell when she checked out of my life. I’ve learned that we don’t need labels to justify our pain or our love. Heartbreak sucks, and it comes from all corners of existence. Often times, we blame ourselves. We ask, “Am I not good enough? Am I not lovable?” At least I did.
But this is nonsense.
Blaming a flawed or failed relationship on ourselves is just another way of trying to control that which is beyond our power. Here’s where my beloved verbal anchor—acceptance is freedom—comes in to play: By accepting the circumstances of the present moment, we free ourselves from the illusion of control, and ultimately, from further pain. It’s both humbling and liberating to realize that we have very little jurisdiction over anything or anyone outside of ourselves.
During the heavy hours of grief, try to remember this: Love unraveled. We were hurt deeply. But it’s not our job to understand why this person hurt us.
The mantra can help quiet the gnawing urge to find “closure,” a post-breakup search many of us are familiar with. The desire for answers from our wrongdoer is natural, but it’s only a distraction. Eventually, we’ve got to face the messy, not-so-fun process of coping with the loss.
This is probably the most terrifying thing about it all: after we’ve gone through all the anger, the questioning, the dwelling, and the blame, we’re left with ourselves. We must tolerate and adjust to a new way of living without that person.
I’m promoting acceptance here, but know that I struggle to follow my own advice. It’s still difficult for me to acknowledge that I may never see her again. I lost my best friend and my dream girl. This is one of the big ones, forever. A whopper of a loss. The kind I’ll look back on when I’m old and grey and wonder if life had somehow cheated me out of my soul mate.
It’s terrifying to feel such bottomless sorrow. There are days we’re convinced we’ll never see the light. Good news: we will, if we’re open to making the journey through the darkness first. We’ve got to allow ourselves to feel the sting of his/her absence, to ache, to cry out loud.
We’ve got to let ourselves mourn however we need to. If that means staying in bed for a week, do it. If that means going through a box of Trader Joe’s chocolate-chip scones while watching every single low-brow comedy Netflix has to offer, I say do it. (Okay, maybe I shouldn’t project my personal grieving style on you all. But those scones are delectable.)
Eventually, we will have to get out of sweatpants. We’ll have to face what is and release ourselves from what was. And we’ll also have to acknowledge that love will come again, if we let it.
I truly believe that practicing acceptance throughout the process of grief—accepting the loss itself and all of the terrifying emotions that come with it—is the only way to heal our wounded hearts.
There is no time limit to heartache. There is also no guarantee that we will ever fully heal. That’s okay. Scars, both physical and emotional, are evidence of a life lived fully.
To those of you traversing the rocky path of grief, I’m right there with ya. Hang on tight. It will get better. Try to practice gratitude and acceptance even in the midst of crippling sorrow. Know that it is possible to peacefully co-exist with deep emotional wounds. (I’m still here, aren’t I?) And remember…Acceptance is freedom.
By accepting our circumstances for what they are, we become radically conscious. We no longer fight for or question the past.
We are awake. We are free. Bon voyage.
Author: Kait Ellis
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Greg Raines/Unsplash