This past fall, my relationship unraveled before my eyes.
I perpetuated it. I wanted and needed it to happen, and yet, it was extremely excruciating. I wasn’t calculated in my actions, and therefore, the demise of our partnership left me with a lot of guilt, pain, and grief. It was one of the most challenging emotional experiences I’ve gone through to date.
When I woke up in the morning, I almost immediately began crying. I talked on the phone with my mother every day for about a month to avoid the silence of my empty apartment.
My heart was broken. I had this idea that I would go through the five stages of the grieving process and be all done with the sadness and heartbreak. What I didn’t know is that those stages came in waves: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I hung out awhile in the depressed state. I was always tired. I didn’t want to see people, and doing the dishes felt like climbing Mount Everest. Many weeks, I had piles of dirty laundry in every corner of my bedroom.
I often felt like I was stuck in darkness. During one of those long, pathetic conversations with my mother, I remember she told me with all of her loving intention, “You never know what’s around the corner.” Her hope for me helped me through my darkness. I wanted to believe her.
In one of these low points, I dragged myself out of my apartment and took my dog on a hike. As I was walking, I noticed I was in sort of a valley—there was a stream, and I was in the middle of a huge shadow. I continued, and around the corner, there was a shift from darkness to light.
There was a line across the path: one side was darkness and the other was light. I stepped into the sunlight and felt an immediate sense of hope and relief. I remember thinking to myself, “What I am going through right now in my life is temporary, and it’s not going to kill me. In fact, it may make me a stronger, healthier human. There will be light.“
Here’s what I’ve learned through this painful process:
1. Grief is a tender place. It is love. It is what makes us dearly human.
Many mornings, I would wake up and have a vision of cinder blocks being dropped from the sky onto my chest. I frequently would rush out of sleep in a panic, desperately pushing the painful anxiety away. Often, anxiety is a mask for a different emotion we don’t want to feel. I was desperately avoiding and wishing away the sadness and grief.
However, this vision slowly began to change. When I was on that beautiful hike, I sat down to meditate and began to accept my feelings. While doing this, I saw an ax pierce my stony, solid heart—and upon impact, the stone heart split into a bazillion pieces. As it split, jewels burst through the stone.
On the other side of the rock’s outer shell were gems, kind of like a geode. Perhaps this pain, this grief, this heartbreak is opening me up to beauty I haven’t seen within myself, maybe even beauty that hasn’t been able to be accessed until now. Perhaps this experience is the channel I needed to love myself more fully. Accepting and even loving the grieving process helps me change my attitude about my heart and about myself.
While extremely uncomfortable and sometimes all-consuming, grief is such a tender, loving place. It was during these intense moments of grief, when I sat with myself feeling all of my pain, that I began to nurture myself back to life. It was almost as if it was an honor to be in that space. I was honored by the experience. In hindsight, it was a painful yet transformative gift to accept my grief and honor myself through it.
2. Movement is healing.
I have a pretty consistent yoga practice. During this period of my life, I changed it up and started doing hot yoga. The intense physical exertion, heat, and sweat felt cleansing to my body. In fact, it is better than therapy for me. The endorphins released leave me feeling hopeful, and when I get out of the class, I feel stronger and accomplished.
I’ve also signed up for a half marathon. I haven’t run in ages. Whatever, it is for you, do it. Movement shifts energy. External changes often lead to internal changes. Make the move toward movement, and see what happens in your heart and mind.
3. Emotional responsibility.
I was angry. I was angry with myself for saying things I wish I didn’t say. I was hurt. For a long time, I was incredibly sad, and I wanted to take it out on everyone, most of all myself. However, no one is responsible for my emotions except for myself. I am. Me. This is actually incredibly empowering. I am responsible for my emotions. I am in control of myself. No matter what transpires, I get to choose how I feel about it. I get to choose. I am responsible for my story. Taking ownership leads to transformative change, to which I respond, “Yes please!”
I have gone to therapy off and on for years. Several months ago, I realized that I was looking to my therapist to make me feel better. Fix me, please! Make the grief go the f*ck away! I’m paying you a sh*t-ton of money! But this isn’t the answer. That’s not why I see her. I see her to process things and shift patterns. I’m responsible for my emotions. If I go see her for her to help me shift emotional responsibility, I’m wasting my money.
4. Family and chosen family are incredible healers.
My people know me. They know my faults and have seen them up close and personal. They know that I can be emotional when I’m not in balance. They know I am passionate and dramatic and that when I feel threatened, I say things that I don’t mean. They know my strengths as well. They know I am kind, loving, and openhearted. They know I am a good listener and see the best in those around me. I took several trips to see my people. They took me outside on hikes, fed me, and they listened. They loved me. They reminded me of who I am and what I deserve. They listened to me grieve and gave me words of hope to cling to which no one else could do. They grounded me and reminded me of whom I am, who they see, when they see me. Find your people. Let them nurture you back to yourself.
5. Forgiveness is the hardest road, but the only one that leads to growth.
I f*cked up. I didn’t show up in my relationship the way that I wanted to. I had a lot of shame. I was weighed down with guilt, holding myself hostage in unforgiveness. I acted out of insecurity and fear more times than I acted out of love. Thus, for a long time, I felt I didn’t deserve to be in a relationship—like I didn’t deserve to be loved. Welp, let me tell you how far this line of thinking got me—nowhere, stuck, and more stuck.
Here’s the thing: we all have imperfections. We all have areas in our life that could use some growth—those are the exact areas that need our love, not our rejection. Those are the areas of our lives that need our acceptance. What are the places of hurt and fear in your life trying to teach you?
Gay Hendricks talks about loving the parts of yourself that you hate. When we shift toward a mindset of acceptance and curiosity about our faults, this is when we find freedom. This creates expansion, rather than contraction. I love myself for hating the parts of me that react in fear instead of love. I love myself even in my hatred toward myself. I love myself in the midst of imperfection.
“If someone does not want me, it is not the end of the world. But if I do not want me, the world is nothing but endings.” ~ Nayyirah Waheed
Fast-forward to a few months post the ending of my relationship: I have a new job, a new car, and a new girlfriend who is kind, compassionate, and kick-ass. I am happy. I am living in a way that feels connected to my inner self.
The darkness I experienced was necessary for me to make sound changes in my inner life. It was necessary for me to love myself on a much deeper level. The heartache was the catalyst for me, calling in health, hope, and joy into my life like I have never experienced, because I am loving myself in a brand new, beautiful way.
So, if you are walking in the valley of darkness and feeling stuck in the shadows—have hope my dear friends, and keep walking, because around the corner there will be light.
Trust the process, and know that this is temporary. And tell me, how beautiful it is that the darkness and shadows are only drawing you closer to yourself, closer to love, closer to who you are meant to be, and closer to light? I believe that for you.
Relephant Watch: The One Buddhist Red Flag to Look out for:
Author: Anna Shaver
Image: With permission of @zukellogs
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Yoli Ramazzina