grief

How To Heal a Broken Heart

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Sometimes, loving means losing.

If you aren’t waking up in partnered bliss (or something close to it) this morning, here are some words to perhaps comfort you. Whether you’re single and alone by choice, chance or due to a recent death of a beloved partner, you may find yourself catching your breath a few times today—and maybe shedding a tear or two for memories or dashed hopes.

For me, the sadness of missing a certain someone hurts more than the fear of being alone without a Valentine. I don’t want a placeholder as much as I miss the heart, mind and spirit of a beloved person I held dear.

Having loved and lost more than once in my life, here is my best advice to heal a broken heart.

1)   Grieve it

Whether it happened on purpose, by accident or because a life ended, it’s an ending. It’s a loss and losses aren’t easy for us humans. Some are more welcome than others, especially if we made the choice to end the relationship. But if you find yourself not exactly leaping for joy and dancing in the streets, I recommend you spend significant time grieving the loss you’ve experienced. Many people, if not most, often jump to the next thing: the next person, the next job, the next topic of conversation. They push down or avoid the feelings about the loss or absence or the way things ended. It’s hard, painful stuff and many people find it easier to numb out and “move on” by compartmentalizing and avoiding the grieving process. But I don’t recommend this. It catches up to you, eventually. I recommend you do and do it good. Go through the pictures. Thumb through the hand-written notes. Remind yourself of what you valued and treasured about that person. And hold it alongside the truth of what hurt or didn’t feel right and good for you. A healthy grieving process will earn you years of authentic healing and solace in the long-term. You’ll be able to make real peace with what happened, whatever it was.

2)   Consider your part

If the ending or loss happened despite your best efforts, it’s really easy to blame or shame the other person. This feels good in the short-term but rarely does anything to really help us build character. Having done this myself in relationships and jobs, I know how tempting it is to nurture the victim part of us that wants to feel wronged or hurt, abandoned or rejected. We want the other side to hurt too, dammit! This is natural because we are human, but it won’t help you truly forgive and forget. It also increases the chances that we will perpetuate our contribution, whatever it was, in the next situation. Sometimes, we do this to preserve our sense of self, and we can miss seeing something that would be good to know about ourselves. If you consider and fully contemplate whatever your part was, you’re one step closer to being part of the solution and prevention of it repeating itself again in your life. Or you might get insight you never had before and you can see the other person in a totally different light. Which is a good thing-for you and other people in your life.

3) Say what you need to say

A lot of people are really bad listeners. Don’t talk to those people. They are often too self-absorbed and caught up in their own lives to pay attention to what you’re saying. Chances are, they haven’t fully grieved losses in their own lives and they won’t bear witness to your process in a way that really helps you. Find people who don’t say cliche things like, “he/she is resting in peace” or “sorry it didn’t work out” or “it wasn’t meant to be.” You have a broken heart! It hurts! Platitudes don’t honor the deeply-rooted and real feelings you’re experiencing. Talk to a professional and/or compassionate friends who make you feel heard and supported in your process, however long it takes. If it is safe or welcomed, express anything that remains for you to the other person. Or write a letter or email and delete it. Over and over again. Until it’s all out. When you can safely process all the feelings you have about the complexity of the loss and its impact on your past, present and future, you increase your chances of healing sooner and more completely.

4)   Practice forgiveness

Whatever happened, happened for a good reason. Sometimes it takes us months or years to fully understand and appreciate this, but having experienced tremendous heartbreak numerous times, I can tell you that with every fiber of my being. If the person left or died suddenly, forgive the abrupt ending. Is it harder or easier for you to forgive someone who has passed on? Or how about someone who is still alive but out of contact? Don’t try to see the meaning right away, it may not be apparent. But you can practice forgiving yourself and the other party for whatever shortcomings or shortsightedness led to the loss. People do and say things coming from their given capacity at the time, and it is unfortunate and frustrating when the needs, interests and abilities of each partner don’t match up. Consider what you did and didn’t do or say that worked or didn’t work. Give yourself a break, because you probably did what you could—or wanted to do—at the time.

5) Practice platonic love

I’m assuming you have at least one if not MANY people in your life. And I bet you love them all a lot. Spend the day calling them or emailing them or texting heart emojis. Tell your kids, tell your parents, siblings and friends about your gratitude for them. Hug them. Make Valentine’s Day cards for your plants who selflessly receive your carbon dioxide and give out oxygen day in and day out. Send love to strangers on the street or in countries far away. Within minutes of doing this, you’ll realize that time spent mourning the loss of one person, however significant that person was, is time you can also invest in other relationships in your life. You could probably spend the day making cards for everyone you’ve ever loved in your life and not finish before it’s time to go to bed.

If you do all these things, I hope you find and feel more peace than you did when you began reading this article. Perhaps it revealed something new for you and can help you reach a different stage of your healing process.

For more information, read up on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her theory about the stages of grief. You can find where you are in your process and remember how many people share your feelings around the world. Know that time, will indeed, heal your heart if you help it along just a bit.

Feeling All The Things

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"That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt." - The Fault in Our Stars

Haven't seen or read this book, but I heard this quote in a clip and I thought it was pure truth. :)

One of the greatest lessons I learned from all the stuff of my life was how to feel my feelings. The more I walk amongst others, I really get how few people actually do this or know how to do it.

And I get it. I really do. It doesn't actually feel very good, especially the hard feelings. The good ones are hard to feel, too, I think. For me, good feelings sometimes bring a bittersweet quality because I know they won't last.

This fun BBQ with friends will end and I will have to go home.

This great movie will end.

This book will be over.

This gorgeous sunset will become night.

etc., etc.

Welcome to why I became a Buddhist. I find it helpful to have a tool to manage impermanence. Impermanence is reality, it's what is real and true about life. Before I realized this, I suffered a lot.

My relationship to and with impermanence began long ago.

I struggle with "issues" around abandonment and attachment from my childhood. I put the issues in quotes because, well, I think it's bullshit to stigmatize something that almost every person experiences an "issue". How about we just call it, hmm, the human experience.

OK.

So, I struggle with the experiences of abandonment and attachment from my childhood. My parents divorced when I was year old and my father moved out, remarried and had two sons. I have one sister and two brothers. I don't call them half-brothers--there is nothing half about them. It really doesn't matter that we have different moms. They are my brothers, end of story.

Because psychology is what it is (whatever we understand it is, really) I experience the impact of this family arrangement. It trickled into my childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood and, presently, my adulthood. It impacts how I interact with other people and how I relate to work, exercise, food and spirituality.

It's good for me to know this so I can make sense of everything I think, do and say. Some people don't think this is a good use of their time. Different strokes for different folks, I say. I find it helpful to make meaning from life because it's how my brain works. Before I had tools to help me, I really struggled. Now, I apply the many tools I've acquired over the course of 15 years and they help me adjust and recalibrate to make my life more positive and so I can experience less suffering. As long as I'm here, I might as well enjoy it, right?!

One way I do this is to feel all the things. Even the dark, nasty, horrible things. One of the worst feelings I felt was at the end of romantic relationships. There were times I felt like my body was coming apart at the seams. I felt like I was being squeezed out like a sponge or like someone was reaching down into my intestines and pulling them out through my throat.

So, trust me, I know why people do anything in their power to avoid feeling hard feelings. I know how it feels. But I have spent years practicing how to do it because each time I do, it makes it a little bit easier, ironically. It doesn't seem like it would work, but it has for me.

Sort of like waves of nausea. We all know that feeling.  You know how sometimes you wait it out, and let it pass, it goes away? Sometimes it's the flu or food poisoning and it doesn't go away. I'm not talking about that kind. haha.  I'm talking about the kind that makes you sit down and stop for a minute. And when you take deep breaths and a sip of water, it passes. And you feel really relieved because what felt so horrible a minute ago now isn't there and you feel so much better.

You realize that you didn't need to do anything other than sit and wait it out. And you are ok. And maybe next time the nausea comes, you will know what to do and it won't feel so scary.

I tried this the other day when I felt incredibly restless. OMG. I was like a Tazmanian devil, moving from thing to thing, picking things up, putting them down, literally walking in circles. This went on for about two hours until my mindfulness practice kicked in. I caught myself and I stopped. I felt the twitches and tics in my body. I felt my muscles tense and relax. It was like I took a picture of myself. I watched myself from about two feet away. And I sat down, put my palms on my thighs and I sat there. I felt like my head was in a vice.

I took a lot of deep breaths. I realized what was happening and that I'd been here many times before. I knew I was safe but I said it out loud, just to remind myself. I knew I had nowhere to go and nothing important to do and this was a perfect time to be fearless and face whatever wanted to come up.

I allowed myself to REALLY feel the depth of the loss, the pain or the grief I was experiencing. I wanted to know what it was like to really FEEL it and not run or move around anymore, because all that moving around clearly wasn't making it go away.

WOW. Tears came up from the depths of somewhere. I let them pour out and down like they did when I was kid. Did you know that tears perform the essential physiological function of cleansing stress hormones out of our bodies? I didn't know that. Since I learned, I'm always thrilled when I can manage a good cry.

When the tears were over, I felt like someone had uncorked me. The tension was gone. The grasping, restless feeling was gone. The headache was gone. My focus was back. When I released my resistance on feeling those hard feelings and just allowed them to come up and out, something horrible didn't happen. Instead, I felt much better on the other side.

Let yourself ride the tide, the highs and lows of life. Don't try to feel "good" all the time, it isn't natural or realistic. Nothing in life or nature is like that. It isn't always sunny or rainy (well, depending on where you live, of course).

Feel all the feelings and remember none of them are permanent. Not the good ones or the not-so-good ones. 

 

"Let everything happen to you

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

No feeling is final."

-Rainer Maria Rilke, poet

Stop Wanting Bad Things to Happen To You

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The wound is where the light enters you.

-Rumi

 

I've been through some tough times. Since you've been reading this blog, you know about the more recent life experiences I've had, at or least the ones I've shared with you.

This isn't where I go into long stories about other things that have happened to me. 

It is, however, where I ask you to reconsider what's happening for you. Consider the experiences you're having are crucial to your development and evolution.

I know it might not feel like that. I know the pain and agony you're experiencing might make you want to run the other way. You may feel so bad, in fact, that you find yourself wishing that bad things like this would stop happening to you.

I'm here to say that you should stop wanting that. Even though I get why you feel that way. I've felt that way many, many times.

During my first breakup, the daily pain was agonizing. I couldn't run or hide from the loss and grief I felt. I got up and went to work every day, sometimes spending the car ride sobbing and arriving early to process with my friend from down the hall. And then the first bell would ring, I'd wipe my eyes and the kids would come in and they never knew the truth at all. They didn't need to, they were 13. I was 24. I look back and applaud the maturity I exhibited, the courage to face the pain and still meet my obligations.

There have been times I wasn't able to do this. There have been times where I left a job or another situation because I wasn't up to the task of bringing strength and courage. I just wanted something easier. And wow, did I learn from those experiences, too.

Something I've gotten from my Buddhist practice, aside from the amazing sassiness of Pema Chodron, is the awareness that the bad things won't stop happening. It's not like I can climb a tree and get away from it all like I could when I was a little kid. I can momentarily, but the respite is short-lived. That's something very real and inescapable about change--it happens in bursts of hard and easy, just like the rain and the sun. The trick to thriving is to keep that in mind as much as possible.

I was reminded of this recently when I went on retreat. I was there and some aspect of my life was challenging and I kept sitting with this thought that here I was on retreat and I should feel blissed out. And then I realized how silly that was. I wasn't on retreat in this beautiful room with incredible food prepared for me to escape my problems. The purpose, if I'm doing the work right, was to dig more deeply into those problems. The beautiful setting and meal prep was to take just enough distractions and responsibility off my plate to be present to what I wanted to needed to address.

If we really want to change something, the first step is to investigate and explore the problem that requires intervention.

But all this can only be possible if we stop wanting bad things to happen to us. If we wake up pissed off every Monday, complaining about the guy who cut us off in traffic or the way our coffee wasn't made correctly, we can spend our whole lives finding things to complain about. If you haven't noticed, they keep happening no matter how much we complain.

What would be possible if we stopped complaining? What would we see if the "bad things" became ways to practice more courage, optimism or patience?

What if we got curious why "bad things" happened to us so frequently and instead redirected our focus on the many, many good things that have happened for us that day or that week or that year?

We can only do that when we stop wanting bad things to happen and embrace them as part of life. We can choose to see that "bad" is the frame we are using and we can either change the frame or change what we take away from the experience.