If you told me two years ago that having my heart broken would take me home to myself – and help me start to fall in love with myself – I would have laughed. And by laughed, I mean that crazy, confusing kind of laugh that makes you want to avoid eye contact and back away slowly.
I am grateful to have never experienced the grief that follows the death of someone I hold close to my heart – but the relationship that I thought would last until my final breath ended, and with that, came many little deaths. The death of my future as I knew it, my life plans, my dreams, our dreams, children who would never be born, a love that once thrived. All gone. My eyes were waterfalls in the months that followed. Things like eating and taking a shower felt like monumental and unappealing tasks. I tried to keep my shit together when I ran into friends at the grocery store and explained what happened while fighting back tears in the produce isle. I replayed and over-analyzed every moment of the last 15 years of my life, of our life, trying to pinpoint where things went wrong, what was wrong with me, what was wrong with us, how he could do this to me. I felt a deep shame around the relationship ending and found it hard to reach out for support. After a while, people stop asking you if you are alright and just assume you are, because hey, it’s been a whole three months, so why wouldn’t you be over it by now? I told myself ‘alright, this is just a breakup, people go through this all the time, I’ll be fine.’
Oh, grief, how I underestimated you.
See, here’s the thing about grief – when it’s living inside you, there is nothing else. It’s weight keeps you firmly planted in it’s presence with no hope for slipping away unnoticed. Sure, you can plaster a lopsided smile on your face and drag yourself to work, go about your day, and pretend to have fun, but it’s always there… waiting to come crashing over you like a tsunami. That is, if you let it. Amidst the internal chaos, I still had enough awareness to know that I had two choices in front of me – I could avoid what I was feeling at all costs, taking the well-intended advice of friends and go out date, find a hobby, anything I could to distract myself. The other option was to dive into the depths headfirst. I dove.
In hindsight, I think I only had the illusion of choice. I have always felt the full spectrum of my emotions very deeply, and there was no holding the magnitude of this back. I clumsily surfed the waves of disbelief, sadness, shame, jealousy, anger, depression, functioning as an adult in the world, trying to catch my breath… wash, rinse, repeat. I could pretend to be okay for small pockets of time, and then would let myself come completely undone.
Next, after starting to unpack my emotions around the relationship coming to an end, came one of the hardest blows yet – I HAVE NO IDEA WHO I AM. I had become quite accustomed to following someone else’s lead, which conveniently allowed me to avoid asking myself lots of tough questions. Who am I? What are my gifts? What do I want? What is my work in the world? My deepest longing and desires? What bullshit of mine have I not owned and dealt with? It was easier to just stay small, crouched down in someone else’s shadow… far from my own shadow, but more importantly, from my own light. This felt far less risky, and I could conveniently point to the outside world for all the ways I was unhappy in my life.
It was a cold, cold New England winter that first year. Still, on many days, I couldn’t stand to do anything except bundle up in so many layers that I could barely walk, and head deep into the woods. There is something hauntingly beautiful about the silence and stillness of a snow covered forest. The absence of the expansiveness of summer’s buzzing, chirping, gushing, juiciness allows you to pull deeply inward. It is part of the natural cycles of the seasons, and how appropriate as I was deep in a metaphorical winter myself. Syncing with the rhythms of nature, the life/death/life cycle, asks us to continually let what wants to live to bloom and thrive, and what needs to die to go back down into the humus to be transformed into fertile ground. I found a spot surrounded by tall pine trees where I would collapse and lay, cry, breathe, sing, feel the sun on my face. I offered up my rage, sadness, shame, despair, and confusion. I unleashed every incoherent thought and frantic emotion that surfaced. As the days and months went on, I noticed that I felt fully witnessed, seen and heard… I felt loved and gently held by the forest, by the earth herself. It was an unconditional, tough love – the kind of motherly love that held me, soothed me, sang me a sweet song and then said ‘OK darling, enough of this, now pick yourself back up and keep going’.
As time went on, something started happening… a remembrance. It was not a matter of finding myself, but of remembering that which was already deep in my bones. When you start to catch glimpses of yourself – the real you – you know it. The voice of your inner knowing, your intuition, sounds and feels much different than the cruel voices of your inner critic that you may accustomed to hearing. It can also reveal some harsh truths – looking back at my relationship was different from this angle. I started to unclench my fists and let go of blaming him, and blaming myself, for everything that had gone ‘wrong’… I saw the role I played, the patterns I held, the wounds I had weaponized. We really didn’t do anything wrong, and it couldn’t have been any different… we loved each other (and still do), we did our best, and he was brave to do what he did in the end. I started to realize that the only person who is truly responsible for my happiness is me, and oh my, had I been neglecting myself. It was time for me to take a hard look at the parts of myself I had been avoiding for so long (really, for my entire life), lick my wounds, and finally learn what it means to heal.
I began to feel an unfurling – like the petals of my soul had the space to stretch out and bloom for the first time. This is a process, almost two years later, that is still in motion. Self-care has become not only a priority, but an art form. What do I need today, in this moment? What feels good to me, now? What needs to thrive, and what needs to die? I needed to let go of all the ways I thought self-care was supposed to look. I let my body move in the ways that it wants to. I let myself like – maybe even start to love – the parts of myself that had always felt weak, unworthy, and like they are just not enough. I have started the process of dismantling the stories and programs that have always dictated the way I move through the world, and the colonization of my mind and body. I let myself look in the mirror and appreciate what I see. I practice not having shame for this new love that has been blossoming between me, myself and I. There is something about the raw, tender vulnerability of exploring these places that is utterly exhilarating. I am careful to keep my fingers on the pulse of my wild, inner knowing… if something doesn’t feel like a fuck yes, then it is just going to have to be a no. I am still learning, still seeking, still healing, still growing.
There is a Japanese art form called kintsukuroi or kintsugi which means ‘golden repair’. Dishes that have been broken are put back together with gold or silver, illuminating the beauty in the broken places. The heart is much like this… it breaks, it’s messy, and it’s never the same again. But it comes back together healed, stronger, more beautiful than before, alchemized by the the light that fills the cracked spaces. There is something lovely about a heart that has never been broken – it is sweet, soft, and innocent. But oh, a heart that has been smashed to pieces… one that has been blasted open and made whole again, piece by piece, with the finest gold… one that has been tenderized yet made strong… the light spilling out is nearly blinding. May we all emerge from our deepest pain more beautiful, more whole, and more luminous than we ever dreamed was possible.