You Know What I’m Talkin’ About
Think back – and I know you can – to your last romantic break-up. How did you feel? How did you behave? How about your ex?
Aren’t break-ups a trip? Breaking up is hard to do! And I’ll bet you remember lots of details of how it felt and what happened.
Do you know why you remember this experience in living color and great detail?
You remember because break-ups have a greater impact on you than almost anything except birth and death.
They cut to the core and bring up emotions you didn’t know you had. You look back in amazement at things you or your ex said or did. Or maybe you’re in the middle of one now.
The Universe Works In Mysterious Ways
How it came to pass I don’t recall, but when it came time to choose a dissertation topic for my doctorate I picked how we (humans) handle relationship separations. While I hadn’t personally experienced any bizarre separations, I was intrigued by what people do to each other during break-ups. I wondered what caused us to suddenly become a different person – and not a pretty one.
My dissertation began as more of an intellectual process, although personal growth was a focus of the project. But, as you may have noticed in your own life, the universe works in mysterious ways and had something else in store for me.
About 3/4 of the way through my dad ( a kindred spirit) died a slow painful death and my lover broke up with me a week later. My lover not only broke up with me, he did something which was probably the largest “betrayal” I’d ever experienced – not an affair.
At the time, I felt shattered. My “intellectual” exercise suddenly became something more personal.
Rather than lofty ideas about how to cope with loss, I found myself thrown into one of the largest “dark nights of the soul” I’d ever faced. And I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through it, strong as I felt myself to be.
The approach I’d taken to relationship separation was how to utilize a break-up as a window of opportunity for transformation.
I believe more strongly than ever that a break-up is one of your greatest opportunities for personal transformation and growth. Why? Because any powerful transition (birth, death, coupling, separation) has the potential to transform us.
Wait – Not So Damned Fast!
Here was the great part of this experience – and hang in here because this is for YOU!
Lofty isn’t where we tend to first go when we feel hurt and betrayed. Maybe you’ve noticed!
The first great gift I received through this break-up was I felt moments of hatred toward this person.
Yeah, you heard me right. Before this experience I’d never been in touch with a feeling of hate, not because the potential wasn’t there, but because I’d repressed this emotion.
My moments of hate were interspersed with moments of the utmost compassion, which was a rather odd experience. But make no mistake, I had visions of how I could emotionally hurt this person. At one point I fantasized smashing his video equipment!
Would I have done these things? No. But I now have more compassion for people and understand these feelings. I have owned that rage resides within me, along with more loving altruistic emotions.
Anger feels more powerful than hurt so guess what, you tend to go to anger. Anger is normal. If you look at the stages of grief, anger is a stage in the process.
The problem is that some people never move beyond it. If you can’t move through the anger and get beyond it, you’re not going to have a fun life. Sorry but true.
Do you know anyone who is still bitter toward an ex a decade or more after a break-up? It’s not a pretty sight. It screams of the “I am a victim of life” mentality and we need help if we’re there. No one consciously chooses to stay there, but rather becomes “trapped” not recognizing it is self-created.
In this part of my journey, I sensed something was afoot. I knew too much to convince myself this was all about the other person (the lover).
Now, to the logistics.
May I have a Rum and Coke Please?
Forget exercise, eating right, and all that other good stuff to get through a loss. I wanted a rum and pepsi every night, no make that two, strong preferably.
I actually spent about a week watching television and let me tell you that was WAY off my radar screen. I’d get up in the middle of the night and move from one room to another, one bed to the next, hoping for relief from the pain I was experiencing.
Years before when I’d experienced a profound loss I maintained a vegan diet, exercised, and did all the “right” things. Now, A rum and pepsi was my friend. It worked for me. It was an awakening to realize that one way was not better than another and it brought me off my high horse. My compassion for others grew, along with my limited perspective of what was “best”.
Find Something To Hold On To
You know what, though – and I want you to consider this for yourself too – I allowed myself these things because I trusted myself. I’d been through significant losses before and knew I had a powerhouse of inner resources, as well as remarkable friends for support.
If you’re going through a separation – or life transition in general – it’s important to have something to hold on to.
I discovered 2 things, or it may be accurate to say they found me:
First, I was comforted by Pema Chodron’s recounting a story about a woman begging the Buddha to bring her dead baby back to life. The Buddha replied that if she knocked on all the doors of the village until she found a house where there hadn’t been suffering and loss he would bring her baby back.
A beautiful reminder that we all experience loss, we are part of humanity. We are not alone. In this knowing, we cultivate compassion for ourselves, others, and for the human condition.
Second, a quote from The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying spoke to me and brought me to a place of feeling awed by the beauty of the opportunity to have a life:
Imagine a blind turtle, roaming the depths of an ocean the size of the universe. Up above floats a wooden ring, tossed to and fro on the waves. Every hundred years the turtle comes, once, to the surface. To be born a human being is said by Buddhists to be more difficult than for that turtle to surface accidentally with its head poking through the wooden ring”.
Here’s how this spoke to me. I realized that although I was in immense pain and didn’t know how to make my way forward, no one else got to live my life for me. I had a precious opportunity to be in MY body, my heart, my mind, my spirit at THIS MOMENT and no one could take that away from me. I got to CHOOSE how to respond to my life in that moment.
YOU get to choose in all your moments, every moment. The quality of your life is created through a series of moments that you choose your response to.
Bringing It On Home To You
There are many books and tons of advice on how to survive a break up. Every person is unique and it’s important to let yourself have your own individual process. Yet, there are guidelines that can help. My next blog post will provide 7 Tips for Surviving a Break-Up.
My experience confirmed for me that relationship separation is indeed a window of opportunity for transformation. Transformation usually occurs as a process when we own the truth of our experience and embrace it authentically. It does not always look highly evolved, especially in its initial stages.
Share Your Experiences
I hope you will share your experiences of break-ups and how they became an opportunity for personal growth. What did you find to hold on to? If you’re in the process of a break-up, share where you are in the process and what you need help with.
Be kind to yourself. It was a great learning for me to realize I didn’t have to be my vegan, exercising, “perfect” self while in the thick of it. In fact, it was freeing. Perfection in general is way overrated.
Stay tuned for tips for surviving a break-up.
In the meantime, be well, and may you experience the best break-ups ever!