Separation is horrendous.
Even though we ‘know’ almost everyone on the planet has suffered and survived the end of at least one significant relationship, we can’t help but feel that no one else knows what it’s truly like for us ‘right now’.
Darkness looms in daily, overshadowing any glimmers of sunshine.
But there is hope.
Everyone has a recovery break-up story, it’s when we’re IN the middle of it that we can’t see the forest for the trees.
The amazing thing about counselling under the Narrative Therapy umbrella is the emphasis on co-creation. What that means is that we work together to understand what’s going on for you and find sparkling moments within stuckness to help you… well, unstick. But how do we enrich your story amidst oceans of separation suffering?
If you read my post un-advice for the newly single woman, you’ll know it was a lighthearted look at some of the foolish things we all do when a relationship ends featuring some straight and queer women’s wonderful anecdotes.
The thing about those stories is that there are exceptions to every rule: we all know someone who kept shagging their ex, got back together and ended up happily every after don’t we?
It’s easy to think YOU are always the exception to the rule, when usually… well, you aren’t. But how can you tell?
If your Identity Cauldron is already filled with lovely strong stuff, that’s a really great beginning.
What on earth is an ‘Identity Cauldron’?
It’s about knowing what you believe, what you value and care about, and being able to separate that somewhat from social norms. It about recognising when you have changed and being ok with those changes, or finding ways to be more of the ‘you’ you would prefer to be based on what is meaningful to you.
It means you can allow yourself to be more vulnerable because you won’t be as likely to fall into the trap of second-guessing everything about yourself.
Some of the conversations I’ve been having with women in counselling lately have expanded my thoughts on ‘how’.
They’ve given me permission to share some key aspects of their experiences.
If you recognise yourself here, know that you are in great company.
Here are some ideas to heal and develop your own break-up recovery story:
Grieve the loss of what the relationship represented
Many people are confused by intense sensations of grief when a relationship ends, especially if the person was someone they no longer like; someone who cheated on them; or more seriously, someone who was violent to them.
Those feelings, almost intolerable, can be like: rocks in stomach; tightrope across chest; bodily pain and agony; unable to get out of bed; endless wracking sobs; heaviness; memory loss; extreme panic etc. These feelings can have us believing that our love for the other person is so overwhelming that we need them. We think we can’t possibly survive this experience.
In fact, quite often this is the stuff grief is made of, and in terms of separation it can be associated with a loss of a vision of the future rather than solely the ‘actual’ person.
So grieve that vision, it is an exceptionally worthy loss. But don’t let those sensations control you and tell you that you ‘need’ to get back in the relationship.
Because you want to make a choice, right? Not be driven by something else.
Find a dear friend to cuddle, call, and cry to instead. Write your heart out. Wrap your body extremely tightly in a blanket (this can calm bodily sensations down). Go on long walks. Breathe properly. Prioritise seeing a therapist. Dig your fingers into your dog’s unconditionally loving fur.
Grief is a sign that you are human. You CAN survive this. Give yourself time to do so.
You can’t date someone’s potential
Straight women have a habit (and are conditioned in fact by society and popular culture) to go for a fixer-upper. Some guy who’ll just be awesome when… if… after I… when he heals. Think how many guys in popular movies pull themselves together at the final hour when it REALLY counts.
The truth is though, this is rarely how it works.
If you just realised that you’ve been in a relationship with someone’e potential, perhaps even married it, then it’s time to examine whether that potential is truly enough for you.
The dusty red road sux
The dusty red road is a one-way trip to a relentless Painsville. It’s the opposite of recovery. Sometimes an awful, messy separation (especially one where you were done wrong) can hurl you onto that desert trail in the stinking hot sun, endlessly walking and walking without an oasis in sight. The walking makes you bitter, but also somehow feels kind of ‘good’. Justified. Righteous. So you stay there, even though it’s miserable and repetitive and isn’t taking you anywhere good.
You can’t expect someone else to get you off that dusty red road unless you are also hoping to do so.
It’s actually really hard to know when to get off it and head for lush greener pastures: some amount of wallowing or feeling angry is healthy, but when is it too much?
It’s different for everyone, but if you’ve gone beyond feeling like your grief is cathartic and you’re stuck on the dusty red road then it’s time to seek some help.
He’s just not that into you
If you haven’t seen this episode of Sex and the City, then go on and check this clip out:
The crux of it is that in order to avoid feeling pain or rejection, and to bolster ourselves and our girlfriends, we tend to make excuses to explain someone’s bad or slack or even hurtful behaviour. When we do that, it keeps us stuck in a loop, hoping for something- or worse throwing ourselves at someone- who just isn’t that into us.
If they WERE into you they’d show it.
With actions and stuff (note: NOT ‘grand gestures’ but simple daily acts of love).
Even if they are sad or angry or have issues.
Likewise if you just aren’t that into them: be honest without being cruel, you are doing everyone a favour with this kindness.
Let go, or allow yourself to be let go of: Be Released.
Longevity is not the only marker of a successful relationship
Anyone who listens to Dan Savage’s podcast ‘Savage Lovecast’ will be aware of this reality check. Society seems to have only one marker for a successful relationship: Forever, 2 people, monogamous.
As a counsellor, I have the sad experience of knowing how faulty this reasoning is but we hear it all the time: ‘They’re throwing 10 years away!’ or ‘I can’t throw away all i’ve worked on’ or ‘I’ve wasted 15 years of my life’. Because it hasn’t lasted forever we think it’s a failure story.
Here’s an activity: think about couples you know of all ages. Who has been together more than 20 years? 30 years? 40 years? Who is still content? Happy? Who hates their partner, or has grown so incredibly different from them they no longer get on?
Who is in a relationship (that you know well enough so you aren’t judging by pretty photos on Facebook) that you truly admire, one that you’d like for yourself?
We all know a few very special couples who weather challenges with grace and grow together ‘in sickness and health’, but let’s be honest: there aren’t so many we’re tripping over them every step we take outside.
We need to find other measures of a ‘successful’ relationship, but that requires us to examine a little of what we may have blindly accepted.
Social norms can put walls around all of us. They are a trap. Suffocating the lives we could be living so much more freely and authentically.
If we start slowly removing the bricks though, we may find we have a little room to breathe.
A relationship isn’t automatically a failure just because it ended, and you are not a failure if you ‘didn’t make it work’.
When you think about it, longevity is ludicrous as the only marker for rating ‘success’ when ‘success’ can be so many other things. One of my most successful relationships in terms of learning about myself and embracing my vulnerability only lasted 3 months.
Try to see the successes in all your relationships.
And if you’re in one that isn’t working, check in with yourself removed from judgment and social norms: Have I given this the best I can? Can I give myself permission to leave this relationship, even though I don’t hate the person yet and no one died? Can I reframe the experience of getting over someone who left me seemingly ‘without reason’? Did they do me a favour? Can I just be ok on my own, going solo, finding genuine loving connections of many different kinds?
Say it with me:
I AM NOT A FAILURE
If you need a little more convincing to give yourself a break, have a ponder on this marvellous quote from my Instagram account:
Your Identity Cauldron
We can all fall prey to social norms, expectations, idea of what happiness is, ideas of what relationships should be, smarting from the pain of rejection or the end of something we had no idea was about to end.
The agony of having put so much energy into something, so much love into someone, and then pulling or having pulled the rug out and ‘starting again’.
Except you’re not really ‘starting again’ if you have a good relationship with yourself, you’re adding to your story.
Figuring out who you are- with some flexibility- is the key to recovery and a better life, no matter how others see it.
There are times when your cauldron is mostly filled with others: friends, family, children, partner. And so it should be. But we can lose sight of ourselves amidst all those others who need us.
Turn your caring behaviour ‘inside’ and ask yourself:
- what is it that I am giving them that makes me valuable to them?
- What is it about me specifically that is precious?
Try to recall something recent where you know you were valued- even it wasn’t announced in words, even something tiny.
Really unpack that memory. Pull it apart. Examine it. Don’t judge or let the ugly voices in. Just look at it as though you are in independent observer, as though it’s under a microscope. As though you are someone else.
Now stand back and get out your telescope. Try to see how that thing you did- that behaviour- links with something you value, that you believe in, and how that fits in with the world. Not the Hollywood world or the Facebook world, but the ACTUAL world.
- Was it something you did where you served someone you love? Did you stand up for something you believe in? Did you listen wholeheartedly when someone was talking?
- Does that link with a giving nature? A strong sense of justice? A belief that everyone deserves to be heard?
- Are there other people out there in the world who emulate these ways of being that you admire and connect with?
Pop all of this: the memory, the feels, the values and the outwards view and connectivity into your identity cauldron. Mix it in. Be witchy and Wicca- cackle if you’re really getting into it. I chose a cauldron to buck the social norm that witches are evil, but you can choose anything you want.
The important thing is to allow yourself some moments to reflect on your social and environmental interactions, on the things that are meaningful to you.
Meaning-making is essential to having a solid sense of self. It’s what gives you something to draw from when times are tough.
Knowing yourself in these particular ways means that no one can tip over your cauldron even if the content leaks out sometimes. The closer you are living to your values, the more content you will be. And importantly, the more clear your choices become. It’s much easier to deal with a painful separation if the one thing that DOES make sense is that this relationship is not right for you anymore (even if you didn’t chose to end it).
And who knows? You may find that you ACTUALLY value things you didn’t completely realise before: things outside of ‘normal’, and the awesome thing about the modern world is that the interwebs are available to help you find connection in all of your lovely weirdness with people across the globe.
Why don’t you start filling your cauldron right now?
Cast a spell on yourself that can change your life and improve relationships.
Did you enjoy this blog post? You might like to read my latest post ‘I’m Lonely‘ which is all about accepting our vulnerability, our humanness and not falling prey to those wishing to take advantage. Or if time is short today, Sign up here to jump on the Unveiled Stories list and receive more 100% doable ideas for handling life’s most emotional and transformational experiences directly in your inbox.
If you’re in Coffs Harbour, Bellingen or Online and looking for a professional counsellor to help you recover from a painful break-up, separation or divorce (and to assist in a co-creation of a stronger identity story) then please contact me directly for a FREE 20 minute consultation. I’d love to help you.
** UPDATE: I’m teaming up with Ellen Slater to deliver an in-person ‘Untold Stories’ workshop in Coffs Harbour for folks to:
- Explore your story
- Find insight around your identity conclusions
- Gain clarity on the direction you would like to be moving in
- Within an intimate, supportive environment