When I looked into the mirror this morning, my blurred vision gave way to the same image that's greeted me every morning for the last four decades. My first reaction was a wince. I was staring into the reflection of a person who's made a lot of poor choices, some of those being recent, within the last couple of months. I'm staring at the reflection of someone who has lost their way, who is not living up to their values. It's true. Yet, at some point, I have to accept the things that I've done, let go of the negative narratives I've crafted for myself and begin the process of healing, of self-work, and taking my licks, and moving on with my life.
When it comes to breakups I try to get over them as quickly as I can. Or at least that's what my approach has been. So it's been quite a change to sit through everything that's happened these last few months, to ruminate and let things sit. I've learned that breakups lead to a lot of self-reflection and you have to nurture that period of time, let yourself feel the things you need to feel.
The thing with feeling sorry
What have I been feeling? Sorry. Mostly sorry for myself but also sorry about what I've done. I have this intense impulse to reach out to my ex and tell her how sorry I am for… everything. And while apologies can be helpful, healthy, or even welcome they are not always necessary. I don't feel comfortable knowing I didn't act honorably, that I didn't keep my promises, that I emotionally harmed someone. And you know what? THAT'S A GOOD THING! I know that if I want to do better and be better then I have to put in the work. Feeling bad about things doesn't fix poor behavior, it doesn't stop patterns from repeating themselves over and over. Be sorry but do work while you're at it.
The other thing to consider here is that no matter how apologetic you may feel, the person whom you harmed doesn't want to relive that shit either. Your impulse may be to reach out, I suggest you sit on that impulse, give it time, and consider if apologizing is just a way to displace the guilt you feel so you don't have to endure it any longer or if you're trying to help your ex.
Breakups, no matter how awful or friendly, are difficult to navigate. There's a lot of ifs and whys that come up, at least for me. If I'd only talked with a therapist. If only I'd known about this attachment repair stuff sooner… Those thoughts are unhelpful. They seek to make amends with the future by rewriting the past, rather than learning its (the past) lessons and letting go.
I've spent a lot of time wondering what things would have been like had I been more diligent with my therapy and working through the problematic issues from my past that still bother me today. Returning to those thoughts, giving them room to breathe, isn't helpful. It doesn't get me closer to resolution. Returning to those thoughts alone, without a plan is harmful and counterproductive to healing oneself. Getting help is the way forward.
Allowing yourself to feel your feelings
I usually distract myself or tried to move on quickly to an old fling or to find the next fling. This time, I'm being very intentional in allowing myself to grieve the relationship and feel my feelings. I'm feeling what I've lost. In my last ex, I lost a dear friend and a lover. She gave me so much compassion and knowledge. I'm grateful for what I've learned from her. Each of my exes has given me something that I hold on to in some way or other. Songs, snacks, self-care, whatever those remnants are, they're things I appreciate that add something to my life in some way.
Hearing your thoughts and calling them out…
To me what that means is sitting in silence sometimes, removing the distraction of shows, podcasts, the radio, Tinder, or whatever. Noticing your breathing, calling out your feelings in a given moment I'm thinking about this thought or I smell oranges or I feel really fucking sad right now. The idea is this: while we may feel that we're consciously in the moment often times we actually aren't. We're in this weird autopilot mode where we're living in our thoughts, daydreaming, or whatever you want to call it—we're not in our conscious mind as much as we think—we're in our sub-conscious mind doing whatever it is we need to do to exist and get through the day.
I can only speak from my experience. In my case, I often self-sabotage and talk down to myself, I never miss an opportunity to knock myself down a peg or two. I still lament myself for things I messed up on dinner over a year ago! It happens subconsciously, I'm thinking, I'm remembering my past, remembering poor decisions, and I'm making them real, I'm forming a narrative; that I'm a bad human, that I'm stupid, that I'm this terrible person who hurts people. That narrative is destructive to oneself and also to any relationship a person gets into…
There's this place that exists behind all the self-talk, behind the subconscious dialogue, and general mumblings of existence—it's our conscious mind, rooted in right now. When we call out our thoughts, identify our emotions, we're taking a moment to assert reality, truth, into our mental meanderings.
I wish I haven't messed up as much as I have, I wish I didn't cause harm but I have. I've done what I've done and, you know what? I'm not going to get on my knees about it any longer. I'm done. And I've also been hurt but that is also not my identity. I don't have to be that person, a person underserving of love and understanding, a person who is the sum of their traumatic turmoil. My subconscious mind constantly sends these thoughts to the top of my mind, every day! Without care, it's easy to take these narratives into the world with you, as I have done for years. They shape your sense of self, the reality you bind yourself to if you let them.
Respect the past, learn its lessons, leave it behind and move on.
I've begun the difficult task of unraveling these thoughts. Understanding that they're just that thoughts. It's hard because we operate subconsciously for so much of our waking day it's difficult to pull ourselves out of the moment and call out what we feel, what we're thinking, how we're feeling.
Understanding that my past traumas, past decisions, and how I approach my life are all interconnected has been illuminating and also daunting. One key unlocks a door to a much larger room with many things to make sense of.
I’m not a religious person, but I do believe in ghosts. Not the ghosts of the dead, but the ghosts of the living. The ghosts of people who, because of a trauma, have lost their sense of themselves. Who feel, in some fundamental and inescapable way, that they are not real.Vauhini Vara and AI, Ghosts
Doing the work and understanding the why
For me, knowing I hurt someone is a difficult pill to swallow. I didn't like how that felt and what that meant about who I was. I wanted to get to work right away on healing myself. At first, I was doing it so that my ex would see that I became better. When I realized that's what I was doing, I hit the pause button on that work. I knew I needed to work on myself but I wasn't clear on why. Did I want to improve for my ex, who I'm unlikely to ever see again? Yes. Should that be the primary motivator, though? No. I need to get better for me, myself, and I (thanks, De la Soul).
Doing self-work is important, it is. The reasons for doing self-work are even more important, in my opinion. For me, self-work means making peace with my past, accepting the choices I've made, and being able to forgive myself. It means that I need to love myself, stop tearing myself down, and take it easy on myself when I make a mistake or fuck up—newsflash I'm still going to fuck things up. A lot.
If I do that work, if I forgive myself, if I make peace with my past, that will help lighten my emotional load, if you will. I'll be able to live within myself comfortably, I'll like who I am. If I do this work, then my future self will be a person who derives more joy from life, who is more grateful for what he has, able to see the abundance in what's around me rather than the scarcity the doubt that comes from the unknown.
Right now, I don't like who I am. If I'm being honest with myself, and you, dear reader, I haven't liked who I am for a long, long time. I don't know that I ever have. And that's fucking sad. I understand where the roots of that come from and that is a part of the work I must do to be whole and secure within myself.
Start living your life
For me, it's easy to stay solitary; I close myself off to others, I shut in within myself. It's not healthy. We need people. I need human interaction. I need to feel alive and I haven't felt that for a while. That means I need to take some time for myself to experience new experiences, reach out to friends and loved ones, and it's just time to make shit happen.
Removing myself from life, and from my friends and family, is a punishment I levy against myself. It's because I don't like who I am because I feel sorry for myself, I wonder what if so and so sees me online and drags me on the internet. Well, what if they do? Oh well. What's the worst that can happen to me? It won't be worse than everything I've done to hurt myself over the years. If there are more consequences to face, then okay; I'll meet them! But I can't keep living in my cave, hoping that someone out there (my ex) will feel like I've made restitution of my actions.
Letting go of their story
This is the most difficult part for me. The wondering, the thinking, the desire to activate. I know that I have to let go. I will when the time comes, whenever it comes.
The one wrinkle that I've added to my bag of tricks is recognizing when I'm activating, recognizing the resistance to a new pattern. I see my mind, or subconscious, or whatever the fuck it is that's trying to undo what I'm doing. I see it and I call it out, sometimes verbally do not look her up! Close that app right now, dude! Thus far, it's worked nearly perfectly. Sometimes it doesn't work and I have to give myself grace there, or not beat myself at those times when I slip.
Letting go of someone is like getting to the end of a book, reading the acknowledgments, and hoping that chapter one is going to be different, that you'll get a different story out of the same book. It doesn't work like that. I have to close those pages, shut the book, and stow it away. I'm not ready to do that yet.
My ex may harbor anger and resentment towards me and that's okay. It's justified. That said, I believe that she wants me to get better and heal, and to be happy. I want that for her, too. I believe that with time and putting in the work that it will happen. I believe that.
For now, I'm going to keep working on the things I can work on and be present and aware of what's going on inside of me. One day I'll get through all of this. One day, someday.