Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Road Ahead

I fell in love at seventeen. THUMP. There I went, headfirst.

And suddenly it felt as if I was ready for everything: we'd move in together, we'd get married, we'd have kids eventually. I felt so adult.

It wasn't until the relationship ended four years later, it occurred to me that I'd got it wrong: love doesn't make you an adult, it's loosing love that does that.

When a relationship ends, especially a long term one, something is torn out of your life and it leaves a hole. It's bloody painful and it is only YOU who can deal with it. There is no painkiller you can take for this hurt. There is no plaster that can cover this kind of wound. And you can never really know how long it will take to heal.

But believe me: it WILL heal.

So here is a blog for anyone who needs just a little hand on their shoulder, just a few words that might help you to have belief that, however shitty it feels, you will stand happily on your own two feet again.

This is:


Stage One: It Happens

So it's come to this. All those amazing times you had together; that uncanny link where you always seemed to know exactly what the other was thinking; those nights where you'd just hang out, hardly speaking but feeling so comfortable in each other's company that you didn't need words: those are all gone now. Maybe it'd been going wrong for a long time, maybe they treated you like dirt one too many times, or maybe it was sudden and unexpected. No matter what the details are of the actual break-up, there will be just one day, just one moment, when it ends for good, and you will know it in your heart.

My advice here would be: KNOW it. Even if it hurts like knives... especially if it hurts like knives, then you know it's real.

See, I believe most people are too afraid of their own emotions. We seem to think that in order to be strong people we have to overcome them, push them away and soldier on. We can't admit that we're torn apart by something because that would be weak. I say NO. There's a reason we feel torn apart by it... it's because we ARE torn apart by it. In allowing yourself to feel that way, you're accepting that it really is happenning. You're never going to get over it if you won't fully accept that it's happened. But you also have to be honest with yourself about the pain, and don't wallow in it. If you find yourself turning it inwards and hating yourself, try and remind yourself that what you're going through right now is really really REALLY tough. Give yourself a break. Have a really good cry, or an angry outburst (break some plates or something) and then pick yourself back up again.

But in my experience, I can honestly say that stage one is never as bad as you think it's going to be. I might have to exclude those situations where the break up is sudden and unexpected. (I once mentioned to a boyfriend, late at night, that he seemed unhappy in the relationship and he reacted by agreeing and breaking up with me right there and then, when we had been living together for a couple of years. that was BAD because I hadn't seen it coming... but then within a few days he'd changed his mind...) But on the whole, a relationship will end after a period of unhappiness, and it is likely that amongst the hurt and anger and grief, there will be a certain element of relief: at least you know for sure now. No more wondering, no more waiting. You may even feel a sense of confidence and purpose. You can stop running around in circles trying to make it work when it wasn't. You can start again afresh, look out for YOURSELF for once.

You will want to get your point across to your partner but be careful: emotions will run high right now, and a heartfelt conversation can easily be blown off course or out of proportion. It's frustrating when all you want is for the other person to see your point of view, but just hang on for a short while and accept that you WILL be able to do this, you just have to wait for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. Get some space between the two of you and try to concentrate on things that make you happy. If you need to vent, write a letter. You don't have to give it to them so write whatever you feel you need to say. Then by the time you DO speak to them, you will have a much clearer and calmer head. And if they keep pushing you to talk to them, just (as calmly as possible) explain that you will, but you just need a little bit of space to get your thoughts straight.

And most importantly of all: if there is a third party involved, try not to spend too much time focussing on what the two of them might be up to now you're out of the picture. Trust me, I've been there more than once and I can say with confidence that whatever they ARE up to, it's probably not what you've got in your head. Look at it this way: they were with you because they cared about you and that isn't something you can just turn off or replace with someone else; they will be missing you too and that's going to have an effect on their relationship with this new person. And if it doesn't, if they really have just cast you aside like that, then you are so much better off without them I can't even describe it- let this new person have them, let them be the one that's treated like dirt, you're lucky to be rid of it!

Stage Two: The Floaty Bit

Stage two is the odd bit where nothing seems quite real. You might get butterflies, feel excited or anxious, you might even get a weird sensation that it's not quite your own life you're living. Just don't get freaked out by it, it's totally normal. You feel like this because your life has just taken a sharp turn in a different direction and it's all a bit new, even if the territory looks familiar. You're still going through the same motions as usual: the same job, the same house, the same basic daily routine... but it suddenly seems different somehow.

You're going to find yourself thinking about the relationship, breakup, and ex-partner a LOT, probably going over your memories of them, feeling sad whenever you think of the good times you had, feeling overwhelming anger whenever you think of the crap they put you through during your relationship. I don't think it's a bad thing, as long as it's not getting in the way of you getting on with your life as wholeheartedly as you can. There's nothing you can do to stop memories re-surfacing, so don't get angry with yourself about it. On the otherhand, again, don't wallow in memories. Just accept them and then let them fade.

Stage Three: Reality Kicks In

I'm sorry about stage three. Stage three is really crappy.

It usually seem so start when the ex-partner comes back into your life for a brief moment. For me, in the past, it has taken the form of fleeting meetings: seeing them in the street, or being home when they come round to get the last of their stuff.

Seeing them again is inevitable, and it is painful. I'm sorry but there is nothing I can say to make it less painful. I have written the words 'exquisite pain' in a diary, and reading them back, it seems to describe the feeling quite precisely. This pain cuts into the most vulnerable parts of you and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Love is the only thing that can make you feel THIS bad.

But you must go through it so you can come out the other side. At least I can say that stage three doesn't last forever. It will vary for different people, and for different relationships, so it's impossible to say how long it will last. The deepest cuts are only fleeting, and tend to be brought on by memories re-surfacing. During my most painful break-up, I had moments of this 'exquisite pain' first thing in the morning, when I would wake up thinking about my ex-boyfriend. They'd fade by the time I was out of bed, and would only return if I was feeling particularly tired, or if something set me off (a memory or another trigger), and this went on for around six months. During other break ups, I have only had this feeling for a day or two, sometimes not at all.

I can offer a couple of suggestions that might help to soothe the exposed nerves, but I think the most important thing is to find your own way through it. Everyone has different ways of coping with pain. I have found that when you are feeling at your lowest, it can be hard to distract yourself from it. You probably won't feel very sociable, but spending chilled out time with just one or two close friends who understand how upset you are will help. If you need to be on your own, then be on your own, but don't sit in a dark room crying and rocking back and forth for hours on end. Don't crawl into a bottle of vodka and hide there for a week... I love to draw and make collages, so that's what I have done in the past- I have made pieces of art that illustrate my feelings. It was a great way to engage with my feelings whilst also distracting me from them. Sleeping was also good. Never say no to a good nap!

Stage Four: The Bruise

This stage really does feel like a bruise. I have even found myself wearing bruise-colours while I have been in this stage: all blues and greys and dark purples. This is the lingering dullness that comes once the sharp pain has faded.

See, you'll get used to feeling bad about the break up. I know it doesn't sound particularly encouraging, but believe me, when you've been feeling the kind of pain you felt in stage three, ANYTHING is better! And the best thing about stage four is that you know you're healing. You're going to start feeling so much better during stage four.

But you also need to be wary during this stage, because it is the time when you can be caught out by several things...

First there's the rebound relationship. These may or may not work for you, but if you do find yourself spending time with someone new when you're still recovering from your break-up, just be careful you don't end up hurting someone's feelings because it might just be your own that get caught, and speaking yet again from personal experience, it REALLY doesn't help! Be aware that you're probably missing your ex-partner, missing the company and the intimacy. It feels great to have that gap filled, but it's very easy to jump straight for the next person who is willing to fill it without looking to see if they're really the right person for the job! My best advice is to have patience and make sure you're OK in yourself rather than looking for someone to fix the problem!

You also need to be careful dealing with the ex-partner during this stage. When you start to feel better, you may well feel like you're ready to see them again, to get things straightened out between you. If you're going to do this, you really need to be 100% sure that you are not going to be tempted to fall for them again, or that they're not going to hit you with a guilt trip that will leave you feeling like a villan. This will only lead to a return to the dreaded stage three, or even worse, you might just find yourself sparking things up with them again, leading you back into a never-ending loop. Saying that, I have also found that meeting somewhere on common ground, such as a local park, to talk things through and calmly listen to each other's points of views can sort out the inevitable misunderstandings that often get left open after a break up. So as long as you know you can walk away from them with your head held high, then go for it.

Stage Five: The Feelings Fade

Aaaaaah, stage five.

This, for me, pretty much always comes five months after a break up. I think it's good to have a rough idea of how long the whole process will take, so I will say that if you're in the middle of a break up, have faith, in five months time you will feel like yourself again. Five months isn't so long at the end of the day. It may even take less that five months... how good is that?!

And now, though you will still miss your ex-partner, and still feel sad about the break up, it won't really have an effect on your life. You won't think about them as soon as you wake up. You won't feel so sad when you visit places you used to go with them. You will look forward to meeting new people and sparking up new relationships. You will understand and accept that it needed to end and that you are better off now that it is over.

When you have loved someone, they find a place somewhere in your head and they plant themselves there. I often notice how life can feel like a museum of your ex-partner after they are gone from your life. Everywhere you go, you will see, hear, smell and feel things that remind you of them. This never really goes away. I am philosophical about this. It makes me glad to know that the special things you go through with a person you love never really go away. It's like that photograph album I mentioned in a previous blog: each memory is a snapshot of a time, place and feeling, and the ones that really mean something to you can be revisted. It is the stumbling block during the early stages of a break up, but later when the edges have worn a little, it becomes a link to good memories, and a reminder that you don't just get one chance at love.

As a wise philosopher once said.
Just keep swimming.

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