Friday, March 06, 2009

The Stages of Healing a Broken Heart


A word cloud of my current thoughts would show the largest word on the page is still the ex. While I am no longer in guttural pain, I still wake up with his face on the edge of my thoughts. And these days, I wake up with my jaw clenched, full of anger. I’m aware that grief moves in stages - with a beginning, middle, and an end phase. A quick scan of the stages of grief would show me somewhere in the middle.

The Beginning: Denial

In the first two weeks I was most definitely in shock and denial. I still thought the key would turn in the door and he would come walking through, sweep me up in a hug and we would have a late dinner by the fireplace and talk about our day. I was still shopping for groceries and making dinner for two. I found I was still keeping my Sunday’s free, because when we were together, Sunday was our sacred day. I just felt like I was trapped in a nightmare, and at any moment I would wake-up with a sigh of relief. They say that this period of disbelief or shock is the body's natural protection against pain.

The denial was accompanied by bouts of tears, and profound sadness. Tears and Kleenex and more tears, and more Kleenex. During this initial phase, I felt lost and without a sense of purpose or direction. I had spent so much time planning our future that my life suddenly had no meaning. I entertained morbid thoughts of walking out into traffic. I now know that this is a normal initial reaction to loss.

Then, I started with the “what-if’s”. What if I had been taller or thinner or more fit? What if we hadn’t moved in together? What if I hadn’t brought up our communications issues? What if I had just let it go? What if I were less needy and more accepting? What if I hadn’t lost my job? What if we hadn’t moved? I went over the details of the break-up with friends and family, trying to find clues to what went wrong. What could I have done different to keep us together? This is the stage where I needed to figure it out, try to understand it and maybe even change it. I just couldn’t grasp the permanence of the situation; I still thought we had a chance.

So I asked him to meet with me and try to make sense of everything. We met me at a basement cafĂ© and both cried into our coffee cups. I pleaded with him for the answers to my questions, but I knew he wouldn’t have any. And it didn’t matter; I had gotten what I had come for. Things were really over.

The Middle: Feelings

I’m told that this is the stage that lasts the longest. It is the stage marked with feelings of fear, anger and self-doubt. For me, it’s been mostly anger. I’m angry that he could let me go without a fight. I’m angry that he couldn’t ask for what he needed to make things work. People tell me I need to feel this anger and get it out. But the truth is that I’m very uncomfortable with anger. I fear expressing it in any form.

I don’t want to let myself be overcome with emotions that I can’t control. No good has ever come from expressing my anger in the past, so I sort of want to ignore it or transform it immediately into something I deem “more healthy”. But I know it’s important that I give myself permission to feel these feeling. I need to find a safe way to feel lonely, angry, sad and scared. I want to find a way to let these emotions wash over me, flow through me, and then let them go.

I’m guilty of being someone that thinks there is a limit on the amount of time you should be allowed to grieve. I think that after a few weeks I should be fine, right? But experts say that it can take much longer. Predominant theory is that grief tends to run a cycle of at least one year unless of course the relationship wasn't very important, was short-term, or you were grieving before you actually left him. But I like to go with the theory of one month per year of the relationship. So that would mean I have until April 11th before I’m cured. Right?

The End: Acceptance

So this is the stage where I will start to get my groove back. I usually know I’m here when I realize I haven’t thought about him in awhile. This part comes when I’m out there living the life I always wanted for myself. When I’ve started fully enjoying my life again. I know I’m in this phase because I smile more and laugh out loud. This is the point where I will know that I am finally ready to accept that the relationship is over and that something even better is out there for me.

According to my recollection of relationships past, I will want to be just as gentle with myself in this phase as the others. Knowing my patterns, this phase can have setbacks. There will be moments I’m fine and then moments I’m not. I’ll see him out with a new girl and freak out. I’ll see one of his friends in the Park and it will set me off. I plan to show myself patience during this time and remember that pain is the touchstone of all spiritual growth. I have to try not to lose faith if I still break into tears in the shower. Each time that I feel better will have an accumulative effect.

I want so badly to be at stage three already. I want so badly to rush the process and hurry up and heal. It’s like my leg is broken and I’m ready to cut the cast off on week three and get out there and run a marathon. Some days I can accept that this is a process and I’m slowly getting better. Other days, like today, I just want to be done with it. I pray for patience. My patience with myself right now, my willingness to let myself fully grieve, means I’m creating a better me. A better me attracts a better future. So I put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. One day at a time.


High-heel gal said...

You hit it right on the nose with this post. I went through all three stages, for sure. I'm almost at the one and a half year mark since my ex broke up with me, and I would say that I've definitely accepted it. I no longer think about him and hope that maybe one day he'll realize what he's missing. He's now engaged, which also lets me know that he really wasn't as invested in me as I was in him, so that definitely helped me "move on."

Don't force stage 3 - it will come in time. Until then, hang in there - go on dates, have fun with your girlfriends and enjoy your freedom. Single life can truly be amazing :)

Merrick said...

I don't even know what to say but am compelled to comment. I'm 3 months away from a 2 year marraige/6 year relationship and am without a home (living on a couch), a job, or any love at all. I can't even imagine going on a date in spite of knowing she's already out there getting fixed up by her friends and somedays I'm crippled with depression that doesn't enable me to get out of couch. These 3 months have felt like 10 years and I want to be "fixed" as much as anyone but realize it takes time and patience. Your insights have really hit home and even though I'm a guy I'll have you know that it makes me feel good in some small way to see that I'm not alone in my pain and healing process. Your words are so true and good luck with the recovery~


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