I am giving you permission to fall apart.
To crumble and drop to your knees.
To cry so hard you can’t catch your breath and your whole body trembles.
I want you to know that it is okay to break and feel like you are losing your mind.
It is okay to feel hopeless.
To hit rock bottom.
To go places so dark and so desperate you feel terrified;
of getting lost there forever.
But forever isn’t a place you can inhabit.
Forever is an illusion.
Forever does not exist.
And even when you feel like you can’t go on and there is no hope,
I promise you that there is.
You are going to pick yourself up off of that floor.
You will find your strength, your hope, your resilience.
Never forget that tomorrow is another day.
But today, you are allowed to break.
There is beauty in breakdown.
Sometimes I feel like you left because you were bored and restless.
I feel like you left because you were unsatisfied with our marriage, our family, and your place within the life you and I had created together. I don’t think you wanted the responsibility of having a family or a mortgage. I believe that you wanted your bachelorhood back, you wanted to be single again, because the life we had created together felt stifling. You felt trapped; and you wanted to get the fuck away from me and my addled brain.
When I feel the devastation as I wake up on Thanksgiving this morning (or any holiday), my brain automatically goes straight to the happy memories. It goes to the space left in my heart where the man I used to love lives. Where the family that meant everything to me still resides, and always will. And it hurts. It wrecks me. At least it used to. I know now that a trip down memory lane is not a place that I want to visit. It is not a place I need to dwell on. It is a land of fairy tales and happiness; hope and longing. It isn’t real.
A part of me continues to question whether it ever was.
In this moment, I want you to know that I am sorry. I am so so sorry. For not choosing you or us. For only seeing my life with you as a part of something bigger; our kids and our family. But there we were, you and I, the most important part of that equation, and we stopped choosing each other. Instead, we chose resentment, complicity, boredom, stagnancy, denial (heaps and heaps of denial). We chose the kids; not each other. We ignored the not-so-invisible monster in the room. The huge beast that was sitting there screaming at us: “Watch out!!! This is getting closer and closer to dangerous territory! Neither of you are happy!! It is time to stop ignoring that!!”
But we didn’t stop. We kept trudging along. We kept marching to the beat of someone else’s drum; society’s drum. We were caught on the relationship escalator and we didn’t know how to get off until it was too late. The escalator broke down and chucked us the fuck off. And now, here we are. Living lives that are separate and apart; we are no longer a couple.
And sometimes that hurts. A lot.
But I know, deep in my heart, that we are both happier. More satisfied. More alive and awake and aware. And we have these new lives to navigate. New horizons and paths to choose. And perhaps one day I will meet someone and we will look at each other the way you and I used to look at each other. And when that happens (or doesn’t), I will make sure that I choose them Every. Single. Day. Because I don’t want to wake up a year from then, or five years from then, and realize I was making the same mistakes I made with you.
I am so so sorry.
I am in love with this word.
The sheer power in evokes for me internally is enough right there. But it is so much more than that. It is strength, fierceness, power, fighting back, never giving up, never surrendering. It means that when life throws you a curve ball, you catch the damn thing and throw it right back. It means that if you stumble into your hole in the sidewalk, you climb back out. It means that when you break, you pick up the pieces of your shattered heart, mind, and body, and you put yourself back together. One piece at a time. You rebuild yourself, and reemerge even stronger than before.
It means that no matter what knocks you down, YOU GET BACK UP.
Who actually possesses this amazing quality? What makes a person resilient?
I think it comes down to a couple of things. First, I believe it is a quality inherent in some people. I think people who are naturally resilient are confident, secure in themselves, and have a solid ability to regulate their emotions (especially in the face of adversity). When the shit hits the proverbial fan, they don’t take off running in the opposite direction, they square their shoulders and face off with whatever it is that is coming their way. I am not saying that only certain people embody this characteristic. I am merely stating my opinion, that it may come more naturally to some than to others. For many of us, resiliency is a quality that we need to work on – continuously.
I know that I do.
I have found, over the course of this very exhausting and debilitating year, that I lacked an acceptance of what it was that I was going through (emotionally speaking). I wanted off my emotional rollercoaster as I went up and down and back and forth through the grieving process. Denial, anger, confusion, hurt, rage, fear, depression, despondency – the adjectives are many and seemingly endless. But, it would seem that I have finally moved into this state of acceptance and awareness that I was unable to achieve until now. I feel as though I am finally embodying resilience. I believe that this is because I had to go through the emotions, hit rock bottom, and claw my way back out. I know now, with certainty, that I am strong enough to get through pretty much anything at this point in my life.
What I have come to understand about all of this is that I do not think that resiliency only means embodying that ‘never give up’ attitude. I think it also involves recognizing that sometimes you need to fall the fuck apart. And more importantly – accept this as part of your journey. Fighting against an intense emotional torrent gets you literally no where. Letting yourself be vulnerable and being able to sit with your feelings, no matter how totally terrifying and shitty they may feel, is just another form of resiliency. Because, without that deep emotional processing, you will most definitely keep falling into that abyss; over and over and over again.
And that is the space from which you truly pick yourself back up and continue to fight.
I have finally found that light at the end of my tunnel. It has been a very dark and very terrifying journey. I tried to put a time limit on my grief, I tried to control it and make it stop. It was only when I just gave in and let go that I began to heal. But I believe that it was all a part of my process and my journey. It was one hell of a shitty year.
What I want you to know is this: The pain and the hurt have an ending point. I am here to reassure you that the next stage in this horrific journey that is grief, is you coming to realize that you are strong enough, you can get through this, and that you are safe. So, please do not despair. Do not give up.
Hold onto hope; it’s there, within you.
I promise. You are going to be okay.
How do we create a true resiliency within ourselves?
From The American Psychological Association:
Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events.
Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals.
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.
Today is my 43rd birthday.
One year ago today, I wrote my first blog post. I was so distraught and so completely rocked with grief and emotion, my head and heart felt like they were exploding. I was working through SO MUCH and I needed an outlet. So, I bought a laptop, and I started writing. Straight from my heart, straight from my gut. All of my hurt and my pain came pouring out of me. And, one year later, I have this amazing written history of my life and my struggles and my victories and most importantly, my progress.
This post was originally going to be about all of the things I have learned about myself this past year – a victory post. And yes, I have come a long way; from literally hitting rock bottom (at least a dozen times) to squaring off with my demons and winning. I have come to understand myself more than I ever thought possible. I am beginning to believe that there is a light at the end of this tunnel and that light belongs to me and no one else.
I am the creator of that energy, that power, that resilience.
But in this moment, right now, I am so completely overwhelmed with gratitude. It feels like it is choking me; I am surrounded by LOVE. I am literally being flooded with it as my community, my tribe, my friends, my family, send me messages of “happy birthday”. A year ago, I did not know that I had a family of friends waiting for me. A group of people who would love me and lift me up and catch me when I fell. A literal tribe of friends who have my back completely.
I felt so alone.
So, here I am, sitting in my bed once again, crying on my birthday. But the tears are different this time. They are tears of disbelief, wonder, thankfulness, joy, and love. I can say with certainty that I love my life. I love my children, my family, and my friends. And most importantly, I am finding a love for myself that is deep and profound and never ending.
I have a new tattoo – it is a phoenix on fire. I had no idea that a year ago I had predicted that I would be okay; that I was a phoenix. But I am; I absolutely am. I am rising from these fucking ashes and reclaiming my power.
Accepting love, feeling love, and exploding with a disbelief and a certainty that I am okay.
My post from a year ago:
Today is my 42nd birthday.
I woke up all alone in my bed. All alone in my house. There should be laughter and chatter and people and love, but its empty, and my life feels empty as a result.
My husband moved out this past October – taking some space. My kids are with me half as much as they were just five short weeks ago. I did not choose this. I did not want to have a life without my family intact.
I opt out. I choose happiness over this shit storm of uncertainty and heartache. I want my goddamn family back. I want my husband back. Not the asshole who hurt me time and again. Not the one who betrayed my trust and my heart over and over. Not the man who lashed out and said damaging, hurtful things. Not the man who shamed and blamed me. Not the man who fell in love with a 30-year-old who lives in a fucking van. Not that man.
I want the man I spent the last 16 years building a life and a family with. The man who had my back at every turn. The father of my children. The man who laughed with me and looked at me with awe, care, and compassion. The man who adored me, who loved me, who would never have given up on me.
And now? I am invisible, unworthy, and forgotten. I am supposed to be someone I cannot be and I am stuck.
Or maybe, this is not the case at all. Maybe this is an opportunity. Maybe this is a beginning, a chance, a new hope, a new start. A new life. One where I learn to roar and soar and be the most amazing version of myself there is.
Perhaps I will grow, change, and step out of this shell that has bound me to others, to my husband, to my children. I have been leaking out the very essence of myself, for what feels like forever. I have been losing what I needed the most.
Maybe this is the new life I always needed (and possibly wanted) without ever consciously knowing it. I will find my path; it is infinite, open, and endless with possibility. I am strong, I am empowered, I am fierce. I am the Phoenix and I will rise from these ashes. I will cry out and soar above all of this shit. There will be no stopping the invincible self that lies within me; that has always been within me. My strength, my inner fire; they are there, alive within me, and on their way out.
Step out of my way. I am beginning to roar.
From National Geographic:
But what goes on inside a pupa? We know that a larva releases enzymes that break down many of its tissues into their constituent proteins. Textbooks will commonly talk about the insect dissolving into a kind of “soup”, but that’s not entirely accurate. Some organs stay intact. Others, like muscles, break down into clumps of cells that can be re-used, like a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks. And some cells create imaginal discs—structures that produce adult body parts. There’s a pair for the antennae, a pair for the eyes, one for each leg and wing, and so on. So if the pupa contains a soup, it’s an organized broth full of chunky bits.
I have decided that at least for the time being, I am something akin to the ‘goo’ or ‘soup’ within a chrysalis.
I am somewhere in between a cute, chubby caterpillar moseying along, and a majestic and magical butterfly, floating and flitting through life. I am a mess of goop safely enclosed inside of my casing. Working on changing, reforming, and basically reinventing myself. When you think about it like this, it becomes a beautiful mess. A mess filled with hope and limitless possibilities. There are no rules; there is no formula. I can emerge from my sticky space as anything I want.
This feels incredibly powerful, and hope bubbles up effervescently inside of my heart.
In retrospect, as I look back on the last year after my divorce, I was in heaps of denial and running to other guys and relationships to ease the grief and the pain I was so terrified of. It wasn’t a conscious choice – my subconscious fear of abandonment was driving my behavior. And that terror of feeling alone and invisible has been a major player for my entire life.
Running. Always running.
But something has shifted yet again. And I feel as though my body, my very core, is beginning to take shape within my shell. I am finding my strength and my resilience and using them to assemble what will become a new me.
I had a major breakthrough in therapy today.
My entire life has been about running from grief. I did not want to deal with it as a child or as an adult. I was literally hiding from it – thinking I could live my life and avoid feeling forever.
I was dead wrong.
Last year when my husband left, I was thrown into complete emotional chaos. I was slammed with PTSD and grief; full-body-tackled. I was in a state of fight, flight, or freeze for months because my brain perceived my husband leaving as abandonment (it was) – just like it did when my dad died. My system was on overload and I felt helpless and completely out of control. My husband treated me like I was a crazy person and eventually, he left.
I realized in therapy today that, over the course of my life, I have come to view grieving as something you work through, get over, and eventually move on from. Like there is this ‘end game’ or a fixed point on a timeline where you are miraculously all better. As a result of this mindset, I have been literally exhausted – emotionally and physically -because I am still running; this time, to an imaginary finish line. I have become frustrated, impatient, and fed up with myself which is a completely unhealthy mindset to adopt.
I will never ‘get over’ the loss of my father. NEVER. My entire life I have felt incomplete, broken, like I didn’t fit in. I thought I had a hole in the very core of my being. But I realized today that this isn’t true. At all. What I have failed to understand or accept is that even though my dad has been dead since I was 9 years old, his essence, the values and love and validation he instilled in me as a little girl, are still there; inside of my heart. If I accept that he is still a part of me, and always has been, then that hole fills right up.
My entire life I have neglected to incorporate the parts of him that filled me up as a child: the validation, the connection, the love, the care and compassion, the play and the laughter. My belief was that, because he was dead, my development ceased to follow a ‘normal’ path or trajectory and as a result, I was left incomplete.
There is no reason on earth why I cannot access all of those amazing things, those gifts he gave me as a child, now, as an adult. If I can hold onto those things in my heart and in my mind, and know with certainty that he is there (and always has been), then I am not broken. I am whole. I am safe and loved and I always have been. I can channel those things he instilled in me and use them as a source of strength, peace, and resilience. I can keep him in my heart in a protective way that lifts me up and keeps me feeling safe instead of invisible and alone.
And the best part of all of these realizations? All of that love and care and kindness that he gave me, that I am now anchoring to my heart, all of that is coming from within me.
I am reforming. I am changing and I cannot wait to see what comes next.
My name is Amy and I am a relationship addict.
Yes, it is a thing. A very real and very debilitating thing.
From Ann Smith via Psychology Today:
The relationship addict experiences intense “abandonment anxiety”. This anxiety triggers panic, low self worth, feelings of emptiness, isolation, and possibly depression. The addict may believe they are worthless without their partner. They almost always feel unbearable emptiness. Love addiction is a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person. The causes of love addiction are fairly easy to identify: inadequate or inconsistent nurturing, low self esteem, absence of positive role models for committed relationships, and indoctrination with cultural images of perfect romantic love and happily ever after endings.
It dawned on me as I said goodbye to the last relationship I was in, just a week or so ago, that something wasn’t right with the way I was reacting to the loss. Something felt off, so I did what I do best, I did some investigative work on myself and my behavior. I took a look back at my actions with this person, within the relationship, and found myself kind of disgusted. I wasn’t necessarily shocked to discover that nothing about my behavior had been healthy or ‘normal’, just kind of disappointed. It was a realization that I didn’t want to make or admit.
But deep down, I knew that it was time to deal with it.
I am addicted to love.
I was a rollercoaster of emotion and anxiety during my last relationship (something I thought was just me, in addition to my current grief over the divorce). I thought my explosive (head-over-heels love) and intense emotion was fueled by love and my big, huge heart. But, my anxiety would be more pronounced when I wouldn’t hear from him for longer than a few hours or, god forbid, an entire day. I would feel nothing short of despondent; panicky. And when his feelings didn’t seem to match my own in intensity or explosiveness, I got even more anxious and more emotional. It was exhausting. I have no idea why he put up with me.
Since we have said our respective goodbyes, I have been an anxious wreck. Mornings seem to be the hardest. I wake up, and without that good morning check-in fix, I feel anxious, undone, and completely alone.
To be perfectly honest, I feel terrified. But of what, I have no idea (a fact that is really pissing me off). I am home alone right now and literally just screamed to no one: “What the fuck are you so afraid of?!” And promptly burst into tears. Sigh.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a long, hard, uphill battle.
I have been this way for as long as I can remember. Ever since boys noticed me in the 8th grade (and I noticed them back). I suspect that the behavior took root because I grew up in a home without a father and had an emotionally distant mother who I didn’t easily connect with. I watched my father die and never had a male role model. After his death, my mother relied on me to be the other parent in the household. I was 9. Perhaps, as a result, I was left with a void, a hole, severely low self-esteem, and a debilitating fear of abandonment.
Love (and relationship) addicts are terrified of abandonment. They rely on others to fulfill them, and to make them feel happy and whole. Without their love object, they feel worthless and incomplete. This is often due to a lack of love and nurturing from their primary caregivers while growing up. The abandonment they experienced may have been emotional (i.e. – their parents were physically present but emotionally detached), or physical – one or both of their parents left, died, was ill, or absent much of the time.
Perhaps my childhood ended at age 9? I am almost 43. That is 34 years of emptiness. Holy crap.
From what I have read, true love addiction is less about the search for love and more about finding a way to control tough emotions. Going from one relationship to another without any room for grieving, mourning, or processing through a previous loss means getting to avoid feeling those tough emotions. I thought I had a failsafe way to avoid dealing with my father’s death and subsequent abandonment shit when I married my first husband.
But that relationship didn’t satisfy me, so I found another more exciting guy and married him. We lasted 16 years. I thought I would be safe forever; we had 2 kids! That meant commitment – a guarantee, a promise, right?
Holy shit. NO.
When my second marriage failed, I had no choice but to deal with the grief from my father’s death (finally) which came back in one giant terrifying matzoh ball of horror. When that train wreck came, in addition to grieving my marriage and my family, it is no surprise that I ended up in the hospital.
But wait, I didn’t I really have to deal with any of it, did I? After I got out of the hospital, my subconscious knew just what to do. I did what I had always done when a relationship ended or seemed unsatisfying. I jumped right back into online dating and I hopped right into a new romance. Surely this new and exciting person would save me and help me feel better and I would be happy?!
Again, holy shit. NO.
Since the split a year ago, I have had 3 relatively serious, sexually intimate relationships. When each one ended, I broke all over again. They were unhealthy relationships (though I didn’t think so or realize it at the time) as they were a means of getting that love ‘fix’ and avoiding the big, huge, debilitating emotions that accompany being alone (for me). I was still hiding from my demons; my inability to feel whole, complete, or satisfied with who I am as a person without that constant need for external validation. Seeking internal validation from external sources for most of my life has done so much damage I really don’t know where to begin picking up the pieces.
For me, being alone feels like I am dying. And right now, in this moment, I feel like I am dying. The longest I have ever been single was a mere few weeks when I was 19 years old. It was during that time period that I had a suicide attempt. That is how scary it felt then. It feels just as scary now but thankfully, I am 42 and have 2 beautiful children that anchor me to this world.
I know that this realization/admission is huge. I know I am on the right path and acknowledging my underlying behaviors and motivations has felt very scary but also very empowering.
Life and love feel like this big ball of tangled up shit that I have to finally sit down with, examine, and sort through. On my own. My goal is to be single for 6 months.
That is not until April. Gulp.
Am I scared? Hell yes. I am completely terrified.
I have been leaking out my power and my essence and my very self all over the damn place. It stops now.
It is time for me to go and find all of my missing pieces. And put myself back together.
I am Rebuilding Amy.
Resources on love and relationship addiction for you:
I have been having some of the most beautiful and poignant discussions around love lately. What it looks like, what it feels like, how it grows or fades, what it needs to blossom, and what it takes to make it go away.
Because let’s be honest, sometimes we do need to make it go away.
*this post might be super abstract for many of you. I have a very visual mind and will do my best to paint you a good picture with my words*
In my mind, love is a linear spectrum. It is all pink-hued and soft at the beginning; gentle, bubbly and quiet. As it progresses from left to right, the colors subtly shift from pinks to deeper pinks, (I would say mauve, but I abhor that color), to fiery reds, and deep blood-colored burgundies.
After careful consideration and lots of processing with friends, it is my opinion that this love-line, if you will, works something like this:
Everyone has their own love-line for every relationship they enter into (I am really only speaking about romantic love here). You have one whenever your heart finds someone – regardless of whether or not that love is reciprocated. It progresses from left to right and, for some people, it can start off explosive and fast. For others, it might be a slow and steady progression or perhaps a slow and steady surprise. It begins as infatuation, then perhaps a crush, then you might be struck dumb when you realize you have some serious feelings brewing for someone.
But here is the catch; new love can only progress to a certain point. That first tickle of love can only move forward on this continuum of love if it is reciprocated. If it isn’t, then alas, your love will get stuck there and you are essentially left with a heart that feels full to bursting and has no where to go.
Yeah, ouch. We have all been there and it hurts like hell.
Now, let’s say that you have that crush, you are head-over-heels for someone and that love is requited? That is when you have that forward momentum toward the far right end of the spectrum. That is when love can grow and deepen and blossom into a love that can last for years and builds itself a home in your DNA. That love can fade, but the essence of it stays with you forever. That is the love I have for my ex-husband. It will never leave – it is a part of me. And that is okay.
I need to address this aspect of ‘love’ as well: What if your love continues to move toward the right end of the spectrum without being reciprocated? It is my opinion, that perhaps you might have entered into a space of unhealthy stalker-like tendencies. I would venture to say that this is a psychological issue of some kind and you should seek professional help. I am dead serious.
So, how does a person who finds themselves stuck in the bursting, crushing-hard, love stage make it stop when that love is unrequited and has no where to go? Boundaries! Big, fat, hard, scary boundaries. The only way forward, toward letting go and healing, is to wean yourself off of the drug that is love and go cold turkey, right into a stage of zero contact.
Research shows us that falling in love is indeed akin to being on drugs.
Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and relationship researcher, conducted a series of illuminating studies on the brain chemistry of love. Specifically, she found that the same brain chemicals (that is, massive amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine ) are in play, and many of the same brain pathways and structures are active when we are falling in love and enjoying a cocaine-high.***
Consider the specific euphoric effects of smoking crack cocaine. In the short run, according to the website cocaine.org, smoking crack cocaine leads to enhanced mood, heightened sexual interest, a feeling of increased self-confidence, greater conversational prowess and intensified consciousness… “It offers the most wonderful state of consciousness, and the most intense sense of being alive [that] the user will ever enjoy.”****
You need to rid yourself of that drug that is love. Once and for all. Completely. Block a phone number if you have to, delete them from social media, steer clear if they are in your social circles. This advice may seem extreme, but for me, it has worked in the past and gotten me to a space where I was able to let that love fizzle and fade and come back around to a space of a deep and solid friendship with a former crush. But I could not have done that without the no-contact rule. It took a whopping 23 days and now he is one of my closest friends – and I don’t feel anything other than a deep, friend-love for him.
Once again, I am currently stuck on the left side of this love-line; the pink, effervescent side. It is unrequited, and I am in that space of having to back off and untangle my heart and travel backward and let go. Back to myself, alone. I love easily because I walk around with my big, open heart right on my sleeve. It finds connection in the strangest places and I have no choice but to go along for the ride. I have tried casual, I have tried slowing down, and though I did manage those things for a time, it isn’t really a comfortable state of being for me when my heart wants OUT.
But here is the thing – something I am coming to understand and accept about myself, is this:
When my heart gets involved, I don’t do casual. I don’t do half-assed. I don’t do lukewarm. I dive in headfirst, with a fearless and reckless abandon. I may be too much for some people, but the truth is, most people are not enough for me.
I was told once, by a wonderful guy, that he wanted to ‘steer’ the relationship, He told me that if I were the one to take the reins, I would drive us straight off of a cliff.
And he was right.
But I would rather have someone hold my hand and jump off with me, than go in circles, endlessly, forever.