On a snowy winter day in early 2010, I got an email from my ex-boyfriend Mike, seeking sympathy because his 26-year-old girlfriend told him on his 43rd birthday that she was leaving him and moving to Utah. Fortunately, I was alone in the office that day, because the news struck me like a sucker punch to the gut and I spent the remainder of the afternoon fighting back tears, mostly unsuccessfully.
It wasn’t that his girlfriend was leaving him (although this was clearly the stunner for him).
It wasn’t that he was seeking sympathy from me, a woman he’d treated so poorly.
It was that he was actually over me.
In hindsight and with the benefit of intelligence unclouded by misplaced love, I can see that of course he had been over for me some time (and that’s assuming that his feelings were ever deep enough to require “getting over”). He had been in a relationship with her almost from the day ours had ended. Never mind that the last time I’d heard from him he’d been dismissive and patronizing when speaking of her. He was with her, not me, and that should have screamed volumes. But it didn’t.
Sure, I was dating and my contact with Mike was limited to the occasional text or email, usually initiated by me. Sure, I could articulate all the reasons that he was a Grade A Jerk and why I was far too good for him. But deep down, I kept waiting for him to be the guy I thought he could be. I kept waiting for my Hollywood ending — you know the one! — where the guy comes to his senses and rushes to the girl to declare what a fool he’s been and how much he loves her. Yes, somewhere, in the recesses of my heart, hidden even from my own consciousness, I was still waiting for him.
But that day changed everything.
I can’t adequately describe how I felt that day, watching as his emails kept coming with more details of their relationship and his heartbreak, as stark truth assaulted my eyes. I felt dizzy and nauseated. I sincerely wondered if maybe I would faint. When the postman came into the office with our mail, I discovered I couldn’t speak.
Moving through that pain was some of the worst emotional grieving I’ve ever done. It sounds so ridiculous to me now — that I expended so much energy on a man so unworthy of it! — but the heart is a crazy organ that doesn’t play by the rules and has no regard for common sense or practicality and no sense of proportion. Sometimes our grieving is as much about our contextual circumstances as about the tragedy that has struck our heart, and that was the case that snowy and cold day.
The pain of Mike’s revelation opened me up. It blew me apart in ways that went far beyond my feelings or desires for him. It was like a catalyst that brought down a little house of cards in my psyche. Suddenly, I was grieving not only for the loss of my dream relationship with him (indeed that pain was quickly overshadowed), but for the expectations I’d held for myself and my life post-divorce. I had to accept that I wasn’t going to segue effortlessly from my marriage into the relationship of my dreams. I wasn’t going to move seamlessly from owning my small business into a professional legal position that could more adequately support me and my children. None of this was going as I had planned. Then, before I’d rummaged through that psychic junk, another wave of reality hit me — the remaining anger and disappointment and grief I felt over my marriage. I had thought I was done with that, but here it was, bitter and sour all over again. I felt buried under my own sense of loss and confusion and foolishness. For weeks I foundered, seeking to right myself and find some sense of equanimity.
And then it came. And it was beautiful.
Those final tears over Mike were a crucible, forging a whole new perspective for me. It was a watershed of feelings I’d been holding onto that weren’t serving any useful purpose and were holding me back from moving into my next potential. In the months that followed, my life changed. Light and laughter were rediscovered in greater quantities. New possibilities appeared. My life began to evolve into a life that was more healthy and sustainable. After Mike’s revelation and the subsequent tears and soul-searching, I emerged better prepared to actually have the life I wanted, rather than some Hollywood-insprired imitation.
Sometimes, the worst pain gives birth to the best new beginnings, because in passing through that suffering, we emerge completely clean and unburdened, having shed it all through the tears and grief. Indeed, a dear friend of mine likens those moments to childbirth itself — pain so raw and powerful and grinding, that eventually yields to a softness and joy unsurpassed.
I think it is altogether too easy to lose ourselves in the darkness of temporary uncertainty, grief, insecurity, or loss. It can be so hard to see the sunshine on the horizon of whatever storm we’re navigating. But on this day, a solstice, a time and season of rebirth and increasing light, I am resolving to work harder next year to not lose myself in the imagined permanence of that darkness. Whatever dark moments 2013 brings will eventually pass, just as the solstice comes in the dead of winter to begin our long, slow march toward spring. So, today, join me in giving yourself the gift of hope and peace and light. Let go of whatever is holding you back and imagine a life without those burdens. Today is a chance to take one more step — no matter how small! — toward that life. Is that not a small thing compared to the fact that our 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000-ton planet, spinning through space, will somehow shift on its axis once again?
Think on that one.
Happy Solstice. 🙂