When we speak about endings, especially relationship ending, we tend to encourage ourselves and others to 'move on'. But what part of the experience is meant to be moved on from?
Back in February, I had been having dreams about my relationship. The one that ended about six months ago now. One morning, I woke up from a particularly vivid one, and I felt like crying.
I had thought I was passed this. Passed the point of revisiting a lost reality in dream space. Passed crying about love that isn't mine anymore. I really did. I thought my grief wasn't going to be painful anymore.
Like any lesson, though, it will come around again until you learn it fully.
I had heard from a lot of people and many podcast hosts who have had direct experience with relationship ending that grief is a multi-stage process that often brings the experience full circle, more than once. I thought it was interesting, but I felt distanced from it, like my process was somehow different. I thought it wouldn't happen to me. I felt pretty sure of it.
I was wrong.
The truth, undeniably, is that grief comes around more than once for everyone. It is not a linear process to work through. It does not operate under logic, or in a way that says a certain amount of time will assuage it. That is simply not how it works. And as of a few months ago, I know that truth in a very deep way and called it home.
My grief, while it hadn't left me entirely, it was just in a different stage, had returned me to a sad feeling of loss all over again. No, it didn't feel like the hours after the break up. But I didn't feel like I was more than a few inches from tears when I thought about what was no longer in my life anymore, either.
In fact, I had cried a lot over the few days that followed. I read over the journal entry that I wrote about our Closing Ceremony, and tears were in free flow. It took no effort to imagine myself sitting there with him, in a space I knew so intimately, hearing such beautiful words about myself and about our relationship and all the gifts we gave each other.
And then suddenly, it's a Thursday night and I'm sitting on the couch next to him, listening to Jason Isbell's 'Southeastern' album on vinyl. I can still hear exactly the way it sounded through the speakers.
The memories were able to flow through for me for as long as I would allow them to. And they made me feel the loss all over again. How could they not? It was a beautiful relationship between two very wonderful and loving human beings.
But it also showed me that I was letting the grief and the loss have their say and was continuing to engage in the process.
When grief comes around strongly again, it means that it is active and being worked through. This is a positive thing. It is really hard because it seems to come out of nowhere. But that is the nature of grief. That is why experiencing it is so profound.
When grief, loss and sadness come up for me, they are welcomed. I pause whatever I am doing to feel it wash over me and take me along down the flow of the river. It is not being buried, I am not turning away from it. I am not disappointed or annoyed with myself for "not being further along by now". My experience is fully my own, and there are no metrics to measure it by.
It just simply is. And by allowing it, I allow space for myself, too.
If you are sitting in a grief space, especially now as realities worldwide continue to crumble and shift, just know that you are so seen and understood. I'm there with you, wherever you may be. And we are in this together. Grief can be isolating, but it does not have to be that way. It is a universal experience that touches us all at some point, and more than once.
Grief Comes Around More than Once
We are emotional beings, and grief is a very heavy, complex emotion. It is no wonder, then, that it takes up a lot of time and space in order to be given its full dues. Especially when we are grieving the loss of something so beautiful and so powerful, such as a love that has left our lives, we need to be extra kind and patient and compassionate with ourselves.
When we take time to integrate grief and loss, we are also taking time to learn from it. What is our grief here to teach us? What part of ourselves is hurting most in this moment?
Grief is also a physical experience as well. Parts of our physical and energetic bodies will feel the loss more strongly than others, depending on the day and time.
Who are we becoming as we work through and rise from our broken open state of loss and grief? These are not questions that can receive a static answer. They evolve as we work through our process. That is why it so important to encourage ourselves to keep our grief dynamic and welcome it as part of our lives for now.
It will heal in time and space. I am healing, I am learning, I am growing. And I am allowing.
And if I need to cry and sit in the space that is now open from a new loss, then I do that. Because it is welcome. It is ok to do that. Crying is a form of release. Let it be so.
It is human conditioning to not want to sit in a place of discomfort for any length of time; whether that means not sitting next to someone on the train who smells strongly, rushing through a run-in with a former friend or colleague, or quickly eating the part of the dinner that is least appetizing. Escaping discomfort is something we, especially in the West, have grown, well, perfectly comfortable with.
So it is no surprise that we have coined a phrase that embodies the practice of skipping the discomfort and, yes, moving on from it.
The problem is, though, when we don't take the time to sit with our emotions, however many there are and however uncomfortable they may be, we ultimately do not give ourselves our best shot at healing and, from that healing, a better way forward. When we stick to the pattern of 'moving on', we lose out on the ability to create something different for ourselves.
Instead of 'moving on' from it and repeating patterns, when we take the time to move through a loss, like a break up, or loss of dreams or of reality, we are offering ourselves the time and space we need to feel all of it.
All of it.
And if that sounds overwhelming, it is meant to. Breakups and endings don't happen so that we can skip away from them. Giant holes in our lives aren't created so we can move away from them as quickly as possible. They are there to teach us to lean in and find a part of ourselves that is now being presented to us by the newly created space from an ending.
And that requires us to move through what is there. And, truthfully, there will be a lot. Especially for those of us who have built a lifetime of memories with one person, and that person is no longer there, it will be an excruciating practice in the beginning to just be with what is coming up. For all of us who built our dreams and visions up in our minds and were so hopeful about them coming into reality sooner than later, it will be an enormous challenge to let them go and grieve their loss.
At times, it may even feel impossible to face. But we can absolutely do this, because chances are, there are people around us who have been there, too. And they have hands we can hold, and ears we can speak into. And, bonus when they can just sit with us and let us be, let us cry, let us move through, let us release. They will hold space and hold us up in our pain while we also do the same for ourselves. (Even it is done virtually)
Many of us have spent most of our lives avoiding big emotions or practicing 'moving on' from things, people, and situations that have hurt us. That is ok, that is what we felt we needed to do to survive. But now, we can know better and we can do better for ourselves. Because when we do better, we live better. We create our lives better, we know what we want better. We know who we are better.
And there is no better teacher about who we are than our own pain. When we go to the depths with ourselves, we see it all. And then we can love it all. Especially when we have lost love, this is a powerful reclamation of the self, and a powerful practice to keep us rising strong from devastation and heartbreak.
So what does moving through look like? It looks like stillness. It doesn't need to be physical stillness, but sometimes it does. Mostly, it means not using distractions, excuses, attachments, or habits to keep any of the big emotions at bay. So if the historical cure to a broken heart has been 'to get back on the horse', sit this rodeo out. Hang with yourself, you are awesome company, maybe you just haven't realized that fully yet. Or hang with people who will keep your spirit safe while you recover. If there is a drug of choice always handy when things get to be 'too much' that helps 'take the edge off', clear it out of your life for a time. Seriously. No substance is going to bring us where we want to be--which is free of pain. It just numbs it for awhile, and makes it come out in wonky ways later.
When we don't take the time to move through our painful experiences and invite the whole of it in, we are practicing emotional avoidance. So, moving on with our lives means we will continue to attract more emotional avoidance to us, because we always attract what we are a match for. Always. Emotional avoidance will catch up with us at some point, at the latest when the next big change causes us to feel pain and loss all over again.
Each time, though, is a fresh invitation to go there with ourselves. To really get into it this time. To really show up for how hurt we are, and to hold space for ourselves through the process of moving through and mending. It is not easy. But really, it is so beautiful.
"But," we might say, "How can I move through anything when everything I see and do is a constant reminder of this person/this life I used to have?" That's a good question. And there isn't a one-size-fits-all-scenarios answer. But it starts with getting comfortable with the discomfort of the space we are in now.
If we are used to sharing a space with someone who has left us, we will need to clear that space so that it can be repurposed to fit our purpose. If there are places or things, like music, that remind us of the person that is gone, we need to take a hiatus from those things for a little while. That is the practice of giving ourselves space. If we lost a partner who has been with us for a long portion of our lives, we will need to greet the idea that we are now solely calling the shots for our lives. And perhaps it is time to focus on ourselves alone, instead of incorporating anybody else's wishes or plans for us into our lives.
No matter what the loss we are experiencing is or looks like, there are always teachings that can be gained from it. In the case of relationship ending, part of our work in the process is to look back over the relationship and evaluate, in a detached and loving way, what went well and what did not go so well. How did we show up? How did we handle conflict? How were our other relationships during that time? What would we have done differently, and what will we do differently in the future?
It is such a pivotal time to be expansively curious.
That way, we are taking the wonderful memories alongside the not so great ones, and we are learning from them all equally. From this, if we intend to call in partnership in the future, we have a much stronger idea of what we want it to look and feel like, and what is no longer acceptable or ok for us, based on prior experience.
This is a tremendously impactful practice. It allows us to take ownership for all the ways we engaged, or didn't engage, in relationship. And then, we can do the internal work to realign ourselves with who we want to be for the future.
When we are moving through pain, we get to be the inventors of our new reality. We get to decide where we go from here. We also get to be the curators of our own experience. None of this means we have to drown in our sorrow. That is not moving through. That is staying stuck and is a different type of avoidance--the avoidance of what has happened.
The first step to moving through is acceptance. Naming the emotion. "This has happened now, and I am so heartbroken and devastated. It isn't what I wanted, and I don't know how I can ever imagine myself having a different life than the one I had, but at least for now, I am accepting that this change is happening to me." That's how we can start with ourselves. That is how I started with myself after my break up. I repeated phrases very similar to that to myself many times throughout the days in the beginning. And yes, the days were long. The nights were even longer.
But it does get better.
It gets astonishingly better when we take the time to integrate our painful experience into the person we are bringing into the future--ourselves. Integrating our pain is what takes us to the next level when we are ready to begin the next chapter of our lives. Because we sat in the ashes and the aftermath and all the brokenness and disappointment and we have found ourselves to be whole and complete in the process. And we have met our pain and looked it in the eye, and somehow still found joy in our lives, too. And that is why we move through.
We move through to meet the better, more expansive life that is waiting for us on the other side of the dark night. Grieve your dreams, those visions you had hoped would come into concrete reality. Grieve the losses and the pain that comes with them. Cry, and with your tears, release all of it. Make some space. But take as long as you need to. Because what is on the other side of grief and loss is, ultimately, a new, expansive reality.