Updated: Dec 29, 2019
If you’re here, you know the feeling of--no other word for it but literally *dying*--while staying stubbornly alive.
It hurts so much that it’s shocking that your body can actually hold that much pain at one time, and despite the 1,000,000+ times you were treated poorly and less than, all you can think of is all the times that you felt that Heaven will pale in comparison to the happy you felt, all the fun that you had, the intense love you never knew anywhere else, the glowing, glorious future you were going to have together, you and your ex- (an ex- can be anyone: a parent, a lover, a friend, relative, someone you idolized, etc.) against the world…
Why is it so hard to let go?
Why is there such an absolute, smothering certainty that love, happiness, and fun in ANY form, much less that state of perfect ecstasy that you once knew, when life had meaning (it’s only been 2 weeks but feels like *FOREVER* ago), will never, ever, EVER be experienced again?
That it is gone forever.
That the future is a vast, empty, hellish wasteland that extends out infinitely, pointless and sad and dull A.F.
Why so cursed that the best days are now behind and the future is a walking death sentence where every breath is a choking sensation and every heartbeat a painful stabbing squeeze?
I knew the feeling SO.WELL. But what I wanted to know was why I was a literal emotionally-devastated shell and why my exes (various people and relationsh*ts at different times in my life) were not only fine but seemingly happier and more successful than ever.
I was lucky enough to have a physical home, but emotionally, I had been kicked out on the street.
I had hopes and dreams, but the icon where I went to pay my respects to them, to hope on them, to feed them, to be reassured of them, my reference point, was gone.
So emotionally, the hopes and dreams were gone too.
I had pinned my whole inner being to another person that had become a symbol for everything that I valued, looked forward to, hoped for, and enjoyed in life.
Symbols are powerful. INCREDIBLY powerful.
I mean, think about it. From the ancients to present day, every religion, government, business, movement, organization uses symbols. And there is a reason for that. So much power, energy, and meaning is wrapped up into one immediately recognizable visual representation.
Human beings, it seems, are designed to respond to symbols.
Willing to die, rather than show disrespect to a crucifix or a book.
Willing to fire someone from their job if they don’t salute a flag.
Humans value real lives less than representations of intangibles.
And I had done the same thing with myself. I was valuing myself less than, killing myself over a symbol I had made up in my mind.
A symbol of trying new things.
A symbol of a new start.
A symbol of breaking away from my joyless childhood.
A symbol of having fun and being silly and listening to music while driving fast at night and doing everything else other people got to do when growing up that makes one feel alive and free that I had never done before.
A symbol of the future I always wanted but never dared to hope I would have.
A symbol of being understood.
A symbol of being loved unconditionally.
A symbol of being wild and free and never pinned down.
A symbol of finally traveling the world.
A symbol of someone always there to hold me, even at my very worst.
A symbol of someone believing in and helping me achieve my dreams instead of talking me out of them.
A symbol of being worthy.
A symbol of being beautiful.
A symbol of being impossible to abandon.
A symbol of finally winning, not losing.
A symbol of being happy.
A symbol of being lovable.
A symbol of feeling safe with someone.
A symbol of security.
A symbol of inner peace.
A symbol of not being a total failure and disappointment.
A symbol of not having to constantly try to earn love and praise.
A symbol of my deepest, most desperate needs and desires.
Putting all of this symbolism onto one person was obviously just a particularly vicious strain of pedestalling (putting someone up on a pedestal like some kind of object to venerate, an unapproachable overlord who has somehow managed to level up far and above anything anyone else could ever hope to achieve, usually with only flimsy actual evidence to support this skewed perception). It had started in childhood and kept self-sabotaging well into adulthod.
And like a vicious strain of any disease, it was so unhealthy it was nearly fatal.
Because I was so enraptured with this glorious golden glow I was bathing my exes with, I failed to notice that now that they had me, they no longer needed to “lovebomb” me.
They no longer needed to be fun.
They no longer needed to help pay for anything.
They no longer needed to take my feelings into account.
They no longer needed to try to understand me.
They no longer needed to make me feel like it was easy to love me.
They no longer needed to work at both of our happinesses.
They no longer needed to leave their bedroom hardly at all.
They no longer needed to plan for our future.
They no longer needed to ever apologize.
They no longer needed to hide that it was easy for them to walk away and not look back.
They no longer needed to hide that they liked to demean me.
They no longer needed to hide that they liked to see me beg for their love and attention.
They no longer needed to hide that seeing me at my weakest made them feel powerful.
They no longer needed to listen to what I had to say.
They no longer had to hide their open disdain for me.
They no longer had to contribute or substantially help out.
They no longer had to hide that I was nothing special to them.
They no longer had to hide that they considered me totally replaceable.
They no longer had to trust me.
They no longer needed to respect me or my things.
They no longer had to refrain from mind games.
They no longer had to hide that they get what they wanted through manipulation.
They no longer had to refrain from being cruel or using fear.
They no longer had to show up unless they felt like it.
They no longer needed to keep it a secret that they believed everyone else around them was to blame for their problems and shortcomings.
Natasha Adamo says that contradiction is the root of misery, and I can personally attest to it.
Two equally vibrant but completely mutually exclusive visions were presenting themselves to me on a daily basis.
One, my heart’s embodiment of every “impossible” wish that my heart ever made, a living emotional-wish-granting genie who was able to put a distraction-band-aid on the oozing lesion of my own shame, unworthiness, self-disgust, and unlovable-ness.
A glowing temple of everything right in the world.
That beautiful friendship that we once had was coming back right around the next bend, just waiting to start up again, if I just believed hard enough, worked enough, prayed enough, tried enough, begged enough.
The other, the actual people I was interacting with everyday, who exploited my weaknesses (and vice-versa) in a terrible tornado of toxicity.
The people who knew exactly what triggers to switch so that they could be the sane, in-control one and I could be the crazy one.
A healthy person would kick up their heels for this to be over (actually, a healthy person would pull a "These boots are made for walkin'", if you know what I mean). But when you aren't healthy, you can't stand that you aren't even good enough even for this kind of treatment because your value is tied to everything external that you have no control over, and everything is out of your control because you've been trained to believe you have no power of your own.
I felt every bit as stupid as I looked for putting up with, for desperately CRAVING this.
So why do we do it?
Because both versions of my exes were equally true in my heart and mind, and because I was completely convinced of the first version, who would be right back, I suffered everything I mentioned of the second, real version and much, much more.
And because I believed that I was worthless and unlovable, I allowed them to treat me as such.
And because they were the only place I had ever felt what I thought was fun, adventure, unconditional love, and all those other wonderful things, I believed that I would never experience them away from these people.
Because I hadn’t.
And so, they were my symbol.
So I was as hurt and miserable as ever. And my seemingly worthless, f*cked-up life seemed to stretch hopelessly on.
I was tired of the pain. I wanted to die. And I decided to.
Because of a miracle, I didn’t kill myself.
“Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with good-bye?
Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh no, not I!”
--Aretha Franklin (she knew!)
I needed answers. I searched. And I found them!
Even for months after I started loving myself, even after I accepted that they were deranged (narcissists), I still gave them chances.
Kept hoping against knowing it would not, that by some miracle, it would work out.
Healing and recovery is a long process.
I loved them still very much. And the power of the symbol, though fading, was still in my mind’s eye.
Even if you have embarrassed yourself more times than you can count, even if your dignity has taken so many hits you’re not sure you have any left, even if you keep going back and getting hurt when you *know* that you know better…
It’s going to be okay.
I shared some really intense experiences because I want you to know that I kept “rowing back to Turdville” hoping that I could rescue the turds that I loved (or find that it was all just a bad dream and they weren’t a turd after all). But in the end, I got closure and got away.
I promise, it’s okay.
Healing takes time.
We all let go at different rates.
When you are ready, it will happen.
The important thing is to recognize what is happening and keep preparing yourself. To heal. To let go. To move on. To be happy no matter what.
Walk away and be okay.
Two things happened simultaneously that really made the final difference:
The first was that my exes did me the biggest favor: they made themselves completely irrelevant to my life. Every day and in every way they showed me that I would pay DEARLY in the most soul-crushing ways for anything positive that I thought they had to contribute to my life.
The funny video text would be paid for by the pain of the obvious lack of interest they had in in my life.
The meal at a restaurant would be paid for with a nasty fight at night and the expectation that I would accept all the blame and sleep on the floor.
That a comment they didn’t like would be punished with days of complete silence on their end until they saw fit to allow me the honor of paying attention to them again.
And in those periods of silence between periods of emotional abuse I was able to see that I was happier, more peaceful, more productive, more excited without this ex- or that ex- at all.
One ex-'s last text to me was “I think I’m done talking to you for a while” and in my mind I decided, “Yes, you are”.
Their voice and image filled me with disgust. They had finally been shaped into a symbol of something else entirely. A symbol of darkness and selfishness and cruelty and immaturity and low self-esteem.
I had finally realized that they had nothing to offer that I wanted.
Nothing, certainly, worth paying for at those prices!
I was finally, finally able to ask myself, “What do I need them for?” and answer with the reality that they had made themselves completely irrelevant. They didn’t pay my bills, they made me feel awful, they got angry when I asked them why they were so hostile to me, they were openly looking for someone else (although they might come back if I “proved myself” to them, you know, maybe…whatever that meant), only called because they “were bored”, and that was the tiny fraction of the time that they were in my life at all!
Who wants those moldy, rotten scraps at the banquet of life? Why would I want that? Why would *you* want that? Why would ANYONE want that?
“At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Thinkin’ I could never live without you by my side,
But then I spent so many nights
Thinkin’ how you did me wrong
I grew strong
And I learned how to get along”
--Aretha Franklin (sing it, girl!)
The other thing that happened at the same time (and probably was why they decided to try calling me again—after all, we are energetic beings, and they were an energy vampire—“And now you’re back…from outer space…I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face…”), was that I decided to make happiness my priority.
That was it.
I decided I was tired of being unhappy, and from now on, I wanted to feel good.
YOU CAN DO THIS TOO.
I started waking up by telling myself things I am grateful for and, on the way to work, painting my goals and dreams in my head as clearly as if I was already actually living them.
I decided to start having fun and being positive at the job I hated. I found ways to make it more interesting for me personally.
I forgave myself for going into that field because it allowed me a decent standard of living so that I could better work on my dream career and see life outside of a bad home environment.
I decided to *WORK* on my dreams—at work, at home, wherever I could.
I decided to learn from my mistakes and be open about them so that I can help others!
I decided to get enough sleep so that I didn’t feel like a depressed, psychotic zombie.
Because my job sucked so much of my energy, I needed 12 hours of sleep each night during the week. I made sure to give that to myself. When I was alone and not trying to be the telephone switchboard operator of people-pleasing, I could do that.
I decided to forgive. First myself, and then those who wronged and hurt me. The past may be theirs, but it is gone away. The present is mine. And yours. It is ours!
I decided to surround myself with people who make me feel good and cheer on my dreams and understand me and make me feel accepted, loved, capable, amazing...
90% of them are mentors on the internet or in print: life coaches, crafters, decorators, happy-ending writers, musicians, Native American elders; makers, doers, ACCOMPLISHERS.
I have outgrown and no longer have room for the malicious, the critics, the jealous, the uninspired, the drama-whores, the nasty, the depressing, the negative, the defeatists, the dream-killers, the TAKERS. They do not serve my higher purpose. They are NOT HELPFUL.
Here’s the thing about having other people in your life, even if they suck: living things are stimulating.
This is why people have pets and even ant farms and houseplants.
We were designed to interact with other life. To grow together. To help each other. To make life more beautiful for each other.
There is something intensely powerful about sharing energy and experiences with another living thing:
Bit by bit… it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us. And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter. For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion. Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.
So life goes on. For years we plant the seed, we feel ourselves rich; and then come other years when time does its work and our plantation is made sparse and thin. One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade.
---Antoine de Saint-Exupery
It’s a heavy, hard thing to substitute for.
But here’s the thing:
So if you feel like your exes were your last chance for happiness, I want you to remember that the happiness and light you felt CAME FROM YOU.
You still have those things that allowed time spent with a sh*tty person to be a GREAT TIME, inside of you. All you have to do is give them to yourself now instead. And someday, when you no longer feel like you need someone else, someone worthy of you will appear!
The way to receive true love is to no longer NEED it.
Your exes were just M.S.G. A poisonous flavor-enhancer.
You don’t need a neurotoxin.
You are perfectly delicious!
For the longest time, I was convinced that my exes were my last chance for happiness because I was never so wonderfully stimulated as I was when I was with them. It couldn’t be me! I had lived with me my whole life and never felt one ounce of this kind of ecstasy!
It took a long time for me to realize that the joy in the relationship really was coming from me (especially since it often went unreciprocated):
Their jokes and stories were funny because I loved them so much and I chose to be entertained and happy and to laugh.
I was enraptured by their re-telling of the mundane things they did that day because I loved them so much that I chose to be entertained and generous with my happiness and excitement for them.
Even the most menial, every day events were more enjoyable than a day at Disneyland because I loved them so much that I deemed it was so.
I chose to see the best in them and give them the benefit of the doubt despite the way they treated me because I loved them so much and I was generous, imaginative, forgiving, and focused on the positives. All excellent traits, when not squandered.
I was so excited for our future because I loved them so much I chose to rise to the occasion with my ambition and dynamic dreams of an incredible journey of joy!
I chose to find (and pay for) memories for us to make because I loved them so much and I wanted to give us that gift.
I chose to work harder and try my best in the face of overwhelming odds because I loved them so much that I wanted to grow and sacrifice and keep trying to become the best version of me that I could be. I wanted to set a good example.
This wasn't a magical power that flowed from them, it was ME calling on MY POWER because I thought I had found a worthy conduit for it.
When I had the time of my life in that relationship, I was being my best self at the time.
Giving all that I knew to give at the time. And improving as best I could with what I knew. And making sure to learn more every day.
Just because they were a symbol didn’t mean I didn’t really love them.
What it does mean is that without the glow of my light and my joy and my love and my striving and my adoration and my unrealistic, inaccurate, idealistic glorification, the once-emotional-house that is my ex- no longer is lit up like the world’s biggest block party.
If I were to walk down that road now, I would see a dark and sad empty place:
They are still cruel and unapologetic.
They still blame other people for their actions.
They still live in a hoarder house that is filthy.
They still need the attention and validation and praise of others to feel worthy.
They are still an emotional infant.
They are still stagnant.
They still expect things to work out that just never do.
Nothing is good enough for them.
They still don’t know what they want.
The core of your ex- parent, friend, lover, or any other relation has not changed, even if their outward trappings (location, car, job, new mate, etc.) have. If they were a bummer with you, they are a bummer now.
You are the reason the awesome parts were awesome.
You are your own symbol of hope and joy and adventure and all those delicious things you provided.
You are a Child of Glory.
I am so proud of you.
We are all in this together. The bad times, and the good.
Go claim your good times, Child!
All My Love,