So, I saw an ex-boyfriend at the weekend and, after 10 years, he was:
- Still hot
- Still funny
- Still tall
- Still intelligent
- Still interesting
- Still interested
- Still bright
- Still up for trying to score fags when ours had run out (why are social smokers so under-prepared?)
This not only begs the question, how do I choose such great men, but with all that appeared to be the 'same', what was different?
Well, in a word, it was ME...
For the first time in a long time I was absolutely myself and not playing the role, of what I thought was a cooler, brighter, more successful version of me.
This is breakthrough time, people. The final ghost of my historical relationships has left the building.
I know some of you will be like “OK Lucy, get to the point. How did you do it?”
For that reason, this post requires some clear caveats, in that, you won’t find a one-size-fits-all-easy-fix meditation at the end of this but, as we go along, I will share my own frank opinion on why I think it took me so long to heal from my first-love-incendiary-device break up and beyond, and what helped me get rid of the heartbreak ghosts that followed me through my twenties.
This is about dispelling ghosts and healing. If you’ve ever experienced a free fall out of a relationship, like I have, whether it was years ago or yesterday, then this is for each of us.
Looking in the petri-dish of past relationships can be so cringey and uncomfortable but I think, if we’re going to be really honest and heal from the inside out, then it has to be done and talked about. So, here we go - even though it’s like volunteering to walk bare foot across a carpet of Lego – ouch!!
For me, I can see from putting my heartbreaks under examination that they’ve shared 3 key characteristics:
- Searching for answers
- Stalking the other party (ex)
- Olympic standard and fiercely committed self-doubt
You may have your own that have kicked you in the emotional nuts over time, but these are mine and I can finally see that there was a lesson in each of them:
Lucy the searcher…
For me, the break up whether initiated by him or I, came with a feeling of being lost and ‘at sea’.
I remember each of the final moments I was with those boys before we split for good. I felt I would leave nail marks in their skin as I was gripping their hands so tightly in each instance.
The cocktail of denial and desperation was a heady one and it was in those final moments that the heartbreak actually happened. With some I could actually hear the quiet crack and yet for others, it was a dramatic shatter - like a piggy bank full of coins dropped on a wooden floor, the noise reverberated around my life for years to come.
I would silently scream in my head “But hold on MATE, what am I supposed to do with all these feelings? How can it just be over? What did I do wrong? Why don’t you want me anymore?”
During my twenties, in the various stretches of being single, I tried finding the answers to these questions in all the wrong places – drinking too much and waaaayy too much snogging boys that could offer me nothing – so hungry was I for distraction and attention.
These addictive, extreme and escapist behaviours weren’t helped by our British drinking culture, and yet, I can’t blame the pub for any of this. Hiding from my pain kept the ghost of it alive. I never actually understood ‘it’ and then, like a big maths puzzle, I felt I wasn’t qualified to even try to get to the crux of the pain.
If I could have my time again or be granted a ‘do over’ I would, without doubt, have stared my hurt in the face so that I could just get to the bottom of it once and for all rather than pretend I was OK, that I’d be fine and, ultimately, deprive myself the chance of a quicker recovery.
Searching for answers and comfort ‘out there’ rather than ‘in here’ (taps heart) left me confused and fragile and unable to start the healing process.
If you feel something, it’s real, don’t try and rush it or ignore it or, in my experience, it’ll slow down healing.
Lucy the stalker...
After a break up I would be really good at wearing a mask and making sure everyone knew I was having an AMAZING time being single and ready to mingle. But if someone mentioned my ex’s name to me, in some cases, I’d never be far away from tears.
One of my ‘go-to’ habits was lying awake at night wondering how I could magically manifest a text or a call from him and staring at the ceiling wondering what he was doing. So not only was I emotionally wobbly, I was bloody knackered at work too, as I tried to build my career in advertising. Nobody won!
These were the hallmarks of my ‘obsessive wondering’ that was about to evolve. By the mid-naughties Facebook was in full flow, THANK GOD, and I could dabble in a bit of stalking and see what an ex was up to here and there. Online, as in real life, some of my exes were private people so it was quite annoying to check their profiles and not see anything new on their walls. This is at odds with my online habit of posting about things like, if I’m going to sneeze or not?!
In seriousness, the lesson I learned was that not talking about how I was really feeling to actual people that cared about me in the real world, meant I isolated myself from support that would have sped up my healing and killed a ghost.
Part of my rationale for my retreat to Facebook stalking was my embarrassment in still being interested in what they were doing. The other part of it was I didn’t want to bore or irritate my friends. But I should have given them more credit – I should have shared further and wider and in HD self-expression. But I withdrew and did the opposite.
Today it would be a very different story and I would have reached out and connected with my friends that could relate (they are all around us). I know friends that have joined online support groups that are impartial, free form judgment and very much a hub for love, advice and encouragement in navigating the aftermath of a relationship breakdown.
The Internet has made the world a much smaller place so reach out for connection to help your healing – a Skype call or setting up a visit to surround yourself with the love and support you need is a must.
Lucy the self-doubter...
I remember times following break-ups when I would just about be getting back on my feet and I would run into an ex or, even worse, know I was going to see them at a party or some social thing.
This led me to intensive over-thinking and a ghost would be back to chip away at the confidence reserves I’d built up. I remember saying to myself, “OK Luce, don’t f*ck this up, make a good impression. This might be your chance!”
But hold on, was I too fat? Was I funny enough? Was I intellectual enough? Was I cool enough? Was I successful enough? Did I have enough interesting things to say?
But that wasn’t me talking, that was my inner bully, steadfastly creating doubt and anxiety to keep the torture points high in the run up to an ex meet-up.
The inner bully rarely disappears all together, and yet, we can reduce its power by identifying it and preventing sleepwalking into a downward spiral of negative thought: “I see you, bully!”
When we identify the inner bully like this, we take away his power and regain our own. This has been key to me not only having better relationships with my ex-boyfriends but generally in life!
For example, let's say you’re chatting with your ex and you blurt out that your Spanx are too tight and you immediately want the floor to open and swallow you up.
You think you may look like a total idiot but you MUST challenge your bully’s version of the story: Did your ex really squirm in horror? Or was he checking his phone or ordering a drink at the bar? It’s probably the latter.
It is a NECESSARY CHOICE to be kind to ourselves and question our initial thoughts and it’s absolutely key to slowing down the bully and diluting what you might interpret as an awkward moment. A break up is hard enough without collecting the extra little sticks to beat ourselves with.
Oh and while we’re on the subject, let’s get a few things straight, you’re not fat, you are funny, you still have a gorgeous face and who gives a shit about the size of your Spanx?!
I hope my own story brings at least a tiny bit of comfort to those of you that are experiencing the fresh ghosts of relationships, and for those you on the journey to healing too, make sure you surround yourself with as much love as you can.
The patterns that slowed my healing journey down will not be the same for everyone, but what we have in common is that being aware of them gives us the chance to move forward from the hurt of it all, even if that doesn't happen overnight.
If you have any advice to share please do leave a comment below - your opinion, insight or experience could make all the difference to someone going through a difficult time.
With love always,
(Gif sources: http://www.buzzfeed.com/christianzamora/things-people-who-hate-people-know-to-be-true#4cx8zr9 // http://www.buzzfeed.com/stephanieanderson/moving-is-bullshit?sub=3434577_3730057#4cx8zr9 // http://www.buzzfeed.com/hyundai/thoughts-everyone-has-when-moving-across-the-country?sub=3423494_3636378?sub=3423494_3636378 // http://www.buzzfeed.com/richardhjames/lana-del-rey-kissed-a-load-of-her-fans-in-new-york-and-it-wa?sub=3434731_3722125?sub=3434731_3722125#4cx8zr9 // http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinchack/things-people-who-are-always-cold-understand#4cx8zr9 // http://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/questions-all-naturally-skinny-people-are-tired-of-being-a#4cx8zr9