Let’s be honest. I believe separation, divorce, and relationship break-ups always have a gift to offer us, but the initial breakup period sucks. For most of us, when we’re in relationship, it feels like we’re on solid ground. It may feel comfortable and soft to walk on, or it may be rocky and painful, but at least you know where you stand. Recently a relationship with a man I loved ended. It was his call, not mine. To our credit, it ended with… love and respect. Yes, we had felt some pebbles showing up on our path together. But his decision to end the relationship knocked me off my feet and into the void.
When a relationship ends, we are inevitably launched into a void or abyss, where there’s nothing solid yet to land on. This is when the emotional rollercoaster goes on overdrive. Falling into the void feels disorienting and we don’t know where or when we’re going to land on our feet again.
Living in the void is a critical time to really dance and flow with our feelings. My own loss of relationship reminds me how powerful our emotions are. We feel the grief, sadness and loss not only of the person, but the dreams we had and the opportunities that were not yet realized. Even those who initiate the break-up are not immune from this, although the degree of their emotional suffering is different than those who were left behind.
I was reminded of one of my children’s favorite stories when they were young. It was about a family going on a bear hunt. Along their way they encountered obstacles like a swampy marsh or dark forest. Inevitably the conclusion was “You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it. Oh, no! We have to go through it!” Our healing comes from going through and flowing with our feelings, not bottling them up or denying them.
There is discomfort in the void, often bordering on pain. Literally, our hearts ache. It seethes with anger. It curls up in despair. Yet it’s so important to take time in this vacuum. Emotions live on a spectrum, and when we cap the downside risk of pain, we simultaneously cap the up-side reward of joy and love. If we rush the process of grief we risk leaving some unresolved pain and issues within us that will make an encore appearance in a future relationship.
Recently one of my children developed an infection. It stubbornly grew into a swollen, painful abscess below the skin. Eventually the toxins built up to the point where the abscess burst, releasing the infection in the form of pus. It was the release the doctor and I were hoping for, but it was nonetheless painful. Yet to complete the healing process for my child, it wasn’t enough. The doctor had to make a small incision in the seeping wound to make it bigger. He had to probe within the wound with medical instruments and disinfectant to ensure all the pus was indeed leaving my child’s body. The wound had to be intentionally left open for a few days to ensure that everything drained out so that the healing would be complete.
Experiencing this drama with my child while I am living in the void of my relationship break-up was a great illustration for me. Just as my doctor selected from various medical instruments to probe my child’s wound, here are some recommendations for how to probe gingerly into our own wounds to ensure a complete healing.
- Use Your Breath
One strategy I’ve been using effectively is to welcome and breathe into my wounded heart. I am celebrating each wave of grief or sadness as a sign of how willing I was to open my heart in love. Each day I feel my heart growing stronger, more able to love myself and others.When you feel a whisper of strong emotions starting to come up, make sure you take deep, conscious breaths. Shallow breathing doesn’t allow sufficient oxygen to come into the body and creates stress. Deep belly breaths help to quiet the ego-mind that may begin to start racing with thoughts in an effort to avoid the pain. Breathing deeply while having an emotional moment will help you digest the feelings and be able to restore a sense of calm and groundedness more quickly.
- Your Journal is Your Gauze Pad
A journal is like a clean, sterile gauze pad for a seeping wound. A journal is a safe place to collect all of those internal thoughts and feelings that must be released. I would even argue that life in the void requires a journal. Otherwise the unreleased feelings and toxic thoughts that are created in relationship break-up simply continue to run rampant within your consciousness. It is also the doorway to connecting with the wisdom and gift of why you have manifested this situation in the first place. There are no rights and wrongs about how to journal properly. That’s just the ego-mind squawking. Just give journaling a try.
- The Medicine of Music
Music is a powerful tool to explore and help you release emotion. One particular tune or lyric can touch your heart to either uplift you or stir the pot of sadness and grief. If you feel numb and don’t know how to jump-start the release of your emotions, music can do it. Some of my favorite tunes to connect to and come to peace with those sad emotions include “The Power of Good-Bye” by Madonna, “Fix You” by Coldplay and “What Goes Around Comes Around” by Justin Timberlake. In terms of connecting to anger, there’s nothing like “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette to help you feel it. Feel free to add your own personal favorites by posting a comment here on my blog.
- Celebrate Your Tears
Yes, this is the time for tears. No need to bottle them up or keep a stiff upper lip. Talk it out with a friend or out loud to yourself and enjoy a good cry. I am training with renowned relationship expert and author, Dr. Barbara De Angelis, and she offered a beautiful analogy for feelings. She explains that feelings flow like water. When we bottle them up, resist them or deny them, it’s like we are freezing the water into chunks of ice around our heart. The tears we shed when we release our emotions are simply the ice around our hearts melting. Celebrate your tears not as a sign of weakness or neediness, but as a sign you are honoring your heart and growing stronger.
- Give Yourself Time
Break-ups are painful and people struggle to dodge that pain. Quick new relationships, addictions, gossiping and ignoring personal health are ways we try to distract or numb out the pain. We can’t be too quick to heal the wound and need time to heal from the inside out. Sometimes our loved ones, hating to see us in pain, may urge us to move forward quickly and out of the void. But the void is the place where we will find the wisdom of the relationship breakdown, so we need to take the time to do our own inner work.