Or...How a new tattoo and getting the fuck out of my apartment is helping me navigate the grief and healing process after the ending of a 7 year relationship, while acknowledging that none of it is a substitute for time.
Staring at the walls of the apartment that my ex and I so excitedly picked out together three years ago, sitting on the futon where he looked at me and told me it was over, I felt my heart break all over again.
"You're living in the tomb of your relationship," my friend Shannon sagely observed to me. She was not wrong. That first week was the hardest. Everything reminded me of him--of us. The bed he bought (that we had SO much sex in), the table and chairs where we ate so many meals that I'd cooked. Christ, I burst into tears the first time I made chocolate chip pancakes because they were his favorite. I went through the post-breakup steps. I dutifully deleted all of our text messages, pictures, and playlists. I took down all of the pictures and cards. I took off the necklace he'd given me back in 2017 to signify that I belonged to him. I even took our sex painting off the wall above my bed. Everything went into a box in my closet. Except the sex painting, that just hangs out along the wall in the closet. In place of those things I hung up cards from friends and family, photos and paintings I'd wanted to hang but couldn't find the wall space. There's so much more space now. It's a confusing combination of freedom and emptiness.
I had the good sense (and thankfully, the resources,) to start planning trips for myself almost immediately. I knew it would be good to get out of Long Beach and remind myself that I could still see beautiful things in amazing places with people who love me. Here's where I went from early April to early June:
Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Clarita, CA
Frazier Park, CA
Bel Air, CA
Joshua Tree, CA
...And that's not including the week over my birthday (April 21st) that my dad and brother came to visit me in SoCal. Having so many trips in an 8 week period did a couple of things:
- First, it got me out of the house, which was exactly what I needed. Every time I landed in a new state, I felt rejuvenated. Different people, different climates, different accents, different scenery. But the consistent thread was feeling loved, celebrated, and welcomed. I didn't realize how badly I needed to feel cherished by the people in my life. Big hugs and smiles when my friends would welcome me into their homes. Delicious food that delighted my senses. Stunning scenery that left my mouth hanging open and my eyes wide with wonder.
- Second, it created a sense of greater distance from the breakup than had actually passed. When you visit so many places in such a short amount of time, especially after not traveling for so long, it makes it seem like it's been months instead of weeks. That created some much needed space.
- Third, I was able to flirt with new people in new places and get some of my slut needs met, like when I met a guy at the nude beach in Oahu who had my name tattooed on his ribcage, so I took that as a sign and gave him a hand job while we shared a joint. Seriously, you can't make this shit up.
I even got a new tattoo--partially to remind myself that I am a badass and I can tolerate more pain than I think I can, and partially to mark a new chapter in my life with art that makes me smile when I look at it and reminds me (and anyone else who sees it) that I am a fucking witch.
On the other hand.
In the past few days especially, I’ve been having a missing Ben/missing our relationship (or at least the parts of it that I enjoyed) experience. I can recognize that this is wistfulness—it’s nostalgia in the Brene Brown sense*. I am romanticizing the parts of the relationship that were good and that is what I’m longing for. I’m remembering car karaoke, I’m remembering how good it felt to have that deep connective sex, I’m remembering all of the processing conversations where it really did feel like we were getting somewhere. So I know cognitively that what I am longing for is not something that is actually real. It was the fantasy. It was the wonder and the mystery of being in a relationship with someone who has complementary wounding. It was all of the ways it hit on my abandonment wounds and need to be chosen. Not to mention my ego around being a witch and intuitive and constantly thinking “Look! This is a sign, and this is a sign, and this is a sign.” Realizing I’ve been assigning meaning to these intuitive hits instead of just noticing them. That’s what I did for so much of Ben’s and my relationship. We cast so many spells for security and commitment. We both had so many flashes of understanding seemingly downloaded from Source Consciousness itself. I wanted the signs to point to the sanctity of US and our destiny path and so I interpreted them accordingly. Confirmation bias at its finest. And here we are. The illusion of control shows up in so many different ways. It’s sneaky like that.
So I’m driving to these places we used to go and I’m listening to these songs we used to sing and I’m getting these little heart punches here and there, and thinking to myself “God I miss those things. I wonder if he misses me. I wonder if this is as hard for him as it is for me at times.” The truth is, it doesn’t fucking matter. Whether it’s hard for him or not, whether he’s relieved that it’s over or regrets it deeply, it doesn’t matter because it IS over. But the fact that I notice myself falling into this romantic, wistful, “if only” place, allows me to recognize it largely as ego and nostalgia.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to see all of that with kindness and not judge myself for it. I’m trying to be compassionate to that part of me, like “Oh, sweetheart. Yes, this is hard. This is still hard. You are still grieving. It’s a process, it’s going to take time. Nothing that your friends say, nothing you do, like going out or going on trips, going to therapy—none of it is going to erase the pain. It makes it a little bit easier in some ways. But at the end of the day, the only thing that is going to heal this is time. It’s just going to take time. Just like healing my new tattoo takes time. It’s a wound. There’s not much I can do to speed up the process. I can give it a good environment to heal in. I can avoid doing things that actively make it worse. But ultimately it just needs to take as long as it takes—that’s how healing works. So the tattoo is a good tangible reminder of the temporal qualities of healing.
This doesn't have a tidy conclusion. Healing and grief are ongoing journeys. But in case my self-reflection is beneficial to your understanding of your own healing journey, I offer it to you here. I hope it helps you feel less alone, if nothing else.
*Brene Brown's definition of nostalgia: “Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.”