I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
4:58 am. 5am.
i finally washed your smell off of my pillows tonight.
then i died a little.
I guess I was a little more poetic and cryptic back in those days. Breakups will do that to you. Thinly-veiled screams for attention disguised just enough to explain it away to poetic license. It’s funny, when I get bored late at night I will go back and read hidden blogs that I kept. Some cringe worthy, a few I’m surprisingly impressed at the quality I left behind. Words locked away behind passwords hidden from everyone.
I remember that night clearly. After we ended our three year relationship that hit me so hard I was completely numb for an entire month before the pain truly set in, well, save for the brief moment after I walked through the door and changed my Facebook relationship status to single where that stomach-dropping feeling of dread set in. I distinctly recall sitting on my couch certain that there was absolutely no way I could possibly love someone again anywhere near as much as I loved her. I remember the tears welling up in my eyes and my breath becoming shorter. It was as if I was thrown in a cold bath. In retrospect, I can now identify it as the beginnings of a panic attack but at the time, I was sure I was dying out of the fear and anxiety of being alone forever.
Through my travels and interactions, I have come to realize that I am not alone. I have mentioned this moment countless times to people over coffee or standing in a room doing my best to convince a bunch of strangers to buy my books. Afterward, I have had people tell me how they could empathize with that very same feeling of dread. Of course it is always comforting to know that I am not alone, but it is awful knowing that others can identify.
That hopelessness is incapacitating. It is a knock to your self worth that no amount of drinks or sex can build back up. Luckily, I was old enough and had been through enough breakups to anticipate the mandatory time it would take to get back to relatively normal. I would have to wait years before I felt completely healthy and healed and that the best thing to do was to let the pain in and take it. Write about it. Talk about it. Share it with anyone who would listen to me talk about the dread. And that fear is genuine. While those words I wrote back in 2009 may have screamed, “Someone please come save me,” the terror was all too real.
One month after it was official, I smelled my pillows one last time then tossed them into the washing machine. And I know it sounds funny, but it is the little things like washing a pillow case or changing your online status to single that truly do make a difference. We laugh about how they are perceived to be so insignificant but they are real to people like us. Just because no one writes romance novels about the painful reality of clicking “single” doesn’t mean those moments aren’t significant little steps forward in letting go. And sometimes we don’t want to let go. My hair gets greasy quickly and my pillows get gross. I should have washed them weeks before but I kept her pillow on her side of the bed so it would be the last thing I smelled before I rolled over and clutched my chest wondering where she was in the world.
Truth was, I knew it was over for good and that there was no going back. Not washing my pillowcases was simply me doing my best to stave off the inevitable. I simply didn’t want to let go. And that is fine. We all mourn in our own way. But what is crucial to the health of our heart is that we do our best to not revel in what we lost. To acknowledge the pain, breath it in, let it wash over us, then pick ourselves up and move forward. Because you’re not going to get clean by soaking in your own tears. And that was what I did. I moved forward and I wrote a book about it. Sure, there were times when I wanted to die and it took almost a month before I could even laugh at a movie, and even then I felt guilty. As if having fun was somehow disrespectful to what we had.
Look, I wish I knew the words to tell you how to make break ups easier. I don’t. If I did, I’m sure I would be a millionaire. But I do know this – I lived through it. Crying public outbursts while lying facedown on a bridge, cursing god and the world… but I managed to smile again. Then laugh. Then not need the distractions and be okay with my own thoughts in the dark and eventually, to the point where I began feeling good about myself and excited to find someone who would be excited and appreciate the love I had to give. And if I could make it through the ugly night, the despair, and the dread – so can you. Because you’re smart and talented and sexy in your own weird way and someone out there is going to be fucking stoked to sit on a couch with you and play with your hair while you watch awful reality television. And the thought of that old terrible breakup will become an afterthought. An interesting anecdote you will write about one day to use as an example in an article about breakups and it will feel like it happened to someone else and then you will realize that even the worst and darkest moments of your life are somehow manageable. Because you’re stronger than you think you are.