All I Have To Do Is Feel; Day Two of the Aftermath
He was my biggest and most important metric for success, meaning that without him, I’m unmoored. I’m writing lists of values and priorities and goals now that my life is wide open, which is terrifying, exciting, and promising. But “be in a committed relationship” was what I considered success, and now I am alone for the first time in 7 years.
As an addict, one of my responses to extremely difficult situations is “What do I do about this feeling?” Fortunately, I’ve been able to replace “Drug myself” with “Use coping skills.” Drugs are a coping tool for sure; enough Xanax can solve any problem temporarily. Those hard feelings will go away, the tightly-wound spring in your chest will slowly unwind, and for a little while, you will escape your pain. That’s what addiction is: a solution. It’s a terrible, ruinous, deadly solution. Healthy coping skills, however, allow you to keep your life in one piece and live through your pain.
Pain and death are inescapable. We shouldn’t seek to avoid them, but to live in them. Your mortality is an unknown deadline. Pain and suffering will always be with you, and the better you can exist within the context of pain, the more power you will have over your life. Through awareness of your death, you become aware of your alive-ness. Through acceptance of pain, you will be gifted strength. Your reactions to difficult situations will be healthier. You will still feel fear, but when you know your strength, the fear will not overwhelm you. It will walk side by side with you, accompanying instead of enveloping.
I am afraid, I am alone, and I am grieving. I am not a paragon of a perfect person when it comes to coping. I am practicing and trying and I am failing constantly. I’m okay with that. Screwing up is part of the journey. I keep asking myself “What do I do about these feelings?” when the only real answer is, “Feel them.”
Coping skills are actually coming in as a second priority right now. Leaving a seven-year relationship and an informal marriage is devastating, even though it was my choice. I worry about him. I think about him hating me and being heartbroken. I reflexively want to text or call him to tell him a funny thing I just learned or to seek comfort and love. I compose encouraging and loving letters to him in my head, because I feel the need to give him my love and support. But I’m the one who broke his heart. I’m ground zero. There is nothing I can offer him right now other than pain.
Feeling; just feeling, is something we do automatically, and can simultaneously be something we work very hard on. Most of the time we are avoiding our feelings. Mentally ill people have their feelings shoved into the forefront of their awareness by their own brains, and for most people, that’s too much to handle.
I’ve been sitting on the bed today, binge-watching Netflix and feeling bad about it, as if the second day after the biggest breakup of my life should be full of productivity and happiness. Two days, after seven years together.
I admittedly watch way too much television, and I’m taking steps to wean myself off of it. I’m taking steps to do a lot of things. In this new phase in my life, I have new goals and new ideas about how to achieve them. I’m redefining and affirming my values. I’m remaking myself. I have to choose new metrics now that my largest one, “nurture a committed relationship”, is gone.
The two things at which I am best are living through extreme emotions and writing about living through extreme emotions. Today I am doing both. I choose to adopt this as a new metric. I am doing the things that will lead to my career as a writer who helps people and also actually gets paid. I’m improving my skills with a purpose in mind.
There is nothing new about what I have to say. Thousands of people have had my ideas before. But this is still important to me. If I am one more voice of hope in the screaming masses, that’s one more chance to reach someone who is lost or hurting. I want to publish a book, and now that my life feels way emptier than it actually is, it’s time for me to grow up and set some real goals to do real things to improve the real world.
I am painfully aware that my scope of influence is purely social; I can only help the world by spreading love and hope to the people I interact with. I can hope that my writing reaches people, but the actual love I can put out into the world is hugging my dad, thanking my mom, helping my uncle with his computer, being affirming and affectionate with friends, holding the door open at the laundromat, hugging a crying stranger at the gym and telling her that we’re all stronger than we think. That feels like a tiny, tiny amount of change. As someone who feels like I, personally, need to fix climate change, racism, sexism, rape, poverty, violence, homelessness, abuse, famine, preventable disease, war, corruption, and hatred itself, I sometimes cry over the fact that my power to help the world is so small. But I bounce back and forth between despairing at my lack of actionable options to affect change and a glowing hope that I can fulfill my potential for love-giving. I have to scale back my scope of vision until it only looks like my actual life. I am completely responsible for everything in my life, and nothing else. Everything that I can somehow connect to, I can affect, but that’s all. The rest of existence is not my responsibility. Sadly, that means I’m not single-handedly going to solve ANY of the problems in the world that I break down and cry about.
This book thing, however, is something I can affect that may help me broaden my scope of influence. It’s also a metric I can take on. I’m not sure exactly what the metric is yet. Maybe “work on the book” or “practice writing.” Notice that I’m not saying “work on the book for a year” or “practice writing for an hour a day,” although those are great goals. My metrics are more fluid. They are not black and white, or checkboxes on my to-do list. If I write or work on the book, I am doing something that is important to me, and doing things that are important to me is how I measure my daily success. But by not stipulating a time frame or deadline to my metric, I can move freely between values over time. I may accomplish a great deal of writing one day and spend the next day working on my health. Both days are successful because I am doing the things that I value as important.
On only the second day of life alone after seven years, I’m not even cycling through feelings hourly. Minute to minute, I bounce between ecstatic possibility and the most remorse I’ve ever felt. I’ve been sniffling tear-snot since The End, with new tears just about every two hours. There is a Russian proverb: “Love is not like potatoes. You cannot throw it out the window.” To me, that means that my love for my husband will always be with me, and will just change in form over time. I think I still possess love for everyone I have ever deeply loved, it just looks very different as time goes on. Chris, if you’re reading this: I will always love you.
*Note: This writing was done on the second day after I ended my marriage with an abusive person. It has now been 10 months, and currently I hate him. Hate can be motivating, and it seems to be keeping me safe for now. Grieving is so complex.