“Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.” ~Unknown
“This is it,” I thought. I finally found the man I had been waiting for.
Of course, it had taken me thirty-nine years and a painful divorce from my husband of ten years. But that was all worth it, I told myself, because it had led me to the man who seemed to see, understand, and love me the way I had always hoped someone would.
Things were blissful in beginning. We made breakfasts together, took romantic vacations to exotic locations, we fantasized about buying vacation houses. Our developing story read like a fairy tale.
But this fairy tale did not have a happy ending. The once-sweet Prince Charming eventually became cold, distant, and abusive—a man in constant pursuit of new “shiny objects” to distract him from the remnants of his troubled past.
I was that shiny object…until I wasn’t shiny anymore.
The clock struck midnight, and I was left with a broken heart.
There was a firestorm of mixed emotions after the breakup: betrayal, rage, sadness, and disappointment. I wanted someone to wake me up and tell me it was all just a bad dream. I wanted Prince Charming to return so I could feel those loving feelings again!
I spent countless hours mentally rehashing the details of the story, torturing myself, trying to see precisely why things went wrong.
This fruitless nonsense only made me angrier and sadder. Then, one day, amidst the noise of the fruitless nonsense, I heard a gentler voice inside me whisper, “Be patient. The most painful relationships can be the best teachers.”
After I heard that voice, I began to let myself consider that, just maybe, this heinous experience was serving a benevolent purpose I had yet to discover. And that’s when the learning began.
I recognized that I had been so willing to make someone else the focal point of my life because, deep down, outside of a romantic relationship, I had no idea who I was, let alone how to love myself.
I had spent so much time after the breakup focusing on my ex-boyfriend’s shortcomings because I was not ready to see that, in some ways, I was just like him.
I spent the majority of my adult life bouncing from one relationship to another because I told myself that “happiness” was just around the corner; all I needed was the right partner.
The pursuit of Mr. Right kept me at a safe distance from pain I spent a lifetime avoiding: the acrimonious divorce of my parents at age thirteen and subsequent abandonment by a mother, who left an emotionally unavailable father to raise my sister and me.
It turns out that betrayal, rage, sadness, and disappointment were actually remnants of my own past; feelings I thought romantic love would magically erase.
The harder we work to escape unwanted parts of ourselves, the greater the likelihood we will choose relationships that help us find these unwanted parts.
I thought a relationship with Prince Charming meant I would never have to feel the pain of grief, but what I really needed was to learn how to welcome grief. The feelings associated with grief are our body’s way of inviting us to honor and grow from loss.
When I decided to stop running away from my feelings, it didn’t take long to discover that avoiding psychic pain is like running in front of an avalanche: When we stop running, all of the once-forbidden feelings cascade over us with such a great force, it can feel as if we will be crushed by their weight.
At first, it felt like I was dying. I cried with such intensity and regularity that I began to refer to these daily crying spells as “taking out the trash.” The only problem was, there was so much trash that I feared this chore would never be finished.
I attended weekly therapy sessions, furiously wrote in my journal, and confided in trustworthy friends.
Through this, I slowly (and I mean slowly) started to see that the life I once thought of as empty was actually quite full. I had my health, two healthy children, a successful therapy practice, the ability to play and sing music, and a village of supportive friends.
I was so busy searching for happiness outside of myself that I couldn’t see that the makings of happiness were already there, waiting for my own recognition.
Looking back, what initially felt like a death was actually a rebirth. All of my feelings, even the ones I feared were too destructive, deserve to be acknowledged and felt.
When we welcome our feelings into awareness, we are taking the first brave step toward accepting all of who we are. This acceptance is the beginning of unconditional self-love.
Working through grief eventually yielded a life of creativity and abundance that my once fearful heart never knew was possible!
Bonds with old friends became stronger, I started writing more, and I began to discover activities and interests, both new and old, that brought me joy. Eighteen months after the breakup, I noticed I wasn’t just surviving each day any more; I was actually living a pretty decent life—by myself.
None of this would have been possible had it not been for the blistering heartache of betrayal and loss.
So, if you are in the shadowy aftermath of loss and it feels as if you are dying, perhaps you are really in the process of being reborn. It is your own inner wisdom that has led you to where you are, so trust it.
Though you may feel awful now, remember this is how you feel, it is not who you are. Feelings are temporary energy states that, when given permission to exist, like the weather, move in and out of our conscious field.
There is no point in fighting your feelings because they will only scream louder until you hear them. Why make them work that hard?
As you progress through your own journey, gently remind yourself that everything you seek, you already have. You may feel broken right now, and that’s okay. It is important to remember that all of the pieces are there, waiting to be put back together in the form of a stronger, wiser you.
You might stumble along the path, and that is also okay. Life isn’t like the Olympics—we don’t have to perfect the routine or stick the landing—we just have to keep showing up, trying our best every day to travel our own path at our own pace.
So, I invite you to ask yourself, “How could this pain be an invitation to grow?” If you are patient and listen closely, the answer will find you. It might be slow and subtle at first, but it will come.
About Jill Gross
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, writer, and mother of two who lives and practices in Seattle, Washington. To find out more about Dr. Jill, please visit www.drjillgross.com, her blog (http://www.drjillgross.com/blog), Facebook (Dr Jill Gross), or Twitter (https://twitter.com/drjillgross).