How to claw your way back from heartbreak
To loosely quote Stevie Nicks in the Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Landslide’, I had built my life around someone. And when that someone was gone, my world as I knew it, spun off its axis...
When my marriage fell apart four years ago I actually thought I might die. I’m not being overly dramatic here — I absolutely believed that without my husband, best friend and the father of my child by my side I simply couldn’t ‘do life’ anymore. I didn’t sign up to be a single parent. This wasn’t in the fine print when we decided to walk down the aisle (well I walked, he met me there; as if that doesn’t smack of symbolism…). This cannot be my life! *Queue three year tantrum*.
The aftermath of infidelity leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth, not unlike coriander — it taints everything it touches. And for anyone who knows me, they know how much I despise the devil’s herb. I felt like I was chowing down on sh*t sandwich after sh*t sandwich — day after day after day. And after a while it became somewhat of an acquired taste, as I found myself wallowing in the ‘comfort’ of the trauma. It had become my new normal to bemoan my lot in life and the injustice I had been victim too. Yikes — even writing that makes me feel pathetic. Something had to shift. So I did what any sane person would do — I started dating again. Yep, great decision Lauren. Solid approach. Very healthy. Well done you. What followed was a few years of more lessons, ups, downs and in-betweens.
And in a rather long-winded and ‘oversharey’ way I’d like to offer those lessons gained from the 2015 landslide that hijacked my life as I knew it, and the future I had laid out in front of me.
Lesson #1 — Don’t make rash or rushed decisions
A big learning for me was to try and let things emerge rather than treating everything as an emergency. Avoiding angry texts sent in haste was a big one. In the end I resorted to turning my phone off at night as the nice good feeling hormones would dip, meaning less self control after the sun went down — kind of like a relationship werewolf, morphing into a big, hairy, angry beast, howling about how unfair life is. (That lack of self control late at night might also account for my TV snacking habit… *makes mental note to investigate*). My advice? Well, if you’re inclined to listen to a potty-mouthed divorcee with a penchant for fruit cake and Baileys, I suggest you avoid making rash decisions. You know, like cutting up your wedding dress; burning anything other than a scented candle; or flinging your engagement ring into the ocean like they do in the movies — you can get a decent amount of coin for second hand diamonds. #justsayin. Take your time and be gentle with yourself.
Lesson #2 — let go of the drama, the blame, the anger and any sense of control
It’s the oft-quoted line that anger is ‘like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’. I think it’s more like eating coriander and expecting the other person to gag, but I digress… Do yourself a favour and work through the anger and resentment however you can, as soon as you can — don’t let it fester like a prawn head in the sun. It’s offensive and no one wants to be around it. Now I’m not a shrink so I’m not going to suggest anything here that is backed by “science” or “research” or anything else in air quotes; this is based on my survey of one (hot tip, it’s me) — but I found a great outlet was taking boxing classes… balanced with a whole box of pizza shapes and a mid-range savvy b*.
Something else I learned pretty early on in the piece is that you cannot contol other people’s actions — all you can do is control how you react. #bumperstickeralert. So I made a silent agreement with myself early on to take the high road (it’s a good workout if nothing else); to be pleasant to my ex for the sake of our child; and ultimately, thanks to some sage advice my Dad offered, to maintain my dignity. And aside from the opening sentence of this blog and all the pizza shapes, I can honestly say I have maintained that stance for the last 1460 days — give or take…
Lesson #3 — Remember that everything is temporary
Not exactly a comforting thought, is it? Oh, that’s right, we all die one day. “Geez Lauren, I’m dealing with debilitating heartbreak and now you’re throwing this truth bomb on the destroyed mess that is my life. Thanks!” Simmer down for a moment and hear me out… The fact is people can decide to leave if they want (hey, so can you!). Nothing is ever certain; oh, except death and taxes. The hits just keep coming, hey? But the point I’m trying to make — somewhat terribly — here, is that yes your relationship ended because everything is temporary. But that also means the pain and anger and heartbreak will end too. How’s that for a silver lining?
Lesson #4 — Ignorance is never bliss
There were days when I wished I had never discovered the truth. That I’d left good enough alone. I could have gone along, totally and blissfully unaware of what was happening; popping out another baby or three or four. But knowledge truly is power — knowing the truth allows you to make powerful decisions about who you are, who you want to be, who you want to be with, and the sort of behaviour you will and will not tolerate or condone. Like adding coriander to salads, for instance. (That’s a hard no for me). For me it was all about knowing in myself that I could never rebuild the trust, and that it would painfully and destructively impact my son’s life. I wanted my son to have two happy parents versus a family who were just surviving for the sake of the kids. So while I sometimes wish I had spared myself from the details of exactly what went down, I am grateful that I dug like a rabbid rottweiler to discover the truth.
Lesson #5 — Don’t, under any circumstances, play the comparison game
It’s a game that no one wins. In fact, everyone loses. And given you’re the ONLY ONE PLAYING, it would be idiotic to continue. (Take it from me, the idiot who tried to outsmart and outplay herself every day for three years playing the absurd game of “what if?” and “if only”). Someone much older and wiser than me once said, “comparison is the thief of joy”. Don’t do it, OK? Don’t waste your precious time and energy comparing yourself to his or her new love interest (you’re better, take it from me. I know this because you have impeccable taste in blogs…). Don’t compare your life now to your life then; or even more self-destructively, the life you could or should have had. Don’t compare your finances now to then, or what you have versus what he or she has. Use that energy to set about creating the life you really want now that you are the only master of your journey and destination. You are free to choose whatever you desire. If you want to drink wine in the bath, do it. If you want to wear the board shorts with the high top converse that she always hated, do it (I’m looking at you ex husband). If you want to cover your naked body in honey and roll around in goddam grass clippings, be my guest. Go on you crazy kid, it’s your time to do what you want, when you want and how you want.
Lesson #6— Avoid settling for another simply because they’ll have you.
You are amazing (again, referencing your taste in blogs…). You do not need to settle for anything or anyone less than what you truly want or deserve. By all means, get out there and meet new people, see what you like (and what you don’t), and have some fun. But don’t make the mistake of buying the first car you test drive after trading in your beat up old model. Hey, you might get lucky and meet the right one right away, but it’s pretty unlikely.
I met a lovely guy very soon after I started dating again. He was everything my ex was not, which is what attracted me to him in the first place. I was also in a bit of a hurry to find someone because my ex had moved on at the speed of light and I felt a real sense of injustice that he had found someone after what he’d done and I was coming home to an empty house every night. Cue violins and tim tams. (Please also reference lesson #5).
Things with the new flame moved very fast — I couldn’t believe how into me he was. He worshipped me and thought I was the greatest woman ever to walk the earth. My self-esteem soared for the first time in ages, and I felt worthy of love again. Problem was, there were a lot of core values we were not aligned on. And my friends and family knew immediately that we were not right for each other — looking back I’m so startled I fell so quickly and so hard for someone who was not only on a different page to me, but was reading an entirely different book altogether. So after a nine-month relationship in which we’d already moved in together and started to slowly blend our little families together (yikes!), the cracks were not only appearing, they were at risk of swallowing me whole. I realised I couldn’t settle in a situation where I was not truly happy — I’d been through too much to settle for “not quite right”. I had to take that confidence and the sense that I really knew what I wanted this time around and have the tough conversation. I put my big girls pants on and told him we couldn’t be together. I learnt a valuable lesson about myself that day — I’m not willing to settle for anything less than spectacular anymore. And neither should you, you incredible creature.
Finally, life actually goes on.
And I’m not just talking about for all those people around you who seem to have their shi*t together (spoiler alert: they don’t). Life goes on for you too; whether you choose to engage with it or not. So don’t waste another minute rolling around in your own drama; pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it; because remember, everything is temporary, and time is ticking.
In the wise words of Ms Nicks, “Time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I’m gettin’ older, too”. So what are you waiting for? Off you go. Why are you still reading? Seriously? OK, I’m getting a little frustrated now; have you not taken in anything I wrote? Go. Now. Bugger off and have some fun.
*That’s a sauvignon blanc for those playing at home