Someone I’d been seeing dumped me last month. We’d been together more than two years. We’re trying to remain friends, but every time I see them now, I cry for days. I hate myself for being so broken up over this, but I don’t know what to do!
– Heartbroken in Hoboken
I’m so sorry. If it makes you feel any better, we’ve all been there. Your job is to take care of yourself as you go through the grieving process. During the open-wound stage of loss, do everything you can to keep yourself emotionally safe, including avoiding this person as much as you can. Just remember: Time heals all wounds.
If I could offer you one lesson from this experience, it would be to learn how to let go of feelings about your feelings. After all, negative emotions — of all kinds — are inevitable in life. Someone says something nasty, or we suffer a professional setback, or we develop a crush on someone who is emotionally unavailable to us. It’s tough to experience all that pain, anger and disappointment, no question. But what’s worse is beating ourselves up for feeling that way.
If we were never taught how to appropriately manage pain and disappointment, we can create a whole lot of unnecessary suffering for ourselves. Either we shut down and check out, or we beat ourselves up. There is a gentler way.
Feeling Sad Is Not Failure
The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron talks about this phenomenon in her beautiful little book, fail, fail again, fail better: Wise Advice For Leaning Into The Unknown. This book is only 131 pages long, but there is so much wisdom in her thoughts on learning to accept the inevitable sorrows and frustrations of life. She writes:
There are two ways we usually deal with [heartbreak]. We either blame it on somebody else or… we feel really bad about ourselves and label ourselves “a failure.” We have this feeling there is something fundamentally wrong with us.
If there is a lot of “I am bad, I am terrible” [in our thinking], somehow just notice that and maybe soften up a bit. Instead say, “What am I feeling here? Maybe what is happening here is not that I am a failure — I am just hurting. I am just hurting.
There truly is no reason to beat yourself up for feeling terrible. How much kinder is it to simply let yourself be sad.
Sometimes all we need is to hear someone telling us that everything is going to be okay. If we’re lucky, we can enlist our friends, our partners, our family to comfort us, but often in life, we’re on our own. Learning how to treat ourselves with compassion during difficult times builds self-awareness and self-acceptance.
As Dr. Kristin Neff points out in her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power Of Being Kind To Yourself, our bodies and brains don’t actually distinguish whether loving words and touch come from ourselves or from other people. We actually have the power to soothe ourselves in the way we so desperately crave from others — all we need to do is give ourselves permission.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with sadness, wrap your arms around yourself, give yourself a big hug, rock a little if it feels comforting to you and talk as if you were speaking to your best friend. It’s okay to say these words out loud, so you hear them in your ears: “I’m so sorry this happened. This feels terrible right now, but you’re going to feel better soon. This too shall pass.”
Lola Davina reads aloud from her book Thriving in Sex Work regarding working through heartbreak below.
Saying Goodbye with Gratitude
At some point, the raw pain will subside, giving way to a duller ache. The work now is to arrive at a place of gratitude for the love we have in our lives, even while we say goodbye to it.
Write a letter to your ex and tell them how they made you feel. What the good parts of the relationship were, what you learned and what you’re happy is over now. No matter who said what, no matter how painful the ending, we can always be grateful for the good things.
There is no need to ever send this letter — it’s probably best if you don’t. If you get tempted, promise yourself to wait a while. If it’s a good idea today, it’ll be a good idea a month from now. Writing out your feelings is for you and your healing process.
There will come a day when you see this person and, rather than tears, you’ll feel that mixture of sadness and sweetness and finality we experience when seeing old flames. That’s when you’ll know that your heart is ready to love again.
Until next time, be sweet to yourself.
Lola Davina is a longtime veteran of the sex industry and author of Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry, a self-help book for sex workers available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and wherever else ebooks are sold. Get the audiobook version here. Contact Davina at Lola.Davina@ynotcam.com and visit her on Twitter at @Lola_Davina, as well as on Facebook.
Image of Lola Davina courtesy Pat Mazzera.