Lessons From A Gnarly Breakup

Torn paper heart to represent a breakup

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “I’m leaving.”

I didn’t think she was gonna say that.

We had just celebrated five years together. I can vividly remember the magic of falling in love and moving into our first place after only a few weeks. It seems crazy looking back, but we had an instant soul connection. Being together was just easier than being apart.

Our relationship was mutually encouraging and supportive as we grew into ourselves — going back to school, discovering our passions, designing tattoos, traveling the world, raising two kitties. I decided to get dreadlocks, and she followed suit shortly after, nailing that whole “look like your partner” cliché. We were that couple, connected at the hip on everything.

New age hippies, we were both into healing, yoga, meditation, reading spiritual books, hugging trees — the whole nine. Eventually, my personal development hit a plateau, and I was looking to shed another layer of skin so I could grow, but I wasn’t sure what the next lesson would be.

I thought everything was wonderful at the time — love, friendships, career, etc. I must’ve spent a year secretly designing a ring for her, incorporating family stones, and planning the special moment. It all went down exactly as I had hoped, watching the sunset over the water on a beach in France. All of the things were falling into place just beautifully.

But I needed to grow.

Be Careful What You Wish For

In my search for the next growth opportunity, I stumbled across a prayer. Perhaps it was a Buddhist contemplation. I have no recollection of what it was or where it came from, but it was a long, elegant passage about opening one’s heart to universal love and compassion. The key feature was asking specifically for the pain and suffering that I would need in order to grow. It was definitely hardcore, and I fancied myself a spiritual gangster of sorts, so I resolved to take that bad boy for a spin.

The very next morning, I rose with the sun, eager to put these words to the test. I kneeled to get my body out of the way so my soul could take the wheel for a minute. I read this passage that I had transcribed onto a piece of paper and sat with it for some time to let it marinate. Then I got up and went about my remarkably uneventful day.

That evening, the woman I anticipated spending the rest of my life with told me she was done with our relationship, that she would be staying with a friend that night, and coming to collect her things the next day.

That was the first and last time I ever said that stupid prayer.

Leaning Into The Pain

My first two significant relationships ended when they cheated on me, so I had learned how to turn off my feelings with the press of a button. I knew how to protect my heart by ignoring the pain, covering my sadness with anger, and just moving on like nothing happened. Not needing anything from anyone was my specialty. I even told my ex, “Take anything you want. I’ll be fine.”

However, it was pretty damn obvious that the universe had just sent me precisely what I asked for that morning. It was a FedEx rush delivery with my name on the package, and there was no return policy. That pain parcel was all mine. And although self-medicating is always an option, I decided to lean in this time. I was gonna feel this breakup. Hard.

I made a two-hour playlist of all the saddest, gut-wrenching breakup songs I could find. The next day while she was moving out, I just sat in my car listening to the soundtrack of heartache on repeat, ugly-face, snot-bubble crying while she surgically removed herself from my life. It was completely awful in every way, but somehow I knew that I was growing into a better version of myself.

Perhaps for the first time, I was showing up for all of my experiences, not just the fun ones. In an inner sense, my life was becoming fuller through an agonizing loss. Spiritual principles seem to be paradoxical that way.

Too Much Sympathy

In the aftermath of the breakup, I was showing up to a lot of places by myself, obviously. I would inevitably hear, “Where’s your better half?” and stuff like that. This was pre-Facebook for me, and I had no indirect way of sharing the news with the world. So I just had that same awkward conversation one thousand times.

“Oh my God, are you serious?”

“I’m so sorry to hear that.”

“No way! I can’t believe it.”

“Man, I thought you guys were the perfect couple.”

“Aww, that’s such a bummer.”

This became my least favorite part of leaving my apartment. Every time I started feeling better about the situation, I would run into someone on the awkward sympathy squad and fall back into shame, self-pity, or sadness. It was exhausting, and it went on for months.

Spending Time With Myself

Jumping right into another relationship would have solved the problem, so to speak. But I signed up for this lesson, whatever it was, and I knew that I had to either learn something or repeat something. So I stuck it out.

I stopped spending time by myself and started spending time with myself. As it turns out, this is the difference between loneliness and self-love.

Since I was about twelve years old, I managed to never be single, so I didn’t know who I was outside of a relationship. I discovered a whole bunch of new music that I loved, started cooking delicious meals for myself, and began making uncompromised decisions in my own best interest (which was utterly foreign to me). Sitting by the pond and feeding the ducks became such a treat. I befriended stillness and picked up more books.

One morning I realized I would be surrounded by millions of people throughout my life, but none of them are on my journey. Not a parent, a partner, or a friend. Nobody. There’s only room for one person inside my skin — me! And I’m 100% in charge of my life. What an epiphany that was.

The Kindness Of A Stranger

I lived about two hours from the beach and used to go there often with my ex. There was a cute little mom and pop shop off the boardwalk that we frequented. The couple traveled back and forth to Bali and brought back tons of amazing handmade furniture, clothing, sculptures, jewelry, decorations, etc. Our apartment was filled with their stuff. We bought from them every single time we went to the beach.

One day I decided to go lay in the sand and listen to the waves. The ocean washes away all the physical, mental, and emotional noise with such ease. I love it. Maybe that’s why I’ve always lived near the coast.

Before leaving, I had to visit my favorite store. I had spent hours there over the years, and it always felt like such a sacred space. It made my heart smile every time. This day I walked through the shop alone, soaking in the beautiful colors, textures, sounds, and smells. It was strange to be there without my ex, but with no one else in the store, it still felt like a warm embrace.

When I approached the counter with my handful of tchotchkes to buy, I was greeted by the beaming smile of the four-foot-ten Indonesian woman who always gave us a discount even though we never asked.

“Where ees da girl?” she inquired.

“We’re not together anymore.”

She smiled again, perhaps even wider than before, and replied, “Life ees a long journey.”

Nothing more. No sorries or sympathies. No followup questions or advice. Just some mystical wisdom that her grandmother probably passed onto her in a thatched hut village somewhere long before I was born. It was quite possibly the kindest, most sincere, and loving thing anyone has ever said to me. I knew in that moment I was right where I was supposed to be, and that everything was ok. My heart was healed.

And she was right.

Life is a long journey.

Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

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