When divorce happens, and your heart is breaking, people like to tell you that you have to let go, that it is over, that he didn’t deserve you anyway, that he is gone and you have to move on. Blah, blah, blah.
For the first few years after the divorce, telling me to let go was like telling me to release my death grip on the side of a cliff and trust in the invisible ledge below that would catch me.
Let’s just say I held on until I couldn’t anymore.
But why is letting go so hard? Objectively speaking, I should have had no reason to want to stay with someone who lied, cheated on me and then abandoned our family. Why couldn’t I have just said (and believed) at least one of the following phrases?
- Phew! Good riddance to bad rubbish! Who needs him anyways?
- Why not let the door hit your ass on the way out?
- Woohoo! Now, I get to join the ranks of the sexy, older women whose sexuality is so scary they are named cougars! Watch out, world!
As those of you following this blog will know, that is not the route I took. Nope. Instead, I almost disintegrated trying to hold on to someone who clearly did not want to have anything to do with me.
So, why? Am I an extreme masochist? No.
Do I see myself as a victim? No.
Do I have trouble deciphering between reality and my fantasies? Umm, I don’t think so? Not anymore than anybody else, I don’t think.
So, again, why?
This article from Psychology Today gives a pretty succinct answer:
“At its deepest level, the prospect of letting go forces us up against our three strongest emotional drivers: love, fear, and rage.”
Yep. That sounds about right.
This is the easiest to understand. When somebody hurts us, we want justice. We want them to pay for what they did, or at least be sorry. We want, at the very least, sincere apologies, earnest attempts to make amends. We want them to understand the pain they caused us and we want everybody to know about it so that they might be held accountable.
Unfortunately, people break each other’s hearts every day without much external consequence. There is no court for hurt feelings, no justice for those abruptly discarded. Heartbreakers get away scot-free and that sucks.
Unfortunately, we just have to live with it, which is easier said than done.
Studies show that people resist change even when it is positive, so you can imagine what happens when confronted with change that you didn’t ask for or want. The resistance is MIGHTY, at least for me. I had a very strong belief that I could get through anything as long as J was by my side. I never imagined a future where he wasn’t there (naïve? Yes. It has been remarked upon before).
Losing love means a tectonic shift in our lives. It is disorienting and scary. It also happens to be full of opportunity, though we can’t see that at first because, you know, the scary, disorienting part.
There is also the fear of never being loved again, that this rejection means you are indeed unlovable. It is the fear that your whole relationship was a scam and they never loved you in the first place and that you are not enough (unfortunately confirmed when the other person actually tells you that you are not enough). Fear that you may not survive the pain in your heart. So, so much fear. The temptation is to hide under the covers with a bottle of whiskey and some chocolate and never, never show your face in public again.
Fortunately, most of us do not have the luxury to do that. There are children to steward, bills to pay, groceries to buy. The world keeps on moving, after all, even if we are screaming for it to stop.
Ugh. This is the big one, the behemoth in the way of letting go. You don’t spend years with someone because of mild affection (at least most of us anyways), but because you loved that person. Loved them enough to live with them, to have their children, to share in the daily drudgery of family life, in the everyday joys and sorrows. Loved them enough to accept them for who they were, even if at times they were annoying.
When a partner leaves abruptly, it usually wasn’t abrupt for them. They have had time to detach themselves. They have spent time weighing and measuring your relationship and have judged it wanting without telling you. They may have also found someone else, their attention now firmly set to a future with this other person. In short, they have already left emotionally if not physically.
The trouble is, you haven’t. The marriage ends abruptly when you still love that person, still think you have a life together. You have not had time to work out what the problems are or detach yourself because you were not aware of any problems in the first place (or at least not problems so big they warranted splitting up).
It feels like J simply flipped a switch on his love for me—one moment he loved me, the next he didn’t. I wish I could have done the same; it would have made this letting go thing so much easier.
So, in a nutshell—letting go is hard and it sucks and if given the choice, I would rather dangle from the cliff instead of having to believe in the invisible ledge, thank you very much.
And yet, even if we don’t want to, we have to, because not letting go is like confining ourselves to a prison of past memories and unrealistic hopes for romantic reconciliation. Or worst, you let the rage burn un-contained and are consumed by it (for Magicians fans, picture Alice turning into a Niffin. Divorce rage will totally Niffin you if you’re not careful).
It is the very definition of stuck.
So, how does one actually practice letting go of a person you loved? Don’t be fooled, people. Letting go does not happen overnight, just as nailing the crow pose or headstand or other insane yoga poses won’t happen in one sitting. Letting go takes training, exercise, a rigorous diet and preferably an inspiring theme song.
I have been on such a rigorous Letting Go training regime these last few years I could compete in the divorce Olympics. What I have learned fits into this handy little acronym I invented when I was feeling clever:
See it as casting out the reconciliation (or revenge—it could go either way) fantasies and the illusion that we can control other people’s actions. Or, if you incline towards the witchy side, casting a spell to keep you grounded in reality. Either way works.
The next few posts will be devoted to exploring each one of these aspects, because they are not as obvious as they look.