by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Any change, any loss, does not make us victims. Others can shake you, surprise you, disappoint you, but they can’t prevent you from acting, from taking the situation you’re presented with and moving on. No matter where you are in life, no matter what your situation, you can always do something. You always have a choice and the choice can be power. ~ Blaine Lee
Each of us has the power to decide whether or not a hurt, a loss, a change in circumstance is going to keep us down.
Each of us has the power to say, “NO MORE” to someone who is hurting us. Each of us has the power to walk away and look at our inner selves instead of trying to get whatever it is we are trying to get from the outside. It comes down to CHOICE.
Sometimes clients of mine wait for the day when they will wake up and “be over it.” They think it’s the equivalent of being tapped with a magic wand. Presto Chango! Move on! But true moving on is a choice you have to make. One that doesn’t come easily but one you have to affirmatively, cognitively and rationally make.
It is normal and healthy to feel horrible after a loss or an unexpected and unwelcome change. We must do our work which involves crying, being angry, feeling depressed, unenergetic, hazy, forgetful, etc.
It is normal to recycle.
It is normal to “break the rules” of getting better.
What we need to do is to be VIGILANT when we’re recycling and when we are purposely or accidentally breaking the rules of relationship recovery.
One step forward and two steps back is a somewhat “normal” way to move forward. People ask me why, in my book Getting Past Your Breakup, I state that I hate using the word “stages” where grief is concerned. It’s because “stages” connotes a neat crossing over from one to the next, it seems to suggest that grief is a linear process and grief is anything but linear or neat or understandable a lot of the time. Beverley Raphael called the process of grief “phases.” I read this first in Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld (which I talk about more below) and then Dr. Raphael’s work became a cornerstone of my own. When you chase recovery, many times one book leads to another and another and another – which is why I include long bibliographies in both my books.
So, grief happens in phases and we usually move back and forth, up and down, skip one, repeat three. And on and on. Rarely do we progress nicely through one stage and then the other. It simply doesn’t work like that. I urge people to think of it in phases where one might revisit any phase more than once for no clear rhyme or reason.
At some point, no matter how much we think we are not ready, we need to turn to the work of moving on once and for all. Yes, we need to get to the stage where it’s time to decide to move on.
We need to MAKE A DECISION, a cognitive, an UNEMOTIONAL decision to turn the page. It’s about THINKING. It’s about your BRAIN. It’s about a CHOICE. It’s about not being pulled to and fro by the emotional process. It’s about stepping OUT of the emotional process and deciding your brain needs to be in charge right now.
Before you make that decision you absolutely must honor your grief and your feelings. Even if your ex was a horrible person, you lost something precious when the dream you once shared together died….even if your ex is a narcissistic sociopathic gaslighting MESS, you once upon a time didn’t know that and you had the hopes and wishes for a bright future with what you thought was a wonderful person.
You once started on a journey and that one is gone. You have to grieve those hopes and dreams. You have to grieve secondary losses such as a house or a pet or your ex’s family or friends that you cared for. You have to go through all the emotions of a breakup as I detail in GPYB. You have to read books, build a life, journal, develop boundaries. You have to do the inventories in GPYB and the Standards and Compatibility checklist in Getting Back Out There. (Don’t wait to do the Standards and Compatibility inventory in GBOT…you need to work on it long before you’re ready to date).
You have to read many other books recommended by others. You have to change the person you were in your last relationship because if you don’t, you’re going to be right back in the mess again.
After you’ve cried, gotten angry, walked the floors, journaled, talked to friends until you can no longer stand the sound of your own voice, taken time off work to stay home and pull the covers over your head, stopped going to the gym, eaten all the wrong things, drank to excess, slept with the wrong people and on and on, it is time to say, “No more!” and move toward turning the page to the next chapter. Many people say, “What is next? I don’t know what to do!”
What you need to do next is turn the page on the boo hooing and the bad behavior. This is the time to wake up with a new determination. Get back to the gym, stop drinking, smoking or prowling for a warm body (or letting the ex with the warm body in). It’s tough when things get quiet and it seems uncomfortable or tough to take. Enjoy the quiet time. Enjoy the solitude as a way to get in touch with you. Unplug and turn off all distractions. Listen to yourself. If it’s uncomfortable, what is it about the quiet that makes you uncomfortable? You have to sit with your thoughts and feelings in order to be strong enough for a healthy relationship. Healthy people do not need nor do they want endless distractions. Put the phone away when you want to take it out. Turn the television off when you realize you’re not really watching anything. Make peace with the peace. That quiet is the sound of your life working. It’s the sound of being free from a tense relationship or difficult people.
Think of this “me” time as time that you are shoring yourself up and making yourself stronger for the future. A good future needs a good foundation. Build the foundation today. Take time out of each day to affirm yourself and the things you are doing for yourself. Confirm your commitment to yourself and to the process. It’s time to step back and cleanse the heart and soul and body. Think, meditate, get a massage, take a bubble bath, do something nice for yourself. Use the time after grief to change YOU.
Back to a book I reference above—Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld. It is a magnificent book written by an English professor. I have read many books on grief but this one is special. It’s a book about love, loss and healing and I recommend to anyone no matter where they are on the healing spectrum. I was already a certified grief counselor when I read her book, but I found one part tremendously helpful and interesting. One of the choices is “the Turn.”
“The Turn” is the one choice you need to make, as a CONSCIOUS decision, that you have to move on. Like all the other phases, you might have to take The Turn a few times. But at some point you have to affirmatively, cognitively and rationally decide, “It’s time to move on.”
The Turn happens after you have emoted enough for ten people. You have read and meditated. You have developed boundaries. You have explored the past and planned for the future. Everyone, including you, is sick of listening to the wrongs done you. It’s time to stop stewing and start living.
Now it’s time to decide to decide. You decide to finally let go, once and for all, and you move on…and then you might slide backwards and the next thing you know you’re back where you were before “The Turn.”
But you have to do it and be committed to doing it. Sometimes a failed Turn is a sign that you have more work to do. Sometimes it’s just a sign that you need to be stronger about your commitment to it. A friend who led a therapy group with me told one of our clients who struggled with quitting smoking, “Never quit quitting…one day it will take.” Never quit quitting.
A client of mine found her boyfriend cheating on a cold, snowy January day. They had just talked marriage the month before. Not only did he cheat but he attempted to blame her because she wanted his debt paid down before they got engaged. He said that she had spoken to him like he was a child and made him feel like less than a man. So he sought solace in the arms of another woman to prove he was a man. When she relayed this story to me I almost burst out laughing. What a poor excuse of a man that would be!
She spent the rest of the long winter journaling. She wrote long…sometimes angry, sometimes sad, sometimes confused and some humorous and some ridiculously long letters to him and wrote long diatribes about him, the relationship and every thought or feeling she had. The last conversation, his refusal to take any responsibility, angered her and she began her journal entries as letters to him where she poured out her anger and hurt and her “how dare you”s. She called him every name in the book, cried, laughed, threw things…but she poured her heart and soul into every journal almost every single night. She had a lot to say. She did do some hobbies and some socializing with friends, but she was focused like a laser on getting this OUT of her system no matter what.
She didn’t send any to him but she dubbed them the “Tom Chronicles.” When friends would ask her what she was doing for the weekend, she would say she was staying home to scream and cry and pound away at the Tom Chronicles. She sometimes watched a non-romantic movie over and over again (she watched the Dirty Dozen a dozen times one weekend). Everyone thought she had lost her mind.
The first weekend in May she realized she had spent all winter pouring her heart and soul into her journal while he was busy doing whatever with whomever. She was repeating the letters and the sentiments and realized she had nothing new to say and hadn’t for weeks.
She realized, that day, that if she didn’t decide, right here and right now, to stop writing, put a period at the end of the Tom Chronicles, she could stay locked up in the house forever. She imagined herself as an embittered old lady with flowing white hair and crazed eyes rimmed with dark circles cackling like mad and stabbing the paper with her pen. To avoid that, she made an affirmative, cognitive, emotion-less decision to end the Chronicles, come up from the basement and live life. She made the “Turn.”
It’s not that she never had another emotion or added another page, but the daily commitment to the Chronicles and Tom’s negative impact on her life, had ended. She had cried, been angry, called him every name in the book and was now noticing that there was nothing new in her Chronicles. It was on an endless loop of What You Did to Me. The Chronicles had served their purpose. They were used as her outlet for her pain and anger and what she did instead of calling Tom. But after 4 months, it was time to LIVE AGAIN, greet the day and plan the rest of her life. Several weeks later, she met the love of her life at a friend’s house where she would have never shown had she still been stuck on the Chronicles.
So now is time to DECIDE to eat healthy, think healthy and be healthy. Define new goals, short term and long term and start putting life back into perspective.
The grief process is normal and necessary after a breakup. But at some point it has to end and it’s not going to magically dissipate one day. There comes a day when you have to figure it out and say, “I have had enough.”
Many times in the grief process…through the phases…you have to make a DECISION and leave all feelings out of it. It’s not JUST when you make the turn, but other times as well…but sometimes if you’re hanging onto feeling bad for way too long…it’s time to decide that it’s time for it to stop. And like every other task in the grief process…you can do it!
At some point you have to let go with all your might, you have to affirmatively and positively decide that it’s TIME to move on…to do the things you need to do to set this ship right, once and for all. And even if you’ve been here before, you can do it again. Re-decide, re-commit, re-turn to where you need to be.
If you are in that place, turn the page, decide to move on…and then move on. You can do this!