Backstory to this post: I am republishing this for someone in the Facebook group recycling on the ex’s birthday, which – as you read down below – is very normal.
I have been researching grief for 25 years. All of my academic theses, including my law thesis, are on grief. I include it in my books because it’s a very necessary process.
A breakup brings out, not only grief of losing this relationship, but many unresolved losses prior. That is why I include my story in Getting Past Your Breakup. I stayed in an abusive relationship for years because every time I thought of getting out, the grief that flooded in was too much to bear. I thought it was all about THIS marriage, but it wasn’t. It was about all that came before.
Being strong enough to sustain the onslaught of grief is one thing, but when it rears its head again and again, it gets tiring. It’s called recycling and unfortunately, it’s a necessary part of the grief process. Hang in there. You can do this!
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed. Original Post Date: 05/09/09
“Grief is a spiral. But am I going up or coming down?” ~ C.S. Lewis
I talk about recycling in Getting Back Out There because dating often triggers recycling, but so does an anniversary date, the ex’s birthday, moving into your own place, going on a trip you were supposed to go on together etc etc etc. Many things can trigger recycling. Recycling often happens after we’ve been thinking we’re starting to get over it. It can feel very upsetting to be back “there” once again. Getting Past Your Breakup was the first book to talk about grief after a breakup and recycling is part of the process that is absolutely necessary to true healing and moving on.
There is a standard body of grief and loss literature but it’s still evolving. Still, I’ve read most of it over the past 20 years or so. I’ve written countless papers and 3 college theses on grief.
One thing that researchers do agree on is that grief is a process and it can vary wildly from person to person depending on the person, the loss, the type of loss, the person’s history with grieving (or not) and environmental and social factors.
As I read dozens of researchers and “grief experts” I noticed that the tasks are inherently the same: acknowledge that there was a loss, feel emotional pain about that loss, work on restructuring you and your environment to adapt to that loss.
We don’t just feel loss, we also feel rejection, abandonment, insecurity, fear. The whole emotional gamut. We are in a state of heightened sensitivity and can become very emotional. We can feel confused and disorganized, like the world is moving beneath our feet. Who are we? Where are we going? When will it stop?
And if you feel your feelings and allow them to come it will feel as if you have had the wind totally knocked out of your sails….and while you are doing this, start the “restructuring” process…build a life without the person you lost. Be good to you, figure out some interests, go back to old interests, take up new hobbies, meet some people…
And there comes a time when you’ve cried your heart out and walked the floors and wrung your hands and talked about the relationship until you can’t talk anymore. And written in your journal and stared out the window and felt all the feelings you think you will ever feel. You’ve done the Relationship Inventory, the Life Inventory. You think you’ve got it figured out.
You’re taking back your life and feeling better. You can’t believe it but you really are moving on! TA-DAH!
You come to a place where you think there are no more tears and no more huge feelings.
Then, one day without warning: WHAM!
Right back in the soup.
Apparently your psyche is saying “I have more to share here…” and you hate it…you feel like you are being dragged backwards or going under for the third time…you DO NOT want to go back there.
I know, I know, I know.
But if you spend the day honoring your feelings, validating what you are feeling, journaling or talking to friends, you will come out AGAIN on the other side and go back to your restructuring.
When you feel the bad old feelings again, it doesn’t mean you have failed or you are a failure. You are NOT a failure…you are not going backwards…it is normal and natural to plunge back into the feelings sometimes without warning. Sometimes there are triggers like anniversary dates or birthdays or something that reminds you of the past, and then again sometimes it just happens for no clear reason.
The important thing is to accept recycling as part of the process. It gets harder when you start to rail against it, judge yourself as “failing” or think that you are back at the beginning or that you are doing something wrong. In the GPYP workbook, I talk about giving grief its due and how to arrange a grief session and a self-care session – remember working out the bad and working in the good. Go to that section in the workbook to understand that what you are feeling is PERFECTLY NORMAL!!!
It is also important to NOT ACT ON IT. It is also important that you don’t try to avoid the feelings! Many people, during recycling, reach out to the ex or go on a date or do something else to just not feel the feelings.
You thought you were done with this. Yes, it’s distressing to feel like you’re back into what you thought you were done with.
YES, it’s very frustrating to think that you’re crying at the drop of a hat when you thought you had moved past all that sensitivity and emotionality.
YES, it is tough. But if you just accept it, feel weepy or angry or irritated or whatever you’re feeling for a day or so, it will improve. It will get better. You will be back on course in due time.
Lean into it. When grief says hello, it’s important to say “Okay…we’re doing THIS today….” and just let that be okay.
The important thing is to have a good cry or be irritable for a few days or just feel low energy or depressed. Eat some comfort food. Play a few sad songs. Or go get a massage and let your feelings out.
Then after a while announce that you are done with recycling, you haven’t done any harm to yourself (haven’t broken NC or acted out in other ways) and you are back on your merry way to recovering from a broken heart.
Because you are. And recycling is PART of healing. It’s PART of the process. Trust the process.
Let it happen.
And be good to you in the meantime.
Copyright 2007-2019 Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed. All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author and a link back to the original content
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