What do you do when you’re sick of love?
This is not one of those happy posts with a cheery fun thing to try for the weekend, by the way. No, one thing that I’ve decided about Love Life Practice is that it’s going to be real, warts and all, and that means that on days when the last thing I want to do is write about love…I’ll write about how the last thing I want to do is write about love.
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Without going into too many details (a lesson I learned from my long-ago LiveJournal days) not too long ago I ended a relationship. Unfortunately, there weren’t any big fireworks or infidelities or discoveries that your partner is actually a secret agent working for a foreign government or an alien. No, things just didn’t work out the way we’d hoped, and that can leave a lot of love residue.
No, let’s not diminish it by calling it “residue”. Let’s call it what it is, love. It’s the state of missing someone you have feelings for, and realizing that there is no real analgesic for the pain of that loss. “It’s not that I want to stop missing her,” I wrote in my journal yesterday. “It’s that I want the missing her to stop hurting so much.”
A very wise person once told me that was what grief was about: not getting over a loss, but learning to live with it, learning to accept it and find joy in your life in spite of that.
How? Trickery, distraction, and misdirection, of course.
We all have our little tricks that we use to make ourselves feel better. In the past I’ve been guilty of making myself feel worse on purpose – immersing myself in the memories, letting the full wash of feelings run over and through me. I’m happy to say that most of the time I’ve been gracious enough to do it in private, with the curtains drawn and the door locked, because there’s nothing more pathetic than a grown man wallowing in self-pity. At least, that’s what my self-image tells me.
I also am blessed with far more projects, jobs, and tasks than I can possibly do in a day, so there is always the fallback of work. Video to edit, travel to plan, classes to outline and polish, events to manage, long-lost friends to write, books to outline, scenes to flesh out in my novel, editing of my past novel, formatting of my past-past novels now that iBooks are easy to make…it’s easy enough to send my brain off on these paths with a furious focus that leaves no room for maundering. When I am really lucky, I even get into a flow state and can just about forget the whole loss thing, for a while.
Other people use their own methods. Certainly alcohol has been a tried and true (if not terribly healthy) way to deal with loss. I tried it once, on a particularly bad night; I found that what it did was not take away the feelings, but it did numb them, for a while. Of course, then you have to deal with hangovers and the loss is still there. Other forms of changing your body chemistry – exercise, chocolate, sex, nicotine – are pretty much variations on that theme.
Often I’ll have friends who offer to “distract” me from the feelings of grief. Movies, companionship, ice cream…all sorts of ways they would like to “take my mind” off of the thoughts of love lost. I appreciate that, I really do…but at the same time, I’ve learned not to take people up on it. What I find is that when the distraction is over, it doesn’t really change what I was feeling before. It doesn’t change anything, it just puts it off for a while.
Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There
Several years ago I was in a similar situation, but writ larger – the end of my marriage, the decision of some of my daughters to live with their mother – and it hit me, hard. I have to say that I did not deal with that particular loss gracefully. That’s part of what this is all about: trying to learn from the past, trying to figure out better ways to handle all the crap life throws at you.
At the time, I had friends try and be patient with my moods. Then they stopped trying. I recall one friend who said “Widows get a year to mourn, and that’s it. You’re well past that. If don’t you get over your irrational fear that your friends and loved ones are going to leave you, you’re going to lose me as a friend!”
Always found that amusing, in a way. What helped me much more was Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul. In it, he likens a heart stricken with grief to a caterpillar. When the cocoon is forming, it is the end of the world – literally – for the caterpillar. It can no longer move. It is suddenly taken, with no real understanding of why, with no control over the process, from the world it has always known and shut into this dark, tight, place, and changes happen.
Never having been a caterpillar, I can’t say whether the changes hurt. But let’s assume they’re something like puberty: pain. Lots of painful changes, that you don’t understand and that seem irreversible.
What happens if someone breaks open the cocoon early? Tries to “help” the caterpillar out? You probably know the answer, from elementary school science: at best, there will be a stunted butterfly, unable to fly.
No, the caterpillar needs to spend the right amount of time in the cocoon to let the changes happen. Thomas Moore said the same thing about grief: you can’t set an arbitrary time. You need to simply be there, with the grief, with the feelings, with the pain, until your heart has grown into whatever it will become.
I’m not going to be all froofy and say it will be a lovely butterfly that will take wing. It may be a caterpillar with a limp. But even a caterpillar with a limp can go places, can experience the world, learn from the past, enjoy the present, and plan for the future.
So I sit with the grief, I sit with the feelings of love that have nowhere to go, and I trust that at some point, it will get better. I don’t know if that method works for others, but time is the only thing I’ve ever heard of that actually cures heartbreak.
That, and banning Adele from your Pandora playlist.
What works for you?