When I was in my 20s, I had a mercurial relationship with a guy I alternately loved and loathed. We considered ourselves passionate, but in hindsight we were more likely pathological.
In any case, he dumped me with the confession that he'd cheated on me. I begged for details, which he seemed delighted to provide. Her name (I seem to be cursed with Other Women named Sara. Honestly, next time I meet a Sara, I'm simply going to offer up my husband/boyfriend/whatever because it seems inevitable that she'll sleep with whomever I'm with), where she lived, what her job was, how they met, yadda, yadda... Everything I ever needed to know to torture myself with endless ruminations.
And so I did. I tortured myself by driving by her apartment complex, wondering if every twenty-something woman I saw was "her". I tortured myself by casually asking every person I encountered in her industry if they knew her. I tortured myself by looking up her phone number and plotting what I would say to her if I called. I tortured myself every night with thoughts of whether my by-then-ex was with her. What they talked about. Whether they laughed about me.
It was...torture. And it fed on itself, getting worse (and more pathological) by the day.
Sure, what my boyfriend did was really shitty.
But what I was doing to myself was shittier still.
I couldn't count on him to be gentle with my heart. And, it seemed, I couldn't count on myself either.
It was time to stop the cruelty.
I'd love to recount that I saw the error in my ways and instantly embarked on a path of self-love and gentle self-care.
The truth isn't quite so enlightened.
What ultimately happened was that I got bored by my own drama. I got tired of crying every night. I got sick of my own obsession.
And slowly, almost without me noticing, I started experiencing joy again. In a good run. A fun night with friends. An awesome book. My cat.
Simple things. Which generally are where we find true joy.
Fast forward 15 years. When I found out my husband cheated, I was better prepared (thank-you Life Experience!!). Though it took me a few months (or more), eventually I gathered my senses enough to remember what I'd learned.
I began intentionally seeking joy. In walking my dogs. Spending time with my kids. Stepping on the scales (and thank-you Infidelity Diet!).
What my husband had done was hurtful. But I didn't need to join him by hurting myself further.
Susan Piven, in How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, describes her epiphany following heartbreak as this:
I actually heard a voice inside my head. It said, "Nothing is happening right now." I stopped. I looked around. It was true. Nothing at all was going on. This tsunami of agitation could not be located... It was not happening. It was only a thought. And, I realized, my thoughts were killing me, not my broken heart.We can't control what others do to us. But we can – and must – control what we do to ourselves. I know it ain't easy. Sometimes my thoughts still declare mutiny and drag me through hell. But recognizing that we're in charge (even when it feels like we're not) is key. Acknowledge that we really do possess what we need to get us through the pain and out the other side. Even if we get just the rarest glimpse of this state – free from delusions and self-inflicted drama – it's enough to remind us that it's possible.