BY BEVIN BRANLANDINGHAM
Lean into the Discomfort and Breathe: 10 Strategies for Moving Through Grief and Loss in the Wake of a Break-Up
I love to match make for my friends, and occasionally this comes in the form of me logging into someone’s OK Cupid account while we’re hanging out and soliciting people for them. It’s often a lot easier to hit on someone if your friend is doing it for you.
One of my besties let me loose on her iPad and OKC profile last Fall and reported that she ended up getting a few dates from my efforts. Ironically, one of these dates ended up talking random sh*t about me to my friend. This date said she didn’t like “Bevin or Sarah Jenny,” another party promoter friend of mine, because we “seem happier than normal,” in a way that was about maybe we didn’t deserve to be happy all the time. (My friend, of course, stood up for me and isn’t going out with this girl again. When the date was informed that Bevin was the reason they were even on the date the girl about died.)
I take this (and most) criticism from people who don’t know me with a giant grain of salt. This statement says more about the person than it does about me.
I’m sure a lot of people perceive me to be very happy, perhaps event “happier than normal.” Most people who are not my close friends or even my acquaintances only have a really limited view of my experience. On my blog and in public I tend to focus on the positive, joyful things about my life. That’s a choice I make to live in a positive framework. But, please do not mistake that I am living a happy 24/7 lifestyle because that is far from the case.
Right now, for example, I feel like dead flowers in a vase. My resting state is sort of wilted and sad. The person I had been keeping company* with for a few months in an intensely connected, spiritual, sexual, emotional, intellectual powerhouse kind of way broke up with me two weeks ago. I am heartbroken and focused on healing. My creativity has been sapped and I’m back in a familiar yet different place of heartbreak.** I contain a lot of conflicting emotions at once, which is a hard place to be in because it can feel like a war is going on. I love her and want her to be following her path which, right now, excludes a relationship. I also love us and want to fight for us.
In helping other heartbroken and healing folks out there, I made a list of strategies I am using right now to get through when the only way out is through. My friend Elisabeth told me last week, on a particularly bad day when I listened to too much Taylor Swift (she helps until she hurts), “Lean into the discomfort and breathe.” Much easier said than done, but I know it can be done because I am actually doing it right now.
I am also using things that have been helpful from the Heartbreak MFA post I wrote in 2010 and from Zoe’s Break-up Survival Guide that she wrote in 2007. At least all of this collective pain is turning into a break-up survival treasure trove.
1. Remind yourself that Feelings are temporary and Feelings aren’t facts.
I know feelings are temporary. I know this from a strong belief but also I know this because I am living Feelings on about a six hour cycle. If I feel really shitty right now probably in about six hours I’ll feel less shitty or differently shitty.
2. Be in the present moment.
When I can get into the present moment fully, I can sometimes distract myself. And sometimes I just really let loose and have a lot of fun, dance with my whole body or engage in a full gut laugh, or a full experience of art. But those in between times are a killer and the sadness seeps in.
I never knew how to “be in the present moment” (which sort of sounds like new age hooey, but it really works) until I practiced it. Here’s a beginner trick. Look around where you are and do an inventory of noticing things. Like when I’m walking/traveling my Feelings are the most dominant so I try to check in with my surroundings. “Look, there’s a cute bird,” “Look there’s a place where the wires look like they spell a lyric to a Bruce Springsteen song,” “OMG that sunset is painting the sky full pink and orange how beautiful.”
3. Stick to the plan even when you don’t feel like it.
Making sure I have plans outside the house with at least one other human and at least once a day has been crucial. I work for myself by myself, my beloved roommate has been on tour this whole time, so I can get really lonely, especially because of that void left by the person you used to talk to multiple times a day. Even though sometimes these plans outside the house involve a lot of internalized kicking and screaming, faking it till I make it often means I end up having a great time and usually/almost forget about my heartbreak for several minutes at a time.
4. Name your feelings.
I’ve learned that Feelings just need attention sometimes in order to move through them. Being okay if I can’t name them at the moment and maybe just getting into the quality of the feelings. “Sucky” and “bummed” totally suffice in this category.
5. Take excellent care of yourself.
Going to the gym, doing all of the regular self-care work I usually do but treating it like my job is crucial right now. I actually have a really hard time eating when I’m emotionally distraught and I’ve been scheduling meals out with friends a bunch so that I can distract myself enough to eat. And at home I make sure I have V8 and smoothies and vitamins so I can just get something in there even when I don’t feel like eating.
Have you ever written out a list of what it means to take excellent care of yourself? Maybe now is a good time to start.
6. Doing whatever spiritual work makes sense to you.
I’m a really spiritual person, so much of these things fall into my regular self care, but some are special things that might fall into “treat yo self.”
Here’s a list of spiritual activities that help me:
Past life reading
Meeting with a spiritual group
Doing rituals by myself or with a group***
Attending or listening to services (I don’t belong to a religion but appreciate spiritual wisdom in many forms and listen to services via TV or podcast by folks who preach positivity)
Going out to sit in nature and watch birds, the ocean, the trees or whatever
Gratitude lists (there is so much to be grateful for)
7. Feel your feelings right now. Be a liberated hot mess.
There’s a lot of empowerment from feeling your feelings as they come. I’ve been crying a lot, wherever whenever, just to let it out, and thus have added to my old lady chic by stuffing tissues in my bra, every pocket and keeping my fancy hankies in all my handbags. I already did that hanky thing, it’s just more diligent.)
I’ve been very honest about my feelings to everyone. Obviously I’m a social butterfly, but the thing about me is that I cannot stand small talk. I also know how empowering it is to be honest about how you are and so I just let people know. Sometimes I soften the blow by making a joke out of it. (“This is my lot in life as a lesbian.”) But even though I soften it being real about my experiences helps me get through it. Authenticity is a very important value to me.
I’ve learned stuffing my feelings as a coping mechanism, hiding from them or doing that classic escapism, rebounding, just makes me have to feel them worse later. Feeling shitty comes with a late penalty. I’d rather just get the grief over with.
Sometimes I feel a little bashful about how sad and needy I am right now, but I know I have people who are safe spaces for it. Spunky has done a lot of watching me cry on google video chat when there’s nothing more to say. (Also, though I am wary about being an energy suck, I actually got a great compliment from someone about how positive I am being in my grief.)
Reaching out for help has been great for me, and letting people who have capacity to lend an ear, text, dinner out come to me has been really successful. Using facebook filters has been a great way to all-call for this. Also, it’s nice to get sympathy from people (and I got a lot of sweet, supportive comments on the “I’m going through a break-up I can’t stop crying” post). That first day when I couldn’t go more than a few minutes without crying, my eyes were so puffy I could barely see, I was supposed to go to a dinner party. I debated going (especially since my ex had been invited so there would be all those weird “She was supposed to be here” realizations) but then I realized that this group of people is part of a spiritual work group I’m in, they support me, and if I had to keep running to the bathroom during Seder to cry they would get it. It turned out that it was a perfect distraction, and I didn’t have to worry about “sparkling” with these women, I could just bring my sad self.
It’s incredibly amazing how, if you learn how to receive, times of heartbreak can really show you how loved you are.
8. Doing new things with your appearance.
I rarely wear my hair “flat” to my head because I like big hair. But I’m just trying a new thing because new things while I’m feeling intense discomfort help me feel better. And also there’s a lot of empowerment in reclaiming your body after a break-up. I am vaguely considering going all the way blonde.
9. Proceeding with unconditional love.
I used to play the victim role big time in my break-ups. Learning to acknowledge my loss without vilifying a person in it is a new experience for me. I am hurting, that is my truth. She can’t be in a relationship, that is her truth. I learned a lot from this relationship, including what it is like to really experience unconditional love and conflict from a loving place. I want that to be our experience in a transition place from sweethearts to whatever we’re going to end up being, whether that’s friends or Boston Friends**** or just people who were very connected once but don’t really interact anymore.
This is very difficult work, unconditional love. Especially when that’s not always modeled well, in families, in past relationships, even in the media. How often do you see exes who remain friends in popular culture? How often is it complicated? (Also, as an aside, I think we can all agree that Rayna and Deacon on Nashville are totally Boston Friends.)
My friend Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha told me today, “I hope you are being sweet to yourself and opening your heart to transformation.” That’s what I’m intending to do with this break-up. Transforming myself through love. I think with love all things are possible, even hope from a really sad place.
10. Throwing yourself into a big art project.
This was mentioned in a previous break-up post, but this time around I’m combining my love for traveling in the wake of a break-up (my last one had me heading out on a cross country road trip two weeks later) and my love for consumptive art projects to get through loss. My friends Sarah Jenny and Avory of Hey Queen asked me to produce the decor for the “Queens of the Road” themed party this weekend the day after my sweetheart broke up with me. I thought it was a very serendipitous call to action and I’m knee-deep in hot glue, maps and glitter getting ready for this upcoming weekend.
*Our actual relationship status. Our previous relationship status was “dating or whatever” after I said, less than a month into it, “If we’re still dating or whatever this summer I want to go…”
**It’s sort of crazy how much I can open myself up to loving even more after every heartbreak! And then I feel hurt again when it’s over in a new and different, yet somewhat familiar way. It is a comfort to remember I got over this before, in bigger and worse break-ups, therefore I know there will be gifts waiting for me on the other end.
***A ritual I did recently, after I pulled a tarot card that told me I needed to exfoliate, was to rub my skin with oil, soak during a long, meditative bath, then took great fist fulls of epsom salt and scrubbed my skin invoking newness into my life. I rinsed off and smoothed it all out with lotion.
****My new friend Jacqueline gave me that expression for “More than Friends.”
Bevin Branlandingham is your Femmecee at QueerFatFemme.com, where she chronicles the relentless pursuit of her joy.