I looked lackadaisically at screen of my phone: “Coffee tomorrow?” When I didn’t answer Katie responded with only symbols: “?!?!?!” followed by the implied screaming of a Caps Lock button – “TANYA!!!???” She paused and let a few more diminutive cycles of seconds pass before she tried again: “Are you alive?!?” Leave it to another Aries to go from making tentative plans to orchestrating my funeral. “Sorry, I’m here,” I replied to relieve her fire sign ass of any actual concern. Cancel the hearse, send back the flowers, and please return the headstone you’ve purchased from Amazon.com. Also, appreciate I just checked if you could get a grave marker this way and you absolutely can. You’re welcome, my condolences, but don’t you just love a bargain?
I haven’t been great in communicating with friends, so this exchange has not been unprecedented or singular. Let me tell you nothing really makes your people feel more at ease than when you find yourself at rock bottom, feverishly claw to go even deeper, and then disappear almost entirely. I’ve cycled through a lot of reasons this made practical sense to me and narrowed it down to two: 1.) Being in the presence of others, especially initially, was daunting because talking made what I was going through real and 2.) I didn’t want anyone to see me like that – shattered, raw, and utterly unfamiliar even to myself.
Thus, Katie seemed shocked when she suggested a Yoga class, and I agreed to meet her the next day. Swinging open the door of the studio I braced myself expecting some sense of relief. It was there I’d sobbed in savasana and peeled my snot-ridden face out of Pigeon Pose more times than I could count. Instead I immediately froze, feeling overwhelmed and like some kind of space alien that had inadvertently exposed myself in public.
Before I could soft-shoe away with my Manduka mat, the owner Lucy spotted me. She got across the room so quickly I could only ascertain that she levitated like a goddamn genie, which I’m not ruling out as part of her yogic powers. Her eyes lit up and then flickered with sadness: “I’m sorry,” she said hugging me, “But I’m so glad to see you on your mat.” I feebly smiled and told her I was doing okay, a half-truth. The reality was that I’d never wanted to stop existing before. No matter what I’ve gone through there was always this little piece of me that said: “You’re going to be fine, you’ll make it to the other side somehow. It will be hard, and your progress may move at a snail’s pace. You’ll fuck up as much as you make strides – you’ll be stunted as much as you grow. But somewhere in this emotional tug of war, things will shift, and you’ll be you again.”
I wondered if my class was in the ‘Fire’ ‘Wind’ or ‘Earth’ room and if Captain Planet was teaching it. I inhaled deeply asserting myself that I wouldn’t end this night with my typical go-to which would be a Vinyasa to Vino flow. My favorite breakup moves include but are not limited to: mainlining Malbec, shotgunning Shiraz, wallowing in Whiskey, or drinking my way out of a Brite Tank of beer (which is an entirely plausible option in my profession.) Alcohol has forever been my vice of choice, my emotional crutch, the most problematic and unhealthy coping skill I’ve kept in my fanny pack and elected to utilize too often. Eliminating the entity that typically takes my feelings and numbs them to a place of dissolve means I feel everything all the time, so I cry often and no longer are my tears made out of delicious Chardonnay.
Don’t get me wrong, even with a clear head – I’ve still stumbled through this all like a goddamn newborn with an equilibrium problem. I’m pretty sure my Mom had a glass of Cabernet in hand before they even cut the cord, so perhaps the analogy of me to an inebriated infant is extra suited. For the record, I don’t condone babies getting drunk unless of course they can handle their alcohol. Immediately following the disintegration of our relationship I made the first of many dense decisions regarding the path to self-healing and deemed I was unworthy of grief. At this juncture in time, the fact that I went to school and have the credentials to be a therapist is pure comedy. Here I was suffering what was such a significant and devastating loss but because of the part I played in the cumulation of it all, I decided I didn’t deserve to be wounded. Strangely, that didn’t change the fact that I was. Grief came knocking at my door and while I opened it and acknowledged it was there, I treated it more like a casual census worker I could shoo away after a few benign questions.
Spoiler alert – it didn’t go away. Clipboard in hand, grief waited patiently for me to be ready. Until one day I realized that whether I felt I merited the luxury of suffering or not, it was already happening. And I could either leave it outside shivering on my stoop or I could opt to walk hand-in-hand and open myself to whatever it could teach me. Moving through pain is not linear, and you can you zig from feeling good one day and zag into the seventh circle of your own personal hell the next. Progress stops feeling like progress because you’re moving but you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. I’ve upped my therapy to the point I’m out of ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ books and ‘O’ Magazines to read in the waiting room, and I’ve started electively going to Power Yoga just because I figure if I don’t know who I am anymore, maybe I’m the kind of person who does that.
I’ve started letting go of the idea of immediate relief, or that making it through to the other side is the purpose. That every day whatever I do is enough. And in those unexpected moments where joy pops up, I need to be open to receiving that too. You should not cancel contentment because you’re mitigating sorrow – honor it. Find a place where your grief and love can exist together. There’s no postcard that’s going to come in the mail to give you permission when you can feel happy or arrive back into your life, and you don’t need one. Above all, stop refereeing how you should and shouldn’t feel period. It’s not your job, duty, or responsibility to justify what you’re going through and why you deserve it to anyone else but yourself.
Since I was a child, writing was what came to me naturally. I knew I was meant to write the second I picked up a pencil whether something ever came of it or not. Being transparent and using language has always been a huge part of my life, and even my therapist says: “I only worry about you when you’re not writing.” The thing I forget about transcribing though, is that by opening your book – you also open your words to being bruised, misconstrued or judged. That while speaking profits me; it doesn’t always benefit others who may have only fallen into my narrative.
My absence from writing was largely in part to reassess why I write, and if within the context of what I was going through – was it appropriate or necessary. It may not surprise you that the answer was a resounding: “Fucking absolutely, have you even met yourself?” Writing is essential to my healing and while I did need to reconsider what I shared and how I shared it, I also needed to respect what an important part of my course it was. I have always spoke to my highest of highs and my lowest of lows – I am present in this life for both my despair and elation. I speak my struggles not only because it is good for me, but for the one-off chance that for my singular broken heart, there are 100 more. Perhaps those people feel alone in their sadness, lack the language to process their experience, or are waiting for someone else’s words. I don’t write for likes, comments, or ego, nor do I expect or want sympathy. Again, there’s a large part of me still feels unworthy of pain. However, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I lied, cheated, drank too much, or ultimately sealed the deal on my own relationship. The outcome is the same: I am sad, I am grieving, and I am going to tell you about it because holding back is the ultimate self-betrayal.
My visibility makes me vulnerable, but it also makes me strong. We can mute ourselves, worry about what others think, and ultimately it won’t change a damn thing. I’m here today because I’m showing up as is – with all my faults and my terribly imperfect process. Perhaps flaws are just places to pause and opportunities for query and growth. And missteps may feel like tripping but it’s just life’s clumsy and less delicate way of putting us in the direction we needed to be going anyways. Existence will eventually move from dismal, to mediocre, to extraordinary again. While it’s hard to trust the universe because it feels a bit like she’s being a crazy bitch right now, I won’t give up on her because she’s never given up on me.
I want people who read what I write and feel some resonance to know that they are not alone. That feeling this way doesn’t make you less than. That there’s no correct way to mitigate times of crises and you’re bound to make mistakes. There’s no certificate of completion you get when you’ve transcended a time of suffering although I am going to cross-reference this with my counselor because if I make it, I want a trophy. Life is hard and there will always be pain but in the words of one of my favorite authors: it will either change or end. For all the anguish that comes your way – so will peace. And if you don’t recognize who you are remember you can lose yourself and find yourself a million times over in this life.
When you sign up for loving someone, you also sign up for the potential loss of them. And it’s not something that lives in the forefront of your awareness – you don’t wake up in the morning in the arms of your partner and think: “This is great, but it could all be over tomorrow.” So hug the people you love a little tighter tonight and give yourself a nice embrace while you’re at it. Be gentle and know it’s okay when one day you think you’ve got it handled and the next, you’re peeling your ass off the ground and your mouth is stuck to the carpet with your whiskey frothed drool. Grief throws us into flight or fight and forces us into change we may not feel ready for – embrace it. Survive and thrive even if only out of spite for the version of yourself that doesn’t believe you will.
You are doing everything right, even the things that feel wrong. Stop focusing on some fixed endpoint, or in letting go – instead let it all in. We write our story by fully living it and that means even the parts that are excruciating and the chapters we’d like to omit. Don’t close the door when grief comes knocking instead invite it in for a cup of tea, but maybe refrain from making it into a Hot Toddy until a later date. You will grow from your grief.