“You can trust your grief,” my therapist said with a kind smile. We are sitting in her cozy office, with her dog snoring in the corner. The statement shook me for a moment, then I scrambled to find my journal and a pen to write it down. It was one of those mundane moments where you know your life is changing, but unlike the movies, nothing particularly fantastical is happening. I had been sitting on this couch across from her for weeks, processing the devastation of my break up. All of the particular pains and aches of it, each new way it affected me every week in the months that followed my four-year partnership ending.
I can trust my grief, what does that mean? In July of 2017, as I sat with her in that room, it was only a concept. A year later it has been added to the instruction manual of my life.
When I followed my heartbreak, it led me to a barrier island off of New Jersey. I had been living in Colorado for over four years, most of which were spent in a very happy partnership with a man I adored. When we decided to break up, my life got thrown into the air. I was leaving my partner, moving from Denver back to Boulder, and graduating from college. Shortly after we broke up he moved out of the state, and that’s when the blow really struck me. This was over, we are over, and he is gone. I spent many days laying on the floor crying.
Shortly after my breakup, my family went through some turmoil, my childhood home was put up for sale, my ex came back to Colorado to clear out his storage unit, which I found out about from mutual friends on what would have been our four year anniversary. Then, my beloved therapist who taught me to trust my heartbreak informed me she was moving cross country and closing her practice. Heartbreak surrounded me, personally, and of course, globally.
Toward the end of this span of what was a rocky eight-month period, I found myself pleading to my friends “what if I just threw myself into the fire of transformation?” I was sick of all of the things that I loved changing, and having no way to slow it down or make it stop. I was confronted by all the things I was trying to hold onto in my life having disappeared without consulting me.
As I continued to lament to my friends, I started getting curious about the ways the life I wanted was crumbling. I noticed how exhausting it was to hold onto an illusion. I was tired, there wasn’t much left in me. So, with an exhilarated clarity, I thought “I can just let it all go, and throw myself into the fire of change.” It was with my therapist’s humble reminder that I realized, this change was happening anyway, I was just waking up to my ability to trust it.
Everything that was breaking my heart was a step in my instruction manual to be changed by life. ‘You can trust your grief’ was taped to my refrigerator. I looked at it daily and thought, “Trusting this mess sounds a lot less tiring than trying to get my way.” Then, I got curious about my heartbreak. What did she need? Where was she leading me?
Go to the sea, she instructed me. Go to that childhood home on the beach, the house that was now for sale with no one living in it. I decided that I would take a month off from life, go to the beach, and then decide what’s next from there.
I quit my job, sold all of my stuff, broke the lease on my apartment, and took a carry-on suitcase with me to the island. There, I found myself deeply alone in a place that was still quite wintery in April. I walked onto the beach in the morning, the only person for miles. With just my breath, and my heart, and the ocean before me, I felt relief for the first time in months. I stood there, stripped bare of the relationship I thought defined me, and I was okay, I was able to take the next breath, and feel the ocean at my feet.
One of the hardest things about my breakup was re-learning my ability to be alone. My time on the island gave me the chance to do this. Not only to learn to be alone, but to be alone and experience delight, at least part of the time. It would have been too tall an order months earlier, but being in this place that I adore made it much easier. The bay laughed with me as it slapped the dock. The seagulls called to me, wanting to share my food. For the first time in a long time, life felt simple.
After my time on the island I had planned to travel throughout the summer, but after one month it was clear that I needed to stay and embrace the magic that was happening a bit longer. I kept tuning into my heartbreak and asking what it needed next. It continued to say “time alone, please and thank you, so much time alone.” I swallowed my pride that told me I should be using this time to travel to Europe or go on some exotic excursion—instead, I continued to wake up every morning, sit with myself, drink tea, be quiet, and write.
There were moments that drove me crazy. Moments of deep grief and chaotic thoughts piling up, breaking me down and smacking me around. Over time though, through repetition of experience, I noticed how each time this happened I was able to ride it out. Pain arose, and it passed, it arose, and it passed. I’m also lucky to say that I have some of the world’s greatest friends available via phone when I felt lost at sea. But every time, the pain passed, and I was still alive, still there in the morning to tell the tale.
The gorgeous thing about heartbreak is that where it leads each of us will be unique. Where our heart breaks will forge a path forward that only we can walk. It just asks us to drop what we are carrying and be broken. Be broken, and listen. In a culture that wants us to heal quickly, get over our exes fast and find a new partner even faster, slowing down enough to let ourselves be touched by our experience is a radical act. It’s an act that declares: I will no longer be at war with myself not to feel this pain. It’s a notion that my beloved therapist called “dropping the broken umbrella and letting ourselves get wet.”
My journey isn’t over. Some days that makes me feel sick. My heart will break again, and again, and again. It’s painful to acknowledge, especially after coming off a year of deep heartbreak. My heart will break again. It is the simple truth. All I can do is be willing, if only for a second, to meet what I find there, and listen to what it tells me.