A few years ago, my young son fell and cut his knee, and we ended up at the emergency room where he got some stitches. His wound was raw at first, and needed to be kept clean and dry. It was red and puffy and swollen, and as he described it, "thumping."
For some reason, this is the comparison that comes to mind when I think about how I'm feeling in the first days following my recent long term relationship breakup. It's fresh. It just happened. It's raw. It's trauma. It's sensitive. Bleeding. Hurting. The "thumping," a constant reminder that it's there. And, it's not even close to being healed.
Here are some of those raw emotions that most people feel at the beginning of a breakup.
1. Shock: In any long term relationship or marriage, I don't believe a breakup happens suddenly. (Unless one of the people met someone else and is leaving for that reason.) But even then, it is only sudden for one of the people. Usually, the couple has known for a while that the break up could be coming, but even so, there is a certain feeling of shock, of waking up every morning realizing that this isn't a dream. Walking around feeling like you're forgetting something, like you left the house without something you need. Something feels like it's missing. It doesn't feel normal. For me, the missing piece is his heart. I don't have it anymore. That is gut-wrenching.
2. Sadness: You run into people and they ask, "What's new?" and tears spring to your eyes. It is very hard to get through a conversation, hearing your own voice say the words, "We broke up." Crying on a daily basis becomes the norm.
3. Urgency/desperation: There are moments it feels hard to breathe, and the only thing you want to do is call him or her, beg them to come over and hug you, and never let you go. It feels frighteningly desperate, almost panicky.
4. Confusion: In my situation, if someone asked me, "Why did you guys break up?" I honestly don't know what I would say right now. A number of reasons? Yes, but there is no clarity yet. Right now I feel unsure of what really went wrong. It seems foggy. But, I am sure that as time goes by, clarity will come.
5. Anger: I truly believe that in every relationship, people look back and recognize certain things that happened that cause resentment. If there is any communication between the two people, one or both of the them try to let the other person know how wonderful they are doing, and how they are changing so much for the better. My question is, "Why couldn't you change that for me?" It's a bit infuriating for me to think that the next girl will reap the benefits of things he learned from our relationship. Then again, my next guy might benefit from the same.
6. Honesty: It's so hard to do, because there is still so much love here, but being apart forces people (or I should say allows them) to take an honest look into the relationship and acknowledge the things that weren't working as they were. It is impossible to do that while you are still together.
7. Hope: For me, there is a very small piece of hope and even excitement about the future.At this moment, it is tiny, but it is there. It's a glimpse into the promise of a future with someone whose love is strong enough to last forever.
The bottom line is, the raw feelings of a breakup are extremely complicated. The mind and the heart are all over the place. Remembering the heart stopping moments, the smiles, the passion, even the smell of his skin is heartbreakingly sad. And comforting at the same time. It's funny how the mind tends to temporarily forget all the disappointments, arguments, and impasses that led to the breakup.
My breakup advice: Let yourself feel all of these feelings. Live day to day, trying to grab every ounce of enjoyment out of every day that you can. For me, that means anything having to do with my children and my family, and of course, enjoying the passion I have for my work. This is the way I've been living my life since my divorce, and it works.
Breakups are part of life. They are out of our control. And no breakup is good. But, how we choose to handle them is entirely in our power.
Jackie Pilossoph is the author of her blog, Divorced Girl Smiling, and the comedic divorce novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase. She also writes feature stories, along with the weekly dating and relationships column, "Love Essentially" for Chicago Tribune Media Group local publications. Pilossoph lives in Chicago. Oh, and she's divorced.