Have you ever had a job or a relationship that made you feel more complete --only to find out that it actually didn't? We all have an idea of what we want in life based on accumulation of stories and beliefs told by family, friends and society. We should have a high profile career to feel successful, we should get married by 30 to be happy or we should have this designer handbag or sexy new car to feel amazing. When we intertwine our identity into people, beliefs and experiences that reinforce who we think we should be, this lends a false sense of security. One day you wake up and realize that you're living in an illusion that was supposed to make you accomplished and whole, and it was a lie. So, what's the difference between the loss of an illusion and a death? Not very much according to recent studies. In fact, studies have shown that you react and grieve similarly in both scenarios.
I discovered the depths of this type of pain when my boyfriend of two years broke up with me. On Christmas Day. Via email!? For years I wrapped my identity into the illusion that he was "The One," and allowed him to make me feel whole and complete. I planned the hypothetical wedding, named our kids and planned our life out in my head and heart. The devastation of the lost illusion sent me into a downward spiral. Who was I if I wasn't the other half of "The One"? What about my hypothetical-unborn children?! I was forced to go inward and explore the truth of my identity, my beliefs about love, and accept the illusion I created as false and fleeting. If I had been honest with myself I would have recognized that actually he was not good for me. It took every ounce of will power I had to avoid numbing out with sex, drugs, or alcohol, and instead I sought wisdom in the words of Deepak Chopra, Pema Chardron, the I-Ching and Buddha. The break-up sparked a love affair with Eastern Philosophy that reframed my approach to love, loss, acceptance and ultimately living authentically in each moment.
Here are three tools that will aid in dealing with loss of illusions and pull you through the darkest of nights:
Cultivate awareness and acceptance. Accepting the loss of an illusion allows room for transformation and healing. When we swim in a sea of denial for days, months, and even years, the aches continue to sting and hold us back. When you accept that you're fractured and bruised from the fall, you can begin to rebuild an authentic life. Examine your investment in creating an identity that's dependent on another person or situation in order to feel whole. It's only when you question your assumptions as to why you chose and look at their origins that you can open the door to transformation and growth. You begin to discover the True You without the constructs you've been carting around dictating who you think you should be.
Lean on your support system. At my rock bottom after a devastating lay-off during the 2008 recession, I turned to various Earth-angles to help pull me out of my funk. They came in the form of acupuncturists; massage therapists, and an excellent career and life coach. I cultivated a healthy support system so I could overcome the pain rather than ignoring it. By objectively examining your situations and bouncing your ideas off of trusted sources, you can cope with the disillusion. This will allow you to move through the tunnel of redirection more quickly. Negative psychological and physical alternatives can drive you further into fear, anxiety and depression further emphasizing that you are living in illusion or a lie. By leaning on trusted friends and family during your mourning period you won't have to carry all of the weight yourself. Let them share their stories and their experiences of loss. This will ensure that you don't feel isolated and alone. Recognize also that pain in itself is a tool. It is a teacher. If you can sit with it in objective curiosity it will reveal a lesson for you.
Forgiveness. I cheekily refer to this as the F-Word, because f*ck, it's hard! How do you forgive the other person, society or yourself that told you that life should be a certain way? It's really hard! It takes many moments of silence while sitting with the pain and asking for it to be healed. The moment you feel your heart open and the pain begins to dissipate, that is the feeling is love replacing resentment, fear and doubt. Let that rush in! And every time the pain comes back, you stop and remember that moment in time when your felt freedom from the angst. Practice that every time you feel the sour taste of resentment and before you know it you'll live your life without the pain from the lost illusion and that is taking ultimate ownership of your life and waking up the True You.
The danger is if we never stop to question the origins of our beliefs then a full-blown identity crisis can arise. Why is it you that clung so tightly an illusion to fill you up? Remember that to put your identity in anything external can be faulty and it keeps you from ultimate happiness. Recognizing your illusions and questioning your shoulds clears the path for you to lead a more whole, and authentic life. And in the meantime you can learn to see the growing pains as gifts and to discover what really makes you happy. You'll begin uncover your true self - which is really the only thing that can ever complete you.