While laughing with friends over coffee, I looked over my shoulder and saw him. My ex. THE ex. He was standing in line about five feet away from me.
I'm pretty sure my heart dropped to the floor. I hadn't been in the same room as my ex in years.
The line was long, so it took a while before he got his coffee and left. When he did, I immediately explained the situation to my friends and they comforted me. I was definitely shaken, but their kind words helped me feel better. Contrary to what I previously believed, seeing my ex in public probably wasn't going to ruin my day. My friends played a big role in ensuring that.
After they left, I decided to hang around the coffee shop to get some writing done. When I stood up to plug in my laptop, I noticed he was back, this time sitting two tables away from me. My friends were gone, and he was not. Again, my heart stopped. Here I was, sitting in the same room as the guy who threatened to kill me five years ago. You best believe I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
But then I thought. Did I really want to leave? I mean, I was there first. And where was I going to go? I had plans to meet with a friend two minutes up the road and couldn't think of any other coffee shops nearby. Did I have to change my plans?
Yes, I was a little shaken at first, but that soon faded. As long as he stayed within my line of sight, I didn't feel unsafe. The coffee shop was crowded, so if he approached me, there were plenty of folks to reach out to.
So I sat back down. And I considered the irony of my situation. You see, last week I helped three clients better understand the anxiety they feel when they think about running into their exes. Since I asked each woman to think about what scares her about seeing her ex, I figured I probably should practice what I preach.
As I watched him out of the corner of my eye, I thought about the memories we shared, the fights we had, the names he called me, and the friendships he cost me. For a long time I prided myself in knowing him better than anyone else. Years later, he was almost like any other stranger in that coffee shop. Aside from knowing that he's not a very nice person (since our breakup, he's harassed me numerous times), there's not much else I can say about him these days. That felt weird.
But it didn't feel scary. Far from it, actually.
I was wearing sweats, but felt no need to impress him with my sexiness. I've forgiven him, but felt no need to let him know that. I messaged my husband to tell him what was happening, but felt no need to take him up on his offer to pick me up.
Then I realized why it felt weird. Because I felt nothing. At some point, my ex lost his control over me. Completely.
That's why I'm grateful I ran into him. Our little run-in is proof of how far I've come. Additionally, I got to do the things I advise my clients to do when they run into their exes:
• I reminded myself that I owe him nothing, not even a glance. Though I wondered if he wanted me to, I didn't approach him. Why? Because I didn't want to. As we sat across from each other in that coffee shop, my well-being came first.
• I remembered how beautiful I am, even in my hoodie and sweatpants. I've learned that I feel most beautiful when I'm writing or connecting with other women, which is exactly what he caught me doing that day. Being in his presence and living into my purpose (something he tried to take from me many years ago), definitely felt better than revenge.
• I sought support from my friends. Being reminded of past pain is tough and sometimes, we can't get through it alone. It's freeing to know that if I need to talk about how seeing him made me feel, there are people who care about me and will listen to me vent.
• I sent him light, love, and good mojo. No grudges here. Instead, I thanked him for the lessons he's taught me and sent him on his way.
• Then, I took care of myself. After shopping with my friend, I went home and gave myself some much-needed attention. I read. I did some writing. I watched a few episodes of "Gilmore Girls" and cuddled with my dog. I asked myself what I needed and made sure those needs got met.
It took a LONG time and a LOT of work for me to get to this place; I didn't always feel nothing when I thought of my ex. In fact, I still remember my heartbroken 25-year-old self clinging to my copy of It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken and doubting my ability to not contact him for sixty days. For over four years I let everything about him affect everything about me--partly because he asked me to, but mostly because I didn't know any better.
He really had a hold on me.
Until he didn't. And now I can say, with full confidence, that time...and more importantly, what I chose to do with that time...healed many of my wounds.
If running into your ex scares the bejeezus out of you, trust in the possibility of your wounds healing too. Yes, it will take time and a lot of work, but it can happen. For now, think about what really scares you about running into your ex and how you can best alleviate that anxiety.
And don't judge yourself if your ex still affects you...this isn't a race! Let yourself feel how you feel and eventually, you'll grow. It took me five years to get over my ex, but I'm certain the abuse will affect me until the day I die. It's okay to accept where you're at. There's no need to fight it.
Unexpected run-ins with an ex are rarely fun, but they don't have to ruin your day.
And someone as wonderful as you deserves to have a good day. Lots of good days.
Originally posted on akirahrobinson.com. If you are struggling in a relationship, healing from a breakup, or experiencing a long bout of singleness, check out Akirah's new book, Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.