by anonymous (and very talented) guest blogger
After nearly 15 years together, my love and i are separating. We have different core needs that neither of us can compromise on and that both of us will suffer greatly by should we. No one’s to blame; it just is. There is courage and strength in spades whenever someone takes a great risk in order to live as authentically as possible. It is however, very very heartbreaking. i honour all of the bravery and sadness deeply humble, with great gratitude.
And while these days i try not to place blame, for blame is an undertow in the ocean on a drunken midnight swim, i do sometimes accuse my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for many deficits in my life. However, i accept.
Living Post-Traumatically requires significantly more energy expenditure than going through the day with no demons underfoot. There are hours in every day spent watching for potential mayhem in the outside world of which there are near misses every few seconds to watch not happen, breathe, watch not happen, breathe.
There are reverberations of that same present and past mayhem stored in the cells of one’s body that result in an often chaotic banging of a beating heart, center chest, and adrenaline bouncing off the walls of one’s veins. There is hardly ever a crash of both adrenaline and cortisol, but when there is, it’s noticeable and lasts for days. I will probably live less long for it.
There are hundreds of mini negotiations every day around safety while at the same time, (or on a harder day, in lieu of) getting the day to day stuff done. There’s an anxiety and a panic that arrives on the bodymind’s doorstep and either crosses the threshold into its home or remains ominously threatening as it peers into the body’s windows while lightening flashes behind it, illuminating the possibly of a break in, robbery. Wariness on this scale is exhausting. And there is only so much of that energy to go around until it leaves one curled into oneself. There is the need to lock doors several times, the desire for solitude and spaciousness, good cider or super hoppy craft beer, a long walk, a drive through a desert under open sky, room to breathe, acceptance.
i have recently come to the understanding though, that i am not broken. Considering myself broken had its place in facilitating a decade in and out of inpatient hospital, outpatient and private treatment of Anorexia Nervosa, Major Depression and PTSD. i hated myself as though i too was a perpetrator of some sort; as though the energy of those who hurt me had become a part of my genetic code and i was no better than them for having survived it all when survival was not my goal. i would start to feel anything and would relapse.
We all have bodies of experiences making us who we are and most of those experiences, if not all of them, reside exclusively in the body and they change us. However we can eliminate the thought that there is to be burdensome sense of damage; sometimes we have to adjust a few things to live more authentically and wholly. This is not unlike someone who needs heart medication or insulin.
Living post traumatically lends itself to living mindfully, in the moment, being fully present (unless one is time travelling in dissociation, a place i’ve been many times and lost probably thousands of hours to). As someone living with PTSD conceptualizing a future more than 2 weeks ahead (on a good day) is an impossible task. i literally only have this moment. Mindfulness allows me to find grounding in a world i am always scanning for threat; it allows me to see beauty alongside pain, and courage holding hands with despair. i always remember the privilege there is in being able to experience so many things in an hour’s span of time. It’s quite amazing.
A Long Time Coming
The separation was a long time coming – it could have been quick as any reaction is, but i wanted to create space for compassion and understanding, for learning and potential healing to take place as the separation moved through us, present tense. Once the decision to separate was made energetically final, my love and i grieved openly in each other’s arms for weeks; and because it’s still fresh, still in transition, we still do. i have never experienced something so sad but so beautiful; where the humbling nature of sadness moves through us, at times like ghosts leaving us with a shiver and goose skin and other times blanketing us completely, demanding us to feel even more.
The Mindful Exit: Rules
“Love, and Do what you Will” ~ St. Augustine
Despite my rebellious nature, i actually love rules. This is probably why my go-to maladaptive coping mechanism was Anorexia. The rules are endless. Plus i grew up Catholic. i laugh (and celebrate that i just made myself laugh).
- Be objective and accept: acknowledge the separation is happening, even if you ‘can’t believe it’ is. Gather only the facts. Detach the initial facts, the whys, (why is this happening? why is this happening to me?) from the emotional experience of the tearing sensations felt both physically and emotionally because of the separation. Being objective and then accepting the facts reduces suffering.
- Start no conversations with “you.”
- Be as loving and kind as possible in gestures, words and thoughts. You once did or still do, deeply love with this person. Treat them with the same honour and grace you did when you first met. it’s not just you separating, and grief manifests in a thousand of different ways.
- When having face to face discussions, picture the one you’re talking to at their best. See them curiously like you want to get to know them. In the context of separating, listening with the intention of learning creates footpaths for understanding and reflection.
- Remember that most material objects don’t actually matter; there needn’t be a fight about everything you own.
- Own your wrongs. Apologize quick for words spoken in haste, even if you feel that speaking the words was cathartic. Ask yourself regularly: will saying this actually help or change the
situation? If not, watch it pass by.
- Admit your own pain. Paint a picture of what it is like to be you going through this; grieve openly. Holding up a mirror for others to see their own pain in yours can facilitate healing for both people in important ways. Be vulnerable if it’s safe to be.
- Be patient. To leave with less wounds takes time and no one need leave with more bruises than separation is already causing.
- Say thank you for everything. When my love still packed me lunches or made us dinner, i said thank you. When i got a text asking if i wanted something from the store, i said thank you. When my glass was taken off the table at the end of the day, i said thank you. And when the word thank you didn’t seem strong enough, i bowed in gratitude, tears streaming down my face. These little happenings are blessings and will be still felt experiences in the body long after they are remembered.
- Celebrate. Celebrate that first full breath in a series of hours where one couldn’t arrive. Celebrate the warmth of a spring sun and the hope of new learning. Celebrate that any chance you get to love someone else in this world is a blessing. Celebrate the end of each day, each tear, each step. Celebrate hard that we are privileged enough to live in a world where we get to feel so many different things.
My soul kin Mark Lilly and I, are co-creators and lead facilitators of Breathing Room – a trauma smart and mental health informed capacity building body based mindfulness program for educators and at-risk youth. We literally teach breathing for a living. i woke up at 3am, on a day i was about to teach 150 7th and 8th graders how to breathe and be mindful, unable to breathe. i felt like a fraud. i knew there would be a catered lunch also. i just wanted to get by. i accept right now that i am not working with full capacity like i have in the past. i do know, that through this i will learn much more about how to serve people better. Being gentle with myself, though counterintuitive seems like a smart move.
I hold grief in three places: my stomach, my upper chest and my throat. If i want to eat, i have to swallow food that pushes past that lump of mourning halfway down my esophagus. If i want to breathe, my inhale has to push up past the grief weighing my diaphragm down and my exhale has to get past my ribcage where the bone spurs of sadness jut out, arthritic. It’s work. I accept.
i started to lose a small amount weight, organically, while mourning because of where it takes comfortable residence inside of me. i was terrified and present to the possibility that the grips of Anorexia past would be tenting their fingers in excitement at being reunited with my body and they would speak freely if i wasn’t paying attention. One evening i ate two delicious chocolates and after the second one i felt incredibly and overwhelmingly paralyzed with shame and guilt. i started moralizing that second chocolate as though eating two wasn’t something that happened regularly. i needed rules.
Mindful Grieving and Mourning in Recovery: Rules “Love and Do what you Will” ~ St. Augustine
- Be objective; gather the facts: you are grieving deeply. This is okay. Acceptance is key here. Accepting certain things, whether temporary or permanent (but who really knows what is what) reduces suffering. This world is hard enough.
- Start no conversations with “you.” My body cannot internalize more blame. 30+ years of blame leave little room for more, though i suppose that’s always possible. i want to use the tiny cracks left to fill with light and watch that light expand so that i can feel All Love heal my body, soul and spirit. Talking to myself with blame would only delay that!
- Be as loving and kind as possible. Eat food that serves you and in those moments where breath comes easier for a few hours, eat a little bit more and store up; for you know breath will be stolen again. This meant eating healthy, nutrient dense foods in those moments of emotional spaciousness and not feeling at all guilty for eating more than i normally would at a meal because i was unable to eat as much at other parts of the day.
- Picture yourself at your best. I pictured myself running long distances and doing yoga with strength and nourished those little sparks until they became bonfires of hope, while my eating disorder wanted to present pictures of me comforted by being starving and small, not vital to anything in the world, unfeeling.
- Admit you’re own pain and listen closely. Living centrally in Toronto, Canada, i tend to walk to most places i need on a daily basis. This was actually one of my most ingrained symptoms of Bulimia – purging through exercise, and one of the hardest symptoms to rein in. There are times in this grieving that i want to walk for hours, which has served me some, but more often than not my exhausted body wanted rest. i compassionately took the subway , even one stop to listen to what my body wanted. And my body said thank you. i rested as much as possible; savasana was often my entire yoga practice. i went to bed early, though i hardly slept, i spent more time in seated meditation; i ran significantly less.
- Be patient. If it takes longer to eat, so what. Take your time. Be present, but not obsessively so. Watch curiously the grief as it sits in your body, and thank your body for accepting nourishment and kindness with patience. i would lay in bed and have conversations with my body: hi body, i know it’s all hard, but thank you for getting me through this day. i know you’re feeling like crap, so i’m doing everything i can to get us both through this. bodyminds will always respond with gratitude. i don’t need to leave with more wounds to recover from.
- Say thank you. Breathe.