This is a guest post from xenu01. Xenu is a resuming student and history nerd in the Bay Area. She likes satirical, surreal and speculative fiction, and is a staunch feminist. If she had three wishes, the first would be to speak every language, including cat. This is mostly because she is pretty sure the cats are talking smack about her.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I am in the process of breaking up with the love of my life, to whom I am married. It is horrible and heartbreaking and I am secretly just a little bit annoyed with anyone who doesn’t bring their own life to a screeching halt and attempt to FIX ME when they hear about it, but I keep that under wraps because I am aware that it’s not fair and it wouldn’t work even if everyone did nothing but try to fix me 24/7.
I am doing everything right: I’m moving. I’m doing my damnedest to keep contact with my ex to only the necessities (“are you going to be at the house at X time? because I need to pick some things up”), even though it is the hardest thing ever. I’m referring to her as “my ex” even though that feels like a betrayal and a lie. I’m keeping myself busy. I’m trying not to vomit my relationship thoughts all over the internet, especially where they would create awkwardness for my ex, our families, or the friends we have in common. We broke up because she did some AMAZINGLY shitty things, but I avoid both trash talking her AND making excuses for her. I’m in therapy, although the moving and the breakup-induced change of financial situation are making that slightly less straightforward than usual.
The problem is that I’m too good at doing everything right. This part of this post could be describing me: “Like I *knew* that it was the right decision to break up, and I *knew* that things get better with time and I *knew* exactly how to ride it out … and somehow knowing that should make me feel less shitty,” and in my case it does make me feel less shitty, for now at least — except for the times right after I wake up and right before I go to sleep when it feels like a nameless faceless Golem of Heartbreak is sitting on top of my chest.
But then I get up and go about my day and I can’t remember all the sad, horrible dreams about my ex that I had the night before even though I’m pretty sure I had them. I feel like all my feelings are very, very far away. Even when I do feel them, I’m pretty sure it’s only the tip of the iceberg and I can’t even begin to name them — like when you see that actor in a movie and you are positive you’ve seen them in tons of stuff before but you can’t remember what any of it was? — and that’s kind of scary.
So I’m terrible at feelings. I’m awesome at seeing all sides of every situation and, for example, having compassion for my ex and why she did the things she did even though they were terrible. Despite this, I’m also decent at maintaining my boundaries, like when my brain forgets we’re not together and I have the impulse to text her about something I think she’d appreciate, only I don’t because I *know* better. I understand that my friends, most of whom are also her friends, might not be the best audience for what might come out of my mouth if I pretend, for just 5 seconds, that I don’t have compassion for her. I know I should be angry, but mostly I don’t feel angry. I am pragmatic and reasonable. I have so. much. fucking. poise. that, among other problems, I think I might be giving my friends the impression that everything is fine! I am so completely cool about this! It is hardly like heartbreak at all!
I’m afraid that this is going to come crashing down around my ears, unexpectedly, sometime soon. (Hopefully it will be after I have secured a new home and job for myself, not while I’m still between jobs, straddling two cities, and sleeping on friends’ couches. I have a history of depression, and I’m genuinely worried about whether I will continue being able to feed myself if I lose my shit right now.) I think there’s a part of me that wants to break the fuck down already, but can’t. I know my heart is broken, but I don’t know how to feel it, and I’m afraid to find out what that will be like.
Is it okay that I don’t feel that much right now? How do I let myself feel things without completely losing myself? How do I talk about my feelings when I don’t even know what they are? How do I talk to my friends or let them know that I need their help when I don’t even know what kind of help I need?
The first thing we are going to eliminate is this idea that she, your ex, is the love of your life. If she was the love of your life, you would not be breaking up with her. She was a love of your life, and there will be others. For now, you must be the love of your own life and take care of yourself.
You are going through an awful, terrible, awful time. Breaking up is hard to do don’t even begin to cover it, and you’re dealing with it all. Many jedi hugs to you from me, and I am sure you will get many others from commenters. You are doing a lot of things right, and there are several posts on this blog which talk about the assembling of Team You which can be found here. I strongly recommend you read or reread them. There is some great advice there that you might want to follow, but it might also help you feel less alone to read the letters of other people severing their ties.
Also, you are already seeing a therapist, which is great. Are you able to talk to them honestly? Don’t protect your therapist. They have heard worse. And talk to them up front about your money worries- it is possible they can refer you to a free or sliding-scale clinic. This post also gives a lot of helpful advice if your financial resources are stretched thin. I just googled “sliding scale therapy MYCITY” to find the lady that helped me work through stressful family issues.
As a side note:
In this wonderful modern era, social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter can be a terrific way to keep in touch with people on a regular basis. They can also make you spend hours contemplating bitterly whether your ex is dating someone new or if that is just a friend or monitoring their relationship status. It’s also a good way for them to keep tabs on you. Cut loose for a month or two and let you both heal a little. Deactivating your Facebook account is pretty easy, and you can go back any time you want. If you are following her on Twitter, stop. Fill your Twitter feed with other people. Did you know there’s a user called Republican Dalek?
To address your actual questions:
1. Is it okay that I don’t feel that much right now?
Oh, honey. YES. You are going through an extremely difficult time, trying to juggle several different balls at the same time, and you don’t feel like you are in a safe place to feel the feelings right now. Your brain is in survival mode. You can revisit those feelings when you feel safe to process them, in your own time. There is no Way To Be When You Are Breaking Up With Someone. Some people have crying jags, some people get mad all of the time, some people hibernate for a few days. All of these are coping mechanisms.
2. How do I let myself feel things without completely losing myself? How do I talk about my feelings when I don’t even know what they are?
These two questions form the basis of the most compelling reason for talking to a therapist. Their job is to help you process things and to figure out what you’re feeling. You might also try finding an outlet for those feelings. I may be wrong here, but you sound like an extroverted kind of person, meaning you charge your emotional batteries by being around people? This may seem like an out-there kind of idea, but my spousal unit suggests writing some angry, FEELINGSPOEMS or FEELINGSPROSE and reading them aloud to a bunch of strangers at an open mic night. You might also try joining a group on meet-up- a writer’s group, for instance, might be helpful?
One of the hardest things about breaking up with someone is that you have this whole LIFE together; you have all of these things that you do as A Couple, and then you have to learn to be Just You again. This is a golden opportunity to learn about yourself and what you like to do. Meet-up.com is a great place to meet new people, or if you don’t want to make friends but to just change your scene you might try doing some free social activities. A lot of museums have one day a month or week where admission is free or cheap. Many cities have some sort of artsy night where galleries are open and free and there is food and wine- perhaps the first Friday of the month? Some venues also have cheap or free repertory theater, so you can pay five bucks and go see Singing in the Rain or whatever.
This is also where your friends get to do their job and help you cheer up.
3. How do I talk to my friends or let them know that I need their help when I don’t even know what kind of help I need?
For now, let them make you a love sandwich. You are couch-surfing, you say, so presumably one or more people both know that you are going through a break-up and are willing to offer you a place to sleep. What if you took one of those people out for a beer or a coffee as thanks? What if you told that person that you aren’t looking for advice right now, but you need someone to vent your feelings to? You don’t want your ex to know what you say because it would needlessly hurt her, but you need someone to talk to right now; you’re having a tough time. If you aren’t ready or able to talk about your feelings right now, surround yourself with your friends. Invite them to go play Frisbee in the park with you. Ask them to go see this free concert at the library, or ask your current host if you trade food and clean-up duty for them to host a zombie movie marathon.
Most of all, let yourself grieve. I think that might be what is going on with your Golem of Heartbreak and your subsequent numbness. Accept that it’s going to take a while and that no matter how smart or wise or well-prepared you are, you can’t force yourself to get over it before you are ready. And take it one day at a time. Stop trying to plan for an indeterminate future where everything will be safe and you can finally fall to pieces. Stop thinking that you can stop yourself from falling into a Pit of Despair if you only just don’t let yourself feel things. Wake up every morning thinking, “How can I be happy today?” until you stop feeling like someone is sitting on your chest in the morning.