“We always have a choice in how we react to the circumstances of our lives. We can let them harden us, and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and allow our inherent human kindness to shine through.”—Pema Chodron
As I contemplate those words that were found on the front jacket of Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, I can’t help but to connect them to my most recent bout of heart ache. In the four weeks since my four-year romantic relationship ended, I have been trying to embody the words in the quote. I have been determined to be better and not bitter. And that is exactly what I believe Chodron’s words are encouraging her reader(s) to do.
Four weeks ago, after a draining week of work and working out, I headed home on a chilly Florida afternoon believing that I would spend the bulk of the weekend cuddled next to the man I had pledged my heart to for the past four years. However, when that man came home from work he barely spoke a few words to me before showering and getting in the bed to rest. I could tell that something was off when he didn’t give me a customary hug or a kiss when he walked through the bedroom door where I was sitting working on a yoga lesson. I shrugged it off as his being tired and continued to half-listen-half-watch an episode of something on Netflix or Amazon Prime. After a couple hours passed, I went downstairs to heat up some soup—after all, I did mention that it was a chilly weekend for the Sunshine State. When my then-boyfriend finally roused from what appeared to be a restless sleep, I asked him if he wanted any soup. He declined. After eating, I asked him if he was alright and that was the beginning of the END. He began with the following words: “No Linai, I’m fucking pissed off…”. What followed were a litany of sentiments where he expressed how dissatisfied he’d become with me and our relationship. Immediately, I felt attacked, and responded defensively. In hindsight, I’m not certain that a softer response would have led us to a place of reconciliation, but I can’t help but wonder. In all honestly, I felt ambushed. It felt like he’d been stewing on this for some time and had likely made up his mind about the resolution of our relationship long before the argument began. Long story short, the argument intensified and by the time he’d said all that he was willing to say (because he eventually shut down and stopped speaking to me), there were a few statements that stood out in my mind.
1. “We’re done.”
2. “I can do better than you.”
3. “You need to leave, now.”
4. “You have two weeks to get your things out.”
Over the course of the argument both of our tempers had reached an all-time high. While I continued to hope for finding our way to a mutual understanding, it soon became apparent that nothing I said, no amount of pleading, no words of reason, were going to change his mind about our remaining in a committed relationship. So after the insults and hurtful insinuations, I began to pack things into bags. I was so stunned and in a complete fog, that I literally walked from room to room trying to think of what I needed to survive after being kicked out of this man’s heart and home. Despite the fact that we’d argued before and tempers flared to threats of him kicking me out of his home, I foolishly remained hopeful that we’d be able to work through our disagreements. In the past, that was the case, but it most assuredly wasn’t the case on the night of Friday, November 15, 2019. For that is the night that I have so aptly named: Black Friday. It wasn’t Black Friday in the sense of the shopping frenzy that occurs after Thanksgiving. It became Black Friday because that is the day that my heart was shattered into a million little pieces. It was on that day that the carpet was metaphorically, and to some degree literally, pulled out from under me. And since that Black Friday, I haven’t been the same since.
I’d like to believe that some of the pain and anguish of that night has begun to ease up. Since that night I have retreated inward. I have cried, journaled, walked, read, and talked my way through trying to understand how the man I loved and devoted myself to determined that the resolution of our four-year journey of love and living was the best decision to make that day. What has hurt me most is his throwing in the towel. As I said before, we’d hit rough patches before and managed to work them out. And because of that, I believed that we could overcome whatever came our way. I feel so foolish. I feel like a fool because I thought we had turned a corner; I thought we had found a sweet spot. But how terribly wrong I was. I was delusional to believe that after he’d got his teenage daughter set up for college, we’d coast into a cozy rhythm of life where marriage might finally be more of a reality than a far-off mirage. Again, how wrong I was to believe in such a possibility.
So let me go back to the quote.
“We always have a choice in how we react to the circumstances of our lives.”
Life is certainly about choices. On Black Friday, the man I love chose to end our relationship. For weeks following the breakup, I held onto hope that maybe he’d change his mind and we could work this out—this even after I returned to his house the following day where he didn’t speak a word to me, and then five days later when I again returned to begin boxing up my things and walked in to find that he’d already moved traces of me out of the bedroom and bathroom into the guest bedroom. I continued to hope even after he watched me and my friends load up a U-Haul truck just a week after he’d kicked me out. And still yet I hoped two weeks after that Black Friday; I continued to hope when I texted him asking for an opportunity to talk, which we did briefly on the actual Black Friday. But each of these experiences only led me to be further disappointed because he remained steadfast that splitting was the best solution for the two of us. And still I hoped after week three when, again, I texted him asking about the possibility of reconciliation.
His response to my text: “We seem to be in each other’s way.”
So finally, I wised up and came to the conclusion that I was wasting my time and energy on trying to get someone to see/do something that he had no intention and/or desire of seeing and/or doing. Despite the fact that we’d made plans to meet for lunch this past Sunday, I woke up Sunday morning with a shifted mindset: Let go! And so I did. I wrote him a letter and handed it to him. I told him that I no longer believed that talking would make a difference, so I’ve made my peace in this letter, which you can read or throw away, but I’m finally letting you go and saying good-bye. Of course I broke down in the midst of this explanation outside of a local shopping mall. But I knew what I had to do if I was ever going to move forward with self-love and dignity. For the past three weeks I had been pleading my case on a lost cause. My attempts at persuasion through the use of Logos, Ethos, and Pathos fell on deaf ears. Why a “lost cause”, you ask? Because I believe he’d already made up his mind on what he was going to do before he came home on that Black Friday. All my talking, all my crying, all my reasoning has seemingly amounted to nothing. I’ve wasted time and energy that I can never get back. And for what?
- For the sake of not appearing and/or feeling like a failure.
- For the sake of trying to prove to him that I was/am worth holding on to.
- For the sake of not adding another failed relationship to the already lengthy list.
- For the sake of not being single, again.
- For the sake of not having to start ALL OVER AGAIN!
In Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, I found solace in the following words: “Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss…We’re afraid to lose what we love the most, and we hate that there are no guarantees.” For three weeks I could only see what I had lost, until…until I allowed myself to take on a different perspective. And that’s when I journaled and realized that I had gained more than I had lost in the past four years. Here’s what my list looked like:
Brown’s words have been true. I was so consumed with what I perceived I’d lost that I hadn’t taken the time to consider what I had gained—internally. Of course I want to hear from the man I loved. I want to believe that I meant something, that I somehow left a positive impression on him.
As I box up the fallout of Black Friday and my feelings, I have to again borrow words from Brene Brown. This time, she spoke to my spirit in the Prologue of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I was encouraged to love again, to open up my heart after she quoted Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic”, which reads (in part): “…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause…if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”.
After a month, I’m better and not bitter. My heart is still sore, but it’s healing with each passing day. I’ve chosen to use this “season” to fall in love with myself, to spend time with me—doing what I love, enjoying my own company and the company of like-minded spirits. There are certainly moments when a good cry is warranted, indulged in and therapeutic. But there are also moments when I have to speak encouragement into my own soul. I remind myself, audibly, on a regular basis these days, that I am enough, just as I am, worthy and deserving of a lasting love, support and belonging. And just today I found the courage and strength to act on Pema Chodron’s words from The Places That Scare You. While journaling, I wrote out a blessing for the man I loved and his daughter: ________________, may you and ______________ enjoy happiness and be free of suffering! In the midst of reading the chapter on the “Four Limitless Qualities”: loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, I was moved by the following words. Chodron stated, “After we practice for ourselves and those near us, we stretch even further: we send goodwill toward the neutral people in our lives and also to the people we don’t like.” I immediately thought of the teenager to whom I’d been invisible while living in my ex’s house and that’s when I spoke the words into existence. I haven’t a clue if my words will make any impact on my ex or his daughter, but I can be assured that I felt lighter after having said them.
Again, I return back to the words from Chodron’s book jacket, “We always have a choice in how we react to the circumstances of our lives. We can let them harden us, and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and allow our inherent human kindness to shine through.”
I am choosing to react to these present set of circumstances with the determination to be better and not bitter. I am choosing to…
1. Find wonder and satisfaction in every day.
2. Awaken a sense of gratitude and strength.
3. Embrace the charming disarray of my real and perfectly-imperfect life.
I wonder, what will it take for humanity to address the places that scare us?