real life

Break-ups suck. What's your story?

So I cried in Coles today. No, it wasn’t over the price of the organic yoghurt, and yes, ok maybe I was a bit pre-menstrual. But the main reason I started welling up at the checkout as the Monday night masses politely averted their eyes was because he wasn’t there. I kept looking for him, as I do all the time these days. Any guy over six ft with a slim build, shaved head and a business shirt can be him from a distance. Actually, just any guy in a shirt with minimal hair can be him, until I get closer and realize the bloke is actually approaching sixty.

But wandering through the aisles, on my own once again, had me remembering our inaugural trip to Coles, about 18 months ago, when he had made a point of noting that it was the first time we had done the grocery shopping together. That’s the way he was, constantly making references to our love and togetherness – blowing up that bubble of happiness and security and support and lifelong plans until it suddenly got too big for him. So he burst it. Overnight. Then walked out of our house, our life, our future, less than two weeks later. He vanished like a ghost, diligently erasing all traces of his memory, right down to the measuring cups and the garden hose. Did he even try to make it work? No. Did I get a say in how anything was going to go? Not a chance. In a horrible and humiliating scene, he broke up with me in public, at a busy train station beneath the therapist’s office, leaving me with no option but to pay a relative stranger $160 to sit on her couch and bawl hysterically for an hour. Money well spent? Not so much. Sorry, he said, but I didn’t want to lead you on by coming into a therapy session. Funny that. He obviously didn’t think talking about having kids, renovating a house and spending our lives together was leading me on at all I guess.

Break ups suck. Full stop. They are doused in pain, laced with anger, and for some, etched with the devastating, heart- wrenching thought that you weren’t enough. But you know you have to survive, and to do that, I figure there is little choice but to shelve those niggling pests called insecurity and self-doubt. There’s only one way through to the other side of a break-up, and that’s straight through the middle – all the public blubbering, bottles of wine, and endless chats with your inner circle of family and friends included. But more importantly, to pass go, collect $200, and essentially get your groove back, I’m learning that you also have to start building a relationship with the door bitch who mans the entry through to the other side. She’s an intimidating looking lass who goes by the name of vulnerability. As US research professor Brene Brown noted in a remarkably inspiring TED talk about understanding the power of vulnerability:

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“For me, it was a year long street fight, a slug fest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.”  She points out the lengths we take to numb vulnerability (evidenced by how overweight, in debt, addicted and medicated western society has become), but suggests that we should be instead looking inward and embracing its uncomfortable state. Brown notes that invulnerability has a price, because when we knowingly (or unknowingly) numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times —joy. The idea, she says, is to let ourselves “be seen, deeply seen; to love with our whole hearts, even if there’s no guarantee; and to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place that says I’m enough, then we stop screaming and start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”

And so begins the healing. Do I feel vulnerable about being left by the man I thought I was going to marry, and being pushed into singledom at the age of 33? Of course. Do I know that I will get through the pain, and eventually love again? Definitely. And in the meantime, perhaps choking up at the checkout isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Sarah Grant is the features editor at WHO magazine. In her spare time she likes to delve into topics that aren’t quite as glossy as the world of celebrity.

Have you been through a break up? How did you get to the other side?