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'For 13 months, I was obsessed with my ex. My therapist's advice finally set me free.'

"What brings you in today?"

"Well, I can’t get over my ex-boyfriend."

I hired my therapist eight months after my ex and I finally broke up. We had a painful four months of hanging on until the bitter end, ending our year and a half long relationship.

I couldn’t stop thinking about him. There wasn’t a single day he didn’t cross my mind. I did everything they recommended: deleted all my social media and traces of him, disconnected from shared friends, for the time being, all to the best of my ability but it wasn’t possible to erase him completely. I couldn’t stop myself from googling him or reading his blog.

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I tried to find out information and often found out things I did not want to know.

Replayed what-ifs, recalled old memories. “I bet if I tell him to get on a plane and book a hotel he’d come in a heartbeat.” I played out that fantasy for a while. What it would be like to reunite, reconnect, set new boundaries, create a new relationship over again. I pictured introducing him to everyone new in my life, that he’d be so happy I took him back. Maybe then I’d finally be able to tell him what to do, control him, have leverage. Couldn’t everyone see I was his purpose for existing, I was the only meaningful part of his life?

Delusion. Self-obsession.

I was trapped. I could not stop. Hour-long train rides were consumed by these thoughts and fantasies. I shared in recovery meetings. I would tell anyone who would listen.

Then I hired my therapist.

She just listened for the first couple of months. She asked me about other boyfriends, past relationships. She’d always leave me at the end of our sessions with “take care of yourself”.

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See, I didn’t want to give him up. She knew. She was a smart, skilled therapist. She wasn’t (and couldn’t) make me do something I didn’t want to. Holding onto him kept me safe. Idealising the life we almost had together. 

Two creative 27-year-olds starting a new life together in NYC. It seemed so glamourous… until it wasn’t.

***

Finally, it’s 13 months after the breakup. I come in embarrassed to admit that I’m still thinking of him. I have a feeling she had been waiting for this window of opportunity for a long time. It was finally appropriate for her to say:

“Molly, are you still holding onto him because you’re too afraid of something good to come in? To be vulnerable with someone new?”

Stab to the chest.

I didn’t like it. I was completely nailed. Nailed to the coffin of this far-past-expiration-date-breakup. God damn it, I thought. My ego brain kept grasping for footing, to regain control. I didn’t want the conversation to take this direction.

“No... that’s not it. I’ve slept with other people and have been vulnerable since him.” (Lies)

“Ok well… you know we’re meant to have multiple deep connections in our life, right?”

Now I’m annoyed.

“Yes, I do hear the words you’re saying (staring out the window and avoiding her gaze) and I know they make sense but I just don’t really want to hear that right now.”

We sit in awkward silence. She says a few more things - she doesn’t leave me there but I’m (probably quite visibly) still nailed.

“Ok, well, let me know when you’d like to come back in. Take care of yourself.”

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God damn it. Why was it that simple? Of course, that’s what it was.

Our relationship ended in terrible flames.

I put up with six plus months of poor treatment longer than I should have. 

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I knew deep down it needed to end but I couldn’t let it go and I caused him a lot of pain in that process too. The thought of something loving, gentle, and wonderful again after so much torture and heartbreak felt totally foreign. 

I knew other people had figured it out, but I catalogued it as “not for me”. He was my soulmate and I would now be eternally damned because we were disconnected, keeping each other away from one another.

It was a really lovely hole I was in.

I kept my therapist’s words with me though. They ate away at me.

She had landed the perfect stroke. The stroke that gets you free.

Here are some thoughts on navigating a tough breakup:

It has you until it has you.

You can read every self-help book, hire every professional (she was the sixth “helping professional” I paid by this time regarding this breakup) but at the end of the day, it just has you until it has you.

You can bottom out in a relationship and in a breakup. Until then, progress can be tough. 

We can quite literally be addicted to people. Attachment bonds form actual neuropathways in our brain, the same activation centre that drugs, alcohol, and sugar light up. 

Even if you “burn everything down”, delete all of your social media and photos (that helps), the thought and memories can still remain. 

Should you continue to feed those pathways by thinking of the person, letting your mind go there, recalling past times, the groove will continue to get fed. 

Our biology wants us to be in partnership, not alone (survival) so positive memories are actually more accessible than the negative ones.

However, there will be small windows of clarity, the ability to come to terms with reality which I’m so grateful my therapist capitalised on. 

Having an outside perspective is incredibly valuable but mostly, just be kind to yourself, the science of breakups is real.

Letting go is a journey, not a destination.

Breakups, heartbreak, and the process of moving on are so rich in lessons. 

Even now, while I’m falling in love with someone new, the love I feel for my ex has not disappeared. I guess I thought it would, but it’s actually shifted in a beautiful way. 

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My heart is open again and I can appreciate him and our relationship much more clearly now. I had to go through all the muck first.

For me, letting go of the relationship was a slow process of learning to see him as the man he was without all our intimate baggage on top.

Almost every day I realised something new. 

I appreciated him more, and it was hard to balance that without simultaneously wanting to try to jump back in again. 

He was a hurting person like I was, trying to fill a hole that no one person is meant to fill. In retrospect, I saw that many times I didn’t appreciate all of his vulnerable gestures, I didn’t acknowledge how much they really took of him, to come out, put himself out there with me and risk his heart getting hurt.

A lot of times, it was painful thinking of all the ways I ran him over. Dismissed him, dropped him, made his life hard. I had to turn and look at these behaviours and have compassion for myself. It required self-forgiveness.

Skipping over any of this would not have allowed me to be the kind partner I show up as now. 

Through letting him go, I learned how to really and truly see someone. How to appreciate someone’s inherent goodness, their younger selves, the ways they love. 

I learned to love myself for my mistakes and learning, my becoming. It was a process of loving him more, loving myself more, and appreciating what was.

You can’t do a breakup “wrong”.

Maybe you need to live on another continent for a month. Maybe you need to sleep with tons of other people. Maybe you need to sit in therapy for a while. Maybe you need to become obsessed with something else - for me, celery juice and yoga. 

Whatever you do, I truly hope you stay tuned into the lessons, the mysteries, the ups, the downs, and let yourself be open for what’s next.

Feature Image: Getty.

This post was originally published on Medium and has been republished here with full permission. 

Molly Godfrey is a trained desire and intimacy coach as well as an integrated mental health coach. She works with women 1:1 virtually all around the world to move from frustrated to free, helping them to identify and change their painful patterns around men and relationships. Find more at her website.

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